Back when I was a little shit my father liked to drag me to his local watering hole every now and then. He’d set up me with a Coke or two and maybe some chips. If I was lucky he’d toss me a few quarters to play one of those old fashioned bowling machines, the ones that smelled like sawdust and weren’t the sterile video contraptions that are prevalent today. So I’d go off and he’d toss down a few beers and a couple of belts of J&B with his fellow cronies.
Most of the other clientele were older folks and had seen a fair share of shit in their lives. They just didn’t like to talk about it. They were quiet and respectful and liked to engage in polite conversation that usually centered on neighborhood events or the comings and goings of family members. Every so often they’d even invite me away from the table and to sit at the bar with them. They’d ask me questions about school and sports and girls and other topics that might be of interest to a young boy in his teens.
I think that’s where I started to learn the term “respect”. I think I learned that it’s a two way street and in order to get it you have to give it.
But then this one dude started coming in and opining his ass off on every topic under the sun. He’d rant and rage and step all over other peoples conversation. Women, sex, politics, religion, music and race made up most, if not all, of his talking points. It seems he was a self proclaimed expert on all of them and woe unto anybody that had the audacity to offer up otherwise.
It got so old so quick that many of the regulars that were the backbone of this family owned bar would either leave the moment he came through the door or would stop coming in at all.
When asked why they kept serving the loudmouth the bartender/owner would usually reply that he just trying to be nice and since the guy wasn’t technically breaking any laws there wasn’t much he could do. Besides he said, “he ain’t bothering me.”
Pretty soon register sales started to fall. The many people who once called this place their home away from home started to become scarce and sometimes it would be just be my dad, being a loyal son of a bitch, me, the loudmouth and the bartender. My dad tried as best as he could to keep his eyes focused on the television and tried to ignore everything else that was going around him as the grandstanding and baiting went on. But, as anybody can tell you, it’s hard to ignore a conversation between two people in an elevator. After maybe a half hour, he’d gather up his change, leave a healthy tip and we’d make our way home.
My dad was never one to offer up too many parental wisdoms and most of the ones he did give have been long since forgotten. This one though is a jewel that has resonated in my mind since the day he uttered it. He said :
”Son, whatever you do in life, don’t be “That fuckin’ guy”.
It wasn’t long afterwards that my dad found himself a new sort of oasis in which to drown his sorrows. Even though it wasn’t the same it would have to do for now. I know that deep down he hoped that it was only temporary and that as soon as the loudmouth had lost his audience he’d move on. The new oasis was only a few blocks away and we’d often look in the window as we made our way home to see nobody but the bartender at one end of the bar and the loudmouth at the other.
The place that once served as the gathering spot for our extended family to celebrate marriages, births, sporting events and other rites of passage looked so desolate. You could almost see the despair in the bartender’s eyes as he looked at us making our way home. My dad would offer up a plaintive wave of his hand a shrug of his shoulders as we passed on by.
I don’t know if I’d ever seen a sadder sight.
Is anybody listening?