Drawn from my memoirs
[Yes – “Roundabout” ]
I remember the first time I walked into Tony’s, a few weeks after I moved into my little studio apartment, not far from Wrigley Field. I was just searching out my new neighborhood, trying to familiarize myself with various establishments, you know, just in case I needed to patronize one or two of them. I found a cute little 24-hour diner down the street that could be of service to my late night appetite.
Ah, but a few doors down, a revolving door. I was spellbound. All kinds of interesting people entering and exiting. Mostly, it seemed, members of the blue-collar world, a few with the white collar, but these folk mostly went in for the carryout.
As soon as I opened the door I knew: Past the carryout section, a fine silhouette of mug clashers and happy-go-lucky bar huggers pervaded my view. A graying man, tall and imposing, with short-sleeved white shirt stood sentry-like under the revolving Miller sign. During each revolution, its face reflected the “High Life.” I was mesmerized. I gathered speed and direction. Next to the lady dressed in black, I sat down. Great, a bar stool that spins. Just the way I like it. A 360-degree solution to my ever-present curiosity.
“What can I get you?” This voice, I know I heard it before. Nah, from some old war movie. One of the German Officers.
I spin my stool around. “How about a MGD?”
The second time I went to Tony’s it was early morning, probably around seven, too early to really do much anything else but have a few drinks. So, let the bell toll. I fell in love with the bell above the door, signaling either the arrival or departure of Tony’s beloved patronage.
For some odd reason, when I was sitting there on my stool, clutching religiously my chalice, er, mug and that bell rang, I was reminded of the movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” You know, towards the end, when the little girl says, “Every time you hear the bell, it means that your guardian angel had arrived.”
One night, with both boredom and thirst trying to harbor me in, I donned my shoes, grabbed my wallet and headed over to Tony’s.
On the second day of my patronage, I introduced myself to the bartender: “I’m Ricky and I’ll have a cranberry and vodka. Oh, and a beer.”
He kind of frowned and said, “You sures that whats you wants.” I didn’t know if I was hearing him right so I pushed my stool up closer to the bar.
“Pardon me,” I said.
“Youse wants a vodkas and cranberries and a beers.” I did hear right. This guy’s favorite letter of the alphabet is “s” and I’m getting a kick out of it.
“Yes, that’s what I wants, oops, want.” This could become contagious. I better get a hold of myself. Use “s” to pluralize and to possess.
“Okays thens, Oh, my names Pete’s.”
I extend my arm across the bar, offering a handshake, to make it official, to ensure him that I’m his new friend and as a friend, I am guaranteeing my return. Otherwise I’d remain a passing whim in the breeze, never to be seen or heard from again. But not this guy. The fact that this tavern has no jukebox, pool table, or any other distraction provides more the reason to make this my new hangout. Yes, this is the place.
“Pete, let me buy you a drink.”
“That’s okays. Thank youse though.”
One night after work (been working at my new job for two weeks), Tony had on the television a running of the bulls – The Chicago Bulls. They were vying for the ring, playing against the dreaded Lakers. The Bulls were over-due, as was their perpetual hero – Michael Jordan. Before this night, I never paid much attention to basketball. I was never a fan, didn’t find much excitement in the game. For a long time, I was a fan of baseball, particularly my beloved Chicago Cubs.
The venerable Wrigley Field was down the street from my high school, Lane Tech. Across from Lane Tech., WGN Studios. When I was a sophomore at Lane I saw Bozo Circus. Bozo was blinking his eyes at me and my other long-haired friends. As was Mr. Ned (the ring master) and Cookie the Clown. Little did they know, that before me and my friends entered their circus, we had ingested a bunch of purple microdot. That is LSD, my friends.
Wrigley Field, for all its intents and purposes, hadn’t housed a champion team for decades. But what it did offer was atmosphere. Beautiful, open-aired and ivied, Wrigley was the place to be on a warm-aired summer day. I was more prone to watching the halter-topped babes than the players on the field. Those fine lasses caught my eye more than the hapless Cubs caught the ball, providing me reason to return to Wrigley time and time again. Ah, and of course, the cold Budweisers, which helped propel me to an early exit a few times. The security guards had to escort me out because I was too loud and obnoxious. They couldn’t understand how I could have possibly been so drunk on a few buds. Little did they know that I also had under my belt about a fifth of vodka and grapefruit juice.
As I sat down at the bar, Tony, more animated than his usual stern self, put in front of me a shot of Hennessey and a tall boy. “On me,” he smiled. He danced away and repeated his generous gestures with the other freshly entered patrons, a few who I had known, a couple of others who were fresh-faced and unrecognized.
Tony came back to my corner of the bar and sat down on his stool across from me. He spoke of his admiration for The Chicago Bulls and how Michael Jordan, “is the greatest player who ever played the game” In his German accent, he said, “Did you know that I was a star basketball player back in Germany? Before coming to this country.”
I take a swallow of my beer. “No, didn’t know that.”
“Yes, yes, was one of the best in Germany. My dream was to come to America and join the NBA.” Tony’s eyes began to well up with tears. “I could’ve been the first German-born player to help take a championship. Hell, I could’ve been the German version of Michael Jordan.” Tony stood up and walked over to his till. He opened the cash drawer and pulled from it something shiny; something silvery that gleamed under the revolving Miller Ball Sign, properly positioned over his head. He held it near his chest for a good two or three minutes before returning it to the drawer. I wondered what it was.
The Bulls had scored another six points, unchallenged and positively headed for victory. The crowd was loud in appreciation, clapping, whistling, high-fiving each other, buying additional ammunition. Another dollop here, a shot or two there, a bottle of imported for the Boss.
Alone, my apartment offering a small semblance of solitude, I yearned for something more. Perhaps the company of a woman. I was single then, my last real girlfriend gone. She had split town after splitting atoms. She was a nuclear physicist and what she saw in me, I wasn’t quite sure. Perhaps it was my ability to create fusion with her. I was always good at that. After many a night of fusion, where our atoms smashed into each other, she opted for the fission and split. Not more than a simple, “I got to go.” Weeks passed before I realized she really had to go. I received a letter from her then, originating in, of all places, Anchorage, Alaska. A perfect place, I reasoned to experiment with cold fusion. Well, okay then.
I donned my tightest jeans and my favorite muscle shirt and left the depraved sanctity of my apartment. Being on a busy street, my stroll toward the bar garnered a few honks from a few of the passersby. I must look really good, I thought.
It took a few more steps before I realized that they weren’t beeping at me but the woman behind me. I turned around and if I had a horn on my belt, I would have beeped too. Man, was she gorgeous. And curvaceous.
Wow! Halter topped, her beautifully formed breasts and perfect navel quickly provided me with an erector set. I felt like building a monument right then and there. In honor of the navel academy or something like that. I fell to one knee to feign the act of tying my shoe (I was wearing sandals). I waited for her. A moment or two later she was next to me.
Her short shorts and my angle of view gave way to my heart. I knew that I needed her. At least to resuscitate me. She stood there and waited until I got up off my knee. She looked me in the eye and said, “Hey, you want to go for a drink?” Mind you, I had never met this woman before and here she was, acting like she knew me. Heaven-sent, she is, I thought. On this night, the most perfect of creatures was delivered to me as an act of salvation. Had to be the answer. Otherwise, how lucky could I be?
After I spent a glorious week with my halter-topped salvation, I dropped in Tony’s for a drink, not the usual but a drink, nonetheless. I took my glass and walked outside. I sat near the street and began to pour my drink along the side of it. A curious regular staggered out of Tony’s and mumbled, “Whatcha doing?”
“I’m trying to curb my drinking.”
I went back in and got myself another. “Tony, one for the road.” He poured me a tall one and I took it outside and poured it on the street again.”
“Now whatcha doing, fella?”
“This one’s for the road.” I looked at Gus, the beer-bellied bravado of the clan and said, “Sometimes a man must do what a man must do.” He looked at me like I was a bit off my rocker and perhaps I was. Let’s face it, I had to sell that old rocking chair of mine for some beer money. That was some time ago, though. I guess I had been off my rocker ever since. The money I’ll save for going on the wagon will be enough to buy me another, I thought. But that thought was quickly extinguished as I jumped off the wagon as soon as I saw my two favorite drinking buddies coming toward me, hollering, “It’s fucking time to party, man!”
I'VE GOT MY PHILOSOPHIES YOU KNOW
I vaguely remember but I do know that it was a mid-summer day as the sun was high in its trajectory and the music that was playing in the park was up-tempo. Besides, I do remember seeing half-naked young ladies prance about the city showing off their bronze tans and a few shirtless beer-bellied munchkins with tattooed forearms trying to act tough as they skipped along the city streets with their cigarettes hanging out of their gapped-tooth mouths.
On this day, I knew not what to do with my restless self so after prancing in circles like a caged lion for the last three hours I unraveled myself and took the straight line to Tony’s. I really hadn’t any money but I’d take my chances. I really needed a drink and I knew that in my world, a man who needed a drink shouldn’t have to beg for it. Providing a man like me a drink or two should be no different than giving me a glass of water after shoveling your shit for the last ten hours under a hot sun. I had my philosophies and by God, I had to follow them. Don’t try to refute my philosophies either. I’d get mad. It is my God-given right to have my philosophies as it is for you to have yours. The only difference is that your philosophies include going to war over something stupid. Not right. I won’t buy you a drink if you keep talking that shit anyway,
I’m in Tony’s now. It is quiet. Pete, bless his heart, seeing my empty water glass decides to refill it, this time, though, with the Lager.
Tick, tick, tick, tick. . . The clock above the bar echoes its rapture. . . tick, tick, tick, tick. . . . For Pete’s sake, say something. “So Pete, what’s new?”
“Nothings much,” he says, looking at me through the mirror he’s cleaning.
“Awfully quiet in here,” I say.
“I kinda likes it that ways. After last nights, I needs a bit of quiet.”
“What happened last night?”
“A big fights between Little Louie and Big Chucks. A difference in philosophies I guess. Little Louies, he don’t mess around. . . hit Big Chucks over the head with a bar stools.”
Now, I’m depressed. I fucking hate violence. I don’t want to think about it any more. I need a drink, a real drink.
“Pete, can you get me a double scotch and water. Hearing about what happened last night is making my head ache. How about it?”
“Okays, just one, though.”
Twat Diddley & Dicky Boy
It was a matter of time before the cat was drawn out of the bag. After yet another night of sleeping on the floor at Roseanne’s, after a good bout with Bud and Jack, I awoke to the sun blazing through the half-opened window. Not only was the light playing havoc with my hangover but so was the heat.
This was August, a Chicago August where a combination of temperature, humidity and alcohol could cause the pores to pour forth buckets. I was drenched in sweat and after staggering to the bathroom to piss and then douse myself with a cool washcloth, I could hear another tirade emanating from Roseanne’s bedroom.
“Dicky Boy, I’m going to kill you, you mother fucker. And Twat, leave me the fuck alone. Stop probing me. It fucking hurts.”
I don’t know what to do, what I could do. I can’t do anything to stop it really. I had tried once before and Roseanne considered me another one of her enemies. I just can’t get in the middle of it. Besides, I need a drink and if luck will have it, I hope nobody found the half-bottle of vodka I hid behind the couch. Hiding alcohol is a real good thing to do, especially when other active alcoholics are hovering about the premises.
(A month or so later)
Roseanne had her Twat Diddley & Dickey Boy and I had another hangover. It was the morning after, and as I lay on the floor nursing my head and another tall-boy (hair of the dog that bit me) I could hear Rosanne having a conversation with her two friends, Twat Diddley and Dicky Boy.
She was in her bedroom while I was curled up on the living room floor, a safe enough distance from the temptation of jumping into bed with her. We had become friends and it would be best just to leave it at that. . . . With Twat Diddley and Dicky Boy monopolizing her time anyway, I doubt she would give me the time of day should I attempt to play Seducer.
After her conversation with Twat and Dicky became loud and argumentative, I rose from the hardwood and staggered over to her kitchen. I grabbed another tall-boy and sank into the fold of the kitchen chair. On the window sill next to me, a clock radio. The time: 6:43 am.
Also, the time for a little music, something to help drown out the dissonance of Roseanne and her Twat Diddley and Dicky Boy. I was starting to feel really bad for Roseanne as it seemed that both Twat and Dickey were winning the argument.
Roseanne began sobbing, really loud, and it was just too much for me to hear her that way. I’m a sensitive and compassionate man, besides my head was throbbing and with just four tall-boys left, I wasn’t sure if they would be enough to cure my hangover. It was Sunday and the liquor stores and bars wouldn’t open until noon.
[Rolling Stones – “Sympathy For The Devil]