Thursday, March 27, 2008

Here Comes A Regular... Part 4

Okay, continuing where we left off with the rest of my regulars.

As I mentioned in my recent MTV Books blog about friendship, I have always loved TV shows that center around a group of friends (hmm, most TV shows do that, don't they?) and I always longed to belong like the characters did. Cheers was one those shows that I watched and I always wondered if bars really were like that. I am pleased to say that the Beacon is. People do indeed shout out your name when you enter and everyone is friends even though they might seem like an unlikely match outside of the bar setting. We even had a token postal employee, P.O. Pat, we called him because there were a lot of Pat's (yeah, it's an Irish area) and Scott's, so you either had a nickname or your full name was used (which obviously I won't do here).

Mostly before 4 pm, you'd see an older crowd, but interspersed with them were a few guys in their thirties and forties. P.O. Pat was one of these. He'd take his lunch break at the bar. Sometimes he'd bring in food, sometimes he'd enjoy my popcorn with his MGD. (Have you noticed that I still remember what everyone drinks? It's hard to forget.) P.O. Pat was one of the guys that would flirt with me. I put up with it, but it annoyed me to a degree. Not so much the harmless "so, have you broken up with your boyfriend yet?" thing (though I was glad that he wasn't around so much when I really did break up with my boyfriend and by the time he asked me again, I had a new boyfriend so I didn't have to lie), but I didn't really appreciate it when he would tell new people, "You know she's a writer? All those steamy sex scenes in her books, those are about me." What I would have called sexual harassment in an office setting, I dealt with as part of the job at the bar and as a feminist I questioned this from time to time, especially those particular remarks, but I think I took them so personally because they had to do with my writing.

Everyone at the bar did know I was a writer. It came up naturally as a part of the conversation. They'd tell me what they did and ask me what I did aside from bartending. I'd tell them I was going to Columbia downtown to get my master's degree in fiction writing. They'd ask what I wrote about and I'd tell them about my book. It was definitely good practice for the elevator pitch, but I still suck at that anyway. Now I cheat and hand people one of my bookmarks with the cover copy on it. But anyway, I found that this was a great conversation starter. It got a lot of people talking about reading. I know they say people don't read anymore in America, but most of my regulars did and I took quite a few book recommendations from them, especially Sue, the older woman I mentioned in an earlier blog.

Some people would be like, "Oh, are you going to put me in your book? I have a great story for you!" And I'd listen to their story which was generally a good story to tell in a bar, but no, would not make for a great novel premise. I'd patiently explain again and again that I didn't draw directly from my own life story nor was I interested in drawing directly from someone else's life story, but that I was certain my experience bartending would influence my writing someday. And now it is in this blog, but I also do have a bartender character, I'm just not ready to write her yet, although this blog has made me a bit more antsy.

But anyway, back to my regulars. (My tangents are what make my blogs so damn long. But you'll just have to deal. I'm forced to edit them out of my fiction, but this is my place to enjoy them!) I'll try to just list off the most memorable ones now to stay on track.

Carl popped up occasionally around Jeopardy time. He worked at O'Hare, dealing with the baggage I think. He would always come in still wearing his reflective vest so I imagined him directing planes to land from the runway even though I knew that wasn't what he did.He drank Bud draft for the most part though he liked to confuse me and switch it up. Carl was a little bit of an enigma in general. I remember a wintry day near Christmas when he came in really early, might have been right around 2. He asked for the remote and found an old black and white Christmas movie and asked me if I would be willing to make a pot of coffee so he could have some Irish coffee. Since there weren't any other customers around I was game to try to figure out our coffee pot. I remember Carl tearing up during a sappy part, or faking tearing up, I couldn't really tell, but it was definitely an interesting moment.

Scott and Pat (not the owner and his brother, a different Scott and Pat whose last names I would usually use, but not in this public forum) usually came in around 4. Scott was a businessman, an architecture firm or something, I believe. He was a great guy though and he and I won the 2005 Beacon Christmas Party darts tournament together. How it happened I'm not entirely sure because we were both totally blasted, but I guess being drunk made me good and Scott was pretty good in general.

Pat's a union carpenter. It's hard to pick a favorite regular, it would be like picking a favorite child, but he might well be it, which is odd because really, what did I 24 year old art school student have in common with him, divorced, laborer in his fifties. Lots. We talked home repair, we talked gardening, we talked books, we talked White Sox baseball and probably the thing that drew us closest was talking about his kids. Pat spoke with so much pride about his two daughters, who he planned to take to Costa Rica, and about his son who was in the Army and happened to be in Iraq at the same time a friend of mine was. We worried about them together. And actually Pat became somewhat of a father figure to me. Yeah, I know it's weird to kinda wish a drunk from a bar was your dad, but my dad and I had a strained relationship (which we are working on slowly but surely). And Pat and I went to Sox games together and he gave me the kind of home improvement advice that my dad couldn't. In fact he even sketched out how I could put in a patio and I had these great plans to do it, but my own dad backed out. And I wished that my dad would talk with about me with such pride like Pat did about his girls and his son. I wished he would have literally saved his change to take me on vacation when I was a teenager (though I don't know that Pat ever followed through with that and deep down I know that he probably frequented the bar a little bit too often to be as ideal of a father as I thought of him). The weekend I got my advanced copies of my book and was carrying one around with me everywhere, I ran into Pat at the grocery store and showed him. He was so proud. Everyone at the bar is, which is why I'm planning my release party there.

Then I went in a couple weeks later to show the book to some other people and Pat wasn't there. Unusual for a Saturday night. Beth Ellen told me that his son, who was stationed in Afghanistan now, had been in a building that a suicide bomber hit. The left side of his head had been hit badly, his brain was swollen, he was unconscious and paralyzed on the right side of his body. Beth Ellen had found this out because she was driving past the bar and saw Pat's truck there unusually early. that was the day he'd gotten the news. The Beacon was the family he turned to until his son was in the States and he could go see him. I cried when I found out about this. I knew Pat's son, had bartended at the party they threw for him when he came back from his first tour. He was a few months shy of 21 at the time but I served him anyway because I thought if he was old enough to face the hell he'd been through, he was old enough to drink.

I saw Pat when I bartended last weekend, hugged him for about five minutes straight. Fortunately he had good news. His son had regained both consciousness and use of his right side and he'd be transferred to a hospital in the Midwest soon. Pat still wasn't his old self though and I was glad when Dan told me they were starting up a fund for him because he's missed so much work going to see his boy.

Well, the blog is getting long again, but I don't want to end on a sad note, so I'll tell ya about the regulars that would come in towards the end of my shift, the folks closer to my age who I would usually join for a drink or two when I got off work, especially if it was a Saturday. Molly and Tim, the couple I mentioned before, and Dave, Sean, and James. They were a fun crew. When it was boring on a Saturday I could count on them to liven things up. We'd put out all the empties and play beer bottle bowling. When I came in last Saturday, Molly, Tim, Dave, and Liz were playing trashcan ball, some elaborate game that involved bouncing a ball into a trashcan that I couldn't figure out maybe because I wasn't drunk. Sean, who I bonded with over the punk band Propagandhi, and James used to come in Saturday morning still drunk from Friday night and cook me breakfast on the grill, the best roast potatoes ever. Of course they'd make sausages and stuff for themselves and insist that I make this weird gin and juice drink for them, which was James' hair of the dog concoction and when they were still there and in quite a state when Dan came on at 7:30, he wasn't always very pleased with me, but we had fun.

This brings me to the topic that I will discuss tomorrow, an inevitable one given my place of employment: alcoholism. Yeah, I know, heavy. But I promise it will still be amusing,.


Keri Mikulski said...

Wow! Great stuff, Stephanie. I can't wait to hear more.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...