This is from the “My Life in Vignettes” series No.

19

Taverns

My earliest recollections of being in a tavern were at my Grandpa Kachigian’s on 111th and Vernon, Chicago in 1950. It was the “Just in Time.” But to most people being there was just being at the corner. Next door was Pullman Liquors. They had this great collection of pocket knives I loved to look at. In warm weather the front door was always open. The smell of stale beer coming out the front door. I’m sure even an average dog could recognize the smell from as far away as Beverly. They opened early in the morning for the night shift getting off from Pullman Works. On my way to Pullman School on 113th Street I would walk right past the open door. “Hey, there’s Johnny. Johnny come in here and give me a hug. Where you goin?” “I’m goin’ to school grandpa. Ya, what grade you in now? Remember I’m a Kindergartener? You don’t need to go to school today. I need you to help tend bar.” The Just in Time was a family tavern then. Roast beef sandwiches on Friday nights. Two mile long shuffleboard tables. Slot machines in the back storage room. People would bring their 8mm vacation movies on Friday’s. We would line up chairs theatre style. The black and white home movies would jitter across the screen. People brought their dogs in and set down bowls of water for them. There would be birthday parties, retirement parties, union parties, graduation parties, funeral parties. I can remember once when a guy was actually laid out there with ice in the casket. And man the wedding receptions. I learned the polka. And the Christmas parties tap dance rehearsals. The glass tube lights would illuminate the Art Deco bar in a beautiful green and red glow. Behind the bar the pace was fast. “Johnny, I need you to wash beer glasses were runnin’ low.” Because I was so short at the time some people didn’t even know I was back there. The bar tenders were nice to me. “Here, eat some cherries.”

I loved to wash beer glasses; well come to think of it every drink went into a beer glass. The four stage process was simple and didn’t involve any soap whatsoever. You would push the glass up and down under water in four tubs, and then set em’ up on the bar. Sometimes I got to set up on a barstool. What a view that was for a five year old at midnight. “You’ve had enough Charlie, go home! Huh, what, home, who said that?” Or, it’s the guy who gives no warning at all and just keels over on the floor. “Wasn’t somebody sitting there a minute ago?” The rule was when somebody’s eyes started to cross it was time to go. Slurring was allowed because some guys just spoke that way normally. Then there was frontier justice, the wife walks in at midnight. “OK where is he?” Slurring women were absolutely the worst. “Come over here so I can get a good look at you sonny. My little so and so looks so much like you I could cry.” “Lady, please don’t cry. Why don’t you just go home and see him, like right now would be real good.” “NO, no you’re not getting rid of me.” Right about now, I’d think to myself, vomiting would be so easy to do. “Get away from him,” grandpa would yell. And I would know how it felt to be let out of Stalag 17. But the good part was I never witnessed any violence. Bartenders then were often Chicago cops working part time. So they knew when it was time for somebody to go. But I would hear stories. And see the results, when somebody would come in sporting a big shiner. “Sucker punch, it was a sucker punch that’s all it was.” And so life and its meanings were starting out for me. My Cousin Tom would help out at the tavern from time to time. Not officially of course, shoot I wasn’t even official yet. We were just kids having fun in a twisted sort of way. Roseland thru the same lenses will always look different. Tom went on to go to Mendel High School, almost across the street.

I loved him. John Brandt Copyright © 2011 John Brandt

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