Life is full of the bitterest ironies.

I was working in the Social Club. Most of the guys were out and it was just me and Mr. D. I’m there behind the bar so I can cover the door, keeping my hands out of sight because you don’t know who’s gonna come walking in.
Mr. D is at the back booth, the only booth in the place, with his back to the wall, and he’s looking at me once in a while so I can get any signals on the Q.T.
So we’re just hanging out. It was nice. Mr. D’s back in his booth doing a little reading. He’s a big reader, Mr. D is. He’s always got a couple of magazines or books on him, and not paperbacks either. Hardcovers. He gets these plastic sheets that he puts over the covers to protect ’em. He says a book is valuable because it’s got somebody’s heart in it.
Don’t get me wrong. Mr. D is tough. But I’ll tell you, he’s got a big heart. Many’s the time he’s been reading one of these books and I hear him weeping, tears coming down his face, and he ain’t ashamed because he says this is from somebody’s heart and the world would be a lot better off if more people read books. And he’s always quoting poetry, too, everything from like Jack Frost to that Angelo Mayan or Mayan Angelo. I don’t remember what his name is.
So it’s a quiet Saturday night, and Mr. D’s reading one of his literate magazines looking for the latest writers and poets, and this guy comes walking in. I could see right off he’s in the wrong place, not because he looks dangerous or anything because then he’d be in the right place, but because he’s like middle class, maybe some kind of investment guy who’s never done any real scraping on the streets. But you never know because even that Jeffrey Dalmer looked normal, and he was a real nut bag. So I keep my hands under the bar and say, “Hey, this is a private club.”
But he keeps walking over and just parks it on one of the stools. “I just need a drink. It’s been a heckuva night.”
“Look, buddy,” I say again, “this is a private club.”
And he looks around, and says, “I know, I know. I just need a drink really bad, and it’s not like you’re busy or anything.”
“You gotta be a member.”
“You lose your liquor license or something if you serve non-members?” This guy either had guts or he was a real dummy.
“Yeah.” And I’m really ready to show him.
“Okay, I’ll join your little club. How much are the dues?”
So I start to come around the bar, but then I see Mr. D who does this little flick with his hand and so I guess it’s all right to give this guy a drink. He must have noticed Mr. D because he nods at him and Mr. D holds up his hand saying it’s no problem.
“What’ll it be?”
“Boilermaker.”
Middle class or not, he was old school Pittsburgh.
As I’m pouring a shot, then drawing him a draft, he says, “That the owner?”
“Yeah,” and I set the shot and beer in front of him. And what happens next, I swear, is true. He picks up the shot glass and depth charges it, dropping it in the beer so the beer foams up and spreads the whiskey bottom to top.
Now ninety-nine out of a dozen times that’s gonna cause the beer to come foaming out like one of those science experiment volcanoes, because when that whiskey hits the carbonatin’ it usually means you gotta chug the whole thing, and if you don’t chug it, you look like a wuss. But he knows how much to chug so that some’s left, and the way he does it he don’t look like no wuss, like he could chug the whole thing but didn’t want to. When a guy’s got that kind of control, you gotta admire it. And if he had that kind of control, I got to wondering, and put my hands back under the bar.
He pulls out a twenty and hands it to me, but I don’t take it.
“It’s on the house.”
“No, I appreciate it, and it’s Saturday and with the crowd you’ve got, looks like you could use the cash. This is kind of an out of the way location. If you were down on the Strip or South Side this place would be packed.”
“We were down on the South Side.”
“Got squeezed out when it started getting trendy?”
“Our members like their privacy.”
“Well, keep it anyway. Call it my dues.”
“You’re only getting one.”
“That’s all I want. Like I said, it’s been a heckuva night.”
And he takes another drink, but this time it’s a sip, so I get the feeling he’s one of those guys who wants to talk and I’m wondering if I should put on Sinatra, maybe “One More for the Road,” cause whatever it is he wants to talk about, it’s probably got something to do with a chick.
“I hate to say it, because it’ll date me. But in my day, people had respect. You know what I mean?”
I don’t want to know what he means but I see Mr. D’s listening because he’s put down his copy of Ploughshares.
“Yeah, same with me.”
“Yeah? You look younger than me, but I guess…You know it’s like when you were in school, you had a problem with somebody, you generally got into a fight, and settled it. And parents, it was, well, did you win? And if you didn’t, well then why didn’t you? And then your dad would be giving you pointers so the next time, you’d win.
“The point I’m making is that they were teaching us how to take care of ourselves, and that translates into everything.” I see Mr. D nodding in agreement.
“But now, parents are looking around for somebody to sue. ‘Oh, somebody picked on little Johnny.’ So everything gets all twisted and the kids can’t take care of themselves. They don’t know how to settle things. And worse, they don’t learn respect. When you can handle things, you get respect. When dad shows you how to take care of yourself, he gets respect. So the kids become real crazy because they don’t know how to get respect and they don’t respect anything including their parents, and they see all this stuff in the movies and TV, and they start carrying weapons. You know, if we used anything other than our fists we had to live with everybody calling us a sissy. Excuse me for that phrase. It wasn’t politically correct.”
“I’ve heard worse.” I’m wondering how Sinatra fits in to where he’s going with this, then it comes.
“I got this daughter.” So it’s a little chick. “I always had this fantasy about how I’d handle it when she started dating. The boy would come to meet me and he’d find me in my den cleaning my shotgun. ‘Oh, hi there, young man. Nice to meet you.’ A subtle little message,” and I see Mr. D smiling big. He’s enjoying this guy.
“Then I’d point out my daughter’s Tae Kwon Do trophies and tell him how she could break two inches of wood with a palm heel strike. That as a family we all took Tae Kwon Do, she’s got a black belt, but she hasn’t kept up with it, losing interest around twelve, but I, on the other hand, and her older brother, we’re both second degree black belts. That I can break four inches of wood. And even though she hasn’t kept up with it, I’m positive she could still break wood if she were forced.”
Mr. D laughs, and the guy smiles, not realizing Mr. D was listening. I glance over at the front door because I don’t want to get in trouble for not doing my job and I’ve got to admit I was getting caught up in this guy’s tale and not watching the door like I should have and that could end up real bad.
“That would be a way of earning the kid’s respect. You don’t have to actually get into fights to instill respect. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, you negotiate through strength, not weakness. Unfortunately, I never got to meet my daughter’s date that way. Kids are different now. Guy drives up and honks a horn. What is that? You meet the parents.
“It’s my entire fault. I didn’t put my foot down, going back to when they were little and dropping them off for sleepovers at a friend’s house. ‘Oh, Daaad, do you have to come in?’ ‘Yeah, I have to meet the parents.’ ‘Don’t you trust me?’
“Trust has nothing to do with it. Hey, I was young. It’s me making sure they don’t get into situations that are full of temptation because they’re young, not strong enough to resist all these new emotions. I’m not so old I don’t remember some of the things I wanted to do, or did, but I was scared to death all the time my parents would find out about something and they’d lower the boom, or worse, that I deeply hurt them.
“You know that look. ‘Son, what you did was wrong, and I want you to know that I’m very disappointed in you.’ That’s not saying I didn’t get into trouble. I’m no Saint Paul. But I respected, and feared, my parents.”
Mr. D nods again in complete agreement.
So I said, “Yeah.”
He takes another drink, and there’s not much left, so I figure he’s getting ready to leave and I can get back to the normal routine of a quiet night watching the door and Mr. D can get back to his reading.
“But kids aren’t afraid of disappointing their parents now,” he said as he gulped down the last of the boilermaker, keeping his lips open just enough to take the liquid but not have the shot glass fall into his mouth. This guy was old school all right.
He slaps the mug down and it has a nice sound hitting the wooden bar. He smacks his lips then looks at me and I know he’s not done.
“Tonight, I come back from Home Depot–I was getting a new faucet for the upstairs bathroom–and what do I find? My daughter’s in bed with this punk.”
Mr. D drops his head to his hands.
“She’s a real smart girl, top of her class at Fox Chapel Prep,” he says.
“Fox Chapel’s a good school,” Mr. D chimes in.
“Yeah, and here she is doing something stupid. What is it with kids?”
Mr. D raises his shoulders like he’s got no explanation.
“Kid’s got this spiky hair, about three long whiskers that he’s trying to make look like a goatee, some kind of weird barbed wire tattoo where he should have a bicep. They hadn’t done anything yet because they still have their underwear on. And my daughter’s wearing a thong…You don’t want to see your daughter in a thong.”
Mr. D and I both shook our heads in agreement even though I ain’t got no daughter.
“In my day there were drive-in movies, and would I think of trying something in her parents’ house when I know her dad’s only at Home Depot? It wouldn’t have been so bad if they just jumped up and tried to get dressed or something, or looked scared they got caught. But you know what happened?”
“What?”
“They’re both smiling at me, big stupid smiles, and the kid goes back to kissing her and stuff.”
“Really?!”
“Yes. No fear, no shame, no guilt. No respect. I just lost it.”
Suddenly I hear a car outside slam on its brakes, then squeal back as if going in reverse and I slid my hands back under the bar. Then some blue lights come on, and the beam whips around through the bullet-proof transom window over the front door, the light from the cop car racing across the top of the far wall, and I’m thinking what the hell? I look over at Mr. D, but he’s just as shocked as me. I know we made the right donations this month. And there’s nothing here, so we’re safe. So what the hell?
The guy stands up. “Well, that’ll be for me.”
“What?”
“Yeah, I lost it. I got the kid in my trunk.”
“You whacked him?!”
“What?”
“You killed him?”
“No! No, no, no. I dragged him off my daughter, he’s wiggling around, but I had him in a good hold. He’s telling me I better leave him alone, trying to act like a real tough guy, but I get him outside and toss him in the trunk.
“My daughter’s screaming, ‘Dad, stop.’ And I tell her if she had any respect for me she wouldn’t have done this…or call anybody, because it’s time they learned a lesson. I’m not going to hurt him.
“I was going to drive him out of town and see how he’d get back in his underwear. That would teach them something. But I needed to calm down. Otherwise, I was really tempted to do more than scare him. So I decided I needed a drink. I guess I’m a kidnapper.”
He walked to the door, and turned.
“Hey, thanks for the drink. You got a nice club here.”
“What are you gonna do to your daughter?” I ask.
“She’s definitely grounded.”
And he walks out the door.
“Joey,” Mr. D says to me, “Look out the door and let me know what you see.”
So I walk over, surprised Mr. D’s interested. I open the door, and see the cops surrounding the guy as he’s letting the kid out of the trunk.
Then I see something that makes even me scared. I’m thinking oh, boy, this ain’t good.
I walk back in and Mr. D’s waiting and I don’t want to. So I guess I better just let him have it because Mr. D likes it straight.
“It’s Tony.”
“Stupid punk,” Mr. D says.
“You want I should have the guy whacked?”
And he looks at me like it’s a stupid question. So I’m getting ready to make the call, when Mr. D says, “Naw! You try to raise them so they’re smart. Get caught, you apologize and run. If anything, I owe the guy for giving Tony one upside the head. Get Jerome on the phone and have him get over to the jail.”
So I pulls up the phone from underneath the counter to give Mr. D’s attorney a call.
“Kids are stupid. Parents got to stick together.”
Then he picks up his magazine and goes back to reading.
(c) 2011, by Ted Elrick

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