“Yaw, Bill’s a man of the world now!” added Jerry.
Friday, May 18, 2012
The Drinking Room (An Account out of Donkeyland)
Part one of two
Jerry Hino shuffled the cards on the kitchen table, spread them out to make sure all fifty-two where there, over old scared brown varnished table. Betty was cooking chili for her seven and his seven children, in one huge pot. The kids were outside playing. Jerry fanned himself, cold as it was, he was heavy and sweated easily, his heavy stomach flapped over his belt, his shirt thin, his face erupted into brightness; it was a heavy and old man’s face, at thirty-four years old. The stove made the kitchen warmer for a Minnesota winter, close by. His crouching shadow seemed to climb the wall. His moist hazel eyes blinked at the four cases of bottled beer he and his brother, and Chick Evens had bought over by the window where the cold air seeped under the windowpane—keeping it a tinge chilled; Jerry Hino, and Chick Evens had pitched-in, each five dollars and Jim ten-dollars, and Jerry Spiegelberg, the giant of the group at six-foot six, put in nothing, big as an ox and dumber than one. Betty, his wife made popcorn, and everyone sat around the table munching, mechanically, as Jerry looked for a bottle opener, whereupon finding one, he opened four beers, Hamm’s; He took his first gulp, said:
“That’s better,” looking at Evens.
Jerry Spiegelberg, also known as Ace—or Big Bopper—the neighborhood booze buyer for underage drinkers, thirty-one years old, straight hair, a few years younger than Jerry Hino, face was seemingly disfigured, sucked-in cheeks, no teeth, just gums showing, tiny eyeballs like watermelon seeds, within those huge sockets, shaped like cylinders, decided to roll a cigarette, he had stopped smoking for awhile—or had slowed down his smoking anyhow, and now was aimlessly trying to put the tobacco into the paper with those big hands of his, and saying, “By rolling the cigarettes, instead of buying a pack, I smoke less.” Although everyone knew he was always broke, and the real reason was he couldn’t afford them, and everyone was getting tired of supplying him with free cigarettes.
“What should we play today?” asked Jerry Hino.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” said his brother Jim, and Evens smirked and that was an ‘I don’t care, either way…’ and Ace gave a big smile that went from ear to ear—like a donkey, meaning ‘what do I care, I got free beer, and maybe with a little pity, some free cigarettes.’
Ace now put his cigarette in his mouth, looked for a match on the table, checking his jacket pockets at the same time.
“Here,” said Chick Evens, handing him his lighter.
“Never mind, I got some,” and he pulled out a matchbook, and lit his cigarette, and half the cigarette went up in flames, to ashes, it was so poorly packed.
“Select a card,” said Jerry to Jim. And he did, and it was the Three of Hearts. “Okay,” said Jerry, “Should we play Hearts, first?”
It was the Sixth of November, gloomy and cold out of doors (1966).
Jerry Hino, Jim and Chick Evens all lit up cigarettes, Evens passing the flame of his lighter to and fro, Betty watched the guys attentively as she worked around them, taking up a piece of this and that, making the homemade chili over a slow fire, while they all smoked and drank, it was like this per near three times a week, and sometimes daily, especially around holidays or weekends.
“Ah, yes,” said Ace, smelling the chili, smacking his lips, as if preparing to gobble a bowl full as soon as Betty had it ready.
“Turn on WDGY radio,” said Jim, “Listen to some Rock & Roll?” And Betty walked over to the side window where the beer cases were stacked, one on top of the other, two stacks, in back of Jim, and turned it on; Jack Scott was singing.
“What age is Nancy now,” asked Evens, he had seen her outside talking to a car full of boys, and told them to move on; that she was too young for them.
“Thirteen,” said Betty.
“You best talk to her, guys are stopping and checking her out, she shouldn’t be walking up to the cars like she does, and she’s developing.”
“Sure, but I can’t keep up with all of them, and it’s worse when you guys get together and drink all day and night, but I don’t mind it, I mean.”
The kitchen fell silent, and Jerry looked at Betty unsympathetically. Someone opened the door, and I think Betty was happy for that, Jerry was about to get up and leave, it was Nancy.
“Hello guys, hi Chick!” she said with a smile.
“What are you doing out there, outside?” Betty questioned. Advancing to her mother, she smelled the chili, and took a spoonful, with her slender little hand, and like little drops of rain, let it fall onto her tongue,
“Flirting, or at least trying to flirt…” she chuckled “and my hero came to my rescue,” Betty shook her head, left the kitchen, nearly stumbling about to get out of the crowd, around the chaired-in room, to a more denuded room.
“Is that your Ford out there?” asked Nancy to Chick.
“The red and white yaw, it’s a ‘57, I have to sandblast the damn sparkplugs every week and put in a quart of oil in her, but it looks and runs okay I guess, been for Ron Saxton Ford, get to work on the car free, or at least free sparkplugs,” he said with a half smile and chuckle. He had been working for Swifts Meats, with his mother out in South St. Paul, but had come to work so often, too often late with hangovers, they asked him to leave, in a polite way.
“Take me for a ride in it, will you, I mean later?” she asked.
“How can I, I’m drinking and…where’s the can opener,” asked Evens, trying to avoid her question; she was cute, and slim, and nice looking, with auburn hair, and a few freckles, but he dare not, plus, he knew she was just a kid, and didn’t want to spoil her, nor tease her.
“I’ll wait,” she said. Then she pulled up a stool and sat at the edge of the table, by Evens; and began to swing her legs.
“Now leave the guys to their drinking,” said Betty, and get on in here and help me with some cleaning and ironing, the doorway is all muddy and wet from everyone coming in and out, sweep out the slush please.” And Nancy obeyed her mother.
Bill Kapuan knocked at the door, he was married to Bubbles’ sister, Judy—they had known each other since they were kids Judy being a year older than Bill, and Bill being a year older than Evens; Nancy let him in, he sat down on the cases of beer and looked fixedly at the other bottles on the table, “Open a bottle for yourself,” said Jerry. He had just gotten back from the Vietnam War. He was silent for a moment, the reason being, he was sufficient in himself, and he really didn’t have anything to say; other than that he considered himself not quite in the group, although married and knowing everyone quite well—thus conservative.
“I was thinking to say” said Jim “I bet Terry your brother will be going in and over to that Asian war soon?” turning about looking at Bill ((and right he was it would be a year or so, and off Terry would go)(it had been rumored while Bill was gone, Terry was playing around with Judy, they both looked so near alike, it perhaps was hard for Judy to avoid a closer relationship: but rumors are just rumors, are they not)) .
“Yaw, that Johnson is one son of a bitch, sending over 500,000-soldiers—drafting like crazy,” said Jerry; Kennedy had only sent 34,000-troops over to South Vietnam, and was going to stop the war before he was assassinated, and then Johnson replaced him, it would seem he might have been in on a plot, so it appeared, at least appeared to the onlooker, if you looked at it business wise, because it kept the American Industry busy—busy like the fireworks on the 4th of July.”
“I think Jack Tachney will be going in shortly too, the whole damn neighborhood, will end up there…” said Evens, in a near whisper.
“You too, Chick…” said Jim, “they’ll get you, you’re a candidate since you got that divorce, from what’s her name…?”
“Barb. Yaw I suppose. I got married before the cut off date
a year ago, but once the divorce is finalized I’ll get
it, matter of fact, I got a letter in the mail, and it asked me to respond to
it, but what good does it do, Barb will get what she wants, it reads: ‘Mental Cruelty,’ as if I drove her crazy, and here she is out
with every Tom, Dick and Harry on the East Side in the bars, matter of fact,
she had a boyfriend when we were living together—oh well, what can you say. I
saw him running out and down the back stairway one evening when I came home
from my karate class, and the next day I told her to leave, and she wouldn’t
and I per near threw her down the stairs. I guess I was going a little too far
with that. I told her she could come
back and take the house hold things I only wanted my clothes. Then a few weeks
later I tried to get her to come back one night, and she asked me to trop her
off at a bar, she evidently had a date with that fellow.”
“That didn’t last long,” said Bill.
“Fifteen months, per near to the day…” said Chick.
“I’d knock the guy’s brains out,” said Jim.
“She’ll probably marry the joker, I saw him in a bar and he was bragging when he saw me he was going to kick the shit out of me, I asked him right then and there at ‘Switzer’s Bar’ let’s go, and he backed down and Barb was hiding in a group of three guys or more, from me as if I cared, I just walked by them all, on the second floor and into the dance area. Later on I went downstairs at the side bar and a guy comes up to me says, ‘Is Barb your wife?’ I said, ‘Ex wife! Why?’ and he said, ‘She’s a damn whore!’ and I said, ‘That doesn’t surprise me.’ I think he wanted to fight, but I needed a better reason than that.” (And in time that fellow she had been dating, she’d marry, and divorce also, after fifteen-years of marriage.)
“Listen up,” said Ace, “we playing cards or talking?”
“Here’s this chap comes to join us, a war hero, and all you got to say is, ‘Listen up,’ fine friend you are Big Bopper,” said Jim.
“Yaw, Bill’s a man of the world now!” added Jerry.
“Yaw, Bill’s a man of the world now!” added Jerry.
“How many did you kill over there?” asked Ace. “Do you GI’s get to drink a lot?” he added.
“That’s the way it begins, you shoot at what moves, and you kill someone and you don’t really know because you don’t go looking for who you killed, you don’t want to get wedged in, and you don’t really want to know; then when you get back to home base you drink like a fish to forget the day, and who you killed and didn’t know you killed because you didn’t go to look at his face, or her face, or maybe a kid’s face.”
“Is it true half the Army over there’s on drugs?” ask Ace.
“Open two more bottles, Bill if you don’t mind, one for me and one for Chick,” asked Jerry.
Bill took the bottles from the cases he was sitting on put them onto the table in front of Jim, then he sat back down again.
“Well, Ace everyone over there is on something,” said Bill, “what I mean is we have our share of dopers, or drug addicts, there, but we all respect one another,” he said in a deep voice. “Our side, the drinkers…we just don’t usually hang around with them, unless we have to, unless one we bump into each other; or go out on patrol with one another.”
“Right are you old friend,” said Jerry, interrupting, knowing it was starting to get hard for Bill to talk about the war. “That’s the way he treated them Ace, now let’s pick a card, here!” He showed him the back of some cards to pick, “Pick one of them. Anyhow Bill, you’re back, I’ll say that for you, you made it back and that’s what counts. Now you got to forget the war and let bygones be bygones, I admire a man in uniform.”
“I hear Chick you’ve been teaching Bill karate?” asked Jim.
“We practice in his backyard now and then,” said Chick.
“I wonder if you can beat me in a fight,” said Jim, with pondering eyes.
“Now let’s not get into that,” said Jerry. “We get a few drinks in us and we want to test everyone out, we’re all friends here.”
Jim hesitated a little longer with that thought, pondering, “I’m just kidding, I get a little loose with my tongue when I drink,” nodding his head to his brother as if to say, all is okay.
“Well that’s the way a fights begin,” says Jerry, “we start bragging and put the other guy in the corner, who were good friends between ourselves and we end up enemies.”
To change the subject, Jerry asked Evens, “Your brother still got that 1940 Ford, you know with the supped up engine?”
“No, he got rid of that a while ago, always working on it, and burning the streets up with rubber, buying new tires, and blowing out this and that, you know what I mean.”
Then Jerry and Jim drank down half a bottle of beer each simultaneously, and asked Bill for another.
“Hay…” said Jerry leaning his forearm on the table, looking at Ace:
“Have they paid you yet?”
He had worked a week as a day labor the week before.
“Not yet,” said Ace. “I hope to God they’ll pay me soon, and I’ll buy the beer then!”
Jim and Jerry both laughed.
“O, hell, you buy, that’ll be Christmas,” Jerry said, “What do you think Chick?” sarcastically.
“I think if he has it he will, if he doesn’t spend it first!” Ace looked scornfully at Evens if not a tinge guilty, “You guys stop making fun of me!”
“It’s because you’re a working man now,” said Jim.
“He’s not used to a good honest day’s work,” said Jerry.
“Pass me my cards,” asked Ace.
“I think your right Chick, we got to take him down to pick up his check tomorrow and bring him back here,” said Jerry, “or we’ll never see a dime of that check spent on beer for us!”
“You still working at the battery company, Jim?” questioned Evens.
“Of course, night and day, trying to save up $100,000-dollars to retire,” Jerry had worked there also, but had been laid off.
“How’s that,” said Chick.
“I work all the overtime I can get, all the weekends I can get, I got $60,000-dollars now, and I’ll get it.”
“By golly, you might,” said Jerry, “if you don’t kill yourself first.”
“I was just wondering,” replied Evens, “if they were doing any hiring?”
“No, they keep lying off all the time, and expecting us to pick up the slack,” said Jim. Adding, “How many jobs have you had, every time I see you, you’ve got a new job, lost a job or looking for a job, I think you’re a roustabout if anything!”
“Let me count,” said Evens, “I’m nineteen, and I think I’ve had a job for every year of my life, perhaps close to twenty if not more.”
(Unfortunately, it would be in a few more years that Jim would die of a hear attack, working all those days, nights and overtime hours…!)
The four fell silent and looked at their cards, putting all the hearts together, asking for new cards, no one displaying their hands yet.
Jim took off his hat, he was five years younger than his brother, but was loosing his hair fast; his wife Bubbles was at work, everyone envied Jim for marrying her, she was pretty and colorful as a peacock, an outgoing personality—and he more often than not, bragged her nice looks and shapely body up to those around him, as if wanting them to comment only to get angry if not defensive, perhaps testing to see if someone was interested in her.
Then a bustling younger sister by two years, of Nancy’s age, came in sniffling from the cold, her nose red, cheeks rosy, and with cold ears and she slammed the door, rubbing her hands as if she was trying to produce a spark.
“No more playing, go get your sisters and brothers you’ll all eat in the living room.”
“Sit down Chick,” said Jerry, she’s going to serve them in the other room; Ace, get up and stir the chili.”
Ace stood up, grabbed the giant wooden spoon laying on the stove, the one Betty was using, and stirred it in a circular motion, smelling it and making faces, and bringing a spoonful to his mouth, and tasting it: Jerry shook his head to the right and left, and Ace chuckled as if he was being sneaky and got away with it. Put the spoon back down and his finger across his lips as if to say: Sh…sh! Don’t say a word to Betty. And had he, perhaps he would have been thrown out of the house, or at least, scorned in front of the group by Betty.
“Well how do you all stand?” questioned Jerry.
“Are you calling the game, you got all hearts?” said Jim.
“I don’t but I think I got enough to show you all up.”
“Well do you want to bet?” asked Jim.
“Why so?” questioned Jerry.
“You are asking us to show our hands, I think I’ll be alright, I don’t have all hearts but I got some high ones, maybe beat you do you want to bet?”
Jerry began to snuffle and rub his hands over one another, fast.
“It’s no go, I don’t want to bet, and it is just for fun!” Shaking his head, still thinking he has the best hand and wanting to see Jim’s.
“Well,” said Jim, “If you don’t want to bet, and you don’t have a full hand of hearts, by my rules we keep playing until someone does.”
“O, he’s tricky as they make ’em, Chick, I bet he hasn’t got a thing—”
“In a pig’s eye,” said Jim, adding, “spend a lot of money and bet then,” Jim, reaching for a beer, seeing everyone else was out, and pulling up four beers.
“Is that a fact,” said Jerry.
Betty returned and brought out several bowls from the cupboard, one by one, filled them with chili for the kids, lumps of chili in each bowel, and Ace looked with watering eyes, as she carried two of them in at a time to the other room. When she returned after the third trip, she saw Ace looking at her pitifully.
“I do not expect to feed you Ace or anyone but my family today, unless there is a lot leftover, and I won’t know until all the kids get fed and full, to include me and my husband.” Then she looked at Jerry, “I can’t help it,” said Betty.
“I didn’t say a word,” responded Jerry, knowing her often, perhaps too often fed his guests.
Jim laughed, showing himself his cards, made ready to show them to all.
Betty went to the other room slowly with the whole pot of chili to refill their bowls, just as the door was opening, and two more children came in.
Jerry was about to put a morsel of popcorn into his mouth and stopped, his eyes fixed themselves on the window behind Bill, Bill propped against the windowpane—the cool air seeping up his back, he replaced the morsel of corn back onto his plate, attentively. Then he drank a gulp of beer, “Here comes Doug Swartz,” said Jerry, twenty-three years old. He pushed his beer to the side to get a better look he was alone. Produced a cold look, “He’s your buddy, Ace, he’s not drinking any of our beer unless he wants to buy some, or pitch in to buy a case! He’s like you, a sponge.”
Doug came around now and then, mostly looking for Ace but was a friend of all, but more an acquaintance to Jerry
he walked along quickly as if likened to a duck—slightly robust, and muscle-bound, short hair, an inch or two taller than Chick Evens, talking to himself, striking the ground regularly with a rub of his feet like a bull, just turned twenty-three years old, saw that there was a gathering in Jerry Hino’s house, waved to Ace, he was facing the window; slackened his pace. Somewhat peeping in as he walked by to the front door, knocked and was let in, joined the others.
Evidence showed that he was a bit intoxicated himself, he pulled out a bottle of whiskey—a pint, put it on the table, “Help yourself,” he said, and Jerry smiled, took a shot with a shot glass, Betty had provided, and Jim pulled out a bottle of beer for Doug, and he drank a shot of ‘Windsor,’ whiskey himself, with a beer chaser.
“You looking for me?” said Ace.
“Just came from Larry Lund’s house, John and Larry and Jennie and Jackie and Mouse, Sam too, Mike and David to including Reno (the fat man, of the neighborhood, and dear friend to Evens’, whom had two fights with in earlier years, beating him both times by Rice School, in back of his Grandfather’s house) they’re all drinking over there, just thought I’d stop by at your place to see if you’d be home.”
“Anyone else over there?” asked Evens.
“Mary Eldritch stopped by with Danny Knight,” he said, and Ace who liked Mary pushed the decanter towards the center of the table, she didn’t like either one, Ace or Danny, but she played them, and Ace was jealous, trying to hold it in. Danny was called ‘Crazy Dan,’ and he lived up to his reputation. She was with both of them invariably friendly and advising, if not enticing—homely, in fact ((and in time to come there would be a killing between Ace and Danny over her) (see end notes for more details)).
Ace lived with his mother and father, a few blocks down from Jerry’s house, on Sims Street. Larry lived down on Acker Street, about six blocks away, the tough guy of the neighborhood—a six-foot one hundred and pound boxer, and perhaps his house being considered the second drinking domicile in the neighborhood; he was twenty-six years old, and Evens used to date Jennie’s sister Jackie—Jennie being Larry’s wife, and David dated Nancy—bear in mind there was many Nancy’s in the neighborhood. And her sister Carol, who was a few years younger than Nancy, whom was Chick’s age, dated a fellow who was going into the Marines, by the name of Rockwater. And Sam and Mouse, both brothers to Larry: Sam dated a girl named Nancy from the neighborhood, and would soon marry her, and Mouse would marry Jackie who was now dating Doug, who at one time dated Chick. And Evens, was dating a girl named Sandy, who was seventeen, and was presently at Jerry Born’s bar on University Avenue, drinking; waiting for Evens whenever he’d finish his rounds at Jerry’s house, although she was not too anxious, she liked to play the field, even when she wasn’t playing the field. John, was taking Karin out whom he would marry, whom was a year younger than Evens, John being the same age as Chick, and John being a cousin to Larry. And Mike, also known as Gunner—Chick’s brother ((who liked gunning his cars so much he was nicknamed Gunner by the neighborhood hooligans)(the neighborhood being nicknamed: Donkeyland by the city police, who patrolled that locality of the city, because of all the stubborn hooligans in it)), was dating a girl from North Dakota by the name of Carol, a cousin to Roger Lindamen, who was dating a girl not from the neighborhood, and thus, not too well known—although he dated the Caretaker’s daughter, from Oakland Cemetery for a season, three years older than Evens, and the first girl Evens had ever kissed at the age of thirteen. Whereupon, he wanted Roger to allow him to kiss her again, and she agreed but Roger wouldn’t; Roger was now a bartender at the Horseshoe bar on Rice Street, being twenty-three, or four years older than Evens.
“You mean,” said Jerry, “you came by to see if he got paid to buy more booze for you guys down there a Larry’s,” and Doug smiled, went perfectly silent for a moment. “Well, he hasn’t got paid yet, and we got first dibs on his check, right Ace.” Ace looked as if he dropped into darkness, stubbornly and with difficulty, not knowing what to say, as if he had promised them his check likewise; as if he felt in the wrong for some odd reason.
Doug raised his eyes from the shot glass he was holding, gazed out the window, at the cheerless Jackson Street, Oakland Cemetery and its iron high fence, its landscape behind it. The evening was coming and it all lay quiet beside the empty sidewalk that stretched alongside the cemetery, two miles or so long; the oldest cemetery in the City of St. Paul. He had a kind of inane expression of sympathy, “We used to drink in there when we were kids,” he said looking at Evens. How true it was, they actually degraded themselves in there, vice and miserable drinking and malodorous odors from the girls they brought in there, carrying cans and bottles of beer and wine, Ripple Wine, and Thunderbird Wine, the cheapest wine they could get their hands on, rot gut wine, over the fence and resting on graves—desecrating the grounds and stonework.
As the lights went on outside, thoughts began to wander among the group, Betty’s hands touched Jerry’s shoulder, cold air seep in around the corner as Nancy shut the door for the next to last time, and went into the living room to watch television. She could no longer hear a thing in the kitchen.
Jerry replaced some of his cards wearily, as Ace said to Evens, “You should go back and date my sister Kathleen she’s dating this fellow, but…, she still likes you a lot, talks about you now and then.” Evens dated her when he was fifteen, as he dated Jackie, prior to her. Both Kathleen and Jackie and he were of the same age, went to the same High School, Washington High on Rice Street.
Then there was a knock at the door, it was Mike and Don Gulf; both dear friends of Jerry’s, both brothers, Don being two years older than Jerry, and Mike being the same age as Larry Lund, whom lived on Acker Street perhaps a block away from each other. Again, Nancy opened the door for them.
“Big Mike,” said Jerry. He had bruises on his face and his knuckles were scabbed. “I heard, just the other day, heard you had a fight with Don Quinn, the Minnesota ex Heavyweight Boxing Champion, at Bram’s bar?”
Evens stopped looking at his cards, it interested him, he had met Don Quinn, once, he was a broad man, and had big hands—like boulders, he was married to Sid Moeller’s sister, Sid was Chick’s friend who had died in a car crash just a few months earlier. Don was in line to fight the heavyweight champion of the world should he not have gotten beaten, Mohammed Ali.
“God have mercy on your soul,” said Jim, “how did it all turn out?”
Part Two of Two
Mike turned about, spat rudely into the basket, some blood, his gums were bleeding, “He knocked out a tooth and loosened up a few, but I gave him a good fight.”
“What do you mean,” asked Evens.
“Well, he’s a pro I mean, ask anyone, I put up a damn good fight. Am I right Don?”
Don the neighborhood drunk, shook his head up and down, then said, “Anyone know who my wife is poking?”
Evens knew, Sandy St. Clair, Don’s Sandy, he knew who she was screwing; the St. Clair girls, all five of them, were of Native American origin, it seemed after his father-in-law passed on, he picked up his drinking, going like the devil after it. He drank plundered the home savings ran headlong into debt. It was no use making him take the pledge to halt his drinking, he was sure to break it as soon as his head stopped spinning.
By fighting with his wife into the presence of his sister and whoever else was around, and not working, one evening she slipped into her sister’s house—off Sycamore and Jackson Streets, and there she’d stay for awhile.
After that they lived apart, Don moving back in with his mother. And so he was obliged to work odd jobs in the neighborhood, or at a day-labor outfit, most of the time he’d simply just visit friends, sit on their porch, off Jackson Street, watch the cars go by with other drunks; Sharon his wife, became very chummy with her sisters, and the bar life without him.
Don had the reputation of being a hard jealous case. He found using soldiers’ obscenities normal, and if not passed out in the afternoons, he’d drink himself sober and close the corner bars. Sharon’s sister Sandy, moved in with Sharon, they both moved up the street a ways, not far, got an apartment together next door to Bram’s bar, Sandy the youngest of the five sisters, had eyes for every Tom, Dick and Harry, and especially for Evens’ brother, Gunner. A perverse Madonna; this was not to Don’s liking, now he had to play sheriff, as Sandy was very lively, and had the run of the men, and Sharon now was available—although none of the young men meant business, this situation went on for a longtime.
That when Sharon knew that she was being watched—Sandy and those in that apartment building not saying a word to Don when he came around, yet that in itself, that so called persistent silence could not be over, and was overlooked by those in the building, shunned is a better word, nor after awhile, misunderstood. Who was she seeing?
At last when she judged it to be the right moment, John intervened; now she had to deal with moral problems, but at this point she had made up her mind, and that is when the affair started. It was for the most part—figuratively speaking—a promising heat for the winter cold, if not a fresh breeze blowing threw the window curtains.
Sandy was not afraid revealing her purpose by her self-contained demeanor. A few times Evens would stop over to see how they were doing, usually having breakfast, and the breakfast table usually covered with last nights steaks and eggs and bottles of beer and wine; one or two fellows just waking up in arm-chairs. It was awkward, and usually the phone kept ringing, and this entire flooded Evens’ mind as Don stood by, perhaps he was thinking: there must be reparation made in such cases. It is all very well for the man who is screwing the other man’s wife, but not for the man who gets blamed for it, and isn’t doing it—not having that moment of pleasure, but being convicted for it. John had thought once confronted by Don, he had patched up the affair by saying Chick Evens was poking her—no honor among lustful young men.
In any case, Evens knew Don was fishing, but he didn’t say anything, not yet anyhow, it would come out at Bram’s bar—where per near a fight would take place over that issue, the following weekend of December 1, and the truth would come out, for now it was postponed.
“Not much of a story between Don Quinn and me,” said Mike Gulf. I see you don’t have much beer left; I got to go, Don and me we’ll take a little nipper of that whiskey though.” Oh, the decisive expression on Don’s face thought Evens, florid smile on his face, satisfied for the moment. Don’s hands were unsteady that he had been obliged to fold them behind his back. Chick Evens was sure the affair would be talked about at the bar, all would be certain to hear of it.
The phone rang, and Nancy picked it up, it was for Evens, Sandy, his Sandy at Born’s Bar, she was calling to see when he was coming to pick her up: he felt his heart leap, warmly in his throat, as he got up to answer phone, then sat back down, he was excited, his imagination anyhow, it is more the anticipation of what might take place later on, then the actual act, the psychological effect, the problem was, once he got drunk, nothing would work properly anyhow, so he called out in a rasping voice: “Tell her I’m playing cards, I’ll try to call her at the bar later!”
((Knowing she’d go to his apartment and meet him there later, if she cared to--and got bored at the bar, and usually she’d be ready for cardinal sins, even if Evens was too drunk to perform; that is to say, she had his key.)(As years passed she danced in a half-dozen night clubs throughout the Twin City’s of St. Paul, and Minneapolis.))
“Fine,” said Mike Gulf, “that’s the latest. Thrusting it into your hands, don’t go making a lot of noise about it, if you know what I mean,” he started walking rapidly towards the door, “well thanks for the drinks,” he yelled back.” Don followed him waving as he left the kitchen archway, thinking it was always a great affair at Jerry’s place, perhaps wanting to stay, because the liquor was flowing freely. But never once did it seem to occur to anyone to ask him to stay, and Mike had told his hearers they were just there for a moment—yet there was no extravagant purpose or place to go to, not really—if he might use the metaphor, he might have said: what people and places do we have to go to, we don’t have any spiritual account, to account to. I suppose we all have at times give way to our temptations, our failings, and he wanted to stay were the booze was flowing freely—this is what his mind was thinking, his body was craving, but he followed his brother nonetheless, but to admit the truth, the literal truth, there were in his mind’s eye, the voice of his mind: a few discrepancies, to be frank, and say like a drunk would say, if he could say what he was thinking that is: ‘Look here dummy, this doesn’t take any divine understanding, I will sit right here, right now, until I fall off the stool, because these are my friends, and they got lots and lots of booze,’ but Mike could be a hard taskmaster, and perhaps would be insulted, and look bad in front of his friends, because Don’s friends were Mike’s friends, and Mike had pride, and Don didn’t.
And then they both left, Don and Mike, as one could hear all the gossiping and laughing and fussing and poking fun at each other, and eating that popcorn and smelling that chili and smoking one cigarette after another in that twelve by twelve foot kitchen, with a side corner pantry.
You could hear from the television in the other room, a special on the death of President Kennedy, people saying where they were and what they were doing at the time they heard of his death on the radio and television and so on…
“Fine jolly fellow,” said Bill, “Better than Johnson.”
“That was a man,” said Ace.
“And tell me Jerry, you think he was a good President?” Jim said to Jerry, “that is to say, what’s your opinion?” wanting for particulars.
“They’re all good men when they’re running for president, once in the office, they become unworthy of the title, or position, the name they carry and the promise they give to the nation: he was sleeping with the movie star I hear, and he screwed up that invasion in Cuba, and he started the war in Vietnam, what makes him so good…to be worthy of our worshiping him?”
“Perhaps you’re right,” said Jim. “We forget there are two sides to his character.”
They all took a drink again, one following another’s example
“Ah!...he was a splendid man,” said Evens, “I heard him once on television, he said something like, ‘Don’t ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’ I kind of felt that’s how you get out of the pit, you know, the one we all fall into…the—”
“I remember that well,” said Ace.
“Upon my word, when did you ever listen to any one give a speech,” said Jerry, laughingly.
“But he was our president,” said Ace, “wasn’t he?”
“Course he was,” said Jerry, “and a damned decent one if you overlook all the crap he did to us. I mean he seemed to have the faith, and we were all genuinely moved by that, but to tell you the God’s truth, I remember well Marylyn Monroe singing to him, at his birthday, there’s a good deal in that, poor Jackie Kennedy, he’s screwing her in the closet and she’s sitting at home knitting. And we almost had World War Three over him.”
“Yaw,” said Bill, “there’s not much difference between us, in him.”
Jerry hesitated for a moment.
“Well, he was no Redeemer, I’ll tell you that,” said Jim.
“Not a doubt of it,” said Jerry.
There was a knock at the door, Nancy opened it, “I’m looking for Chick evens,” he said.
“He’s here,’ replied Nancy, “do you want me to get him or do you want to come in? And they’re all drinking in the kitchen”
“I’ll come in I guess, I’m Reno…” he said, as he stepped forward onto a mat, taking off his wet galoshes, a light fringe of snow on the tip of them, and on the lapel of his overcoat, he shook the galoshes, placing them to the side by other shoes in the hallway, taking off his overcoat he pulled his belt upward that was tightly fitted around his plump body; and followed Nancy to the archway of the doorway that led into the kitchen.
A pale, fat and oval face came forward into the light. Jerry and Jim didn’t know Reno, and thus looked with astonished eyes. Reno was modest with his behavior, and was introduced by Evens to everyone. Reno brought a gift with him, which he took from his waistcoat pocket, a half-pint of whiskey, and a full bottle of wine, he placed his gifts on the table and sat down on a stool with company on equal terms.
“Open that wine, will you,” mumbled Ace in an impatient way, to Reno.
Glasses were rinsed and handed out, and even Betty had a small glass of wine. So now, new influence enlivened the conversation.
“What’s your opinion of JFK?” asked Jim.
“I often heard he was a scholar, you know the most intellectual president we had, and were like Abe Lincoln.”
“So he might have been,” Jim expressed with amusement.
“No, no,” said Jerry. “I think you both are wrong there.”
“Well Johnson is no great scholar, a warmonger if you ask me; he’d need a lot of candles lit to get into heaven…and I doubt any of the soldiers in Vietnam would light them…!” commented Bill, who obviously was a Catholic.
Betty tasted her wine contentedly and shook her head with an indifference intended.
“That’s no joke,” said Jim, “He thinks he’s like the Pope, infallible.” Everyone started laughing heartily.
“No, damn it all,” said Bill, sensible, “I did my job right enough; I just didn’t understand it all, a lot of killing going on over there.” Then he shook his head with ridiculous seriousness.
“Yup,” laughed Jim, “There’s a nice Catholic boy for yaw, I mean man!” quickly correcting himself.
“I like the old system, just being plain and honest, he got a silver spoon the day he was born,” and with a friendlier tone, he commented, “and went to the best colleges,” replied Jerry with a stretched out humorous face fussing with his fingers and cards; and then he started to drink gravely.
“Well, you know guys, I got to get back the Larry’s, I just came to see my old friend, Chick—heard you were here, when you come to think of it: great minds as they say, are next to madness, something like that,” with that Reno stood up and left, leaving his wine behind, and taking what was left of his half-pint of whiskey with him.
(In years to come, life would not be so graceful for Reno; he’d hit the drugs end up in prison, and die an early death.)(See end notes for more details.))
A few more hours had gone by and the drinking was now slowing down—actually everyone to include the kids, or children, grew tired and sleepy, it was nine p.m. The house was warm and bright and on one side of the table, Betty had left a loaf of bread, and cheese for sandwiches. Betty had cut the cheese for them. Jim made the first sandwich. He was the same size in height as Evens, perhaps a little more weighty, with a sort of long thin nose that seemed to nearly touch his chin, when he ate the sandwich it covered his mouth half his nose and all his chin. He talked a little through his nose, and although he liked to quarrel some when drinking, he succeeded in making peace with everyone this evening.
On the other hand, Jerry was usually the peace-maker! And everyone was fond of Bill, Evens was more of the mascot.
“What a nice day and evening,” Chick Evens inferred. Evens was not much different drinking, drunk or sober, more often than not, just wanting to drink and be left alone, a way he had become accustomed to in his life. Jerry was a good fellow, they had gone to Omaha together, Jerry had run away from Betty when they had gotten into a fight, only for Betty to find him and bring him back, along with Evens. After that breakup, and back home again, they had gotten married and combined all fourteen children into one family, although Jerry’s some, some of them stayed with their original mother at times.
That was a year ago. And she liked it. She had a good and bad opinion on her husband’s drinking parties, and in time would start drinking little by little herself, I mean, a little more and a little more; conservatory at first as it was now, more like looking after them. Perhaps she felt out of place, watching everyone pull down their sleeves and their streaming arms, settling down on the table, with bottles of beer, or huge mugs filled up with beer, or mixed with wine and whiskey, and watching the distribution hour after hour, slices of bread being consumed as a meal in-between, or giving them her homemade soups and even chili at times—depending on how she was feeling and how many were there; today it had been popcorn.
It was at first, when she was always glad when the men had finished their boozing and she had begun to clear away the bottles and things. And thereafter her and Jerry went into their little bedroom and had a moment together, and Jerry would fall to sleep, and she’d look upon him with quaint affection at the bulk of his body which she had so often adorned. In spite of the years she found it a nice body, and perhaps unknowingly little by little was molded into his way of life. Surprisingly in time, he would stop drinking, and she would pick up her drinking, as if it was a change of irons.
The kids had been fed, and the room was full of smoke, and empty bottles, and two ashtrays full of cigarette butts. Even Betty had a beer now. And Nancy was looking over Chick’s shoulder; she had left the television and the children: a few of the kids had gone to bed, a few fell to sleep on the sofa, it was Friday, and no one needed to got to sleep early, and a few were watching cowboy shows.
“Ay, ay!” said Nancy, “when you take a break can Chick tune my guitar up for me, Ma?”
“Sure if he doesn’t mind, I got it for her a week ago, and can’t find anyone who knows how.”
“Go on and leave me out of this hand guys, and give me that guitar; have you got it here?”
“O, ay! Yaw—I mean yes,” said Nancy and she ran to the other room to fetch it.
“Give it here,” Evens said, and he tuned it up within ten-minutes. “Do you want to hear a few of Elvis’ songs? Listen to this new one I learned ‘Something Blue ♪♫’ okay…?” and he started to strum the cords out, not waiting for a verbal reply, although Nancy shook her head up and down.
Ace turned around spoke in a trumpet voice: “Go on Elvis, give it some fire!” and he started clapping like a mad man; Ace, if not funny, the life of many a party, with his dancing and outbursts when drunk, if not at times chaotic. Well, I shouldn’t say he was exactly chaotic…but there was something perplexing there, something uncanny about him, if you would have asked for Chick Evens’ opinion.
Chick began to puff at his cigarette, no doubt arranging his position, tiresome, Nancy found him interesting. He began to puff again on the cigarette, unsure if he knew all the words to the songs he was thinking about singing—he often didn’t, staring at Nancy, and said ‘Well.” Then after reflecting a moment longer, Evens sang another song by Rick Nelson: ‘I Rise, I Fall♪♫’ and one by Johnny Cash: ‘The Caretaker♪♫’.
“Who sang that song?” asked Doug.
“It’s a Johnny Cash song,” recited Evens.
“What I mean is,” said Doug, “I never heard it before.”
“A 1959 tune of his, I think,” said Evens.
Nancy listened attentively while Chick Evens was playing his pieces, full of cords and finger picking the strings of the guitar ♫♪♫ —somewhat warming up, to now a hushed room, actual a hushed house. He liked music, they had begged Evens to play certain songs, and he tried but had forgotten many of the words, Betty stood in the doorway, and gone away ₪quietly to empty the ashtrays. The only persons who seemed to follow the music of the guitar was Nancy herself, her hands racing along as Evens zipped up and down the neck of the guitar, stopping, making pauses like those rock and rollers, to make a face, a momentary imprecation because the loss of words, and yet standing at his elbow was Nancy through it all.
Ace crammed his mouth with four slices of bread, and a huge slab of cheese several slices packed on top of one another, in fear there would be none left should he not—
The gray paralytic face of Betty grew angry watching Jerry eat like a sow, it somewhat puzzled her head, she had had two beers herself and a half shot of whiskey, she murmured something, not quite clear, but no one heard her, and a smile continued on her lips and she evidently forgot what she was mad about, as her lips became moist with spittle.
“Sh, ’sh,” said Nancy, “I want to hear Chick sing, I like his singing.” She sat close to Evens, per near on his lap, on a stool, as everyone toasted to his singing, and an ordinary day passed into night, and there were no more door-knockers.
“Fire away,” said Ace, but Evens was silent for a moment as if he was rehearsing the piece in his mind, then it came out loud and clear.
Every one seemed now in a singing mood and felt even annoyed at discovering the television was on, and had it turned off, as the kids listened from a distance, those still awake. Often times, Chick Evens, if a guitar was at hand, he or Bill, or he and Bill would amuse themselves and those around them with their imperfections in singing and playing the guitar, Chick had taught Bill how to play the guitar when he was sixteen years old, they’d sit in his bedroom practicing, and figured one day they’d get a band started and call it, “The Blue Dreamers,” of course they never did. Nancy sat close by filled with excitement.
You could now hear a few of the children tiptoe up the stairway to the bedrooms. The stairway suffused with a dusky golden light that glowed from the ceiling of the living room. A few of the children pretended to pray quick, so sleepy they could not gather their thoughts, and fell into bed—per near lopsided onto their beds, Betty would check on them later and straighten them out.
It was at this point, all the friends—the playing of cards, the musical responds to Nancy’s request, and when they had played every little counter of gossip, they shook hands with one another all together, laughing at the crossing of so many hands, and said their good-byes to one another, everyone content at this, the night had ended.
For Chick Evens, he knew shortly after this old hand evening, there would not be another, he would be on his way to San Francisco, but not as quick as he figured, he would first go the Seattle, Washington, with Ace’s brother Jeff, and then back again to St. Paul, and then onto San Francisco, and then on into the Army to Augsburg, Germany for ten-months, and then onto the Vietnam War, like so many of his friends had ventured into, so would he.
He knew, somehow knew, this would not occur again, this talking and laughing and politeness and get-together of friends that was really so common at the time.
He pushed the door open, towards him, saying, and the last to say:
“Everything went on quite smoothly.”
He forgot nothing, and thanks to Jerry everything that made a good night of drinking fun, that was to be done was done. By ill-luck, when Evens and the rest of the group left, it was a rainy evening. The melancholies of the wet street efface all the enthusiasm for Chick Evens to go to the local bar. Then he gave a little sigh and said, and Jerry not far behind shutting the door: “Ah, well!” as he looked across the street at the headstones in the cemetery, then up at the face of the moon, with its pale grey cloudy knuckles, thin clouds, clouds like dark knuckles and fingers being dragged across its brightness—his mind drifting off for a moment, watching the gothic shapes, and the night sky, the stars in the night sky, that made him feel like he was in, the inside of a cathedral, perhaps the message was: blackness and silence—no more than that.
He was thinking about calling Sandy at the bar: Born’s Bar on University Avenue, or perhaps going to his apartment on York Street, on the East Side of town. He got into his car and turned on the radio, humming his music with great feeling, turning the volume up, and the heater on warm. He was unassuming and said little. He usually never drank anything stronger than beer, for his head’s sake. Ace turned about, he had been walking down the street, saw Evens’ car lights on, walked back opened up the door, said, “Going to Bram’s?”
Evens shaking his head every which way, “Not sure, only got a few dollars, why?” Thinking he wanted a ride.
The pleasant noise from the radio circulated in the car, and he got into the car, wanting to say something private, a conversation, it was evident he had got paid, and wanted to treat Evens at the bar. Evens glanced at Jerry’s house, and then at Ace, an unknown solitary with keen eyes faded from the window of Jerry’s house, with the blue dress which was loosely fit around her slim body.
“I wonder where they’re going,” said Nancy.
“I’m sure to the corner bars, Bram’s or the Mount Airy,” said Betty, “but keep it quiet, Jerry may want to go and I want him to stay home. I know Chick is broke, but Ace he’s got a big smile on his face, and that means he’s holding a roll of bills in his pocket, he got paid.”
There was a little rancorous twist behind her collar-bone for Ace, but she was stern and self-satisfied, and felt wealthy just having her husband now to herself, among the company of her children. She talked to her daughter amiably, she always wanted to be on good terms with them, but as she tried to be polite her eyes followed the white and red 1957-Ford, as it turned, made a U-turn, on Jackson Street and headed towards the corner bars.
As Nancy walked back into the kitchen, the room that was so lively a few minutes ago was quiet and discreet, Evens had lived there for three weeks upon Jerry’s and Evens’ return with her mother from Omaha, he had slept on the sofa until Betty had noticed she had taken a liking for him, and felt it safer he find an apartment, and Evens knew it was proper what she had requested, instinct told them both, his imposing body, youth and restlessness, wildness was a trigger for her young daughter’s hormones. Jerry’s older daughter was sixteen, but more often than not lived at her mother’s house, visiting him for the summers.
She, Nancy, liked Evens’ carefree manner, and had hopped he would have stayed a while longer. She was old enough to suspect the reason for his politeness and leaving; only wishing she was older, knowing the color and shape of her body appeased the senses of those young boys who were near Chick’s age if not his age. Thus, she was pleasantly conscious that the small bosoms which she was developing, that those boys in the car willfully took glances at, gave her a tribute because of: why not Chick Evens? When he could have stayed and not have left her regretfully, or was it regretfully perhaps not, perhaps he never even noticed, she thought. But he must have because I made him. And so, she walked up the dark staircase and came to a secluded bedroom.
While Nancy was opening the door, Betty was speaking so animatedly to her husband, she was asked to lower her voice, lest the children hear. Nancy perceived a hush.
It had been an unassuming day and now night, and all had left; and I repeat, an amusing and unassuming day and night, under what is often called, so often looked at as: a vague day in the life of a few, among the many. In which we so often brush away like fallen grains with quieter inefficaciousness. Venial and moral imperfections, displayed in no more than a snuff-box of people, long forgotten, or soon to be, half now forgotten, thus, what we have done here, if anything was to knock on the door—reopen it, walk slowly back into the kitchen, look at those theatrical players in real life annoyance, discovering myself, discovering a sensation that once upon a time really existed, under a certain circumstances. A day surely we all regarded as the simplest of days, and acts. Perhaps kept until now under secrecy of the confessional, undertaken within this story; often I’ve thought of these days, foolish and halting days, and smiled pensively, nodded my head thoughtfully, now and then even laughed at those long forgotten puns we threw back and forth. Smoking and drinking, and looking at each other’s discolored teeth, and letting one another’s tongue lie upon the power of the lip in telling fish stories that got bigger as the night got longer: a habit we all felt made one another feel free and easy in the beginnings of each drinking party in the drinking room, and especially the last one.
Note: The Afterward, which forms Part III, that updates the reader on the old gang, what has happened to them has been left out to be put into the book at a later date, and the middle part “The Dream,” has already been left out here, because of room, but is on the internet under the title name of “Daydreaming in the Drinking Room”