Kenneth is a rural citizen of Hamilton, Ala., and has begun to observe life and certain things and people helping him to write about them.
Be forewarned. Some of this commentary could pose as simplicity dressed in reality. Be cautious in your thinking. Remember, it was a handful of free thinking men, and a few women, whose names were not revealed, who formed, signed, and executed the Declaration of Independence. Wa La! The U.S.A. was born. And through many external and internal strife-laden skirmishes, we are still convening as a Free County. Long live Democracy!
You’ve been warned. Tread easy, men. That last phrase was said on a TV film that dealt with the training of Navy SEALs and the Commandant who gave the opening remarks upon the first day when over 300 selected “best” of the common US. Military branches, were praying to be a SEAL. I didn’t really watch this film that much due to the camera work, oh, so blurry and the cameraman’s hands shook giving me the Willies. But giving credit where its due—when the Commandant gave out that “tread easy, men,” I suddenly felt at ease. And I’ve never served one day of military service much less passed through the gate of a military base.
When you drink, you have, without getting a notice in your mailbox, been given a rare membership. Rare, because not every free-breathing American is able to join ranks with the “Durable Drinkers,” “Suds Suckers,” and “Secret Barroom Escapades,” who helped to shape the foundation of our illustrious county. I am not being the least bit sarcastic. I mean it. These guys and a lot of women like “Rosie, The Riveter,” helped make America what it once was: Great. No slurs from me here either. I am not a politician. And “she,” America, is still great.
Like I started out by saying, when you drink, you can believe that you walk with ghosts of those who have lived (or died) by “The Vine,” or Mash, whichever is easier to understand. And these ghosts, salty sea captains from as early as 1700, fighting men with bayonets, men with squirrel guns, and men on motorcycles, all bound with one common thread: Drinking. Nothing fancy or anti-political, just bending one’s elbow (sometimes) when numbness takes over and your lights go out. That is real drinking.
I tried some of that Real Drinking back in 1981. I started out with beer, not any beer that would make Milwaukee Famous, but a real beer—with label, tax stamp, and plastic band holding six bottles easily chilled at a moment’s notice—ready to have its aluminum top popped and instantly consumed. That’s one form of progress, I’d say. Some free people might consider progress as changing from a mule to a tractor to plow his crops, but being able to think different thoughts is one of the planks that is still nailed together in our Constitution.
In the summer of 1980 and my life was brand-new. I was a husband for the first time; in a brand-new job and blessed with a four-year-old daughter who I didn’t at once think of as a daughter, but my buddy. That might have not went over good with the conservatives who lived about me, but I felt very comfortable with thinking that Angie, was my buddy. There is that Freedom of Expression that is also found inside our Constitution.
My wife had cousins who lived and worked in Woodruff, SC., and they were as cool as the early hippies in 1962. Not that they stayed doped up on Mary Jane, but they had such an open understanding that if someone were to be bold enough to strip off naked and charge wildly through their front yard, all this couple would do is grab another cup of coffee, grin and then go about their business.
My wife and I, along with my buddy, Angie, had planned on visiting these two cousins in Woodruff and go there for our yearly vacation and all was right with the Great State of Alabama. I felt within my heart that I had earned this week-long vacation and I wanted to celebrate my work even if it meant celebrating by myself. And when you drink, you have two choices: drink alone or with a group of friends. Either way it’s a Win, Win Situation in the Code of The Brotherhood of Drinkers. But if you have never drank, take heed. You can go too far and then you have to “take your medicine,” if that means paying a fine, apologizing to whatever offended party whom you made angry, or just shake hands and not do whatever stupid thing you did while intoxicated. Simple as that.
The best “Rule of Drinking,” that I ever heard was written by a scriptwriter, just one of many scriptwriters who worked on the hit ABC series, “Baretta,” starring as Robert Blake as “Tony Baretta,” a street smart, two-fisted drinker who could handle himself in most dangerous situations. With his pet, Cockatoo, “Fred,” who did several funny tricks, and “Baretta’s” best friend, “Billy Truman,” played by Tom Euell, a retired cop who worked with “Baretta’s” dad, Louie, in the 53rd Precinct and lived in the King Edward Hotel and loved to drink wine. These ingredients made for a successful series as it ran from 1975 through 1978.
I shared that show’s history to share one of the best lines ever written for Tom “Billy Truman” Euell by any Hollywood (or State of Utah) scriptwriter then until now. “Truman,” who was advising “Baretta,” about wanting to go out and get drunk due to “Baretta,” meeting with some unkind friction on the job and “Truman” the all-pro actor that he was, looked thoughtful, and said: “Tony, let me tell you. Never get drunk with strangers. They will steal you blind and hold your drunken behavior up for ridicule the next morning. If you get drunk with friends, they will only love you the next day.”
Some of that advise is true. I have always had trouble knowing which one was which.
I have long since remembered, and took that “Baretta”-based line for many years. If you read it carefully and let come alive, you will gain a whole new ground of understanding.
Woodruff, SC, is a model city in the Eastern United States and it grows a little each year—due to industrial, medical, and social progress all working toward making this little town a lot better. I did not argue about Pam’s (my wife and Angie’s mom) cousin, Donald, not coming home to Hamilton, Ala., when his hitch in the Air Force was finished. He stepped off the plane, completed his discharge business and just stayed there in Woodruff. Donald, I can tell you, is one wise man.
He met a lovely girl, Zellon, with a headful of blond hair and a smile that would melt Adolph Hitler’s heart provided that he even had one. Zellon was the type of girl whom only walks through a man’s life once. No more. Have I ever told you about life being that way? If not, you have been told now.
Donald and Zellon married and were as happy as two people were allowed by law and Donald, who wanted to own his own business, did that right away. Zellon, who had great credit with her bank, introduced Donald to her banker and they discussed Donald for a business loan to start-up a mobile home escorting company. The discussion, paperwork and signing took a little over than three hours. Donald, I can tell you, is still reeling from that kind of friendly reception being that he was born and raised in my hometown, Hamilton, Ala., where, and I am not being ugly, doing business with the banks is tough. It was for Donald who had perfect credit. His parents, James and Myrtle, farming people, had perfect credit, and land to spare, never received one penny from the local banks in Hamilton in his day. I think that realistically, this was the main reason that Donald chose to make a life in Woodruff rather than come home and try to make a go out of his dad’s farming business.
I said all of that to tell you about my introduction to the “Bar Scene,” that I made on the Thursday of that week when my wife and daughter were going with Zellon for a day out and Donald had to escort a double-wide trailer to NC, so I was to just tour around Woodruff and see what was available there for me to do. Woodruff is a small town, but there are small towns and then there are small towns. Woodruff, I have to be honest. Is a very deceptive place. You can walk to almost every thing you want to do without firing off your car engine.
Near Woodruff is a beautiful beach fully-equipped with standard beach umbrellas, the huge ones with tables for sitting drinks on and a tide that softly drifts in at dark and the waves caress one’s eardrums with their crashing. Music made by Nature. What a great place. I was near falling in love with Woodruff for this reason: the gorgeous beach that ran almost in Donald and Zellon’s spacious backyard.
Keep in mind what I said in the beginning—about when you drink, you belong to a Brotherhood of Drinkers, so with that in mind, and about twenty-bucks in my pocket, I was just going to take a short walk and then head back to Donald and Zellon’s home, kick back and watch some great daytime TV. That was my initial plan. But do remember another great read about a man’s plans--Mice and Men. The title of the book comes from a poem by the 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns. It is about a mouse which carefully builds a winter nest in a wheat field, only for it to be destroyed by a ploughman. It is written in Scots dialect. This bit of wisdom supersedes the first one about me having plans to just walk a bit and go back home to watch some TV.
If you drink, or have ever drank, you should like this: There was this beach bar, a real barroom-type place, “Shimmers,” stationed near the edge of the beach and it had a roof of huge umbrellas, tables, music, women in two-piece bikini’s sipping Dakari’s and showing off their RayBan’s and the guys trying to look virile. What a place. I sounded a lot like Steven Furst, “Flounder,” on the cult classic, “Animal House,” created by National Lampoon which starred the late and missed John Belushi, “Bluto.” A casual or hard drinker would fall instantly in love (like I did) once your feet left the hot sand on the beach and took two steps that were cooled by the huge beach umbrellas.
“Like a kid in a candy store,” makes a world of sense for along with me falling in love with “Shimmers,” my eyes and thoughts were darting in every direction like a starving Chameleon looking for a fly for dinner. I had to use the Chameleon for these exotic creatures are so lovely. I reminded people in 1978 of a Walking Stick, another exotic creature, but most pretty girls in two-piece bikini’s sipping dakari’s sporting their new RayBans are not attracted by these lonely creatures in the wilderness.
I found my way through the crowd with mixed ages and occupations who were dancing to a band that resembled Lynyrd Skynyrd, but since I drank, I knew Ronnie Van Zant, Skynyrd’s front man’s voice anywhere and this band was not Van Zant, but a knock-off. I didn’t mind. I was glad to be seated in a rustic-looking bar that extended almost from wall-to-wall. The atmosphere in “Shimmers” was beyond any phrase chiseled out by the most prolific wordsmith. I ain’t kidding. The owners of this prime establishment knew what they were doing.
I have to admit that I was nervous. I wasn’t used to this many strangers drinking, dancing, and looking adoringly into each other’s eyes—I was accustomed to, in a few occasions, New Year’s Eve and Fourth of July holidays to have some male friends over and drink some cold brew’s while telling our share of lies about our jobs, income, and what our favorite college team would fare well in the upcoming fall. Some hold to the opinion that folks in the south (like me) are bound to have a Federal holiday before we have a blow-out. Not so. There are many in my region of the country who enjoy a casual drink at home, but of course, the town (then) as well as our county was “Dry,” which meant no alcohol sold or consumed in public for personal use.
I sat down and before I could take my order, the bartender, “Tedd,” who looked as if he were a transplant from Boston, with his cab driver’s hat, smiled and said, “what ya’ drinkin’?” And he continued to smile as I had to get my breath.
“A cold one, errr, I mean . . .” I said before I could talk properly not wanting to sound like a redneck.
“Sure thing, bro. Got this one on sale,” “Tedd” said as he poured a cold brew and his behavior and demeanor was so warm that I started patting myself on the back for making a very rare wise choice.
Before I started my drink, I knew better than to overdo especially when I was staying with my wife’s cousins, and out-of-town to boot. Any stupid move by yours truly would certainly be taken as a dim view by the locals. But I drank the first brew slowly. The music had improved. And “Tedd,” was always moving—taking drink orders, cleaning the bar and glasses. Nothing lazy about this guy.
When “Tedd,” came back to see if I wanted a third brew, (which to me was a dumb thing to ask), I let my relaxed state take over: “’bout how much does a bartender pull down—if I could ask?”
“Tedd” laughed and smiled again. “Ohhh, on a good night or day, uhh, in the area of $1200.00 and that is in cash, bro. I am retired from a huge electric company up near New Jersey and I have a pension that I put into the bank,” he explained.
I do not remember asking for another brew for my mouth and mind were totally incapacitated by “Tedd’s” in-my-face honesty. Not arrogance.
While I was sipping my brew, he flew by and lit, “what game you in, bro?” “Tedd” asked while taking two drink orders, winking at the two pretty brunettes and mixing one drink and drawing another brew. This guy had to be related to Clark Kent.
Then I felt a wave of embarrassment come over me. I thought about telling a good, old-fashioned rural lie, I mean who would know the difference? But instead, I was honest, “Uhhh, well. I am in the newspaper business,” I said softly.
It was as if someone had threw a lit stick of dynamite under “Tedd’s” feet as he shot back to where I was sitting. “what’s that like, bro? I wish, that, wow, I could land a job like that,” he said loudly.
“Tedd?” I said. “You just told me about your pension and how much you make here, so why on earth would you want to work for what I take home and do the things that I am responsible for five days and some nights a week?”
“Bro, I am so bored that I could check outta here and take a cruise to Tahiti and never come back,” “Tedd” said very warmly and not in that “Sell Anyone Anything”- bartender tone of voice. He even looked off in space with a far away look on his face.
“Tedd, you mind if I ask you something?” I said and knew that the suds were kicking in and I should go back home. “you married?”
“I was. For about eleven years. She was a lovely girl and knew what the term, “female” means, if you know what I mean,” “Tedd” replied and I began to feel sorry for him.
“I’m sorry, ‘Tedd.’ I really am,” I said trying to console him.
“No sweat, bro. You seem like one of those folks who root for the Crimson Tide, am I right?” “Tedd,” said as if he had a sixth sense.
“Yeah! Roll Tide!” I said. “And proud of it too. How’d you know?” I asked.
“Your accent—very down-to-earth. I do not get many southern people in here and I must say that you made this old guy’s day. Here. This one’s on me,” “Tedd” said as he drew my brew which was the one that I made the last one before I had to walk back to Donald and Zellon’s home.
I didn’t finish the last brew that “Tedd” gave me, but instead, just sat and watched him do his bartender work. He was fluid as grease. Quicksilver was no match for him. His mouth and facial expressions were like a symphony in song. He must have had a huge following for most of them would buy drinks and sit near the bar where he worked.
I was the one who came in the one who was out of town. I knew it, but I didn’t make it known by anyone. I just watched “Tedd,” and then when the hour was late, I eased off of my barstool and just wanted to slip out of “Shimmers,” and get back to where I knew that I was among my own: rural people, who act and talk differently than anyone in the USA.
As I made my first step to go out, I lay down what I thought was a big tip, and thought that I had made a clean escape.
“Thanks, partner. You can drop here anytime, partner, and the first one’s on me,” “Tedd,” said smiling and wiping the bar.
“I enjoyed it, ‘Tedd,’ be seeing you,” I said knowing that I had made a friend.
“Sure thing. And ya’ll come back, ye’ hear?” “Tedd” said with a distict southern drawl.
I knew then that I just had to walk back for a moment . . .”Tedd,” you told me that you were from up there in New Jersey. So be honest, where are you from?” I asked.
“South Jersey, bro, be safe!” “Tedd” said laughing hard. It must have been my brews kicking in for I had to ask: “’Tedd,” would you like to hire me to work here with you?”
“I would, bro, but the owner of this place is a stickler for only working one bartender,” “Tedd said,”
“Well, it don’t hurt to ask. Thanks anyway,” I replied shaking his hand. “Who owns this place anyway—not that I would ever work for a place a fine as this one?”
“You’re lookin’ at ‘im. Good night,” “Tedd” said, winked and that was the last that I ever saw of him. But what a great time that I had in those few hours. I actually felt sad at having to walk back to see what Donald, Zellon, Pam and Angie had been up to.
“Friends, I found out, should be appreciated the most when they are in your line of sight.” Take this as a bit of advice from this former drinker who has seen this rule work.
In another visit to Donald and Zellon, “Shimmers,” was no longer there. A huge condominium project had begun to be built on the very spot where this unique bar stood when I met “Tedd.”
That has been several cold one’s later, but just getting to talk with “Tedd,” caused me to look at my life, family, and job, through different eyes. But I did wonder after seeing that “Shimmers,” was no longer there . . .if “Tedd,” made a bigger bundle of cash for letting that condo go up?
Before I started to wonder about “Tedd” and if he made more money or not, I quit wondering and just kept his memory to enjoy many years from that day. And shouldn’t life be like this sometimes?
© 2017 Kenneth Avery