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Monday, April 9, 2012

Sometimes It's Best to be Sober


I spent some time in the bars as a child.

This wasn’t unusual for the times, nor was it, in my estimation, detrimental. We went on the road, my father and I; and in his role as a salesman for Liggett and Mayer, I watched him interact with the bar owners. While they conducted business, I ate/drank low-ball glasses crammed full of maraschino cherries and Coca-Cola. I was often allowed to play the jukebox for free, and I was given quarters with which to amuse myself at the pool table.

I would say that half the quarters I was given were never put in the jukebox or the pool table but were simply squirreled away in a pocket, careful to not bother anyone afterward, lest they catch me.

Waste not, want not.

Perhaps it was inevitable that my son would find himself in a bar at a tender age as well.

My friend Paula owned a bar in a small town, and I rented a home in that same small town from her father. The bar abutted the house’s backyard; it was a matter of mere feet between the bar and the house.

Those were incredibly lean times for The Boy and I; but as so often happens, they were, in retrospect, some very happy times.

There was a sandbox in the backyard of the bar. Paula had two girls, and the three kids would play for hours, coming in periodically for glasses of milk and maraschino cherries, which were free; and kisses, for which Paula paid 25 cents apiece.

While the children played outside, their sweet grubby hands pushing the old metal Tonka Trucks through the sand, Paula and I were inside, drinking Diet Cokes at a table, our Scrabble game between us.

Paula and I met every available opportunity to play Scrabble. A handful of farmers, complete in overalls and feed caps, could be regularly counted on to come in for a glass of beer around noon; but outside of those regulars, the place was quiet and we could play three games in quick succession.

We were in the middle of Game Two of Three when a man who had been sitting at the bar wandered over to check out the board.

“That’s not a word,” he says, pointing.

“Is, too,” I say in that understated and endearing way I have.

“Which word?” Paula asked.

“Sped,” the man says. “No such word.”

“Well it is, too,” I say, feeling I need to defend my word. Who asked this guy anyway?

“I’ll bet it isn’t,” he says.

I look at Paula. He bets? Paula and I are both excellent spellers. She smiles.

“I don’t think you girls know what you’re doing,” he says.

You girls? Well that cinches it.

“What do you want to bet?”

“Five bucks,” he says.

“Five bucks?” I laugh. I have no money at all, neither with me or at home, but I’m not going to let him know that. “Not too sure of yourself, huh?”

“You want to make it ten?” he challenges.

I turn and wink at Paula, then turn back and hold my right hand out. “Ten bucks.”

We shake on it.

“Paula,” I say, grinning, “I’ll be right back.”

“Where you going?” the man asks.

“Home,” I say.

I ran out the back of the bar, past the kids, into my own back door and grabbed my dictionary.

I was back in under a minute.

I opened the dictionary to the S’s, and jabbed a finger at the word “sped”.

“That’ll be ten bucks, please.”

He wasn’t happy about paying up – seemed to think that he had been snookered somehow. But I didn’t care.

Hey.  Ten bucks is ten bucks.

48 comments:

MimiTabby said...

I spent time in bars as a child too. when i started getting old enough, the bartender paid me 2 cents a box to fold up pizza boxes from flat stock in a pile.


I enjoyed your story.


Mimi Torchia Boothby Watercolors

Bossy Betty said...

Those mad word skills of yours have always paid off!

ellen abbott said...

well, you told him it was a word.

Shelly said...

I think I might become a Scrabble shark when I retire. Sounds like fun, and it a good way to keep the mind limber.

You don't happen to have the address of Paula's place do ya? Might want to engage that old fellow in a bet myself.

Ach du lieber said...

I think that's a product of growing up in the time we did. When I could talk my mom out of making me go to church, I went up to the neighborhood bar with my dad where we watched Sunday morning wrestling and I ate pretzels and drank Shirley Temples. I loved those mornings.

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

Now THAT'S a classy way to earn ten bucks in a bar.

Pearl said...

Still one of my favorite "spelling" moments. Oddly, I have a number of them. :-)

Al Penwasser said...

A Scrabble story. How cool.
My daughter and I played Scrabble last night. I'll admit I didn't think she had a prayer. But, at the end of the game when we both had to subtract our tiles from our final score, we both ended up tied.
Sure, she had both the 'Z' and 'Q' (which she parlayed into "Qi" for a double word), but I was proud of her nonetheless.
My grandfather was a bartender, so you can imagine that I spent some time in bars, too.

SherilinR said...

i love stupid people sometimes, especially when you can prove them wrong with a simple flip of the dictionary.

esbboston said...

I have two memories of the time we lived in a trailer house park near the sawmiLL where my father worked as a truck mechanic. It was some time around 1st or 2nd grade and my father built me a sandbox, but I remembered that he didn't play with my Tonka toys as much as I wanted him to. My other remembrance is discovering fire, and briefly had an arsonist career creating a grassfire.

blissflower1969 said...

Your post reminded me of the times my Pa had to take me to the bowling alley on league nights. Shirley Temples and quarters for PacMan all night long!

I myself grew up in a liquor store. Pa was the manager and Grandma worked there, so it was my second home. I loved playing in the stock room following a shipment- towers of boxes to hide behind. And holidays were awesome because the day before EVERYONE came to the liquor store and returned their bottles and I got to keep $.05 of every bottle return I counted. Yay!

terlee said...

There's nothing quite so gratifying as putting a know-it-all in his place...unless it's taking money from one.

Bodacious Boomer said...

Even as a sprout you were one not to be doubted.

Leenie said...

Good spellers untie! Erm,too bad there isn't a context check.

Just Keepin It Real, Folks! said...

"You girls" sure know how to show that farmer "you know what you're doing". Great job and a pay check too!!!!!

jenny_o said...

Like shootin' fish in a barrel ...

fishducky said...

I can't forget the time I was playing Scrabble with my mom & she put the word "coatees" on the triple word space. I said, "What's that--small coats?" I challenged her & lost my turn. She'd made up the word but she was right!

Hookin It With Mr. Lick Lick said...

I'm a scrabble player too. He obviously couldn't spell. He must have thought you were trying to spell speed. Hope he learned a lesson, sure did cost him to be stupid.

bill lisleman said...

that ten dollars was worth much more to you. Did he ever wander over to your game after that?

Macy said...

"you girls don't know what you're doing..."

Well he obviously didn't.
Wonder if he ever did learn to spell patronising....

Cheryl said...

Love that story! I would have been thrilled to take his money..not so much because of the word sped...but because he used the phrase "you girls" which ranks right up there with "little ladies".

Raymond Alexander Kukkee said...

Wonderful story, Pearl, and a well-earned ten bucks! Not bad for a Minnesotan. ":))

CarrieBoo said...

That's a corker of a story! Love it. (P.S. I just made my first PayPal purchase) ;)

Belle said...

Your father must have been proud! I just know it. Good for you, Pearl.

Douglas said...

My father being mostly a teetotaler, he never took me to bars. He took me to Demolition Derby races, hobby stores, and the woodshed... but never a bar. So I knew nothing about them until I turned 18 and got my hands on phony ID. Even so, I didn't spend much time in them... until I went in the Navy during which I spent a lot of time in bars. Which, I guess, is better than spending time behind bars.

Mandy_Fish said...

I don't think most children in bars stories end with Diet Cokes and Scrabble. I like your version better.

Jenny Woolf said...

Hah, wonder if he learned a lesson! What do you think?

Still, at least he paid up..

Steve Bailey said...

I love Scrabble and currently play Words With Friends all day long when I can..... and hopefully you had the d on a triple letter score!!

Linda Sue said...

Good on you! Way to go! Should have made it One Million Dollurz! You are a credit to us "girls!" Thank you!!!

Ms Sparrow said...

Sometimes we savor those small victories the most!

mrwriteon said...

So you're telling us there is profit to be had in hanging around saloons. Never worked that way for me. Guess I always talked to the wrong people.
Neat story.

savannah said...

fast thinking, little lady! *L*

(seriously, great story, sugar!)
xoxoxo

Amy said...

I hate when I'm on the losing end of one of those bets. I once had to do my sister's chores for a week when I bet her "dove" was a perfectly good past tense version of "dive". Spelling stories do have a way of sticking!

NellieVaughn said...

I loved going to the bars in Mexico as a child. It felt dangerous, yet safe. All eyes on the precocious child. All loose change handed to the child.

HermanTurnip said...

For my next trick, I'm going to transport the olive from the upside-down goblet to the upright goblet without touching anything except the inverted glass. Care to bet that I can?

Eva Gallant said...

I loved Scrabble growing up, and I still play occasionally, although more often it's Words With Friends on line.

klahanie said...

And with that, I reckon, you sped away with the ten bucks :)

Linda O'Connell said...

You are one smart cookie. Ahhh, Scrabble, I love that game and Upwords.

nick said...

Isn't it satisfying when someone who's so arrogantly sure of themselves (and yes, it's usually a bloke) gets taken down a peg?

Tempo said...

..and thats why I dont bet. I always loose too.

Dawn @Lighten Up! said...

"Ten bucks is ten bucks."
You dam right, Pearl. ;)

The Elephant's Child said...

Love it. An ego big enough to think he COULD get knotted and he was snookered by a woman.

Sioux said...

Aaah maraschino cherries. Good times...

I guess you GIRLS showed him! (Why do men ever think they can outsmart a woman?)

River said...

I used to win a scrabble, not because I knew a lot of words, (didn't and still don't), but because I know how to spell.

Pat said...

Sounds like happy educational childhoods all round - nothing to do with money.
I'll bet the chap sped away.

Jadzia@Toddlerisms said...

I apparently danced on a table in my parents' favorite bar -- on the regular -- when I was about 2 years old.

Ah, the 70s.

Daisy said...

shuddah gone for a $20.00 - you are merciful but he deserved it.

Pat Tillett said...

Just because a person is old, it doesn't mean they have a single brain cell in their heads.
I used to hang out if bars also as kid (my mom worked in many of them). I loved how dark they were and like you, I spent a lot of time playing pool and music. It just struck me that back then if it was a guy behind the bar, they called him a bartender, but if it was a woman, they called her a barmaid. That wouldn't fly today...