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.