Saturday, July 31

Chapter 4:

"Doug's Tavern"

As a boy I never missed an opportunity to sneak into the bar with my father. He would be there behind the counter serving up hard liquor to the customers and I loved to watch him slide a beer to within an inch of his mark. There was nobody smoother than my pop. He’d let me in if he saw me standing at the door, and sometimes he’d let me come back and fill taps for some of the customers; if there was a light crowd, he would even let me try my hand at sliding -- I only broke two glasses, and those were the first two. After that, when I was about eleven, I began to go in to help, off and on in the afternoons -- always sneaking up to the door and stepping in just far enough for him to see me and nod before heading behind the bar with him. I got good at passing beer. I could slide a full glass all the way across the counter to stop within two inches of falling onto the floor or someone’s lap.

“Let’s put ‘im to the test!” One man shouted, and the bets were laid down on how close I could get a full tap to the end without falling off or spilling a drop, and another bet on my father beating me at it. Money flew. There wasn’t a man in the place who wouldn’t lay down on a sure thing -- my dad would win: everyone knew it, and everyone bet against me -- except one man. He had been sitting at the back playing a hand of five card stud and raking in enough to keep his boots shined until the end of next century.

“I’ll lay down fifty on the boy,” he said, and set down a large wad of money, “my money says he can get it to tip on the edge without falling.”

Laughter went up around the bar, but the stranger stood his ground. He was a betting man, sure enough. His silver studded buttons spoke not of opulence as much as good luck. He wasn’t from our town, but had shown up two weeks earlier and plunked himself down in my pop’s bar where he would spend his days in cards and money. We all knew him as the stranger, simply because we never asked his name -- didn’t have to; he always paid in cash. He stayed in the “Rusty Moses” across the street and was rarely seen anywhere except in the bar or in the hotel, but once he was seen in church, and once walking into the Sheriff’s office.

“I’ll see that bet,” my father said, “Fifty against.”
“You can’t bet against your son Doug,” a voice cried from the group.
“Well, you don’t have to drink my beer either, do you William?”
“Fine, keep the bet.”
“I will,” my father said and laid down two fives on the table. He leaned down and whispered in my ear, “aim low,” he said, “I’m fillin ‘em with whiskey.”

My father’s hands carefully poured the expensive whiskey to the brim of a large mug, then set it down in front of me on the counter. Someone in the back of the crowd put out the lamps everywhere but at the counter, and they all gathered closer.

“They each get three tries,” the stranger said, “the best one counts.”
“They only each get two,” another voice shouted, “three’s too many!”
“One,” I said. The truth was that I knew I would lose, and so as not to let the torture of my young mind last any longer than it had to, I’d rather lose on the first turn than have to fail at two. “One’s all we really need anyway, right?”

My father winked at me and the final bets were laid.
“Who goes first?”
“The kid.”
“Naw, let Doug go first.”
“At the same time.”
“Flip for it!”
My dad took a coin off the counter and held it up for inspection; “Roy,” he said, “this your coin?” It was made of gold and shined like the noonday sun in the lamp above us.

“Sure is,” Roy said spitting tobacco juice into the can with a satisfying ring.
“Take this back. You can’t afford it.” Dad tossed the coin back to its owner who frowned a bit, but knew that my dad spoke the truth.

“I’ll flip then.” Roy said, and tossed the coin in the air.

“Heads.” I called as it tumbled for what seemed an eternity before landing squarely in the old man’s hands.

“Tell you what,” the stranger said clasping his own hand over the coin so there was no way of seeing what side landed up, “let the man go first -- just to make it interesting.”

“Fine.” Dad said, and took up his normal stance behind the counter. He turned the mug in his hands, rolling it like the Indians do to a stick to light their fires -- slowly and steadily. Then, when he felt the time was right, he took the handle in his right hand, hauled back a bit, then launched. The glass slid for the length of the counter until it rested with one quarter inch hanging over the edge.

“Not a drop spilled!” Someone called, and the cheers arose.
“Now its the boy’s turn,” my dad called, taking the same mug back and placing it firmly in my hands, “just remember son,” he said, leaning over my shoulders and placing his two large hands over mine, “whatever you spill you have to clean up.”

Laughter came from all sides of the room as my dad let go and stood back to watch. He chuckled as well.

“I’ll show them all,” I muttered under my breath, “I can do it -- pop knows I can do it even though he bet against me! Now what did he tell me? ‘Aim low,’ right? Okay, here goes.”

I dispensed with the rolling of the cup and instead, kissed the handle which sent up another round of snickers from the audience. I hauled back, then noticed the slight condensation trail left by the mug on its last path. “Aim low.” I would. I hauled back again, then let it fly down the same path my father had made, aiming just below where I thought it should stop. The mug slid -- this time with a slight hissing noise as it retraced its trail. It came to the edge and peered over...

Reprint of a Creative Writing Assignment from July 2003


At 11:24 AM, Blogger Mary said...

Hello, my friend! I have four of these and they are so addicting . . . in fact, I am much more addicted to other people's blogs (: so thank you for feeding my cravings. I will let you know what I think once I get through the chapters. i can't wait . . .

At 11:24 AM, Blogger Mary said...

Hello, my friend! I have four of these and they are so addicting . . . in fact, I am much more addicted to other people's blogs (: so thank you for feeding my cravings. I will let you know what I think once I get through the chapters. i can't wait . . .

At 3:54 PM, Blogger andy mac said...

hello, my friend! ever wonder why we Americans find it so easy to repeat things?


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