Summer 2006

 

 

 


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a beer for the babysitter

Linda D. Lemay

According to my father, the value of real estate was not just determined by location, but by the location of the nearest neighborhood bar.  For all of my young life we lived either catty-cornered to a bar or right next door to one.  In 1957, at the age of six, this was somewhat of an advantage.  My father never wandered far.  He was either at work, at home, or at the tavern.  Scotty's Bar was a wondrous place to me at that age.  It was full of magical colors and pictures, funny people, and odd smells that made my nose tingle and burn.  Every Friday night and Saturday afternoon and evening, my father attended to the traditional rituals at Scotty's like we attended church on Sunday morning.  My mother hated the place, but I used to make up excuses to sneak in there and sit with him for a while.  In many ways, it was a sacred place to me, and often the only quality time I got to share with my father.

On a hot summer Saturday afternoon, dusty and grimy from play, my face streaked with dirt lines from wiping my stringy blonde hair from my eyes, I would step up onto the one high step of the old two-story, gray slate building, and grab onto the forest green handle of the screen door that would open up into the dark, smelly, mysterious, adult world that lay beyond it.  I could barely reach the handle with my right hand, but once I managed, I was able to grab the wood of the door with my left, slide my hands down, step back down off the step, open the door, then step back up into the cool, stuffy, blackness of the bar, all the while the door creaking and clattering  from my clumsy entrance.  Once in, I would stand as a shadow in the doorway, waiting for the popping lights in the back of my head to subside as my eyes adjusted to the dimness of the room.  I would scan the long, rich brown mahogany bar, making a mental note of who was there, until I spotted my father, standing, one leg up on the metal foot rest, cigarette in fingers of left hand, right hand clutching the handle of his beer mug, his head bowed over it as though in prayer.  It was always a risk to approach him, especially here in his sanctuary, but the anxiety it provoked was all part of the excitement.  I would slowly, and rather meekly, work my way up to him and tug on his baggy gray slacks, beseeching him, wan and wide-eyed, as though I were a street urchin, needing his pity and grace.  I could tell the instant he glanced down at me whether or not my ploy had worked.  If he was irritable and unaccepting, his eyes would be dull and almost glazed over, and I knew he would shag me home.  A glint in his eye meant my precocious behavior amused him and I would get to share in his sacrament.

My spirits would rise as he lifted me up onto the green plastic seat of the metal stool.  His strong hands under my arms would release me in a plop onto the seat and we'd laugh at the squish-sh-sh of air that was released from the  frayed seams as my weight hit it.  I'd dangle my feet between the stool legs, swinging them gleefully as Scotty, the owner and bartender, approached me like a white angel and asked, "What'll ya have missy?"

"Give 'er the usual"  My dad would say with a wink at Scotty, "and a beer for the babysitter."  They'd both snicker and my rosy cheeked, cherubic face, would beam with a broad smile.  In my dad's estimation, a beer and a bar stool made the best babysitter.   

Scotty would turn and collect the delectables, a cellophane strip of six green olives, a pickled pig's foot on a small paper plate, and a bottle of Orange Crush Soda.  Truly, a banquet for the gods!  Scotty would loom over me in his white shirt and white, wrap-around apron.  I would watch with salivating tongue as he delicately placed a white plastic fork and paper napkin next to the pig's foot and olive package.  Then, in an expert bottle-opener motion, he'd pop the cap off the Orange Crush so that a frosty white cloud of mist, accompanied by a gush of carbonation, rose up out of the lip of the chilled bottle like an apparition.  He'd deliberately take his time in setting the cold, dripping bottle before me, and lean forward, his green eyes staring directly into mine and admonish me as he released it.  "I don't want you getting tipsy on that now, ya hear?"  I could see the golden streaks of his shiny, white, pompadored hair begin to shimmy as a silenced chuckle moved through his body and began to settle on the corners of his lips.  When he tweaked my nose and turned to begin his routine duties, the blessing was complete. 

I always began this gustatory glut with the olives, being ever so careful when opening the plastic package.  It was necessary to strategically place just the top side corner between my incisors and bare down, ripping the tiniest slit, allowing the brine to trickle across my tongue and down my throat, drop by drop, in a saline bath as I tilted my head backward.  When the brine no longer flowed freely, I would rip off the top of the package with gusto and suck out the remaining juice.  The olives would be removed one by one, and in ritual fashion, my tongue and lips would act like a suction and draw out the red pimento, chewing it while the green flesh of the olive was held in my cheek.  After rolling the olive around on my tongue several times, I would finally chew up the pulpy, salty flesh and swallow, licking my lips as a final tribute.   Between each olive, the cold, refreshing Orange Crush would baptize my entire mouth with a syrupy, sweet citrus that, when held for a moment, would tingle and fizz, popping minute bubbles at the back of my throat in carbonated fireworks.  Last, I would relish the pickled pig's foot.  It took the thumb and index finger of both hands to eat it.  The outside flesh was pinkish-white and rubbery, and it took a tugging motion to rip off each piece.  The powerful, acerbic taste of vinegar brine would cause my cheeks to pucker and my mouth to water as I slowly chewed each bite of the meat, picking every fiber of reddish-pink flesh from that ham hock.  The sour juice would run down the inside of my arms painting thin, black, serpentine canals as it combined with the dust of the day, and then linger as droplets on the tips of my elbows.  When the meal was finished, I would lick each finger as though I were polishing fine silver, and wipe my mouth and arms with the white paper napkin, leaving it in a crumpled heap on the bar next to the ashtray filled with the butts of my father's unfiltered, Pall Mall cigarettes. 

Satiated and sticky, with my lips stinging from all the sour and salt, I would clumsily slide off the bar stool and bolt toward the light of the screen door.  My dad would turn to watch me out, and Scotty would wave a half wave as he finished drying a beer mug with his white terrycloth towel.  As the screen door slammed behind me, I could faintly hear my father's jovial tone requesting, 'another beer for the babysitter!'

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