Tomorrow, Sunday, we are opening the American Legion Bar for the autumn, winter and spring. We’re only open on Sundays, and we close the place during the summer, as most of the Usual Suspects have other places to go and things to do on summer weekends. I expect that, as in past years, the place will be populated mostly by the Usual Suspects, but others stop by as well, and it’s always great to see everyone. We’re all Post members, and just about all of us are close in age, as the Vietnam War saw to it that we all wound up military service at about the same time. Most of us ended up in the Army, while the rest of the gang is pretty evenly split between the Navy and Air Force. Strange, we have no Marines or Coasties.
Some went to Vietnam and did a fair amount of shooting and getting shot at. Others of us caught a lucky roll of the dice and served elsewhere. What we all have in common is having left home to wear the uniform during an unpopular war, when it would have been much nicer to stay at home, continue our education or begin a career. We all pretty much like the same kind of music, laugh at the same kinds of things, have about the same kinds of ailments, and mercilessly break one another’s horns. In the simplest terms, we’re friends.
I have the dubious distinction of being the Bar Chairman (i.e. the guy who gets the complaints), but in truth I have lots of help. No one gets paid, and we all take a turn tending bar. The other homey tradition we have is that whoever has the bar on Sunday, cooks up, buys or brings a bunch of food for everyone, so that no one has to make Sunday dinner. It can be as simple as treating everyone to pizza, or sandwiches, or it can get pretty elaborate, which most often happens when Rich, the current Post commander, has the bar. He served as a cook in the 101st Airborne Division. It works out well for us, because he only knows how to make LARGE QUANTITIES of food!
Sundays at the Post is not just for the guys, as spouses are always in attendance, although they typically pull a couple tables together and leave the bar for the guys. It’s a family deal, as children (young and old), and even some grandchildren come in tow.
We have a couple televisions, so people can watch the sporting events of the day. Often, however, the sound is turned off the televisions so that we can play the ever-present sixties music and other stuff as well. We also have the usual dartboard and pool table that one often finds in American Legion Posts. Last year, one of the Post members donated a completely refurbished (he did it himself over several years) nickelodeon that really plays and doesn’t even require a nickel.
Tending bar there used to be a complete no-brainer, because the most complicated thing you had to do was take caps off beer bottles, or in the extreme case, mix “X” with “Y” (e.g. scotch with soda). Now, however, as everyone’s tastes have become a bit more refined, we find ourselves making martinis (several kinds), manhattans (bourbon or Southern Comfort are the faves), and the Sea breeze, Bay breeze variety of drinks.
Some of the strictly Budweiser guys, when it their turn to tend bar, still get flummoxed when asked for anything more complicated than a shot and a beer. Even the shot has Paulie scratching his head, but he’s a Navy guy, so no one is surprised. Even then, there is always someone there, who is a bit more civilized, to hop on the other side of the bar to whip up the requested drink.
The bar provides a place where everyone can get together once a week to laugh and share stories of the past week that run the gamu, from family to job, to God-knows-what. We often joke that, if you miss a week, you miss a lot. No one stays too late, and when the Sopranos are on, staying late is absolutely out of the question.
It really is a place where everybody knows your name.