Since this post is being written on the Fourth of July, your friendly bartender wishes you all lots of sunshine, lots of moonshine (if you’re imbibing deep in the Ozarks) and lots of good-natured monkeyshines all through your day. Cheers!
And now the post…
If there’s one thing I enjoy seeing on the bar it’s a book that is lying face down next to a customer. It’s not only a great conversation starter as that book represents a topic the customer is familiar with, but that book (if you’ll excuse the pun) can speak volumes. If it’s a trade book it speaks of one’s career path, if it’s a bio it speaks of one’s heroes, if it’s a political book it speaks of one’s leanings, and if it happens to be a classic… a stalwart from the world of literature… well, clearly it speaks of a guy who doesn’t light farts.
But either way and any way I’ve never had a customer turn over his book where a stimulating conversation did not ensue. And sometimes (but very rarely) I not only get to learn from that book but to teach it… like I did in this conversation of three weeks ago.
“Do you mind if I ask what you’re reading?” I asked, of the man in his early twenties sipping on a single malt. It was Balvenie, as I recall, with a water back.
“Not at all,” he replied with pride, then he turned over his book which was “Slaughterhouse-Five”. Now I’m already impressed on two levels with this guy, first because of his drink selection (when I was his age I drank Iron City beer in my hometown of Pittsburgh and the only malt that I knew was served by a soda jerk) and second because of his wonderful choice of authors. I love Kurt Vonnegut, been a fan of the man for years, and was actually saddened by his passing in 2007. There was no voice like his.
“Have you read him before?” I continued.
“No, this is my first,” he said, and by the looks of where the book marker was (I’m guessing around page thirty) this kid truly was a virgin in all things Vonnegut. Which of course then got me to launch into all things Vonnegut. And by the time I had finished touting most of his works… especially “Breakfast of Champions”, one of the funniest, most bizarre satires ever written… I’d not only assured Balvenie that he had made a wise book selection but I had qualified (I think) for a stake in all future Vonnegut sales.
But what made this exchange even more poignant and why I cite it here as my prime book conversation, is because on the subject of Kurt Vonnegut I hit the jackpot. I had a personal story to add about the author.
In a bar where I used to work where I did the day shift, Kurt Vonnegut was a regular lunch customer and always came in alone with a book and a scowl. The man never said hello, he just passed with his eyes dead ahead to his booth and his soup. And what I perceived after almost a year of this to be aloofness and just plain coldness, one day proved to be shyness and profound humility. On the day of which I speak he had come in with Allen Ginsberg, the late and famous beat poet, and as they passed the bar Mr. Vonnegut stopped and gave me a first-time smile, then he pointed to Mr. Ginsberg and said, “Today we have a celebrity in our midst.”
Damn, I thought… and then damn I couldn’t resist…
“Mr. Vonnegut,” I replied, “every day that you’re here we have a celebrity.” The man blushed and dropped his head, he grabbed Mr. Ginsberg’s arm and guided him to his table. And from that day forward, whenever the great Kurt Vonnegut would walk by the bar with his book and his scowl, he’d always break that scowl and give me a smile. Shyness… humility… and just as in his writing… plain old decency!
Yes, a book in a bar can lead many places which your friendly bartender has illustrated, and which also gets gets your friendly bartender to thinking. He’s thinking, what are you reading, dear reader, as we speak? What is taking up your valuable time of perusal? Is it “summer reading” or what they call a “beach read”? Is it a thriller, a bio, or maybe a comedy? If you decide to leave a comment this week (and of course I hope that you do) how about throwing your book onto my bar. Tell us what you happen to be reading at present and if it doesn’t start a conversation it can at least give us a title to add to our lists. Whaddaya’ think?
And as for me and what I’m reading? In addition to “The Most of P.G. Wodehouse” which I dip into once a month just to smile and experience pure genius in turning a phrase, I’ve just started “The Young Wan” by the wonderful Irish comedian and writer, Brendan O’ Carroll. He also wrote “The Mammy”… the story of Agnes Browne which was made into a movie starring Angelica Huston. The guy can put a tear in my eye faster than peeled onions.
I’m also reading The Steeler’s Digest which I only mention so you don’t think I’ve gone soft.
Until next week-end… over and out from Bar-land and Happy Fourth!