“And now, gentlemen,” said Al as he served everybody their second round of drinks, “tell me your stories. Except for you, Mick,” he added. “You don’t have one yet. Who wants to go first?”
Three or four of the men raised their hands at once. One of them, oddly enough, was Mick.
“If you have something to tell us, Mick, then by all means do so.” Al said, obviously curious. To the others he said, “If you gentlemen wouldn’t mind Mick going first.”
The other three who had raised their hands nodded in assent.
Al looked at Mick who then laid down his pipe and began to speak. “I know that I don’t strictly have a story to tell in the same way that these fellas do. But I want to be a part of this here club, I do, so to show you I’m sincere I’m gonna tell all you boys about my life so far.”
“This must be on the level, Al,” Lefty said in a low voice. “I been drinkin’ with him in this bar for goin’ on three years now and he never says nothin’ about his personal life.”
“As I was sayin’,” said Mick pointedly, shooting a withering look at Lefty, “I been pretty much a failure all my life. I was too wild to get much of an education, and I loved the sauce too much to hold a job for very long. So now I live mostly hand-to-mouth, makin’ the rounds o’ the temp day-laborer jobs in the mornin’, then hittin’ the bars on the afternoons when I ain’t got no work, and then sleepin’ in the alleys when I can’t find a desk clerk who’ll take pity on me an’ let me sleep in the lobby at night.” He relit his pipe, took a few puffs, and then continued. “But since I met you, Al, and kinda joined this here club o’ yours, I feel like things are gonna change for me. I feel kinda different somehow. It’s sorta like getting religion only there ain’t no phony preachin’ or hymn singin’.” He finished his beer and slammed the mug down on the bar decisively. Then he stood up and addressed the entire bar. “I’m gonna go back to the Tenderloin now, and I just know someone’ll give me a room so’s I can get myself cleaned up and look for a real job tomorrow. Then, when I’m a workin’ man with a steady income an’ a decent place to live, in the evenin’s I’m gonna finally start on that book I always wanted to write.”
The other men at the bar greeted this apparently heartfelt confession with spontaneous shouts of “Good for you, Mick!” and “Go get ‘em, old-timer!”
Al merely grinned, looked at Mick and shook his hand. When he let go, Mick was holding a twenty-dollar bill. “I hope,” Al told him, “that this will help you get your room.”
Following Al’s lead, the rest of the men quickly dug into their pockets and soon Mick was the proud possessor of nearly thirty-two dollars, a down payment on his redemption.
After Mick had left the bar, sent on his way by good wishes and pats on the back from everybody, the other men looked at each other and then at Al.
“Well, Al, I don’t think none of us can top that,” ventured Louie, downing his second shot with a bemused look.
“Nevertheless,” rejoined Al, “each of your experiences is of equal importance. This is not a contest in which each person tries to outdo the other. So what’s your story, Louie? You had your hand up before.”
“Nothin’ that dramatic,” said Louie with a shake of his head. “But I got to thinkin’ last night. You know, about the past—the good times an’ the bad. So I decided to call up my wife—we been separated for years. She says it’s on account o’ my drinkin’. I always thought it was just an excuse. So like I say, I called her up, an’ it seemed like she could hear somethin’ different in my voice, I don’t know, maybe somethin’ more sincere. So she starts talkin’ about how she was lonely since I been gone and maybe I ain’t such a bad guy after all. So then I tells her the story o’ The Last Resort Club and pretty soon we’re talkin’ about getting back together again. We’re gonna meet somewhere next week an’ talk about it seriously and I want to bring her down here, Al, if it’s OK with you. I want her to meet one of the best friends a guy ever had.” He lit a cigarette and puffed nervously at it while he waited for Al’s answer.
“Of course, Louie. I would be delighted to meet your wife right here any day. During regular club hours, of course.” He turned to the others. “Now then, who’s next?”
Each of the five other men had a similar story to tell. It seemed that Shorty had got his old night watchman’s job back, and the others had all been out pounding the pavement in search of employment. Each of them claimed they had not felt so good about themselves in years.
After they all had finished their similarly inspirational stories, Al began clearing away the empty shot glasses and beer mugs. It was nearly 6:00. “So,” he said, turning his head toward the door, “until tomorrow, gentlemen?”
“Sure thing, Al,” said Sammy, getting up from the bar along with the others. “And I hope by then we’ll have some good news to report, job-wise that is.”
“I’m sure you will.” Al energetically polished the bar. “Just remember—the habits of years are hard to undo in a few days. It may take some time, but I know you gentlemen will succeed. I have faith in you.”
The six drinking companions filed out of the bar into the deepening November dusk, laughing and joking with each other as lightheartedly as schoolboys.
When they had all left, Al emerged from behind the bar and quickly went over to lock the steel security gate at the entrance. “And now to change this place once again from The Last Resort—Seedy Alcoholics’ Bar, to The Last Resort—Nightclub for the Hip and Trendy,” he said out loud with a laugh.
He went to the back storage room of the bar and brought out a number of old-time posters and wooden plaques from the Old West. The latter were printed with inspirational sayings such as: “All Firearms Must Be Checked at the Bar” and “Beer—5 Cents a Mug”. He hung these at numerous opportune spots on the walls and then, reaching under the bar, brought forth a large box full of variously colored light bulbs, with which he replaced most of the harsh white lighting.
“Let’s see,” he mused, idly leafing through The Bartender’s Guide to Popular Mixed Drinks that BJ had given him yesterday. “What will be tonight’s special? Last night it was margaritas.” He surveyed the liquor shelves behind the bar. “Hmm, we seem to be overstocked with rum. So,” he pulled out a large poster board and began to write on it with colored pens: “Fresh Fruit Daiquiris—Your Choice—Tonight Only—$3.50”. He hung this sign on the wall behind the bar, covering up the old faded one which promised “Shot & Beer—$1.75”. “Now, all I have to do is go out and purchase the fruit.” He rinsed off his hands, removed his apron, and went out the back way, whistling as he went.
By the time he returned, laden down with large quantities of strawberries, bananas, peaches and other blendable fruits, it was almost eight o’clock and time to open The Last Resort to the waiting horde of young trendies.
As he once again unlocked and raised the steel security gate, he noticed that there were even more fun-seekers waiting outside than there had been last night. Drawn by their enthusiasm for new places and experiences, not to mention Al’s friendly, unassuming manner and rugged good looks, many of last night’s celebrants seemed to have brought a friend or two. As the crowd pushed their way in, he hurried around behind the bar and soon was up to his elbows in margaritas, daiquiris, tequila sunrises and many other varieties of sweet, fruity, but powerful concoctions, which he made with a deftness and rapidity which would have been startling in a seasoned bartender, let alone one with no training and working only his second shift.
By the time the initial rush had slowed down a bit, about an hour later, and Al was able to catch his breath at last and look around him, he caught a glimpse of BJ, who was just strolling through the swinging saloon doors.
“Al!” BJ greeted him with a look of surprise. “Where in the name of all that’s holy do all these young people come from? It’s even busier than it was last night, and it’s barely nine o’clock. How on earth are you able to keep up with all these drink orders?” He took off his coat and started looking around for an apron, saying, “Here, you’d better let me give you a hand.”
“Don’t trouble yourself, Mr. Duckworth,” replied Al calmly, all the while blending drinks, pouring them into glasses, serving them, taking the money and returning the change in a manner that managed to seem at once attentive, yet automatic. “Everything is under control.” He blended and poured a peach daiquiri for a young blonde woman in the twinkling of an eye, smiling at her and thanking her sincerely when she told him to keep the change from a five. “Now, what can I get for you? Ah, yes, now I recall,” he said before BJ could answer, “Jameson’s on the rocks with a splash of soda. Here you are.”
No sooner had Al mentioned BJ’s favorite drink than it appeared in front of him, seemingly out of nowhere.
“This is totally amazing, Al!” said an astonished BJ, sipping his drink cautiously as if he doubted its reality. “I don’t believe my eyes! How did you do that?” He licked his lips approvingly and took a healthy swallow before continuing more calmly. “You told me that you had no previous bartending experience, yet here you are, slinging drinks to a crowd like this as good as any pro. And fancy blended drinks, at that. And where do you get these cute little paper umbrellas?” He eyed the strawberry daiquiri that the purple-haired woman standing next to him at the bar was drinking.
“I got them from you,” grinned Al. “It seems there’s an old storeroom in the back that opens to a key on the set you gave me. When I went in there I found boxes and boxes of decorations and bar supplies, including fancy glasses and what the label on the box calls ‘Mixed Drink Décor’—little umbrellas to you, Mr. Duckworth.”
“Ah, yes, now I recall,” said BJ, smiting his head with the palm of his hand. “The old storeroom. I’d almost forgotten. You know, when my customers began getting older and more set in their ways, several years ago now, all they seemed to want was the same old shots and beers. So I’m afraid I got a little despondent and gave up trying to interest them in the trendy drinks like you’re serving here. I took all the fancy stuff and locked it up in the storeroom. Didn’t want to keep lookin’ at it, as it reminded me of happier times.” He looked around the bar with a broad smile. “But now, Al, thanks to you, it looks like happy days are here again! You must be enjoyin’ yourself, too. Just look at that tip jar!” He pointed at a large beer pitcher behind the bar overflowing with silver coins and paper money. “And the night’s just begun.”
“To tell you the truth, Mr. Duckworth, I am greatly gratified. But I would be even more so if you would grant me a favor.”
“Sure, Al, anything you want, except time off, of course,” said BJ expansively. “What do you want? Raise your salary? Better clothes?” He winked at Al and nudged his shoulder. “Maybe a cute little barmaid or two to help serve the drinks, eh? So go ahead, ask away!” He leaned back comfortably and lit a cigar.
“Well, it’s really two things. First of all, your old regular bar customers and I have formed, er, sort of a club. We would very much appreciate it if we could meet here every afternoon from four to six. After which they depart. As you can see, with the new, young, hip crowd we have now, this isn’t really their scene any longer. And secondly, because it takes some time to prepare the bar for this particular kind of business, I would like to change the hours that The Last Resort is open to the public. Make it eight at night until two in the morning like a regular nightclub. In return, I promise to run the bar by myself. As I said before, Mr. Duckworth, you need not trouble yourself. Come in and enjoy yourself. Or go somewhere else and enjoy yourself. Either way, rest assured that the bar is in good hands. And I think I can promise you a handsome profit. All I require is one night off a week and, to that end, I will hire and train a substitute bartender for that night. So, what do you say, Mr. Duckworth? Is it a bargain?” He tentatively offered BJ his hand.
BJ thought for a long moment, puffing on his cigar and sipping his drink at intervals. Finally he said, “Al, I must be crazy. I’ve known you what, two, three days now, and already I’m practically handing you the deed to the bar. But all right, if you can live up to your promises, whatever you want, consider it done. But, Al,” He gave him a serious look. “Don’t let me down like Fast Eddie did, OK? Because then I’d have to hunt you down and kill you.”
“Fair enough,” agreed Al.
They shook hands in a solemn, businesslike way.
“So,” said BJ, stubbing out his cigar and indicating his empty glass, “if I’m to be just another customer, make me another drink. Same again.”
“With pleasure, Mr. Duckworth,” said Al politely.
He moved away from BJ and looked around the bar. The night was yet young, but the crowd of people standing and sitting at the bar, jammed into the booths, and clustered round the jukebox and pool table were whooping it up as if it were New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Lawyers, having thrown off their jackets and loosened their neckties, were enthusiastically challenging each other to games of pool and darts. Corporate middle managers were eagerly attempting to seduce female members of their support staff, having brought them here to demonstrate their youth and hipness. From every corner of the crowded bar were the shouts of people enjoying themselves to the fullest and drinking glass after glass of the bar special as if there were to be no tomorrow.
As Al simultaneously served drinks and flirtatious banter to his customers, he noticed, to his surprise, that no one in the bar was having a better time than he was.
© Cantara Christopher 2001, 2022