Monday, November 5, 2018

The Brawl at Mac and Stan's by Howard Vogl

Howard Vogl's character reflects on his childhood in 1950s Buffalo, hanging out with his dad in Mac and Stan's Bar.

I decided to stop in Buffalo on the way home from a business trip. It's hard to explain the attraction of the old city to someone who wasn't born there, but for me it's real. The house on the street where I used to live was still there, although now it's only a cheap rental. On the corner was an empty lot where Mac and Stan's Bar used to be. That was the real reason I stopped.

Mac and Stan's was a typical corner bar from the Fifties. Neon signs hung in smoke stained windows leading to a long straight bar and the backroom. The mirror behind the bar doubled the number of whiskey bottles on the ledges in front, and tacked to the wall was a display of Blind Robin smoked herring that I never saw anyone eat.

Mac and Stan's was my dad's hangout. An easy one at that, since it was only three doors down from our house. Dad would spend a few hours there on a Saturday afternoon and on most Saturdays he'd drag me along. He'd have a few short beers with a shot of Corby's, and I'd have a root beer or two while playing around with the pinball machine in back. During the week, when Dad was working, the bar still figured into my life. After running around the block a few times, I could stop in for a glass of water. Pretty good for a five year old.

Chewing on his unlit cigar, Stan, the remaining partner, was complaining to my dad about the lack of business.

"Harry. Look, it's a nice Saturday afternoon. There's only three people at the bar, and one of em's your kid."

"My dad took a drag from his unfiltered Chesterfield, looked around the bar and said, "Maybe your beer ain't cold enough Stan."

"Thanks for nothing," Stan said as he threw the bar rag over his shoulder and walked away.

Stan's comments disturbed me. If the bar closed, I'd be without Dad on Saturday, and I'd need to stop home for water. All week I pondered the dilemma, watching TV, playing games with my friends, even at kindergarten during naptime.

It was Thursday afternoon and I was with Mom at the drug store. Seeing I was restless she gave me a dime to get some candy at the delicatessen next door. If you knew what you were doing you could pack a small paper bag with everything from three for a penny peach stones to two cent peanut butter cups. As I considered my options a big jar of jelly beans on top the counter caught my eye.

I pointed to the sign on the jar and the clerk said, "Guess the number of beans in the jar and win five dollars' worth of candy."

It struck me like a bolt of lightning. Stan needed to give away something in order to increase business. Getting to see Stan would be easy, I was a regular, the hard part would be getting him to listen, so I decided to work through Dad.

Later that evening while we were all watching Dragnet on TV I said, "Hey Dad. I was at the candy store and they were giving away five dollars of candy if you guessed the number of jellybeans in a jar."

"Don't get ideas kid. You'll rot your teeth out."

"No. I was thinking about Stan. He could give something away. You know, like a contest."

I could see by the look on Dad's face he was thinking, and I stopped talking.

On Saturday at the bar I was sitting next to Dad as he was sipping his second Black Label.

"You know Stan, I've been thinking. You need something to bring em in. Some kind of contest."

"Contest. What the hell are you talking about Harry?"

"You know, a giveaway."

"What am I givin' away, beer? That's what I sell."

"No. You don't get it. You give away a little beer and they buy a lot more beer."

Stan's expression changed, and he moved closer to Dad. I could see by the way they lowered their voices a plan was developing.

Next Saturday I was with Dad at our usual hangout. As I walked in I saw an enormous jar filled with pennies behind the bar.

Stan looked at my dad and proudly said, "Guess the number of pennies in the jar and win a free beer every day for a month."

"You think it'll bring em in Stan?"

"Sure, they gotta do something while they're figuring out how many pennies are in the jar, and the only thing they can do in here is drink."

With a nod, my dad approved of the plan and went back to his beer.

To say the contest brought in customers was an understatement. On Saturday Dad could barely find a seat at the bar, and I had to run around in back because Stan didn't want me taking up paying space. I watched from the corner as people asked Stan about the jar.

"Stan. Is it just pennies or is there something in the middle?" someone asked.

"Nope, just pennies."

"Stan. What kind of beer can I have when I win?"

"One a day of anything. If you win."

Someone asked Stan to put the jar on top of the bar. He reached around with both hands and struggled to get it to the bar. Everyone started shouting out their guesses.

"Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Let's do this right. Give me your name and your guess, and I'll write it down and put it behind the bar," Stan said.

The guys continued to shout, but after a couple of minutes they got quieter and started whispering in Stan's ear.

Business at the bar was brisk. During the week I could barely get Stan's attention for a glass of water. When we walked over to the bar on Saturday there was nowhere to sit. People were arguing and taking bets. This wasn't the Mac and Stan's we loved.

Stan saw Dad looking around for a stool and said, "There's room in the back. I'll send someone right over."

"I'll be damned if I'm gonna sit in the backroom," Dad said under his breath, and we walked out.

What I hadn't understood was Stan wasn't selling candy, and those weren't five year olds in the bar. Now, the place would be packed, and I wouldn't be able to sit down with Dad on a quiet Saturday afternoon.

I moped around for a couple of days. Finally, I decided to stop by the bar for a glass of water and see how things were going. The bar was busy, but I knew if I waited long enough Stan would take care of me.

"Here you go little guy. Be careful driving now," Stan said laughing.

Sipping my water I saw my chance. A lone Blind Robin was laying on the floor. When no one was looking I kicked it in front of the jar of pennies. A few minutes later this big fat guy with a beard and a dirty t-shirt walked over and tried to pick the jar up. He stepped on the robin, slipped, and went down on top of the jar.

While the last of the pennies were rolling around a guy with a conductor's hat shouted, "Look the fat guy fell and broke the jar," and everyone started laughing.

The fat guy jumped up and started to choke the guy under the hat. A few others tried to pull him off. Then, the fight really started. I ran out the door just as the brawl was developing.

That night when Dad came home all he could talk about was the brawl at Mac and Stan's.

"I heard from one of the railroad guys that Stan had to call the police to break up the fight," he said to Mom.

On Saturday we stopped by the bar. The broken furniture was piled in the corner, and the glass was cleaned up, but I still found a few pennies on the floor.

"Quite the time you had, huh Stan."

"You wouldn't believe it Harry. Some fat guy picked up the jar and slipped. Musta been beer on the floor. The idiot fell and the jar broke in a million pieces. Careful there sonny. There still might be glass around."

"Whatcha gonna do now?"

"No more contests. That's for sure."

Quietly, I sipped my root beer and looked at the display of Blind Robins knowing that my time with Dad was secure.

I grew up and moved out of Buffalo, but the memory of the brawl I caused at Mac and Stan's Bar will always bring a smile to my face.

6 comments:

  1. A nice vignette - the adult world through a child's eyes and a lesson around being careful what you wish for, many thanks, Ceinwen

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  2. Well, it was a good idea ... in theory. But then human nature intervened. A good slice-of-life story.

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  3. Be interesting to know the future of the narrator. He seems enterprising.

    About the same age at the narrator, but missed bar time with my none drinking father.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. Puts me back in the fifties. Good plot and excellent pacing. Flows right along to a satisfying end.

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