Tavern Like a Slice of Pie
In Illinois, I stop at Duffy’s Tavern, shaped like a slice of pumpkin pie, at the corner of two angled streets. Its brick was mortared in 1892 and paint peels from its tin ceiling, but not usually onto your corned beef and cabbage. The waitress is mean as a snake St. Paddy ran outta Ireland, but life-giving as a potato. Not everybody’s gotta be a sunbeam.
The Countdown to St. Paddy’s Day board reads 89 days. You figure out when that is—my ragged Keds are rimed with ice—I might as well be back in the Merchant Marine. 1892 is two years older than the schoolhouse in which I reside, I tell the bearded boy leaning on the bar.
So what? he asks.
Show some respect, I say. I don’t care if you’re Irish, I can beat ya arm wrestling and drink twice as much too.
What are you? he asks.
Lithuanian, and that’s a fact.
Lithuanian my ass. You’re a generic old fart. Any Lithuanian that was ever in you was drained out decades ago.
What’s that you say?
He grabs his 32-ounce beer and we walk over to his table, where he introduces me to his mother-in-law, his wife, his teenage daughter, and his little daughter, who looks to be in second grade. He puts his elbow on the table says: Okay, let’s go, Mr. Lithuania.
You gotta buy me a beer first, I say.
Only if you win. Let’s go.
I put my elbow down. We grip hands. Someone waves a snot rag as a signal. Slam! My hand’s on the raw losing side of that deal.
Maybe you want to arm wrestle my mother-in-law, the Irishman says with a grin. You beat her and I’ll buy you two beers.
But the mother-in-law is one vicious Irishwoman. So’s the wife, and the teenage daughter. Even the second grader is one vicious little Irishwoman. Everyone at the table’s laughing at my increasingly absurd succession of defeats, everyone in the bar. My feet are cold in their icy Keds. Everyone buys me drinks, and slaps me on the back.
Sometime later I’m on the floor. The ceiling is spinning. It’s pressed tin, like the ceiling in the schoolhouse in which I reside. The ceiling in my schoolhouse is just as good, I say, better. But no one hears me or no one cares.