My father didn’t drink, but he tended bar at Dempsher’s Bar & Grill in Bridgeville, PA for many years. Dempsher’s was the kind of place that you could drop into for a quick beer, an evening meal or to watch a ball game in the comfort of friends you didn’t know you had. Dempsher’s was closed on Sundays in the 1970’s but if you were among the regulars, you could show up by 12:30, pay $20 and watch the Steelers on TV while enjoying a few beers and some pot-luck. There aren’t many bars like that in this part of CT, but the bar at our favorite restaurant has its moments.
Earlier this week, I walked into Tunxis Grill to order a pizza to go. The ordering process usually involves drinking a beer, catching up with the bartender and occasionally, striking up a conversation at the bar before actually placing the order. This was one of those days. The slightly younger man next to me had been talking to the barmaid when I arrived. I joined that conversation, and he and I continued after she stepped away to check the tables in the lounge. We moved from the golf match on TV, to a little bit about our jobs; well my job, his lack of job. About 1/3 of the way through my Corona, an older man walked in. When the barmaid returned and asked how he was doing, he responded: “I’m hot and tired and I’m so glad to be in here where it’s cool!” With that comment the two of us at the bar acknowledged our new friend. Before I left for the bar, our outside thermometer read 102° and it felt even hotter. Men at a bar only need one thing in common to become friends.
While the older man settled in, my other new friend and I returned to our employment conversation. He was an out-of-work school administrator who had traveled to CT for an interview. Our discussion drifted between the sad state of education in America, to how small town politics is the same from Kentucky to Connecticut to offering advice and expressing concern to the barmaid who was struggling to get some information from a series of healthcare providers. Suddenly the old man called out to the barmaid:
“What’s the clam chowder like here? Is it creamy? Is it good? Is it hot? Yes, yes, yes, yes!. “I mean piping hot, hot enough to burn the roof of my mouth. If I’m having soup, I want it hot. Hot as you can make it. I want it hotter than I can stand so I can decide when it’s the right temperature. Can you make it hot?”
“Yes, hot, I got it.” The barmaid moved quickly to asking about what the older guy was going to wash that hot soup down with; wine. Hot soup ordered, wine poured. “How about you two, you need another?”
Before we had a chance to comment about the irony of an old man escaping the heat, only to order the hottest soup that can be made, the older man joined our conversation. He had overheard the reason my younger friend had become unemployed, and he offered some simple advice:
“Sand your ground, it’s tough on you now, but you have to stand your ground. It’s like my soup, I’ve been ordering it hot for over 70 years.”
The soup came, the wine came, and another Corona and another wine with a glass of ice on the side for our principal in waiting came. The principal told the story of his unsuccessful interview. He spoke candidly about the fact that the interview seemed to be a charade; the winning candidate seemed to be preordained and he wondered if every local school board was that blatantly corrupt. I shared a story of when I had sat on a selection board for a new principal in our town; the winning candidate hadn’t even bothered to submit his resume on time. The older man added his perspective:
“Most people aren’t prepared to have real responsibility or authority; sooner or later they abuse their position.”
Tunxis Grill is near the airport. The older man was picking up his son who was flying in from Colorado. The principal was flying home after coming up empty. The older man left first and the principal turned to me and said “you know, that’s us in 10 or 15 years” and it didn’t seem like a bad thing.