I haven’t quite figured out why there are some strange days where I lose track of time so easily. It’s usually a Friday that feels like a Saturday or a Saturday that feels like a Sunday. It seems the day of the week is always a backdrop in the back of your head, just there conditioning what you are doing or what you are expecting to do. Then suddenly you realize that you are off a day. Last Saturday was one of those days. I thought it was a Sunday and I had resigned myself to an evening of rest and an early to bed for a good Monday morning start.
I’d been out mowing grass in the late afternoon and when I came into the house I was a little bit bored. I poured a big glass of fresh tea and loaded it with lots of ice. I went into the den where Vanna was watching a movie on TCM.
“Whatcha watchin’ “I asked.
“First Knight. It’s an oldie but a goodie.”
That’s when I noticed Vanna was also fixing herself up to go out somewhere. Her hair had a couple of strategic curlers and she had an old shirt on to protect her good clothes while she underwent the make-up process. This was odd because Sunday evenings were usually her cycle down time too. That’s when it hit me. This was only Saturday! A whole new set of options instantly became possible.
“You going somewhere?” I asked.
“Yes, today is Mary Ann’s birthday so me and some of the other girls are going over to visit and celebrate. Do you want to go? You can visit with Dennis while we girls party” she laughed.
“No thanks. All Dennis ever talks about is golf. That’s just cow pasture pool. I think I’ll call Jimbo and see if he wants to go to The Wet Spot and shoot some real pool.”
I noticed that she stopped primping and was focused on the TV. On the screen was a young pretty-boy Richard Gere. He was playing the part of Lancelot and he was talking to Sean Connery who was playing King Arthur. She was trying to concentrate on the show and fix-up and listen to me all at the same time.
“Did you hear me?” I asked.
“Yes, that sounds good. You boys stay out of trouble tonight.”
Since I started watching a movie that was half way over, I didn’t know what was going on. I was just sort of half paying attention. I watched for about 5 minutes and said “You know, I always thought Sean Connery was the best of all the James Bond’s. He’s was a real ladies’ man, a bit comical at times, but he made the best 007 of them all. Don’t you agree?”
Vanna, in an annoyed voice said “Shsss, I’m trying to watch this.”
So I shut-up and began watching. Sure enough I got interested in the movie, especially when they got all the knights together. It was about chivalry, honor and allegiance. These Knights of the Round Table were no ordinary men. But I still thought Richard Gere was a dweeb though!
I called Jimbo but no answer so I left a message then headed over to The Wet Spot. It was a bit early because when I got there things looked pretty slow and none of my regular buds were there. Tyree was polishing water spots off bar glasses while Mitzy was swirling a dish rag in a circle cleaning up the bar top. As per usual, Bird Dog was seated at his normal spot at the far end of the bar.
With a smile and a bright eyed look Mitzy said “Hello D.R. what can I get you?” Also, Tyree nodded a hello and Bird Dog waved a kind of curtailed salute with his cigarette in hand.
“Howdy folks. You can bring me the coldest beer ya’ got in this place!”
With her forever congenial smile Mitzy said “Comin’ right up!”
Mitzy is probably 22 years old and is the owner’s niece, I think, but there is no family resemblance. She is always smiling and energetic and for sure being a cute young girl wearing shorts has got to be great for tips. Tyree is the general do anything guy at the bar. Everything from sweep up, clean up, fix up, bar tend, fight stop and close up. He definitely makes things run smooth and even though Hilde, the owner, is always yelling at him, she knows he’s indispensable. When she is out of ear shot Tyree often calls her Hitler or Hilde-beast. They definitely have a dual love-hate relationship, but it seems to work.
I don’t know Hilde’s last name but I do know Hilde is short for Hildegard as she explained to me one night. She is a short, sort of chubby, sort of butch, German woman with a slight accent. She has her hair cut short and wears thick horn rimmed glasses. Saying she looks plain is being nice. She talks tough and acts tough which I believe has always kept The Wet Spot a comfortable and safe place to be. That wasn’t always the case with past owners.
Back when I was a high school kid this location had an ice-house on it with a few picnic tables out back. The term ice-house is not used much anymore but it was just another name for convenience store. It was called Fran’s. Back then a kid could watch and when no other customers were in the store, he could go in with cash and buy smokes, wine or beer. No problem.
Eventually Fran’s closed down and it was bought and expanded into a regular bar. That became a pretty rough place so it didn’t last long before closing up. It sat vacant for several years until Buddy Hardwick and a partner bought it and did some pretty good renovations and additions. Buddy hired his rough and tough female cousin, supposedly with a lot of bar experience, to manage the place. The place got pretty seedy with mostly truck drivers and it became a good place to watch fights in the parking lot on Saturday night! When Buddy finally figured out his cousin was robbing him blind, he shut it down and put it up for sale. Hilde bought it and named it The Wet Spot and completely turned the place around. When she had a trouble maker she had no problem showing them the door, even if some force was involved. Eventually guys didn’t mind bringing their wives or girlfriends there. Hilde also offered a military and law enforcement discount. Having an off duty cop hanging around is always a good thing at a bar. She’s smart enough to put some of the profits back into the business, so the place is always clean with well-maintained furniture, pool tables, shuffle board and dart boards. Giving the regular customers a free drink every now and then has gone a long way in terms of customer relations too!
I took my beer over to the pool table where a kid was practicing by himself. I thought he might want some lessons from an old shark! Well I performed the honors of the first break after which the kid ran the table. We were into the second game when Uncle Albert and Stinger came in. After a couple of howdy-do’s they went over and sat down at our regular table.
Now our regular table is the biggest table in the place and it is up front in the corner. It is round and will seat 8 comfortably but more if you squeeze a few more chairs in. There’s no reserve sign on it or anything but over the years our odd-ball cliché have become the de facto owners of the table. In a way, it is a complement just to be invited over.
Jimbo came in and after a wave to me across the room he immediately made a bee-line for our table also.
I was on the second pool game and the kid pretty much had a win locked-up when he scratched on the 8 ball. An undeserved win for me. I may be a bit suspicious, but it looked like he intentional flub the shot. Our third and final game was pretty much like the first. I made a crummy break and the kid cleaned the table. We shook hands and I left to go join my compadres. On the way over I spoke out so they both could hear “Mitzy, a pitcher of beer on me whenever he ready.” The kid smiled and gave me a nod.
When I got to the table I knew they had been watching me and they all were grinning ear to ear.
Stringer spoke out “Man, that guy beat you like your mama wasn’t watchin’!”
When the laughter slowed down Uncle Albert said “You ought to know better than to shoot pool against Jenkin’s boy. Let me guess, ya’ll played two out of three games for beer.”
“Yeah, yeah I know, that darn kid is a shark!” as I laughed with them.
Jimbo quickly added “Yeah, and I remember the day when you were just like that kid hustling for beer!”
Mitzy came walking over and handed a bar tab to Stinger and said “You forgot to pay your tab when you left the other night and you know Hilde’s rule.”
Stinger quickly admitted his guilt and apologized. “Yeah, I’m sorry about that. I guess I was a little wasted. This should cover it and keep the change.”
Most people don’t deliberately walk a tab although I believe some do it as a short term loan. They show up again after payday to settle up. Hilde’s rule is you must pay your outstanding tab before you can start a new one. It’s all polite and civilized and no one is accused or insulted. Everyone stays happy.
We had another pitcher coming so we topped off our mugs. Then Bad Ken and Dobber came in the door and spotted us.
I called out “Hey guys. Pick up a mug at the bar and come on over.”
Now I don’t have a clue what Dobber’s real name is, but he has a drywall business so we use to call him ‘Mud Dauber’. Eventually that became just Dobber. So Dobber is a nickname for a nickname, in the same way how I got my nickname shortened to D.R.
In a whisper, Uncle Albert said “I’m going to tell Bad Ken an ailment just to see what he says. Ya’ll just play along.”
As you might surmise, the word ‘Bad’ is a differentiator we use because we know two Ken’s. The other one is named Good Ken. Bad Ken loves to create chaos and discord when someone complains about something.
“Hey guys, how ya’ll doing?” I filled their mugs as soon as they sat down. Dobber stuck his finger in the glass to stop the foam. That trick never worked for me.
Uncle Albert spoke up “Well, I for one ain’t doin’ so well. The right side of my jaw has started hurting real bad the last few days. I may have to go to the doctor if I’m not better soon.” With that he grimaced and rubbed his jaw.
Bad Ken jumped on that right away. “Man, you better go see the doctor quick! My brother-in-law’s boss’s cousin had the exact same thing and he found out it was a flesh eating amoeba. It ate up into his brain and he was dead in two weeks!”
There was silence for about 15 seconds then suddenly all of us, including Bad Ken, burst out laughing. That’s how Ken earned his ‘Bad’ nickname.
With all the laughing going on Hilde came over to our table.
“How are you boys doing this evening?” Her German accent seemed more pronounced.
Uncle Albert spoke up “We are doing great! Come on, sit down and have a beer with us.” She sat down and waved at Mitzy to bring another a mug.
“Is there anything you boys need? Is the beer good and cold?” Mitzy brought over a frosted mug and set it down. Hilde said “My dear, when these boys empty their mugs bring them some fresh frosted mugs.”
Jimbo spoke up “Hilde, how long have you been a bar manager?”
“I went through 2 bars with my first husband. He was lazy and I learned I could do much better without him. I bought The Wet Spot and built it up on my own. I have good customers and I have been doing quite well on my own for 5 years now. Things really run smooth since I hired Tyree, but don’t tell him I said so. As a matter of fact, I might go home early this evening and let him close up.”
She drank her beer faster than any of us could and she said “I have a few things left to do, but just ask Tyree or Mitzy if you need anything. We appreciate you boy’s business.” At that she got up and left for the back office.
I spoke up “You know guys, that is a nice lady right there. We appreciate this place and she appreciates our business.”
In a lower voice, Jimbo added “Yeah, and she looks a lot better now that she shaved off her moustache”. At that we all broke out into some pretty loud laughter. We were all really enjoying ourselves.
For some reason I thought about the movie I watched earlier and said “You know guys, this here table sort of reminds me of King Arthur and his knights. Just like they were the Knights of the Round Table, we are the knights of The Wet Spot at this table. Men of respect, honor and nobility.”
Jimbo chimed in “Yeah, all for one and one for all.”
Uncle Albert chuckled and said “No, that’s was the three musketeers. King Arthur’s code for his knights was ‘In serving each other we become free’ or at least as one legend has it.
Stinger spouted off “I guess that makes Uncle Albert King Arthur and me Sir Lancelot then.”
Uncle Albert replied “No, the lesson is that the round table has no head and no foot, so all who sit there are equal. Even the king. That is the core of friendship and that is nobility.”
I was quick to add “Yes, well said. So Stinger that just makes you Sir drinks-a-lot!” Everyone howled with laughter.
Dobber was looking around and saw ol’ Bird Dog at the far end of the bar. “Say, any of you guys ever been huntin’ with Bird Dog? Anybody ever seen him with a hunting dog?”
Everybody just kind of shrugged and shook their head no.
“So why does everyone call him Bird Dog?”
There was a brief silence, then everyone burst out laughing, which kind of stunned Dobber because he could tell he was the brunt of the joke.
Uncle Albert said “Bird Dog always sits at the far end of the bar where he has a good view of the front door. Any female that enters unescorted, he’s after it – just like a bird dog!”
Jimbo added “Yeah, the only birds he’s after are the double breasted kind!” Dobber went from a smile, to a chuckle and then a good belly laugh along with the rest of us.
In a whisper, Uncle Albert said “Ya’ll just follow my lead and play along.” Then he called out across the room “Hey Bird Dog, come on over here and join us for a beer” as he gave a beckoning wave.
Bird Dog came over and pulled up a chair on the back side of the table where he could still see the front door and bar. As he filled his mug he said “Thank you kindly. How are ya’ll doin’ tonight?”
Uncle Albert spoke up and said “We’re doing great. We were just talking to Hilde about how much we appreciate her and The Wet Spot. You know, that is one first class woman.” With a turn and nod of his head he directed everyone’s glance over to the bar.
Hilde had come out from the back carrying her coat and bag getting ready to go home. She was behind the bar doing a last minute check of the register before leaving. This got everyone, including Bird Dog watching Hilde.
I joined in “You know, she is really looking pretty good these days. Vanna told me that the new sexy thing for women is to wear less make-up, not more. Hilde is looking pretty good!”
Stinger caught on and spoke up too “Man did you notice that perfume Hilde was wearing? Wow, it must have had pheromones in it or something because I was getting all excited. That’s one fine woman!”
Hilde picked up her things, gave us a wave across the room and was headed for the door.
Suddenly, Bird Dog chug-a-lugged his beer, wiped his mouth on his sleeve, gave a belch, crushed out his cigarette, jumped up and said “Thanks fellas, gotta go.”
Bird Dog yelled out “Hey Hilde wait a minute. I’ll walk you to your car.”
Knights of The Wet Spot Round Table may not always be so noble.