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"Bookmarks"

There's an old song that goes like this... 
"Saloon, saloon, saloon. What a wonderful word Saloon..." 

When we were kids in Buffalo my parents took us to bars. 
It was okay because bars were generally different then. 
They were community gathering places, 
with good food, music, and homey atmosphere. 
I would get to order birch beer 
and given change to play the Wurlitzer juke box, 
while my parents socialized with other grown-ups at the bar. 

Whatever happened to birch beer? 

Buffalo was a tavern town, 
with sometimes several on a single block, 
and the drinking age was 18, as it should be. 
If a person is old enough to fight in a war, 
he should not be denied a beer. 
I could pass for 18 when I was 14 or 15, 
so I had no trouble getting served. 

Maybe I've told you about Gleeson's Grille, 
but they don't make 'em like that anymore, 
so it's worth retelling. 

Gleeson's was a family tavern, 
with good food, good fellowship, 
and good music on Friday and Saturday nights. 
There was no generation gap. 
Kids would chat or dance with senior citizens. 
We didn't know they were senior citizens 
because the dumb euphemism had not yet been invented. 

Maybe there was sawdust on Gleeson's floor, 
or maybe my memory is redecorating, 
but the floor was plain wood with the varnish long gone, 
and the rickety booths had green upholstering 
that was worn bare at every corner and seam. 

I heard some beautiful old songs there for the first time... 
"It's a Marshmallow World", "Thinking of You", 
and "Nevertheless" for example. 
They were beautifully sung by two old Irish vaudevillians, The Boyle Brothers. 
Lucky for us, vaudeville was dead, 
and some of these talented acts were playing saloons. 
I use the word "saloon" in its broadest sense, 
meaning any commercial establishment with a bar. 

The brothers wore tuxes made back in the Roaring Twenties. 
They both had thick white hair, 
and the round faced one played the piano. 
The thin one played brushes on a tray, 
and they sang harmony like angels. 
I was about seventeen and I sometimes asked a certain lady to dance. 
She was probably in her seventies. 

Then, when I became a musician playing in bars, 
I started drinking too much for my own good. 
Thankfully, I only did it for three or four decades. 
After all, the drinks were free, 
and everybody loves the piano player. 

I gave up alcohol some time ago by popular demand, 
so we don't go out as much as we used to. 
Besides, we don't like karaoke bars or sports bars, 
and that's about all they have around here. 
Now the recreation has been narrowed down to shopping. 
I get really bored with Macy's, Target, Birdbath and Beyond, etc.. 

Even when we were touring with hit records, 
between the auditorium and stadium shows, 
there were always night clubs. 
When I try to remember a certain period in my life, 
I first think of which saloons we were playing at that time. 

Bars are the bookmarks of my life. 

Copyright  November 6, 2006 Jack Blanchard. All rights reserved. 
Reprinted by permission.

 

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