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Thursday, December 13, 2012



The five old pickups parked outside, announced to the world it was Wednesday.

All totaled, the 5 men sitting around the table in the back of the Alpine Tavern, could boast a meager 16 original teeth. The closer examination which no dentist would volunteer to make, would prove that 9 of those gnarled, worn and badly stained teeth were hanging on by a thread.

Small clumps of mud gave proof that most of them had either forgotten or outgrown their Mother’s admonishments to, “Wipe your feet!”  A small, but ever growing mountain of empty beer cans rested at each of their feet. Tradition held that at the end of the afternoon, each would count the number of his empties, and pay their combined tab accordingly. Were there any surveillance coverage, it would clearly show how each quietly ‘toed’ a couple of his empties toward the stack of his neighbor.

There’s a lot to be said about the traditions which bind communities together.

The conversation today centered around the elaborate holiday decorations Derby Brown had assembled on the north side of his barn. Little attention was placed on the fact that it was  actually  the south side of the barn that faced the house and the highway.

Never the vocal center-post, Al Taylor had assumed his usual slump-snooze position in the straight back chair. The weekly meeting had moved from the bar stools to the table, late last year, when the commotion of Al falling off his stool had become a distraction to the folks playing pool.  A great deal of debate and brainstorming had preceded the move away from the bar. The virtues of duct tape, bungee cords, football helmets and cattle prods, all employed to help Al stay aboard his stool had all been explored, before the move took place.

Two decades of bar-leaning ended that Saturday. Physically, the move amounted to a mere 20 feet. The emotional distance was substantially more. “ I been sittin’ next to Dex for a swoop of damn years, and it don’t seem too damn natural to be a’ seein’ him acrosst of me,” lamented Scooter James. “Sorta puts me off my damn drinkin’ rhythm.”

They all agreed the shock of actually having to see each other, face-to-face, around the table, probably cut the lying by half.

Quincy pulled a battered, strapless wrist watch out of his pocket and squinted hard at the face. “Ain’t no damn light in here. A man can’t even read his damn own watch,” he grumbled. He held the watch up. “Dex, what damn time is it?”

Sitting across the table, Dexter squinted, and said, “Take ‘er back a ways. The light’s bad in here.” Quincy pulled the watch closer to his chest, and Dex announced, “Quarter to four, boys. Ellen’s gonna be on soon, let’s get outta here.”

As one, four men quietly reached down and shifted one of their empties to the snoring Als’ pile.

Dexter gently roused his life-long friend from his slumber. “ Al,” he yelled, “ Wake your tired old ass up. Time we’re out of here.” Revived from his drool-inducing sleep, Al looked down at the ample pile of empties surrounding his chair.  A frown creased his brow and he began to speak.

Always the pillar of soothing diplomacy, Dexter interrupted him, before he could say a word. “Hold your damn horses, Al. It’s the same damn thing, every damn week. You damn-well come in here slurp down enough damn beer to drown a damn stampede of fear crazed mud turtles, then drool your damn way off to sleep. The damn rules don’t change for no damn one. You damn-well drink it, you damn-well pay for it. If you can’t handle it, don’t drink the damn stuff.”

Smooth. Diplomatic. Polished.  Dex was a force of linguistic nature—a calming voice for reason, in a volatile world.

Still frowning, Al pulled a wad of bills out of his pocket, blinked a few times, and tossed  three tens onto the table. “You fellers figure it out, I gotta take me a squirt”

It was Quincy’s turn this week. “Al, you got that twenty I loaned you earlier?”

There’s a lot to be said about the traditions which bind communities together.

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