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Satisfied that he bounced the guy, Pedro regained his authority, brushed his hands of the affair. He took his position behind the bar. And who should come goose-stepping back in, but Lance, more berserk with Howdy Doody than ever. The rafters shook with choruses of "Doody."
Another shoving match. But this time, with the entire Winedale Nation's energy against him, the bartender didn't win. Pedro's shoulders went limp, his resolve defeated. He backed down. He took shit. Lance was homefree. It was truly Howdy Doody Time at the Winedale.
Something in Pedro died that night. He mumbled under his breath. He told me I was through playing the Winedale. But he was fired the next day. After a month of soul-searching, he recovered somewhat and was rehired to work other shifts. Word has it he's been raising chickens. He won't take shit from poultry.
My current bartender, Steve Vail, has been with me two years running. His stock warning to panhandlers: "This is not a soup kitchen for the alcoholically impaired."
The demographics have changed a bit over the last two years, shamefully upscaled--though mostly Wednesdays, when dashing young rockers The Carsons bring in the well-scrubbed. But even a poorly attended evening can take a sudden surreal twist.
Not long ago, a tour bus pulled up at midnight unloading 50 FrCR>ench gCR>ynecologists. They were impeccably dressed in smart designer outfits, in Dallas for a vaginal summit. How they happened upon the Winedale I'll never know, but they lustily reveled in their discovery of an authentic American dive.
I'd luckily brought my Silvertone and Dan Electro guitars, drenching them with Texas blues. One doctor spotted the first 50 beers with a hundred dollar bill. The next 50 longnecks were popped open on credit. By 2 a.m., ties loosened, sweat circling beneath their pits, they'd danced and enjoyed life, bon vivants free from the constraints of the medical establishment. It was the only night I ever saw bartender Steve get looped.
When the last of the gynecologists had boarded the departing bus, tearfully waving au revoir, Steve realized they stiffed us on the beers. As is peculiar to France with its anti-tipping tradition, there wasn't one penny in my or the bartender's tip jars. Feeling diplomatic, I was glad they chose the Winedale for a taste of America over the plastic tourism of a Hard Rock Cafe.
Rarely does Steve have to bounce anyone, as he is beloved by all and doesn't need to assert much authority. Once I saw him take out his black midget bat when a sinewy mental patient refused to leave. Steve gave him his three strikes, but the guy wouldn't budge. He just presented his head, called Steve's bluff, awaiting the crack of the wood. When Steve wouldn't strike, he left disappointed. Steve already excels as a sailboat skipper.
Lance collapsed dead on Christmas in a construction foreman's car. It was the first day of a job he actually showed up for.
Editor's note: Pedro, Nellie, Tara, Sadie, and Tom Hedges are pseudonyms for actual characters in the real-life drama of the Winedale.