Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Carousel Lounge

When I was a wee child, my maternal grandfather was the proprietor of a local watering hole called the The Carousel Lounge. He bought the place sometime in the late sixties or early seventies, and for a while it was a jamming joint. They had a pool table, a few pinball machines and a deep fat fryer. But the main attraction was the big screen TV. The Carousel was the only place in town that had one, and in Pittsburgh Steeler territory that is a big effing deal. Because of some ancient decree, bars in our town were not permitted to open before 2pm on Sundays, and so the citizens voted to repeal that law. The chief of police was the one who spearheaded that resolution, by the way.

A famous family tale about the night I was born takes place in the The Carousel. I was born sometime between 8 and 8:30 at night, during an episode of Mork and Mindy. After my father came out and made the announcement, his older brother was instructed to head over to the bar and make sure everything was ready for what was sure to be the party of the year. There is a very strong resemblance in my father's family, so when his brother walked in and announced that I had been born, everyone thought he was the new dad. By the time everyone else arrived, my uncle was passed out on top of the bar from all the congratulatory shots bought for him by the patrons.

From an early age, I remember my mother helping to tend bar. We would go down after school and drink orange soda from a small glass bottle and eat chips. They had gotten rid of the deep fryer because fire insurance was too expensive. My pap never let anyone (including my mother) smoke while we were there, and he would take money from the pool table and give me and my brother quarters to play pinball. I was allowed to go behind the bar to help wash dishes in the special sink with bottle brushes attached to the bottom. We loved it there. My brother once told his kindergarten teacher how his mom took him to the bar almost every day after school. I remember meeting with a social worker a week later and being asked if my mother was a drunk, but after they figured out that she worked there, everything was hunky dory.

During its heyday, everyone in town stopped off at the The Carousel Lounge after work. However, from the time that I can remember the clientele had changed a bit. Instead of the average Joe stopping by for a beer, the place was mostly filled with out of work veterans. The guys were nice, but most of them were a little, well, odd.

There was Jack, who also helped tend bar. Instead of getting a paycheck, my grandfather let him and his old lady Wendy live over the bar. He was as mean as they come, but he had to be nice to us or risk becoming homeless. Once he killed a mouse by smashing it with a brick. He held up the oozing carcass by the tail and announced to us youngins that Chuck E. Cheese was dead. We didn't see him for about a month after that, but he must have made amends because he we started seeing him around eventually.

There were two brothers named Danny and Timmy. Both had spent time in Vietnam, and Timmy came home without legs. Refusing a 'handout' from the government, he had his brother carve him wooden legs instead of getting prosthetic ones. Since I never saw him do anything but sit in bar stool, I hadn't the slightest idea that Timmy had no lower appendages. And I was four, so the concept of having no legs or wooden legs seemed absurd. But one day, he invited me to come and see for myself. My mom, seeing this as a learning opportunity (I hope) gently encouraged me. I must have been delighted when my tiny fist produced and solid 'knock knock' sound, because this became a game between us. As soon as I would walk in the door, I would run over to Timmy and knock twice on his leg. He was always quick to respond 'Who's there?'

Once I started school, my grandparents had moved to Florida. My mom and uncles were sick of keeping up with the place, and so Pap sold The Carousel Lounge to a motorcycle gang. The place suffered some serious abuse over the next decade, and finally the building was condemned sometime when I was in college.

Some people might find it improper that so many of my childhood memories take place in a bar, but to us it was just fine. We had family Christmas pictures taken there. I know that one of my cousins was conceived there, but I haven't been brave enough to ask who. I do know that the pool table factored into the story. The Carousel Lounge is a huge part of our family history, and many holidays are spent rehashing old stories to the younger members of the clan who don't have their own memories of the place.

Sometimes when I go back to visit my parents, I drive past the lot where the The Carousel Lounge used to stand and reminisce. I've shared dozens of stories with SOB, and still every time we pass I think of one more that he hasn't heard. Even though, objectively, it was a shit hole, I'm a little sad that Sam and company will never pass through its doorway. I occasionally get word from my mother that one of the bar rats, as they were affectionately know, has passed away. I'm not a praying woman, but I will drink an orange soda and tip my bottle in their honor.

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super des said...

That was the most awesome thing I've read in a long time.

Amy Jo said...

Thanks, des! :) I've gotten such good response to these posts about my life in general, so I've decided to write more and more of them. In a way, I feel like I'm writing my memoirs. I plan on tackling Suzanne's sex story next!