Existentialism, Literature, Ontology, Truth

A History of the Cudahy Taverns

 

“Driving, page-turning force” Publishers Weekly

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Crisp leaves enshroud Cudahy, never as beautiful in life as they are in death. All rejoice in the tomb of summer, frolicking in the burial ground of a time that is no more. This remorseless decomposition, land of nostalgia and déjà vu, idyllic for football and hunting and lakefront bonfires at night, it calls from a place beyond instinct, one primal or mystical and ineptly mapped by our concepts. If Nature speaks through her patterns, what are we to make of this delirious paean to necrophilia, this hypnotic Ode to Mortality?

The gloomy, taciturn Dr. Harris, glaring at us through bifocals and removing them to intensify his sulphurous gaze, stroked his unkempt beard and shook his head when we proposed a joint independent study titled, A History of the Cudahy Taverns: Packard Avenue. We returned the following day to plead our case, wielding the deadly argument that his dismissive reference to Cudahy as “some small, blue-collar abutment of Milwaukee” was no less contemptuous than describing the Temiar of Malaysia (his dissertation subject) as a group of uninteresting savages with absurd religious beliefs. A twenty-minute session of furious beard stroking ensued, probably infested by the realization that we had actually perused his dreadful, meandering doorstop.

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“Alright boys,” he whispered. “Three credits. Due at the end of the fall semester. I will not give you an incomplete. I will not extend the due date.” After a brief but intense session of beard stroking, he removed his bifocals and fixed us with his legendary disintegrating stare. “Don’t disappoint me.”

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I emerged from his office like Trajan returning from Dacia, but Buzzcut expressed reservations. Though in possession of an uncharacteristically athletic mind for a member of our generation, a congenital diffidence often restrained him from ambitions of heroic proportions. “Petronius, what if there aren’t any records at city hall or the historical society?”

“Records? We are starting ex nihilo. The historian who relies on books is no more than a glorified plagiarist. We are poised to become the primary source to which posterity, in humble gratitude, shall turn. For this we must go to the primordial, oracular sources themselves.”

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The vintage Schlitz globe above the entrance to Otto’s tavern, was it not an atlas of dreams, radiant with the light from a better world? “Bottle of Pabst,” I commanded, my voice a crash of thunder. Though billions of nights had preceded this one, and billions would follow, I detected a singularity, a hand-woven weave in the strands of Fate. I beheld the label on my bottle as Edmund Hilary must have looked upon the flag he planted atop Everest.

“I think we’ll need to present this thing as a horizontal tree, the trunk being the first tavern established,” said Buzzcut. “Branches multiply over the course of the century.”

“Will we wear cute matching dresses when we present our little chart? Will we invite our mommies? Will we serve cookies?”

“We have too much data to put in a simple paper,” he said, squeezing a slice of lemon over a gin and tonic.

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“No doubt Boswell warned Johnson not to put too many words in his dictionary.”

“Different old-timers are giving us different names and dates. We at least need a thesis.”

“Please remind me, what was Suetonius’ thesis? Did he use a mulberry or chestnut tree to coalesce the staggering volume of data he worked with? A great historian does not theorize; he installs a window where none existed, he provides a clear view of what has been obscured.”

“Gibbon theorized.”

“I am aware of that great man’s shortcomings,” I snapped, “all of which are more than redeemed by his pinnacling prose. Now, while we gather data unrelentingly, tonight we must address the question of whether to begin with a prologue, a prolegomenon, or a preamble. I contend that a prolegomenon is the proper choice, prologues being the filthy denizens of science fiction and fantasy novels. And given Harris’ modest scholarship we can safely assume he has never before encountered a prolegomenon. The very word will strike terror into his black heart, an overture of the awe that will send him to his knees long before our addendum to our prolegomenon.”  The Annals of Petronius Jablonski: An Odyssey of Historic Proportions & Priceless Treasure of Philosophy

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Also Set In Cudahy: Schrodinger’s Dachshund

Cudahy in the 1980s: Dick and Debbie’s Goldmine. The Courthouse. The Pumpkin Tree. The Hippodrome. The Bear’s Lair. Chuck and Dolly’s. Club Baghdad. Pat Henry’s after working third shift. Getting served for the first time at Rod’s Liquor Store with 70-cent quarts of Rhinelander. Beachers at the Pumphouse and Smoky’s. Grateful Dead concerts at Alpine. And Springsteen. Picking up girls at Hot Shots and taking them to Pulaski Park. Gold’s Gym. The Hobby Shop. Scott’s Rose Gardens. Discovering the Alabama Slammer. Rediscovering the Alabama Slammer because you can’t remember the maiden encounter. Quarter-barrels of Hamms for $10 (sans deposit) and 60 beachers in a row! (One had seven brave diehards in the rain; one had 150+.) The original library across from the post office. Seeing Caddyshack at the Majestic Theater (and Halloween, and Phantom of the Paradise). Taking the bus to Southridge to buy Kodiak at Tobacco Town. (They also had a theater & pet store.) The pool hall on Packard & Ramsey(?) had Iron Man on the jute box and wearing an army jacket was mandatory. The carnival that came to Packard Plaza each spring. Fish fries. Sneaking into Sheridan pool after beachers (and the golf course pond). New Year’s Eve attempts to have one drink in each bar on Packard, Odyssey-like and ultimately tragic. Waiting on the steps of Adamczyk Foods for The Dude who bought us beer at Rod’s Liquor.

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 Petronius Who?

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 Go Forth My Book

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