Existentialism, Literature, philosophy, Quietude

A History of the Cudahy Taverns

“Driving, page-turning force” Publishers Weekly

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An Odyssey of Historic Proportions

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.”

“We need to visit different bars. This well is dry. We’ve interviewed all the regulars.”

I bristled at the gruesome inevitability. It was neither the patrons nor the ambience of the other taverns that offended me, but their infernal, nerve-frazzling, soul-raping, caterwauling jukeboxes. Otto’s boasted CDs by Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Perry Como.

“We’ll stick with the oldest buildings,” Buzzcut announced, usurping my role as the commander of our voyage. “I checked with city hall. Out of the eighty-two taverns on the mile-long strip we’re concerned with, only a handful were built before the First World War.”

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I sought Quietude with the reflection that our sudden change of method might facilitate the extraordinary evening prophesized to me. We finished our drinks and plunged into the abyss, exchanging the air-conditioned, submarine-like enclosure of Otto’s for the rainforest outside. Ten feet as the crow flies, The Stone Age beckoned.

“The name and the sixties theme is brand new,” Buzzcut said, mounting a stool while I admired a laminated poster of brontosaurs sipping from a stream of beer flowing out of a giant can. Beside them, a tyrannosaurus in a tie-dyed shirt clutched a bottle in one of its scrawny forelimbs. Artificial ferns and plastic boulders segmented a hall, beyond a rectangular bar, within which a cherubic girl in a cave-girl outfit serviced customers on all sides.

“You are aware that Homo sapiens did not, at any time, co-exist with dinosaurs,” I said. “Furthermore, the connection between them and sixties rock music is far from transparent.”    The Annals of Petronius Jablonski  

***

Also set in Cudahy:

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“Jablonski is able to inject a sense of immediacy and intensity in the story by using sparse description that suggests more than it tells. … An engaging narrative.” – Publishers Weekly

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Woolgathering & Pining for 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. I’d trade all my tomorrows for a Beacher in 84.

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The only barrier separating Then from Now is a distance finite and definite, measurable by the hands of a clock, each minute connected to the next like a series of steps leading inexorably between two towns. Yet that time could just as well be Atlantis. And you’re visiting. Everyone was living their lives like you are now, that time just as real to them. What became of it? How can something so vivid and tangible become the dream of a shadow? Maybe this moment will be different. They tell you to seize the day but they never say how. Does Home Depot have special gloves?

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One-Millionth Visitor And She Never Knew

“The places that we have known belong now only to the little world of space on which we map them for our own convenience. None of them was ever more than a thin slice, held between the contiguous impressions that composed our life at that time; remembrance of a particular form is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years.” Marcel Proust

This post was originally written in response to the following barbarism. An attack on your hometown is no different than an insult directed at your mother. Respond accordingly.

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Petronius Who?!

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