A Protestant, a Catholic and a Jew are in a bar. ‘Sounds like the beginning of the worn “formula” joke (but it’s not). It is, rather, a reference to a time long gone, a snapshot of the mid 90’s: my bottom. There, in a “restaurant” at Mayfield and Richmond, midst chatter and second-hand smoke, stood a Protestant, a Catholic, and a Jew.

Tracy was young then—late 20’s. The girls all liked him, and as lead bartender he was point guard for the tavern. By that time I was strolling in nightly, meeting Ed, maybe Gary Krinsky…often no one. Trace was good; the drink always beat me to my seat.

Sam was my server of choice. Short, affable, we connected from Day One. You know: that Judao-Italian thing. Each arrival, kids in tow, we’d sit in his station. Adroitly he’d tender my drinks, JUST as the girls played pinball or Michael shot hoops. Double Jack Daniels, always straight up, always on a separate check.

And that was my so-called life….until it wasn’t.

I got sober in ’97 and needless to say, lost contact. Ed’s girlfriend didn’t like me; our playgroup was cancelled. Krinsky moved west and Tracy, I’d heard, was working downtown. Sammy: he just evaporated.

I stayed sober and life got better, one day at a time.

It was at a meeting in 2005 that I next saw Sam. I picture it like it was yesterday. Church parking lot, Fairmount and Coventry, two friends embracing not only each other, but recovery. He called himself “Sal” by then, apparently his given name. And he was homeless.

“How long are you clean?” I asked.
“Two months.”
“You can stay at my place,” said I, “…get on your feet.”
“You’re kidding…how much?”
(I wasn’t going to charge him. It wasn’t the money).
“Just don’t use.”

Sam—excuse me—SAL, moved in days later. Jon, a program guy, helped him schlep.

It didn’t take, though. Didn’t work out. He wasn’t working, wasn’t hitting meetings, and (let’s face it) , wasn’t straight.

“Should I tell him to leave?” I asked my sponsor, somewhat plagued with guilt.
“You have to,” he said.
“He’s a friend.”
“He’s NOT a friend,” urged David, “But if he is, you’re not doing him any favors.”

I told him, days later.
“Dude!” he responded, leaving that night without embrace.

Sal’s been back, of course, to the rooms. Strings together a few months, here and there. Always thanks me, these days, for the past. And—give the devil his due—twice the guy’s moved my niece’s furniture. But he can’t stay clean.

Tracy also found the rooms. He too, never stayed. I saw him years ago, (maybe three)…at a meeting. Last one in, first one to leave…sparkle clearly gone.

They’re not, of course, the only remnants of my Scooter’s days. Everyone once in a while I see other barmaids, servers. We laugh fondly of those times; I’ve even represented a few.

As for Sal…I saw him here and there when I played poker more. Nothing, I could sense, had changed. Tracy, though, I would never see again.

They held a wake yesterday. For my bartender, Tracy…dead at 45, the direct result of alcoholism. And I asked myself again, why I’ve been lucky—stayed healthy. Indeed, but for the grace of God….

This year alone: Jeffrey, Jimmy…and now…

I stood at the home with Coach Sam, just talking. Our paths cross here and there—he helps a lot of people. (Both Sal and Trace, in fact, had stayed at his place). Like always, I was tempted to remind the coach that years ago…way back when…he was on our radio show.

I never, though, bring it up. Why would I ?

It’s just not important.

One Response to “BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY”

  1. m says:

    You know that you are a lucky guy, in countless ways. You are giving back and it is good.

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