I whipped open the glass door and sauntered in with my usual sixth grade swagger, the bartender recognized me right away.
“Yo’ Donny, how you doin’?”
I gave the standard head nod of cool, a move I perfected the year before, “Pretty good Bobby, you?”
He slid one of those little square cocktail napkins on the bar in front of me, “Same old, can’t complain. The usual?”
Another head nod.
Bobby grabbed a glass, slung in a little ice, worked his magic and started to hand me the glass and then stopped. He knew he forgot something. Bobby turned, grabbed a maraschino cherry out of big jar behind the bar, plopped it in the drink, then turned back and set the glass down on the napkin like he did so many times before.
“You off today Donny?”
“Can’t keep you outta dis place.”
“How else I gonna learn the ways of the world Bobby?”
“Sittin’ here, on that barstool, not so much Donny. You should be out, hanging wit your little friends. You know, out doin’ stuff.”
I didn’t hold back, I took a huge gulp of my Roy Rodgers, and Bobby did it just right. There was not too much of the cherry flavored stuff on top of the cola. He was a good bartender that Bobby.
He was also my little league football coach. And the bar was located within a restaurant, one of my all time favorite places on the planet. I washed dishes there on weekends to help out, it was one of my first jobs. I got the gig, not because of Bobby, but my Mom worked there all the time, trying to save money for college and feed her four sons.
It is gone now, the “World Famous” Colacci’s restaurant in Louisville, Colorado. It really was famous and celebrities traveling around the west often found their way into the little place on Main Street.
The town was founded as a coal mining town, and a number of the Italian immigrant families that settled in the area were still around. My own little Italy. My own batch of Goodfellas, who didn’t necessarily throw around the accent heard from New Jersey or the Bronx in New York, but they had the attitude, and it carried over onto my little Irish mug from time to time.
Like the movies, everybody had a nickname or their name had to end in a “y” or an “i” – and there were a lot of head nods. A lot. You know what I mean?
My dark hair gave me a little bit of chance to pull off being Italian too. I won the school Halloween contest the year before dressed as none other than Rocky Balboa. Sly Stallone ain’t got nothin’ on me.
When a number of the women who worked at Colacci’s gathered to gossip, it was like a scene right out of Goodfellas. The spot in the film when the wives gathered at a hair saloon. The movie was years later, but it was fun having a major deja vu moment, flashing back to all the good times I had the few years I lived in that town.
Stereotypes aside, it was a tight community. Most folks went to church, it was truly all about family and people really looked out for each other. As long as you was on the right side of the tracks, you know?
They played hard, worked hard and fought hard, and there was always a sense of joy, regardless of the hardship and setbacks that were all around us everyday. Bobby was pretty hard on me most days, he was an old school, Vince Lombardi tough guy coach. But it made me a better player.
He was a different guy at work, like I earned some kind of unique respect working for a few bucks at that young age at the restaurant.
“Hey, Bobby, I keep washing them dishes good, maybe someday they let me work the bar out here wit you?”
“You ought to get out more Donny. Go play wit your little friends, go to school or something’. Get outta here.”
And then he messed up my hair. That happened a lot back then, something about messing up a kid’s hair.
I finished my drink, and slowly pushed the glass to the edge. I found four quarters and slapped them onto the bar for a tip. No way Bobby ever made me pay, so a tip was the best way to say thanks.
I only felt slightly rejected about him not wanting me to grow up and be a bartender. Working that place on the weekend didn’t look like any kind of picnic anyways. Besides, it was a nice day — and it was my day off. So I got outta there. It was good times though, good times.
I think I’m still a little bit Italian by osmosis. Like something rubbed off. You know what I mean?