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Sunday, August 24, 2003

Leo the mailman

Thanks to a little nudge, here I go again.

As best as I could tell, just about everyone that frequented the place was born and raised in the same neighborhood. Being an outsider, not only did I have the great fortune to sneak a peek into their strange little world, but for some reason, they embraced me and made me part of it. I suppose it helped that one of their own brought me into the fold.

The world consisted of about six square blocks with the tavern as the center of its universe. No one had to worry about getting a DUI on the way home, because... everyone walked. Whoever invented the phrase “don’t get out much” might have had these people in mind. Most of them dated and married and worked and died within that neighborhood.

Case in point: Leo the mailman. Under any other circumstances, he was the kind of guy a 24 year old Cosmo girl would go out of her way to avoid, much less even give a second glance to. Yeah, I fancied myself as some kind of Cosmo girl back then. He was in his upper 50's. His grim face was puffy and red from spending his best years boozing alone. His gray hair always looked like it needed a haircut about four weeks before. And, he had a beer gut out to here, if you know what I mean.

Leo was absent from his barstool perch that first night I went there. In private, it was explained to me that he had lost his wife and daughter to divorce about 25 years before and he no longer wanted anything to do with women. I was introduced to him on my second visit. He said I looked just like Veronica Lake. He slurred, “do you know who she is?”

“Oh yeah,” I said. “She was a famous movie star.” But, that was all I knew. I made a mental note to go to the library on my lunch hour the next day to look up her picture.

Everyone who went to Big Wally’s spoke in a loud booming voice. It was the nature of the place. There was another thing, too. At first I wondered if they deliberately mispronounced words. It later dawned on me that that was the way they really talked. Instead of being bothered by their verbal indiscretions, I came to actually enjoy and understand it. Even though this was the heart of the big city, sophisticated urbanites they were not. I have a distinct recollection that the conversation often revolved around the behavior of rednecks. Truth be told, and from a purely anthropological point of view, they were the rednecks.

Bones was manning the tap and holding court that night with the six or seven at the bar. I really wasn’t into the conversation. After about 10 minutes, I was trying to figure out a way to excuse myself and go home. I glanced down the bar and noticed Leo quietly leaning over his drink and figured he wasn’t into the conversation either.

He caught me looking at him and raised an index finger to hold my attention. He leaned back. I leaned back. And, literally, behind the back of the guy I was with, he asked me to dance. I froze. I don’t know what I expected him to say, but that was the last thing. Sensing my hesitation, he said, “Come on. I’m harmless. Please.”

What the hell, I thought to myself, and I spun my barstool around and slid off. Plus, I figured it had to be okay with my date since he wasn’t paying any attention to me anyway.

I suppose one could call this era in time, “the age of disco.” But this tavern was in no way any disco. Although, it did have a worn tile floor just barely suitable for dancing. I stood there awkwardly, my back to the others, as Leo made his selection on the juke box. He picked a slow song. What it was, I have no recollection – probably some weepy song by Roy Clark or one of those. I don’t know anymore.

He turned around and took my hands in his. We shuffled our feet a little until we fell into step with each other. He moved closer, and as he leaned his face towards mine, he whispered, “put your arms around me and dance like we’re a couple of teenagers.” After a brief second’s hesitation, I draped my arms around his neck and put my head on his chest. We hung on each other, swaying and barely moving our feet like it was the last dance at the senior prom, and we were the king and queen. I swear, as he buried his face in my neck, I could feel his grimace transform into a smile.

That night, hope was born and a bond was formed between two of the most unlikely strangers in one of the most unlikely places.

Posted by Marie at August 24, 2003 2:35 PM


Thank you for writing more... :)

Posted by: Jeff at August 24, 2003 9:00 PM