“Only winos drink on Sundays.”
Offered to partake on the Sabbath, Viddi Golbranson would take offence, although he put in an appearance at The Palooka Bar six days a week, never quitting the establishment before closing time. Viddi was affable enough but a bit of a challenge to be around, given his annoying habit of hanging on to your clothes as he held forth. Once in a while Viddi would tug too often or too hard and Hulk the bouncer had to escort him outside as Viddi continued his discourse.
Viddi was usually on his best behavior at the Palooka, until his fifth or sixth G and T, as he’d been barred from all the other establishments in town, and two cafés and a sporting goods store to boot. Joe, the owner, had a soft spot for him: When Joe was down in the dumps, Viddi would guzzle with him into the wee hours, never leaving Joe’s liquor cabinet during the entire ordeal. Viddi then made a friend for life by calling Joe’s ex-mother-in-law a polka-dot gorilla when she came over for the Maytag dryer.
In bleak December, when drinking becomes more soulful and determined, Hulk’s mother had to have her gallstones removed and he was away for the weekend. Rhino, Hulk’s usual replacement, was out of town because of some judicial misunderstanding. Viddi marched in early that evening as Joe wondered who to call. His brother-in-law, Weeping Willy, couldn’t evict an octogenarian yoga teacher and Joe´s best friend, Jimmy the Gent, wasn’t allowed within fifty feet of a bottle of Jim Beam these days.
“I found myself in the neighborhood, said Viddi. “What’s good and happening?”
“Strapped for cash, Viddi?”
“I’ll take care of if next . . . what do you mean? I don’t owe you a dime.”
“How would you like a $100 credit?”
“You mean here?”
“You want me to clean the joint?”
“No, I need you to bounce for a couple of nights.”
“I’m a lover, not a fighter.” Already Viddi was staring lovingly at the liquor behind Joe’s shoulder.
“One hundred and twenty clams. Just show anyone making a nuisance of himself the door. You know the drill, Hulk’s kicked you out often enough.”
“I’m on the beam.” Viddi gave Joe the famous Viddi wink which was meant to convey that everything was going to be all right. Viddi’s great grandfather Adelsten Golbranson, affectionately known as “Alli the Welder”, enjoyed the distinction of being the only man in labor history to have worked on both The Titanic and The Hindenburg.
Joe had no inkling where Viddi had gone off to but thought he’d spotted a strange gleam in Viddi’s eyes as he stormed through the door.
Two hours later the usually dapper Viddi came back wearing a beat-up leather jacket, faded jeans and construction boots that had seen better days, his hair slicked back with a jar full of brilliantine and his eyes shone with a dreamy determination that would have worried Captain Ahab. Moreover Joe noted an eerie change in Viddi’s demeanor, some subtle metamorphosis Joe couldn’t quite put his finger on.
“Reporting for duty.” This wasn’t Viddi’s regular voice but a more gruff one, two octaves lower. Then it dawned on Joe. He’d never seen Viddi in this state before, that disconcerting clarity in his eyes.
Viddi was sober.
It was business as usual as Viddi took his position by the door. Hardly a minute had gone by when Viddi flew off his stool, grabbed some merrymaker by the scruff of his neck and bulldozed the customer outside. The shopworn lady in the leopard coat who’d been sitting opposite the fancyman seemed to be remonstrating his eviction rather than berating her companion for some ungentlemanly transgression. The yokel objected vociferously but otherwise offered no resistance.
To his eventual regret, Joe did not inquire into the matter.
Not fifteen minutes passed before Viddi managed to get an elderly gentleman, older than Methuselah and wearing a cardigan and golf pants, in a half-Nelson and proceeded to drag the contorted client towards the door. When Viddi came back in, pleased as an Irishman at a wake, Joe enquired what the guy had been up to.
“He was starting an argument.”
“Did he offend anyone?”
“In a sense, no, but I decided to err on the side of caution.”
“Take it easy, Viddi.”
“No problem, boss.”
Joe knew he was in trouble when Viddi called him “boss”.
Viddi was breathing down the neck of a couple of College Joes trying to have an intimate pow-wow when suddenly he turned.
“You do that again and you’re out of here, pronto.” No one knew what the customer’s faux pas had been but the patron slipped out, blushing like a spring rose.
With Viddi attending to more pressing affairs the rah-rah boys could speak more freely. “Was that Joe Cocker?”
“Dude’s got mental health issues.”
Barely had Viddi taken his eyes off the man’s back when he darted to the pool table.
“Not on my watch, you don’t.”
“What’s up, Viddi?”
“That stuff with the ashtray.”
“You just don’t do that . . . in public.”
Beardy and Shadow looked hurt but said nothing.
“I saw that. On your bike.”
“What’d I do? What’d I do?”
“Have you no shame?” Viddi already had the corpulent man’s hand behind his back and was bull-rushing him out.
“Don’t like his shoes, Viddi?” rumbled The Cadaver without turning around as they passed him.
“He was groping that lady.”
“She’s my girlfriend for Christ’s sake. I had my arm around her waist.”
“One thing leads to another. You’re out for now but welcome back for happy hour.” Viddi threw the cavalier out into the street and resolved to guard the door better, from the outside. The riffraff were streaming in, it being the first weekend of the month.
“No, no, no.”
“Holding the fort, Viddi?”
“You know how you get.”
Viddi and Magnus the Murderer had once kidnapped Giggles the kangaroo from the zoo. That night their “borrowed” ride ended in the middle of a football field and both Magnus and Viddi, having worn matching pink neck braces for two months, won a large settlement from the owners of the stadium by means of legal maneuvers understood only by Libbi the Shyster.
“Can’t risk it. Pandemonium in there already.”
“Shush, I’m with a client. Just a club soda.”
“We have the other customers to think of.”
“But I’ve been on the wagon for three years. Hey, let me go…”
Half an hour later some lady Viddi had thrown out for sweet nothing took a swing at him in the doorway just as Johnny the Gent stepped out. Johnny took it flush on the chin.
Johnny’s brother Bimbo had procured Joe’s liquor licence. Viddi deemed that his services were more urgently required inside.
“Two ways about it. Do my bidding or bounce.” Viddi wagged his finger furiously at The Cadaver’s neck.
“What’s it now Viddi?”
“He’s leaning on the table. One of these days it’s going to break and I’ll not shoulder the blame.”
The Cadaver was laughing so hard that his entire torso was splayed across the bar table.
Viddi was not amused. “I’m evicting you from the premises forthwith.”
Joe went over to placate The Cadaver, one of his most valued customers, but couldn’t get a word in edgewise as The Cadaver was convulsed with laughter. Before Joe could finish his mitigation with a double Ballantine’s on the house, The Cadaver looked over his shoulder and had another fit of the chuckles.
“Look, he’s marching into Poland.”
By the bathroom entrance a ruckus had broken out. This time Viddi had someone on the floor. “He was trying to sneak into the ladies.”
“I am a lady, you moron.” The woman had thick glasses and close-cropped hair. Her neck was kind of thick for a lady, Joe had to admit.
But Viddi was defiant:
“This isn’t that kind of a bar.”
Then Joe remembered the dame was one of the cops who had arrested Rhino at Barbie’s. The Cadaver shot a glance at Joe who nodded.
“Time for the royal dram, Viddi.” Joe said, pouring a quadruple Haig.
“It’s The King’s birthday,” announced The Cadaver.
“You know, I’m not political.”
“I’m talking about the King of Kings.” The Cadaver thrust the glass into Viddi´s hand and pointed to Elvis Presley singing his swan song in Las Vegas in a washed-out photo on the Wall of Fame.
“You want me to imbibe on the job?
“A time-honored tradition among bouncers from Kalamazoo to Kopasker. He’d have been seventy years old tonight.”
“Down the hatch,” Joe piped in.
Viddi could not bring himself to break with the hallowed custom of his colleagues all over the world who were downing the royal dram at this very moment and was jubilantly spurred on until he’d drained the last drop.
Big-Timer, The Cadaver, Beardy, and Shadow each stole a glance at Joe.
“Okay,” Joe said, “get it over with.”
Big-Timer, The Cadaver, Beardy, and Shadow grabbed Viddi by his hands and feet.
“I’ll bar the lot of you for life!” Viddi roared.
Holding Viddi down on the bar table they proceeded to pour Jim Beam’s down his gob.
“You’re on the list of the damned!”
All over The Palooka Bar a round of applause went up.
“I’m taking you to the woodshed!”
Once they had poured the whole bottle down his hole, Shadow and Beardy took Viddi and threw him into the frosty night.
“You’ll be sucking eggs in Hoboken by the time I’m done with you!”
Viddi came crashing down at the feet of Magnus the Murderer who after losing his account had entered a more forgiving drinking establishment and promptly fallen off the wagon. “Keeping the home fires burning, Viddi?”
Shadow and Beardy took turns minding the door. They didn’t have an awful lot to do aside from keeping Viddi out and giving him a perfunctory clobbering when he tried to body-search some Swedish exchange students on entry, invoking The Patriot Act.
The pair seemed as unperturbed by Viddi’s proposed inspection as his subsequent thrashing.
“And I’m Ulla.”
“We’re from Umeå.”
Back the next evening in his usual trench coat, smart suit and Harrod’s tie, Viddi cornered some rube, warming into a lengthy account of his exploits as a bodyguard in Las Palmas, Spain. Viddi hung on to the man’s coattails and tugged for dear life as the punter tried to disengage himself while Viddi lit a Chesterfield.
The gentleman’s name was Edward Hemingway Jr. His girlfriend of three weeks, four days and six hours, Stella “Just Stella”, had broken up with him after he’d failed to stand up for himself when that Bedlamite threw him out last night. Stella “Just Stella” had left with Mercy Beaucoup and not been seen since.
“Where’s that damn bouncer when you need him?” Edward kvetched, shaken not stirred from Viddi’s tugging, and couldn’t understand why everyone was guffawing and wanted to stand him a dram as that pesky fellow hung on to his coattails and rambled on.