about Mikes bar was an old mans bar on Roosevelt avenue right before the West Carteret bridge. I t was the quintessential filthy bar with a Jukebox, pool table and black and white Tv up on a shelf. It’s not there anymore. It was refurbished with shiny new bar with mirrors and played disco music in the 80’s but now even that is gone. I’m not even sure whats there now.
This was my mother and fathers “hang out”. Especially my fathers as it was on the way home for him from Westfield. Most times he would just go in and get some “packaged goods” as they were called back then. A six pack to go. There was a neon light in the window even announcing: “Packaged Goods” and it would blink on and off ad nausueum.
As a seven or eight year old boy I would sometimes go in there with him. I remember going into a bar for the first time more than I remember riding a bike for the first time. It seemed the same song was playing on the jukebox all the time. It sounded like the saddest song in the world of a love lost. The background singers sounded like angels in heaven. Many years later I heard this song cracking on the AM radio and I memorized the name as “Rambling Rose” by Nat King Cole. Overtime, whenever I heard that song I thought my father.
I wasn’t allowed to sit at the bar so I was placed on a table behind the bar and underneath the TV.
There I was given a Coca-Cola and a box of pretzels holding hands. (The pretzels were connected when they were baked)There I was buried in Jukebox music and tremendous clouds of second hand smoke. My dad, always in his business suit, up at the bar having a cold one and laughing with the regulars. Perhaps arguing why the price of gas is approaching .50 cents a gallon because of the Vietnam war.
My father came and got me to introduce me to a pile of people in the corner of the bar by the front window. These people were always there. The same ones. Always. I was introduces as "George Junior" which I hated and wished I could just be called Butch for the rest of my life. Fifty years later I actually remember one of their names; Teddy. A strange looking old man with a fedora and a hungry nicotine appetite.
Teddy came close enough to my face where I could smell the stale cigarettes and fresh Schaffer beer and I notices he had no eye brows. "Go ahead, Teddy tell the boy why you have no hair." some old hag with long gray hair said. Teddy took off his crumpled hat and sure enough no hair there either.
Teddy then proceed to tell the story of how when he was a kid he went to the movies to see Frankenstein with his friends. The movie scared him so much that he had to be helped home and was shaking uncontrollably in the kitchen. His mother tried to tell him it was only a movie and put him to bed. When he awoke the next morning all the hair on his body had fallen out. And it never grew back again.
I quess the vision of that for me at the time was waking up in your bed with hair all over the sheets. Now that's a horror story. I suppose growing up the rest of your adult life with no body hair gives you permission to sit in the same seat at Mikes Bar in West Carteret for thirty years and slowly drown yourself in ice cold Schaffers and Lucky Strike cigarettes.
When my father took me home he told my mother about my first visit to Mikes Bar. So how did you like it Butchie?"
First I thought of how the bars lights are always dimmed. The loud echoing music. The muffled laughter and serious talk. An adult world. Deep dark and mysterious filled with story book characters. The romantic neon glow on everyone's face. I always got a nice "buzz" from the Coca Cola.
"I really liked the atmosphere." I said
And with that the laughter that followed lasted several days. Where a 3rd grader comes up with such a word, "atmosphere" is beyond me and I'm sure I heard it in a movie or cartoon somewhere but I honestly don't know how I came up with that.
This story became an ongoing thing for about a year. My mother would call me in the kitchen when she had guests, proceed to tell the story about me and Mikes bar and then I would get the Que from her:
"I liked the atmosphere." I said as I rolled my eyes and they laughed and laughed as I went back to my army men.