The Bartender's Tale
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A national bestseller, the story of “a boy’s last days of youth and a history his father can’t leave behind” (The Daily Beast).
Tom Harry has a streak of frost in his black pompadour and a venerable bar called The Medicine Lodge, the chief watering hole and last refuge in the town of Gros Ventre, in northern Montana. Tom also has a son named Rusty, an “accident between the sheets” whose mother deserted them both years ago. The pair make an odd kind of family, with the bar their true home, but they manage just fine.
Until the summer of 1960, that is, when Rusty turns twelve. Change arrives with gale force, in the person of Proxy, a taxi dancer Tom knew back when, and her beatnik daughter, Francine. Is Francine, as Proxy claims, the unsuspected legacy of her and Tom’s past? Without a doubt she is an unsettling gust of the future, upending every certainty in Rusty’s life and generating a mist of passion and pretense that seems to obscure everyone’s vision but his own. The Bartender’s Tale wonderfully captures how the world becomes bigger and the past becomes more complex in the last moments of childhood.
waited for before answering me. “That’s the name of the joint, is all.” “I thought it was the, uh, Medical Lounge.” “Not this one,” he replied crossly, setting me straight about the Medicine Lodge and that the other joint was somewhere he’d been way back when, long before I entered the world. “That’s another story,” he said, which told me he didn’t want to be pestered further about it. Getting up from his desk, he straightened his bow tie and shrugged into his suit coat. “Come on, let’s
all the way out from town to talk to a mutton conductor?” Spitting an amount of tobacco juice that did not seem to diminish the cud in his cheek, he shuffled over to us and gestured to the nearby grazing ewes and lambs, as if we were welcome to them. “Got the goddamn mutton on the hoof for you, that’s for sure.” “Rusty,” Zoe was whispering, “what’s wrong with those sheep?” Before I could tell her, Del had caught up with the bedraggled nature of the creatures in Canada Dan’s care. “What
and cloudy from cigarette smoke and other tolls of midair life in a very active saloon. Rather tenderly I spritzed the bulge of glass and wiped with the tip of my finger wrapped in the rag until a gleam came up. It was uncanny, the feeling that grew in me as that dark eye brightened almost to life. In such a situation you know perfectly well the shaggy old beast has been dead for an eon, not to mention decapitated, yet there is the odd illusion that its gaze matches yours. The buffalo in fact had
saloon was viewed as a nearly holy oasis. What else was as reliable in life as sauntering into the oldest enterprise for a hundred miles around and being met with just the right drink whisking along the polished wood of the prodigious bar, along with a greeting as dependable as the time of day? Not even heaven promised such service. Growing up in back of the joint, as my father always called it, I could practically hear in my sleep the toasts that celebrated the Medicine Lodge as an unbeatable
tub; listened, entranced, to the mythic Thirties coming to life, little knowing that the Sixties would someday echo the same way. The interviews, as conducted by Del, were like jazz, or, yes, the blues; riffs of memory in a language all their own. So I learned that Fort Peck’s populace had been such working fools that even the barbers wore bib overalls, and shantytown living conditions were so barny, you’d half expect to wake up in the morning next to a horse, but that never stopped married