Friday, November 26, 2010

Those Were The Days My Friend

A recent HBO special called "Public Speaking" Directed by Martin Scorsese which had Fran Lebowitz spouting all sorts of answers to all sorts of questions for about an hour and fifteen minutes sparked memories of when my friends and I used to sit in the local Bar, I'd call it a Pub but that would make us sound British, and talk and argue for hours over everything. Remember this old song?

Mary Hopkin lyrics - Those Were The Days

Those Were The Days

(Gene Raskin / Russian Traditional)

Once upon a time, there was a tavern

Where we used to raise a glass or two.

Remember how we laughed away the hours,

Think of all the great things we would do?

Chorus:

Those were the days, my friend!

We thought they'd never end.

We'd sing and dance forever and a day.

We'd live the life we'd choose.

We'd fight and never lose.

For we were young and sure to have our way!

Di di di di…

Then, the busy years went rushing by us.

We lost our starry notions on the way.

If, by chance, I'd see you in the tavern,

We'd smile at one another and we'd say,

Those were the days, my friend!

We thought they'd never end.

We'd sing and dance forever and a day.

We'd live the life we'd choose.

We'd fight and never lose.

Those were the days, oh yes those were the days!

Di di di di…

Just tonight, I stood before the tavern.

Nothing seemed the way it used to be.

In the glass, I saw a strange reflection.

Was that lonely woman really me?

Those were the days, my friend

We thought they'd never end

We'd sing and dance forever and a day

We'd live the life we'd choose

We'd fight and never lose

Those were the days, oh yes those were the days!

Di di di di…

Through the door, there came familiar laughter.

I saw your face and heard you call my name.

Oh my friend, we're older but no wiser,

For in our hearts, the dreams are still the same.

Those were the days, my friend!

We thought they'd never end.

We'd sing and dance forever and a day.

We'd live the life we'd choose.

We'd fight and never lose.

Those were the days, oh yes those were the days!

Di di di di… 

Our Bar was The Villa. The Beer was Fifteen cents a mug and the whiskey went on the average about forty cents a shot, Pizza was a buck for small, a buck and a quarter for medium and a buck and a half for a large. We generally got the medium or small, a buck and a half was way too much. We never got there before ten or eleven at night after some time at a roller rink, movie or even church. Yes that's correct, CHURCH. 

A group of us were in the YCW, Young Christen Workers which had its base in Belgium and fostered union principles based on Catholic ethics. We'd spend time on Monday nights at the St. Anne's rectory discussing things like "A fair days wage for a fair days work." We'd also discuss such things as whether French kissing was a mortal sin. Sometimes representatives from Belgium, one guy was called Billy, visited to discuss the horrible working conditions overseas and touch base with the moral ethics of the young people here and there. There was a girls chapter also and dances were held inviting all the parishes to meet and greet one another and further explore French kissing. By the time our weekly meetings were done a few of us were thirsty and we go to the Villa to quench our thirst. We'd walk in bursting with energy, loud and feisty carrying our Bibles which confounded the old hard drinkers who were there before us. But we were ready for anything in the form of conversational arguments. One that sticks out in my mind was one old, I guess he was about forty-five, guy challenged us on our beliefs saying our drinking couldn't square with the Church's stance on drunkenness. We of course argued we never got drunk, today they measure drunkenness back then it was different. He challenged us about dressing up for Sunday Mass saying it was hypocritical. I told him to show up at the Twelve-fifteen one Sunday and he would see me unshaven and in my old clothes, didn't have jeans back then, and look for me receiving Communion. He did,. I did. He reformed and went back to church for awhile. I never saw him at the Villa after a time nor did I see him back at Church so who knows if the reformation stuck or if he just visited another Bar.

There was another group of guys and gals who went out together and after doing whatever we were doing ended up at The Villa. We drank ate Pizza argued and laughed until closing. We covered everything from sin to medicine to baseball to sex. Denny, argued that Cancer was caused by a virus. This theory arose some years later but I first head the argument from Denny. One of the girls' father was an alcoholic and she had a mother who was very ill and suffered at times in great pain if anyone even touched her bed. She was bedridden. One night before we went out the father came home in a drunken stupor and was jumping up and down on the mother's bed causing great pain, I can still hear the groans and see the tears. Finally I could not stand this anymore so I pleaded with him to stop but he wouldn't. I lifted him up and bodily threw him out of the bedroom and followed him into the living room promising to kill him if he ever did that again. He might have done it again but not in front of me nor did she ever mention it again. That night we didn't go out but we did shortly thereafter and in the Villa we argued whether I had the right to do what I did. We argued it from a ethical and moral viewpoint. I think we agreed right or wrong it was the thing to do.

We had lots of laughs at The Villa. When I might of had a little too much to drink I'd do my impersonation of Marlyn Monroe and Jane Russell from "Gentlemen Prefer Blonds" which required me to get up on the bar. The bartender never complained. We were good tippers, sometimes we'd leave as much as five or ten bucks which wasn't bad for a crowd of ten or so back then.

We solved every moral, political issue of the day. We had great ideas and weren't afraid to argue the pros and cons between Beers or Gin Rickeys. Some of us got drafted. Some of us married and had kids. Some of us just drifted away. Today there is no more Villa. There is no more YCW. There are very few of us left. 

Just a few months ago one of the guys died of cancer. The girl whose father was a drunk married the guy who had the virus causing cancer idea. They married and moved away and faded in obscurity as far as I know. There are very few who seem to want to discuss ideas or just argue and have fun. Everyone I see today is texting or playing games or having hot sex but never really getting involved with anything but some sort of pleasure they think is out there.

Fran Lebowitz, Scorsese's "Public Speaking" on HBO helped me realize that sometimes just talking and swapping ideas about everything and anything is what is missing today. The Roundtable at the Algonquin with it's group of witty people no longer exists. Today we have the talking heads shouting, screaming and usually saying nothing but trying to get people to follow them so their power base can be satisfied. By the way George S. Kaufman, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Day are a few of the people from The Roundtable that we could use today. Or maybe, to paraphrase, Fran Lebowitz, "One of the reasons the good old days were good was because I was in my twenties.".  In any case as far as I am concerned, "Those Were The Days My Friend'.  
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