on November 23, 2009
The tall, courteous bartender leaned over to listen as two young costumers unburdened their love troubles. By the look of them, you’d guess they had been drinking all night. The one with shorter hair and glassier eyes complained about a woman who had just moved in with him.
“She’s straight out of Utah,” he slurred, meaningfully. His drinking companion nodded.
“She’s having issues with it.”
“She wants to marry you?” the bartender asked. The other man laughed, poking fun at his friend. That’s why they were out drinking, he said.
“I’m in hiding,” said the unwilling non-groom. “She’s just moving in.”
The men finished their drinks and got up, taking their leave ceremoniously.
“All right. man, have a good night,” said the one. Then he corrected himself: “Day.”
The bartender smiled and wished the drinkers a good day. They opened the door and stepped out onto the brightness of the morning.
It was 9:15 a.m. At the Kerry House bar, a long and narrow room with windowless walls covered in dark wood panels, the illusion of night can be kept fairly well as long as you don’t look out onto the street through the glass half of the front door. As if by design, the bar’s only clock (advertising a brand of sparkling water from Belfast) hangs right by the door. An unutilized wooden telephone booth, a collection of sports memorabilia, and an ancient gas pump make up the bar’s decor. Two pool tables stand at the far end of the room, pleasantly lit by red hanging lights.
After the two young drinkers left, the bar was momentarily deserted except for an old man in a red baseball cap, who sat in the corner nursing a drink. Above him on the fuzzy TV screen, the morning news informed viewers that two more cars had been torched in Richmond the previous night, and that this might or might not be connected to similar incidents the previous week. The old man looked up momentarily, lost interest, and turned his attention to the newspaper. He had to take off his glasses and bring the folded pages very close to his strained eyes, which must have been tiring, because he soon gave up and looked up again at the TV.
The bartender, who had been sitting at the other end of the bar watching a cop show on the second TV, got up to make the rounds. He offered me a second cup of coffee, and the old man another drink.
“I’m going to take a chance and get another one,” the old man said. The bartender poured him vodka and soda with a splash of orange juice.
The man gave his newspaper another go. He showed me the header: the Chronicle. He said he’s religious about his papers. “I read a lot,” he said. A heart problem forced him to retire two years ago, he explained; he’s not yet used to the unwelcome idleness, the “long days with not enough to do.”
Evidently pleased at having someone to chat with, the gentleman offered a compendium of his life: a promising 1950s baseball career cut short by a broken shoulder; adulthood spent in a office job; post-retirement years doing something he loved, working as a professional golf caddie in a course nearby; then the heart problem two years ago, at age 75, and the need to stop working. “I read a lot,” he repeated, with a sigh.
He said he’s been coming to the Kerry House, which is on Piedmont Avenue, since 1965. He doesn’t like to be there at night anymore, when the bar is filled with, in his opinion, too many people who are young, rude and foulmouthed. But in the mornings this is his spot, here in this little north Oakland bar where night is sometimes indistinguishable from day.
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