Stephen T. McCarthy's recent blog post about his favorite bars got me to thinking if in my past drinking days there were any particular establishments that I could claim as favorites. Stephen had complete descriptions replete with anecdotes and even photos and there was no way I could match that. For one thing, I was never much of a drinker. Also, I was always so cheap or broke I preferred to drink at home or at friends' houses rather than go out and pay more just to have the ambience of a bar scene, which is another thing I usually didn't care much for.
So as I was thinking about this topic, I thought of a Christmas related story that is also kind of a favorite bar story. This would have been in December of 1981--my show biz days. I had been called for a two week Christmas tour with a New York magician by the name of Chuck Windley. We were doing some holiday gigs in the New York state area--I don't recall exactly where because I didn't have to drive on this tour and when I'm not driving I sometimes tend not to pay any attention to where I'm going. This was Chuck's gig and he was in charge.
There was one particular show--it may have been in Utica--scheduled on a Saturday at a school auditorium. Underprivileged children were going to be bussed in for the show and Santa would be there distributing gifts after the show. Since the all of the shows on the tour usually were scheduled for 7:00 or 7:30, we always liked to get into the building at 3:00 PM in order to give us plenty of time to set up. That's when we arrived for this show.
When we arrived at the school, the gates were locked. We walked around looking for an open door and we waited. It was cold--New York in December, you know. Finally, concerned that no one was showing up to let us in, we looked for the nearest pay phone.
The school was located in a quaint old small town neighborhood--like those you typically find in the northeastern part of the United States. Across the street was the only business in walking distance--a neighborhood bar. This bar was in the basement of one those apartment structures that look like a giant white clapboard sided house. The bar was a small place with about five tables and fortunately a pay phone in the back. Since it was cold out, we all--there were four of us--went inside to wait while Chuck started making phone calls. When we arrived in the bar there was only the bartender and one customer.
Chuck couldn't get a hold of the agent that booked us and now was truly frustrated. He told the bartender our story and asked him if he knew anybody from the school. It just so happened that he knew the custodian and had his number. Chuck called, but got no answer. We were at a loss of what to do since we were now going to be very pressed for time to set up the show. Chuck ordered a drink and so did I.
As we sat there nursing our drinks, a regular walked in to begin his Saturday night carousing. He told us the story about how there was supposed to have been a magic show at the school for a bunch of poor kids but the magician never showed up--the show was supposed to have been at noon. The bartender's face lit up and he pointed to our table and shouted, "That's him!" He and the two customers became very excited as though a celebrity were in their midst.
Chuck was devastated. He had never missed a show in his life. It was a performer's worst nightmare. "The show must go on" is the standing rule of show business and for this show we weren't even there. I felt really bad for him. This was his reputation on the line.
The bar folks didn't understand the import of this to Chuck. As evening approached, the neighborhood drinkers began filtering in and each one was brought to our table and regaled with the story of the magician that didn't show up for the underprivileged kids. At first Chuck was embarrassed, but since his main line of entertainment was stand-up comedian, he began to just take it in stride and turned it into something absolutely hilarious. Soon we were all drinking, laughing, and having a darn good time as Chuck entertained the Saturday crowd with magic and jokes.
Then to top off a perfectly absurd day, the evening was capped off with the ultimate punch line. After having spent the entire evening in the bar with all of the silliness stemming from our misfortune, the evening news came on. The lead story? Magician doesn't show up for Christmas show--over 100 children disappointed. There was a filmed report with interviews and everything. The barroom was roaring with laughter. A TV comedy show couldn't have come up with something this ridiculous.
Those folks in that bar probably talked about that night for years. That was just one of the funny things that happened on that short holiday tour with Chuck. The whole tour was a hoot. Chuck Windley was one fun guy to be around.
And now a little more Christmas magic:
If you haven't seen this video yet check it out, it's pretty cool.