Mary Panza at Word Fest 2011

My beloved Sammy is gone two years. It seems really far away and so close all at the same time. A girl I trained when I was bartending put into words what I just couldn’t. She said the these perverted, crazy, sweet old men gave us an education. They really did. We got an education in cursing, political incorrectness (at the height of the pc movement), sexual things no human being should know (sometimes Polaroids were involved), work ethic and basic information on life.

There was Jas. He was a misery. The he wouldn’t bother with you until you proved yourself. The only way to do that was to work your balls off. If you didn’t have balls he would expect you to grow some and then work them off. The thing is, once you were in, he would go to the mattresses for you. You could argue with him. He loved that. You could sass him which he loved even more and he lived for the filthy talk. He taught me one of the most valuable lessons of my entire life. He said to me once when I was feeling lazy:

Jas: “Shnooks (short for Shnookums) if I was you I would make my self indispensable but always know that you are not.”

Although I have a great work ethic I keep in mind that there is always someone willing to do more than me. It keeps me going yet humble. I believe that was his point. I also learned that you can fix anything with duct tape, paper clips, and rubber bands. He wasn’t being clever. He was cheap. “Frugal” he would call it. He used to sharpen pencils down to the eraser part and hide all the pens so I would have take food orders with basically was an eraser with a point on it. This amused him to no end.

Walter was a man tiny stature but giant heart. He was a submariner in World War II and had been everywhere. He also had the clap seven times. He wore this like a badge of honor. He punched a priest, slept in a hammock and would ask me how my “vulgina” was almost daily. He was a funny little man. He would argue anything. He loved it when Jas and Sammy ganged up on him. The man loved to fight. He taught me not to take everything seriously because at the end of the day there is always the History Channel. I still don’t know what that means. He also had a tatooed penis that said “Welcome to Bermuda” on it from a whore house in, well, Bermuda.” Hence the Polaroids.

Then there was my Sammy. He was the oldest in the group and was the last man standing. He hated that. As the boys died, part of him died. When my mother passed, I knew it wasn’t going to be long. When we lost her, he felt like there was no one left that spoke his language. The language of the old days. The language of their generations music, politics, expressions and history. They would talk about what life was like before the so called progress. They would talk about their parents, their boyhoods and getting laid. It was gross sometimes. Really gross. So bad that I got them all involved with Young and the Restless and Bold and the Beautiful just to get to other customers and keep them quite. Sam taught me about generosity. Just give and keep your mouth shut. Thank you wasn’t necessary. I said thank you anyway. He also showed great dignity. When “Father Elvis” from the VA came in to his room he asked if Sammy wanted a blessing. Sam told him it wasn’t necessary. He said he wasn’t afraid. He did all he needed to do and was ready. Then he told the priest to give me the blessing. He said I needed it more.

These boys live on for me. I think about them all the time and the bar and my life. That period of time is still so much a part of me now. It really was a PhD in life.