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This Day in History – February 6 – Hijinx, Humor, and Insight

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NewsWhistle is pleased to feature Gary Jenneke’s “This Day In History” column.

You can read the original at Gary’s THIS DAY IN HISTORY blog — or scroll down to enjoy Gary’s unique look at life’s comings and goings.

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THIS DAY IN HISTORY… FEBRUARY 6

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1977 – DIVE BAR

A cold Sunday afternoon, before global warming began having its tenderizing effect on Minnesota winters. I was living in a studio apartment on St. Paul’s Summit Avenue. What I was doing that day I don’t know. I doubt I was watching television, for this was pre-cable, and Sunday programing wasn’t all that enticing, and sports had not yet become the all-consuming behemoth it is now. Maybe I was trying to write, because at the time I was just starting to tinker with the idea of being a writer.

The phone rang and it was my old Navy buddy and friend Darrold. He didn’t ask about my well being or what I was doing, instead he just blurted, “Goddammit, Jenneke, I can’t take it anymore.” I knew he was referring to the weather. The last week had been cold and windy and we hadn’t seen the sun for about three weeks. Darrold was not only one of those who suffered from lack of sunlight, he also took bad weather as a personal affront, an insult from Mother Nature.

So on that long ago cold February day when he called, I felt had little choice. He picked me up and we headed to the West Bank area of Minneapolis. So named because while most of the University of Minnesota campus is on the east side of the Mississippi River, a small portion of it is located on the west bank. The West Bank was also the hippie enclave during their heyday. Before that it had a heavy influence of Scandinavian blue collar working families.

That day we landed at the Five Corners Bar, a dive bar if there ever was one. No frills, its sole purpose was drink. Good-sized, it had booths lining both side walls, small tables in between, and the bar at the end away from the entrance. Entertainment came in the form of cigarettes, alcohol and talk. No pool table, no television, and the juke box was silent. No waitresses either, you just bellied up to the bar and brought your drink back to wherever you were sitting or standing.

Darrold and I each got a beer and found a table in the middle of the place. The saloon was surprisingly full for a Sunday afternoon. An eclectic mix of students, hippies, and the aging remnants of the Scandinavian work force that once dominated the area. Not exactly a happy mix, the bar was more sullen than festive. The noise was not animated but more of a steady growl of talk while a cloud of cigarette smoke hung heavy from the ceiling. The order of the day seemed to be to drink, not have fun. Maybe the weather had had a gray effect on everybody. I suspect the older clientele were resentful of the invasion of the student elite and counterculture upon their once solid domain.

Three such people, in their sixties, were sitting at a table directly behind me. Two men and a woman, both men were facing the woman who had her back to me. Their youth had wasted away long ago, probably hastened by alcohol judging from the looks of them. The two men, short and round, more puffy than fat, wore shabby, colorless clothes and had gray stubble on their faces. The woman had made an effort at her appearance. She wore a purple dress styled from a different era and her dyed black hair was done up in a bouffant hairdo. All three constantly smoked.

Besides carping about the weather, I don’t remember what Darrold and I talked about. Maybe lamented the latest Vikings Super Bowl loss that had taken place less than a month earlier. Since it was their fourth such loss, however, even that wasn’t much of a topic anymore. More than likely we were making plans for some future adventure. The people sitting behind me weren’t talking much. When they did it was with a hoarse growl and consisted mostly of mutters and snarls.

Suddenly Darrold’s eyes, focused on something behind me, grew wide and his mouth dropped open. It was an expression I had not seen on him before. He started to rise from his seat as I snapped about to see what was happening. The woman behind me head was on fire! Her lacquered bouffant hair was probably held in place with a liberal amount of hairspray, and holding a cigarette in her upraised arm, she had drunkenly touched the lit end into her hair. She sat there calm and completely unaware, as flames shot about a foot above her head. Her two companions were frozen into drunken wide-eyed inaction. A tall, longhaired, bearded hippie standing by a nearby booth reacted more quickly than Darrold or I. He grabbed a jacket, leaped forward and wrapped it over and around her head, smothering the flames.

The woman reacted by swinging wildly in defense. She had felt no pain, the fire engulfing only her hair, so she thought she was being assaulted. The hippie stepped back, removing the jacket. The fire was out and singed hair hung down the sides of her face. Still unaware she hurled curses at the hippie in a screeching voice, not giving him a chance to explain. Then one of her drunken companions staggered to his feet and administered the coup de grace to this wild scene. What went through his mind I don’t know, he was probably belatedly thinking he was coming to her aid. While she was screaming at the hippie, he poured his glass of beer over her head. She sat in silence and shock, wet hair streaming down her face, mascara running, one totally confused woman. She still had no idea what had just taken place. As one of her companions leaned forward and an offered a drunken explanation, the other, still wanting to salvage the afternoon, went for another round.

Enough excitement for a Sunday, Darrold and I left not too much later. However the experience affected her, there was no retreat in the woman. The three were back to drinking, muttering, and snarling as we left.

It is still possible to find a dive bar, but now they’ve become a destination, when a desire to go to a dive bar arises. I miss the days when they were everywhere, just another watering hole. Life took place there. Sad, tragic, desperate life though it may have been, it certainly was more real than a sports bar could ever hope to be. Not that I want to ever see a person’s head on fire again, but at least back then you felt like you were part of the human comedy.

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ABOUT GARY JENNEKE

At various junctures of his life, Gary has been an indifferent grade school student, poor high school student, good Navy radioman, one-time hippie, passable college student, inveterate traveler, dedicated writer, miscast accountant (except for one interesting stint at a Communist café), part-time screenwriting teacher, semi-proud veteran, unsuccessful retiree and new blogger.

You can reach him at gary@newswhistle.com.

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CREDITS

The above information was sourced from Gary Jenneke.

We’d also like to thank the following photographers and videographers for the use of their images:

* Lead-In Image (Beer Pour) – studiostoks / Shutterstock.com

* Outro (Man-In-Museum Cartoon) – SkyPics Studio / Shutterstock.com

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OTHER DAYS IN HISTORY …

December 2

* December 5

* December 9

December 11

December 12

* December 15

December 16

December 18 

December 22

December 23

December 24

December 28

* December 30

* January 3

January 4

January 6

January 7

January 10

* January 11

* January 14

January 15

January 16

January 19

January 21

January 22

January 24

January 25

January 29

January 30

February 1

February 3 

* February 5

February 9

* February 10

* February 14

February 15

February 20

February 21

February 25

February 28

March 2

March 6

March 9

March 12

March 14

March 17

March 19

March 21

March 23

March 27

March 29

April 2

April 3

April 6

April 11

* April 13

April 18

April 22

April 23

April 28

April 29

May 2

May 3

May 6

May 9

May 10

May 13

May 17

* May 24

May 26

May 29

June 1

June 3

June 8

June 10

June 13

June 17

June 18

June 21

June 24

June 28

June 29

July 2

July 3

* July 9

July 13

July 15

July 19

July 23

July 25

July 30

July 31

* August 3

August 7

August 10

August 11

August 16

August 17

August 21

August 24

August 25

* August 28

August 31

September 2

September 5

September 6

September 8

September 11

September 12

September 15

September 16 

September 17

September 21

September 23

September 24

September 25

September 28

September 30

October 1

October 3

October 7

October 10

October 12

October 14

* October 16

October 18

October 24

October 25

October 27

October 28

October 30

November 3

* November 4

November 5

November 8

November 9

November 10

November 13

November 14

November 16

* November 17

November 19

November 20

November 23

November 28

November 30

* Stay tuned for more!

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