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.
THIS DAY IN HISTORY… DECEMBER 26
1965 – The day after Christmas was a Sunday that year, a cold, grey bleak Sunday.
I had just finished my first quarter of college at St. Cloud State and was home in Lester Prairie for the holidays. My college roommate, Rick, also from Lester, called me early that evening. Apparently he had had his fill of Christmas. “Wanna get a beer?”
“Sure, but where?” Our town was closed up tight. Ever see the movie “The Last Picture Show”? Replace the dirt and dust of Texas with the snow and ice of Minnesota and it’s the same setting.
“Let’s drive over to Glencoe,” Rick said, “maybe something is open there.” Glencoe was twelve miles away and a larger small town than Lester–it even had a stoplight. Glencoe was closed up also but we did find one 3.2 bar open. For those of you not from Minnesota a 3.2, or beer bar, could not serve hard liquor and its beer could not exceed 3.2% alcohol content. I have never known or understand the reason for this unique situation. But for Rick and I beer was beer and 3.2 was good enough.
The place was quiet, sullen even, as we entered. There were about a dozen stools lining the bar and three tables with chairs around them. Nearly empty, the only occupants were the bartender and three patrons.
The bartender was a man in his middle or late thirties with a friendly smile. The three customers sitting together at one end of the bar were about the same age. One man was thin and rangy and wore a dirty work jacket with the name Bill emblazoned on the front. He had short brown hair and a dark stubble on his face. The other man, in blue jeans and a T-shirt, was short and tightly muscled. He wore his blonde hair in a greasy ducktail. He sat on a jacket that was draped over the barstool. The woman, seated between them, was seriously overweight and wore a dress straining at the seams. She had a round red face and an angry set to her jaw. Neither of the two men seemed happy either.
The bartender was eager to escape them and serve us. We talked to him a little bit and he told us his name was Chuck. Chuck was a truck driver, not a bartender, he was only filling in for a friend who had holiday plans and it was his first time ever tending bar.
The setting was dismal and Rick and I were ready to give it up as a bad idea. We had spent the past summer hitchhiking across Europe which was the focal point of our conversation, trying to recapture some of the magic of that trip. But this wasn’t the setting for it. Then a squabble arose amongst the three at the other end of the bar. The shorter man was irate about something and shouting at the other man who was snarling back. The woman laughed at them like they were both idiots and they fell silent, except for muttering to their beer glasses.
The bartender, who preferred our company, leaned closer and whispered that the smaller man, Herman, was from Germany and twenty years earlier had been part of Hitler’s Youth.
Tension rose again and Herman got off his stool and walked behind the woman to confront Bill. Bill sneered and pushed him away with a one-handed shove. Herman exploded with anger, leaped back and dragged Bill from the barstool and then it was on.
Most barroom brawls aren’t anything like the movies. Over very quickly, little action, with one combatant quickly subdued. Not this one. With Herman pulling and Bill pushing their momentum carried them across the room and they crashed over a table onto the floor.
They separated as they quickly got to their feet and Herman grabbed a chair and tried to hit Bill with it. Bill moved in too quickly, the chair was dropped and they grappled, throwing punches but were in too close contact for them to be effective.
“Stop it! Stop it!” The woman screamed. Chuck raised his hands. “I’m just here to tend bar, didn’t sign up for this.”
They pushed, wrestled and punched. The smaller man was holding his own until Bill pushed him backwards and and they tumbled over another table.
”Oh Christ almighty,” Chuck said as the interior of the bar was slowly being destroyed. The woman got off her barstool and tried to separate them as they wrestled on the floor. She grabbed onto one leg of Herman and began pulling. This put Herman at a disadvantage and Bill got in a couple of good shots.
Herman released his grasp and tried to grab at the woman and this allowed Bill to get to his feet. He grabbed Herman’s other leg and the two of them dragged him out the door and onto the sidewalk.
With the door open I could see that it had started snowing. There they left him and came back inside. Both were breathing heavily as they leaned against the bar. Chuck came from behind the bar and began righting overturned chairs and tables.
The door opened and Herman started to enter. Chuck pointed at him. “No, you’re done.”
“I need my jacket,” Herman said. His shirt was wet from the snow and wearing just a T-Shirt during a Minnesota winter was strange enough in itself.
Chuck nodded okay. Herman had a swollen lip and a scrap on his cheekbone. His hair was no longer in a ducktail but hung down over his ears. As he picked up his jacket he said contritely, “I’m sorry.”
His apology was accepted and handshakes exchanged. Instead of putting on his jacket he sat back down on the barstool. The woman poured each a glass of beer from their pitcher. More beer, just what this group needed.
The woman got up and went to the restroom. The restroom was at the end of the bar where Rick and I were sitting. She was no sooner gone, and it should have come as no surprise, the argument began again. It also quickly turned physical again.
In each other’s grasps Bill bulled Herman backwards the length of the bar toward us. They crashed into the door of the women’s bathroom. It broke open and they fell to the floor, wedging the door open.
The woman, on the stool, dress pulled up, underwear around her ankles, screamed at them as they flailed at one another at her feet. Now that’s a scene you just don’t see in many movies.
I felt no guilt over not interceding. There’s no upside in getting between two fools. But Chuck felt either some responsibility for the bar or compassion for the woman. He bent over and grabbed a foot of each man and tried to drag them from the restroom.
He was wearing slacks, not jeans, tight slacks, and while bent over tugging, the rear end of his pants split wide open. Again, not a usual movie scene.
He straightened, felt the damage, and lost it. “Goddamnit! They were new pants!” He began kicking the legs of the men on the floor while the woman, still on the toilet, was trying to kick their heads. When he tired of kicking he did manage to drag them from the restroom.
By this time the combatants were so physically exhausted they could no longer continue to fight. The woman emerged from the restroom maintaining an inebriated image of rumpled dignity, as if nothing unusual had happened. Chuck had had it with being a bartender and ushered everybody out and turned off the lights.
A light snow was falling as we drove Highway 261 back to Lester. Rick and I agreed that while it wasn’t a summer in Europe, the night hadn’t been as boring as we feared. And we did get to see Hitler’s Youth in action.
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 email@example.com.
The above information was sourced from the following sites and newspapers.
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* Outro (Man-In-Museum Cartoon) – SkyPics Studio / Shutterstock.com