Madison Bar Forever

A few stone-faced liquor pros come in. The open door sends in an ungodly chill, and through it I catch a glimpse of downtown Phoenix lighted ornately for Christmas. It is a scene that is almost warm.

"But we also get a Mercedes crowd that comes in here," says Les looking at those who had just entered. "Plus the baseball and hockey crowds are good."

Turbo takes a lengthy swill of his canned Budweiser, sets it down, looks at me oddly and out of nowhere launches into a series of non-sequitur cut-up prose, worthy of Burroughs: "It's a place I heard of. I went to the school of knocks in search of rainbows. He's disabled, I know that, as I am. I don't have the right chemistry plus my multiple head injuries. But I've been a gentlemen, an Irish gentleman or a bohemian gentleman, a whatever else gentleman. It comes from being short and sleepy."

"Huh?" I say as Les rolls his eyes and moves to serve the newly arrived.
They say Turbo gets a monthly check from somewhere--what somebody referred to as a "nut check"--probably from the government. I wondered about his medication as he talked at me. Then I started thinking about poetry.

". . . I got all the injuries, I come here right from Chicago looking for my best friend I had known since I was 4-years-old. He's from West Virginia, a Czechoslovakian. His wife was from Arizona or New Mexico, El Paso, worked for the railroad, her grandfather from World War II, ya know from WW II, they called him Woody--he only got one leg. The railroad worker guys were Indian and Irish, well that's his grandfather, he was 70-years-old in the '70s. He took on his wife's name 'cause she's an American. He must have had the blues to take on his wife's name. . . ."

I nod along in agreement, particularly the last bit about having the blues. Les reappears as the clock approaches 1 a.m., closing time. Les takes charge. Turbo clips the patter, bless his heart.

So I ask him finally, "Les, is it true you went out with John Wayne's daughter?"

He stands up straight and says, "That was a short, good deal, a long, long time ago. Her old man wasn't that keen to it. I heard later she got married to a doctor. . . . She has got to be 46, 47 now. Ieesa, Ieesa Wayne is her name."

Les lives at the Madison Hotel and tends bar. He rides around in cabs. At the Madison he serves the bent and the poor, the sport freak and the rich. He and the other bartenders there see it all. And the Madison is certainly one of the last vestiges around here where one has an opportunity to witness the same old show, the routine, the way it was meant to be: just a bar, a stool, drinks and a story. Not everybody gets it. And that, friends, is a beautiful thing.

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