September 13, 2013 at Estabrook Park Beer Garden
By Mark Scrimenti
Yom Kippur, so no Wallace, Schmidman, et al. Damn the Pentateuch! I’ll atone later.
Speeding up from Chicago, I make it to the Estabrook Park beer garden just in time for last call at 9:00pm.
Larry Bushner’s wife, Sheri, is the first to identify me. Bill Hobbins said he’d told her to look for “a bearded, homeless-looking guy,” and there I was – scruffy, carrying a brown paper bag full of soda cans and beer bottles – standing outside the door to the men’s room, staring vainly into the dark.
Greetings. Laughter and hugs all around. Apologies and explanations. Obligatory, deferential pictures with TJ’s head-on-a-stick. Trying to position TJ amongst us so he looks natural: “Wait, we gotta get another one; TJ was looking the wrong way,” etc.
TJ smiling, his mouth boat-shaped – his nose could almost be the sail. Reminds me of that high school photo of him in drag with Jan Abendroth and Cynthia Wood: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=4791121623176&set=o.48323013547&type=1. At one point: spilled beer streaming down TJ’s cheeks like tears, lovingly patted dry with a cocktail napkin. TJ: the patron saint of spilled beer.
Meet Beth Brahe’s new fiancé, John. Know everyone else: Bill, Beth, Dawn (Chitwood) Wroblewski, and Larry. Met Sheri at the 30th.
I ask Beth why her voice sounds different to me. “30 years of smoking,” she says. Everyone laughs. “Yeah, guess that’ll do it.”
Bill in hot-pink cast, due to broken finger, injured spiking a volleyball. Bill: lots of stories involving volleyball – e.g., absolutely destroying a team of twenty-somethings after one of them refers to Bill as “grandpa.” Afterward, the same kid sheepishly asks Bill for some v-ball tips. “Number one,” he says, “don’t call your opponent ‘grandpa.’”
Beer garden in Estabrook park: a pergola, strung with lights, and picnic tables overlooking the Milwaukee river; a Hofbrauhaus franchise, complete with one-liter glass mugs, German sausage, and giant pretzels – kind of like the one that saves Inspector Clouseau from the hefty, spike-breasted wench who tries to murder him with a hug in The Pink Panther Strikes Again. No frauleins in dirndls, though; only big, tattooed dudes listening to Primus.
If this place had been around in high school, no doubt we’d have been there daily, starting about sophomore year.
Hobbins takes a picture of me in which I am all but invisible behind a mysterious glow in the shape of my own silhouette – “Look at this!” he says. Almost like a photo-negative; what’s up with that?
I tell Beth that my mom and her mom went to college together. I remember my mom saying that’s Beth’s mom was a little wild back then and in love with Elvis; Beth can’t believe it – her mom is so straight, a “born-again” Christian for decades. Bill also has a memory of Beth’s mom – chaperoning their 4th grade trip to Smith Bros. Sea Food restaurant in Port Washington – something about Bill dipping hot dogs in ketchup, Beth’s mom commenting (gently rebuking him?) about that.
Memories of Lydell: Jaco’s old house; “Walking with Jaco” – the 45; Phyllis doing commercials for Weight Watchers. Bernie. Hobbins remembers Steve Luther boasting of exploits with his 8th grade girlfriend [name withheld], perpetually trying to feel up Alex Sellers’ babysitter, Meg Zwicki (WFBHS79) – Alex was obsessed with same. Pete Kortebein, nervous about the goings-on, asking Bill: “Should we go? Is something bad going to happen?” Bill: “No! Let’s stay! Things are just starting to get interesting…” Steve Luther: for Henry Clay boys, no need to delve further into this subject.
After closing time at 10pm, we drive over to The Village Pub and Grill in Shorewood.
Upon arrival: Tim Edwards – “Eddie” (WFBHS81) – sits at the bar with Terry Casey (MarquetteHS80), having a beer and shooting the shit. Eddie recognizes me: “Are you Mark Scrimenti? Holy shit!” We chat. Just for perspective’s sake, Eddie points to an attractive young blonde woman serving burgers and pizza at the counter opposite the bar. “That’s Craig Stefanczyk and Joni James’s (WFBHS83) daughter.” Yes, we’re that old…
Eddie’s backyard abuts Jon Wallace’s; he didn’t know Jon in high school. Down the street is Bill Mahler’s place (WFBHS78?-79?) – same house he and his brother, Peter (WFBHS81), grew up in – the one with the bookcase in the study that opens onto the basement stairs.
* * *
We find a table in back, near a Macbook, serving as the jukebox.
Beer and more stories:
- Bill, in bar volleyball tournament to raise funds for charity – Fat Daddies, etc. At one venue, La Cage – a long-standing fifth ward gay bar – he runs into a former teammate(?), someone Bill knows to be married. Dude’s in a tight mesh tee shirt or something, mixing with some other men, having a good time. Bill, clueless: “Hey, [name of guy], what are you doing here? Where’s [name of guy’s wife]?” Other dudes immediately bounce. Bill’s friends whisper into his ear: “Leave [name of guy] alone.” Bill persists until, eventually, he figures out what’s up. Later, Bill, cutting it up on the dancefloor at La Cage, having a great time, but feeling rejected: “No one of either sex wanted to dance with me.”
- John O’Neill (Ony) to Hobbins, upon learning that all five of his children would be girls: “I’m fucked! Even the family dog is a girl…”
- Hobbins still attending St. Monica’s catholic church, just like the previous generation…I remember it well…
- According to Ony and Ellegard, Chrissy and Mike (Frankard’s) son, who works with them at Bank One, is some sort of genius…
- Me, on the disastrous sixth-grade family trip to Yellowstone in a rented, 28-foot camper. Ony came along, his first time away from home. First night, Ony pukes up his A&W chili dog; we almost turn around and go back home. Second night in Yellowstone: Ony, me, and my dad almost get attacked by a mama grizzly bear, protecting her two cubs. What were we doing? Searching the perimeter of the campground for bears – me, with a flashlight, Ony with his Swiss Army knife, my dad wielding a useless nine iron – what could be more ridiculous? Never saw Ony much after that trip; probably told his parents what happened and got banned from ever stepping foot into our house again.
- Beth, on other 2nd Fridays/classmates’ stories:
- Shy, sweet Chris Schmidt, marketing a self-lubricating sex toy – regaling Beth with the details, accompanied by raucous laughter.
- Beautiful story about Karen (Bushman) Longoria – featured on NBC’s Dateline: single mom, schoolteacher, two of three kids with disabilities. Hundreds of volunteers from her hometown of Grafton, WI, raised money and donated their time and labor to renovate her house and make it more liveable/wheelchair accessible for her kids. See full episode here: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/36084771/#.Uol4QI2gwg8
- Beth, on her marriage, and the origins of the ‘82 Project; the challenges of awarding charity to people – our classmates – raised to eschew a handout. Vision for the future…
Bill asks me about my commuter photographs: How do I get the motion blur in my pictures? “That’s easy. I’m using autofocus on a cell phone camera and shooting pictures out the window of a moving train.” Bill: “So, you mean they’re just shitty pictures?” Yep. Make ‘em shitty and call them “art”…
Four Shorewood cops arrive to remove some 40-something dude who’s harassing the bartender, a pretty young woman, who can’t be much over 21. Apparently, she’d previously asked him not to return, and he couldn’t resist. He leaves without a fight.
There’s a breathalyzer unit on the wall; costs $1 for a straw to test your blood alcohol content. Dawn puts a dollar in the machine, but it’s out of straws. I give her my cocktail straw instead, plus another dollar for the machine. She blows into it – .01%. We’re cheering for more: “Harder! “Harder!” Dawn collects dollar bills in her cleavage; Bill’s ready to keep the bills flowing.
We take another group picture with TJ. No doubt, he’s in the room with us – his presence feels as familiar and jubilant as ever.
Some sweaty, pudgy dude in a button-down shirt – about our age, maybe a few years younger – sidles up to Bill, hands in the air, rubbing up against him, in a mock-seductive dance. He changes the music on the MacBook Pro and engages Bill in joking banter: Bill’s dream of dancing fulfilled.
Larry and Sheri leave.
After a cigarette break, Dawn reports that she thinks maybe she used to live across the street – on Oakland and Kensington – just after high school in an apartment building that’s no longer there. She’s not sure, though. Maybe it was Oakland and Kenilworth, which is a mile or two down the road. It’s been 30 years, after all, and the city has changed…
Time to go.
I hop into my ’93 Camry and make it back home and in bed by 2am.