onsdag, maj 24, 2006


Within moments of walking into Duffy's, a small, northwoods bar in Madge, Wisconsin, a bar my family has lived alongside for almost 80 years, I was mistaken for a driver of some sort. Trucks? Race cars? One never knows. "Who do you drive for?" she asked, smiling, brow furrowed as she inspected my AMSTERDAM track jacket. "No one," I said. "But I shopped at Target." She said she preferred Wal-Mart. I let it go.

Later, this same woman would pull me into a dance.

The Duffy's excursion capped off a very welcomed, very successful cabin work weekend, and not just because most of the work was done before I got there. A cord of wood was chopped, which is a fearsome amount of wood, please know. The new pile is taller than a number of us. The hill was raked and bi-weekly lawn mowing was scheduled with a mentally challenged man who speaks, I have to say, very much like Arnold Schwarzenegger, right down to the pointing finger.

"I don't need to call you," he said. "I don't need to bug you. 'Hello? Mrs So's-Your-Name?' No, dat's not me. I just come and I just mow da lawn, ja."

Indeed. I even shoehorned myself into some hip waders and sallied into the lake with my uncle to adjust one of the piers. At the evening's dinner, I was awarded Best Figure in Waders, or something like that. Very aerodynamic.

And then Duffy's happened. This townie bar goes back to the 1850s and has even been recognized as a historical site in Wisconsin, which may well be the town of Madge's bid to get one square inch recognized in the registry.

Duffy's interior is apt to cause the sort of visual overload one experiences in Vegas or while watching Japanese anime. There's just no compare. It's loaded with fishing rods and reels, for starters. But this isn't a novelty collection. No Applebee's or Bennigan's template governs the placement of this stuff. The reels hang from the bar, they're pegged to posts. (You have to hunch down to see the bartender, actually, there are so many reels.) They hang on the walls and sit on the fireplace mantel. In the room with the pool table, a skeleton couple in wedding garb watches from a cutout in the wall. Posters--Lite boob girls on an '80s sports car, William "the Refrigerator" Perry, etc.--paper the ceiling. Old traffic signs, old joke signs, old beer cans. Hanging above the mantel is a large curled piece of wood one cannot help but see as scatalogical, yet two googly doll eyes have been glued to the end of this double-bent pooh dawg.

Letters spelling NO can be found hiding throughout the place, a reminder not to touch the visual assault.

So there we were, the six of us overwhelmed by this place. A good vibe was in the air. All the townies were in good spirits. The old woman in the pink cashmere sweater with the pink pelt-like collar came out from behind the bar to clear empties, then mildly chastised me for saying I was finished with my beer before the can was fully empty. She set it back in front of me. "We don't waste good booze around here," she said.

The night progressed.

"Folsom Prison Blues" came on the jukebox. The old man with the massive mutton chops came out from behind the bar armed with what seemed to be a wooden pogo stick on which he'd pegged baking tins, two bike horns, a bell. Two twanging springs ran along the side. He thumped it in line with the song's rhythm, then lost the rhythm and freestyled, howling a bit, pointing at a buddy and lip-syncing with an angry expression.

A thin man with a luminescent face and wearing a cowboy hat appeared at the table, somewhat reminiscent of the cowboy in MULHOLLAND DRIVE. He asked if he might show the ladies what was in the homemade wooden box he carried. We all sort of paused and ascertained that the box was not attached, say, to the man's pants, and nothing living seemed to be clawing at the inside of the box, so we nodded. He held forth the box and Jerusha reached up and slid...back...the...lid: A mouse. A plastic mouse leapt out and grabbed her finger as the man in the cowboy hat made a gibbering mouse sound through his front teeth. I noticed that he had a very recent, very severe scar along his pinky. I wondered if it stemmed from earlier versions of this contraption.

He said he liked to show the box to new people, or married couples you know are in love but just bored. He liked to see people laugh. And, true enough, after we did, he went away.

When "Bony Fingers" came on the Rockola, the bar went nuts. We were getting up to leave, and as I was first out of the booth, I happened to turn right into the frenzy. The woman who'd earlier noticed my Amsterdam jacket--"Who do you drive for, honey?"--grabbed me and propelled me into a clip-cloppity hoedownish dance, oft broken up by us all raising our hands and shaking our fingers as we joined the chorus, "You work your fingers to the bone, and what do you got?" (Two or three stomps.) "BONY FINGERS!"

As we whirled about the small space, a man with a thin face and tall, bristle-thick mustache kept crying "Grab her ass!" He added, "Grab her ass! She's my sister, I would!" I want to say my dance partner called him Travis when she told him to shut it.

When the song ended, we hugged. She thanked me for dacing with her. And as we all collected ourselves and headed out, a large man in a Harley t-shirt who had been dancing alongside me stared down at me and said, "You know what you got when you leave here?" I looked at him blankly. "BONY FINGERS!" he cried and laughed hard turning back to the bar.
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