Friday, February 22, 2013

November 2012 Bookers Minutes, The Tender Bar A Memoir by J.R. Moehringer

 From the haven of a mother’s womb… to budding on a barstool instead of strapped in a booster seat, a young boy longs for the secret of being a good man…finding the answer in the intrinsic worth of one very good woman…his mother.
Gary’s Bar” opened early to welcome 23 barflies for the November meeting of Bookers. Toby Keith serenaded us with I Love This Bar while a blonde bombshell cocktail waitress, kith and kin of the New York Giants baseball team, and a wannabe Radio City Music Hall Rockette ushered everyone inside where our “publicans” served Mimosas. Many thanks to Jane and Gary Freer and co-host, Cherry Fugitt for going with the flow, and we especially appreciate Donna Walter for being a good sport and dressing up as our waitress extraordinaire. Sadly, her tip jar wasn’t overflowing by the end of the day….seems like everyone was “backed up” by MN and JoDee (aka the slugger and the high-kicker.)
New Pinnacle residents, Bernie Quickel (apologize for the spelling) and Holly Simpson got their first taste of Bookers, and we hope we didn’t scare them off. We tried to explain we don’t generally celebrate in this way, except when MN gets livid, and of course our holiday party and our May wine and cheese evening meeting. We hope to see you again!
Warm-up consisted of last month’s homework, which has been renamed “enrichment exercise” to keep it less threatening for those who still shudder remembering creative writing class and having to pen a thousand words on the symbolism of a falling leaf…by tomorrow. Our goal was to encourage you to reflect on those little things that you should make time for and don’t. Inner thoughts and emotions radiated and we heard:  Stop and smell the roses, slow down, take more time to enjoy the important things that are right in front of you as they might be out of reach someday. Set aside a special time every day to enjoy one-on-one with your true love – you can TiVo the news. Show your family they are a priority in your life. Spread joy. Look at life through the lens of your grandchildren – they have a unique perspective on the simplest and most complicated aspects of everyday. Take a walk and inhale the surroundings. Cherish that box of old photographs – they can break your heart, but most likely will warm it up again as memories lead that charge. Have more Mimosas with friends. Reach out to those you hold dear and thank them for propping you up and not letting you fall off the ladder. See it worked regardless of what we named it! A +…and thank you for sharing.
Kathy Mueller, appropriately sitting on a barstool, led the review of our selection. She walked us through the life of J.R. Moehringer, introducing the vividly developed characters that dominated his life. He always wanted to write a novel based on those who surrounded him, but admittedly failed to be able to bring them to life on the pages. It was only when he embarked on the mission to write his memoir that he was able to pay proper tribute to them. A dysfunctional environment would mildly describe the life of J.R. whose father abandoned him before he was aware he had a Dad forcing his mother to move back into the dilapidated family home in Manhasset, New York. “Huddled masses yearning to breathe rent-free” is how Grandpa described the twelve relatives cohabitating in the house which featured one useable bathroom and furniture held together with duct tape. J.R. got a double dose of his Uncle Charlie, a “Humphrey Bogart look-alike” as he was one of the dozen occupants of Grandpa’s house and the bartender at J.R.’s second home, Dickens, renamed Publicans. Uncle Charlie talked a “crazy jazzy fusion of SAT words and gangster slang – a cross between an Oxford don and a mafia don – following a torrent of vulgar words with one out of the thesaurus like, “verisimilitude.” Rounding out the cast – a Vietnam veteran; a handsome surfer dude with Wilbur his black mutt; a young Dean Martin with shiny black hair and droopy black eyes; a Yogi-Bear sound-alike; a giant who looked like a composite of the all the Muppet characters; Steve, the boss, Bob the Cop, not to mention the porter whose nickname and language were both multicolored, and the list goes on….
The bar assumed the role of J.R.’s father and every person he met became a mentor. He adopted their personalities, becoming part of each one. Dickens/Publicans were his organizing principle – the one thing that grounded him in his identity. His biological father was merely a voice on the radio, absent until it was convenient for him. It was heartbreaking that J.R. had many one-sided conversations with The Voice while listening to the radio. His mother was “the most honest he knew and a beautiful liar…she would cushion a blow by fibbing or fabricating.” Loneliness was a common thread between mother and son. They were each searching for a connection to something – to find balance like the Arizona cactus –“when a cactus starts leaning to one side it grows an arm on the other side to right itself…that’s why you see them with eighteen arms…it’s always trying to stand up straight.”
J.R.’s mother took great pains to teach him language, but it wasn’t until he discovered a treasure trove of books hidden in the basement of Grandpa’s “shanty” did he fall in love with the sway of knowledge. “They organized my world, put order to chaos, divided things neatly into black and white and helped to organize my parents – my mother was the printed word – tangible, present, real – while my father was the spoken word – invisible, ephemeral, instantly part of memory.” As it turned out, words were the secret password into the men’s circle – language legitimized J.R. When he met Bud and Bill at the bookstore in Arizona, his world unlocked at another level. They launched him into the genius of John Cheever, the American novelist whose writings focused on the suburbs around Manhattan and often revolved around cocktails and the sea…J.R. was back “home” again. Bud and Bill “ripped the cover off” of him and he soaked in their passion. “It’s no coincidence that a book opens like a door.”
J.R.’s story is not about a bar, but a fatherless young boy growing up in the arms of a bar and into the arms of a first love… into an academic challenge of a lifetime and into a less than fairy tale ending of a dream. The dictionary defines a bar as a retail establishment that serves alcohol. It is also a counter at which drinks are served, a type of cookie, a law exam, a tropical cyclone, a dance or type of music. For J.R., it was home…where his “fathers” hung out…a swimming pool of manhood…his ultimate security blanket. When he finally evolved out of his permanent adolescence, his search for his identity was complete… he had been found, and his crutches vanished.
 Our discussion centered on the impact the local “pub” had in neighborhoods…it was a way of life. The same theory applies to groups meeting every morning at the local coffee shop for breakfast…it’s a small slice of camaraderie served with a steaming cup of Joe and a stack of pancakes…simple joys. Most enjoyed the read but a few grew weary of the bar…some of the beach…a few of the girlfriend…but they were all important factors in J.R.’s “growth.”

MN and I both read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Unfortunately, we don’t have a difficulty rating above Red as it is very challenging. It’s not really about a bookstore, but a secret cult trying to unlock the five hundred old mystery to immortality. New world technology meets ancient world mystery…it’s both frustrating and hard to put down. Interestingly, on page 320 of The Tender Bar you find “to penetrate the penumbra of whatever they were drinking.” The word means shadow or obscurity – the title is appropriate.
Recommended List: Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh –debut novel –the protagonist spends a lifetime in the foster care system and when finally emancipated she finds she has nowhere to go…but discovers a talent of helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. Gayle Robinson recommends Wings of the Morning, The Flights of Orestes Lorenzo, an autobiography (he was one of our airshow pilots.) His father is a high-ranking communist leader. He spent 15 years in the Cuban Air Force, trained in the Soviet Union, defected to the United States, and flew a dangerous mission to rescue his wife and children who still lived in Cuba. Eunice is reading author, Kristin Hannah, her latest, Home Front, is “timely with an interesting twist for the main characters.” Winter Garden has been on our recommended list.
Maybe the bar-talk prompted a more hallowed direction as our group shared the following books:
Mitch Albom’s, Have a Little Faith, A true story about two men of God, one an aging Rabbi, the other an African-American pastor working in the ghetto. His latest, The Time Keeper, a novel, is about the inventor of the world’s first clock who is punished for trying to measure God’s greatest gift…the theme – not to gain more time, but to use it wisely (certainly timely with our enrichment exercise!)
M.D. Alexander III wrote Proof of Heaven – A Neurosurgeon’s journey into the Afterlife…a personal testimony and “living proof of an after-life.”
Todd Burpo’s Heaven is For Real, a true story from the four-year old son of a Nebraska pastor.
Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief and The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine will change how you think about your body, health and the future of medicine.
Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods – Unsolved mysteries of the Past and Twilight of the Gods – The Mayan Calendar and the Return of the Extraterrestrials.
Liane Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot is a break from this theme…a novel about a twenty-nine year old happily married woman pregnant with their first child who goes to the gym and wakes up in the hospital only to discover she has lost a decade of her life – she is 39, getting a divorce, and has three kids.
MN and I have yet to get to Rules of Civility, The Wolves of Andover, Dark River Road, or the trilogy, Promises to Keep.

                                    WHITE:                      LIGHT READ
                                    PINK:                         MODERATELY CHALLENGING
                                    RED:                           CHALLENGING

December 11th             Bookers Holiday Party – 9:30 AM
Note time                    A Young Wife by Pam Lewis & Back When We Were Grownups
                                    by Anne Tyler
                                    Home of Jean Alexander
                                    Reviewer: A Young Wife, Jane Freer, Back When We Were Grownups,
                                                Melanie Prebis
                                    Bonnie Magee, Food Czar

January 8, 2013           The Story of Beautiful Girl, Rachel Simon
Home of Daryl Daniels
                                    Reviewer: Gail Fankhauser

February 12th               Home of Janet Erwin
                                    Book not assigned yet. Possible Reviewer: Jean Alexander

March 12th                   Home of Charlotte Pechacek
                                    Book not assigned yet. Possible Reviewer: Kimberly Hand

April 9th                       The Good Dream, Donna VanLiere
Home of MN Stanky, co-hosted by Kimberly Hand
                                    Reviewers: MN & JoDee                   

May 14th                      6th Annual Wine & Cheese Evening Meeting            
                                    Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet, Jamie Ford
                                    Home of Melanie Prebis
                                    Reviewer: TBA

Last call – “every book is a miracle…it represents a moment when someone sat quietly, (and that quiet is part of the miracle)…and tried to tell the rest of us a story.” Well done Mr. Moehringer.

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