Friday, September 01, 2006


Mr. Nash at Soft Skull so readily blew off the ULA-- the very idea of the ULA-- that I thought to myself we must be just a bunch of nobodies.

I was reminded of my days bartending in Detroit twelve years ago, in a rough saloon amid shops and warehouses in an old section of town near the river. One of my shifts was Sunday night, which the saloon owner wanted to cancel because he said "nobody" came in during that time. In fact every Sunday I had a dozen or so regulars, nearby workers on late shifts who'd come in for meals during breaks, or for drinks before work or after. When there's a smaller group in a bar things are quieter; you engage in more soul-searching, in real conversation. I did everything: bartended, ran in back to cook-- burgers, wings, fries-- and waited on people at the few tables.

We were a tight-knit group. We watched a lot of bad movies on TV, like "Killer Klowns from Outer Space," the perfect bar movie. One time during a blizzard there were only four of us, laughing at the ridiculous wagon train segments of "Red River." (I closed early that night.)

On Easter Sunday I had a bigger than usual group, more workers from places like the large newspaper press plant down the street needing to have a drink, or camaraderie, on the holiday. We saw "The Ten Commandments" on the big screen TV: the movie big and clunky, a true crowd pleaser containing the greatest display of overacting ever seen; surreally beautiful Anne Baxter purring, "Moses, Moses!" while big Charlton Heston galumphed across the desert and Yul Brynner postured and proclaimed, "So shall it be written; so shall it be done!" to the giant music of Elmer Bernstein.

The saloon was a refuge for my customers against the harshness of their jobs and the stark hardness of the city. By eleven or midnight most were off work and would close the place.

Word got to my blue-garbed Sunday night-ers that the owner called them "nobody," so they began calling themselves "The Nobodies." They'd laugh about it every Sunday; "Hey Karl, the Nobodies are here!" A simple burly bearded worker who never spoke would slap his knee gleefully while uber-tough woman foreman "Mean Jean" would sweep her hair away from her pretty face, cynically grin toward her friend "Carol the Barrel," then growl, "Karl, make me another drink!"

At holiday time they presented me a Christmas card signed by all of them, big letters scrawled across it saying, "The Nobodies."

Then came the bloody Detroit newspaper strike of 1995, which I've written about elsewhere on this blog. It divided friendships-- such as between foreman Jean and union rep Carol. It ruined lives. The saloon soon-enough closed.

I still have the Christmas card, one of the few mementos I've saved of my past. I like to think we Nobodies in the ULA are achieving a similar kind of camaraderie.

1 comment:

Bruce Hodder said...

I hate blogging bum-lickers, but this is a great post, King. Perfect metaphor for you and the ULA gang and nice writing too. Sh*t, I almost wanted to start writing again myself when I read it.