I’m trying to write a scene based — in part — on the corner bar where my father went to have a beer after work every day. This tavern, on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, was owned by a Pete Schneider. My father would take me with him sometimes and I would sit at a table with a coke and listen to the men talk. In the summer there was usually a Cubs game on the old black and white television. There was a long, highly polished wooden bar and a Hamm’s Beer Sign over the cash register. Anybody of my generation will probably remember the old Hamm’s commercials, and the ditty sung to a quasi-Indian beat: From the land of sky-blue waaa–aaaters! Hamms! The beer refreshing! (Thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can actually listen to the Hamm’s Beer Jingle here and see the very sign that hung over the bar, here).
I heard some pretty funny conversations there as a kid, bits of which I still remember. The problem is that the best bits of memory usually don’t work in fiction, no matter how much you’d like them to. Beyond the obvious differences in setting (this fictional bar of mine is set in the south in the present day; the Schneider’s of my memory is Chicago circa 1966-72) there is no transplanting Pete Schneider or the perpetually drunk, gentle chemist who was always giving away all his money, or Arlene, whose fingers were painted scarlet red except where they were nicotine yellow and whose earlobes were stretched to twice their normal length because of the earrings she wore, huge clusters of rhinestones and pearls. What I can transplant are the smells, and the lighting, and the sounds glass beer bottles make when you pick up a half dozen of them at once. Which I’m going to try to do, right now.