[1980] Thomas Manning, his hands stuck in his sport jacket pockets, walked at a steady pace along the sidewalk, gawking here and there intriguingly. Nineteen years had passed since he had walked these streets, and everything looked a bit out of the ordinary for him, if not down right peculiar.

This Midwestern city of some 250,000-inhabitants, when as a youth, he had ventured all around it, all about this inner city, along its cliff dwellings that paralleled the banks of the Mississippi River; this particular street he was now on, Wabasha hadn’t any large buildings to it back then, almost thirty-years ago, just a few restaurants, one that his grandfather had owned for number of years was right where he was now standing, and a few blocks to the west was the residential area, well I mean, it used to be there, it wasn’t anymore: everything had changed. It was mostly hard working folks back then, with a butcher shop his grandfather used to take him to only a few shops down from his restaurant. The bar on the corner was still there he noticed-that mucky old bar, of all the buildings left, it was the one and only permanent structure from thirty-years past, a survivor of the old days; actually it was built around the time of the second World War. Mostly everything else was gone from the past, new fancy buildings had taken there place; a few skid row bums, lurking about, still trying to keep their balance he noticed. It was a rough street at night back in those days, and a lot of Irish and Polish folks of the city were in this section of the town.

He, Thomas Manning, gazed at the clock in the window of the bar. It was forenoon; it looked like 11:40 AM. Not much going on for a bar at this time he thought, for he had spent his days in them, lived a quarter of his life in them, but that was long ago.

He was a karate expert now, out of the Army living in New Orleans for the past seven years, and those old days kind of crept back-as he himself lurked about, aimlessly, in some kind of nostalgic mood. But he was just home to visit his mother and then he’d head on back to New Orleans where he was now living. In all his travels, possible several times around the world, especially while in the Army, St. Paul, Minnesota was always the clean and conservative town he loved, come back to.

He had many memories, fond memories of his youth here. He couldn’t believe the deadness of the town now, the downtown area in particular, and the huge buildings of the city replacing the old and meaningful architecture. It was for him, more of a disappointment. A lot of decay on many of the buildings, as if they had started to renovate the city, and then stopped abruptly, and let it incinerate itself by abandoning it. The residential side of the city had disappeared completely in this downtown area.

For the most part: Thomas Manning had a wonderful sense of belonging, it is why he stayed in the Army for eleven of the nineteen years he was gone. He had become quit rich with the rental property he owned in New Orleans, the past several years. In addition to his rental property, he wrote several books, and was a columnist for a magazine.

It would seem Mr. Thomas Manning was of a good balance for a man, that is to say, he did not drink to excess [not anymore anyways], and occasionally had a cigar. He had a balance to his temperament also, which took a few years after his drinking to manage; that is to say, he could get mad, but he had a long wick now, and was proficient in karate, where he had learned discipline, especially for a man of thirty-six years of age. He did not jump to conclusions for the most part, and kept his head, be it in business or a fight. And attended church on Sundays and even did some work on the side for the church when possible. Oh yes, he could be humors at time, and gave lectures on his books. And he had a good outlook for humanity in general, that is, his philosophy was simple: live and let live. He did not believe in luck, it was by work, effort, belief in one’s self, that he acquired luck to bring to the table, or misery.

But on this late morning fall day, Thomas Manning was most snoopy. He walked up and down this old street, not far from the Capitol, again I point out, it was where his grandfather had his restaurant [some twenty-five years before] now of course it was gone, and a long five-story building covered the space. And the butcher shop that used to be two shops down from the restaurant, or possible three, well that also was consumed by the building. And the corner bar had a new name on it, “Murphy’s,” he couldn’t remember the old name; he couldn’t even really if he had ever went into it during his youthful drinking days, for possible he may have, I mean he hit most of the bars sooner or later in St. Paul.

Passing by it again he found himself looking at the clock behind the bar once more, it read: 11:55 AM. It was a long bar, and behind the bar in that area the bartender stood, it seemed quite narrow. The lights were dim, and the coolness of the bar reeked out to him-its odor, like a reeking beer smell, alcohol, mold like. The door was open to allow the breeze in, although it wasn’t a hot day, or a cold day, there was a breeze to it, a lukewarm breeze as if summer wanted to stay under fall and was fighting for its life, and so starting to evaporate into the changing of the seasons.

He was working on a book of poetry at this time, one that insisted on emotions to flow. He had stopped drinking many years before, and so he was curious now on certain behaviors, forgetting his drunken days, and not quite remembering those old unwanted behaviors. Or possible he might have been testing himself, to see if he would drink, or even there was a possibility he was missing the environment. All-in-all, he stared in at the long and hard bar scene, thus, catching the eyes of several loyalist inside the bar; the drunks didn’t seem interested in him, they just looked at him as they would a fly on the wall, then he stared at the barkeep.

Yes, oh yes, this was his old behavior he told himself, looking and checking, and eyeballing. He could identify with it. He’d spent sometimes, many times, hours on top of hours in that position, sitting, standing, staring at the walls, drinking, smoking, looking but not looking, then checking the clock. It was a cycle if you will.

There were many tables about, but they were all empty; he stepped into the doorway a-ways, and into the moistness of the bar, and then a little more, and a little more, then to its center you might say.

As Thomas paced a bit in a half circle [in the more mainstream of the bar], close to the middle of the barroom floor that is, the door to his back-opened for the meantime-the bartender’s eyes opened up wide, as wide as golf balls watching his movements, noticing his hands in his coat pockets, shaking his head as if he had gotten on his wrong side; annoyed with him and possibly life in general.

Henry, the barkeep, did not know this man from Adam, and at a closer gaze-leaning over the bar a little-he decided he was a stranger he had never seen in the bar before, possibly a bothersome character just trying to annoy him and his customers. ‘Yaw,’ he mumbled out loud, but not loud enough to make out what his temperament was; therefore, the trouble was about to being.

“Get out of here stranger-unless you want a drink, I mean a real man’s drink,” Henry bellowed, thinking this was a wise-guy of some kind.

He added,

“I know your kind, you come in and want this and that, use the can, spit on the wall, hold your nose up in the air, think we’re sewer rats and go home. Found yourself in the wrong bar did yaw?”

Thomas didn’t respond, didn’t say a word, he was kind of taken off balance, stunned you might say; didn’t expect such rudeness. His eyebrows kind of went up-he hadn’t been in a bar for a long time, any kind of bar, they went up in kind of a fixed manner, in a peculiar manner, as if to say: what the hick you talking about. But he didn’t say a word, he was too flabbergasted. As he stood stone-still, his body a bit rigid, the barkeep started to breathe heavily at him, as if he was about to hyperventilate; thought Manning: he must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed, or maybe his wife cut him off; you know, no more anything until you do something.

The several men in the bar were already walking toward Manning, as if they had gotten a signal from the barkeep, or somebody to do so; one even went far out of his way to shut the door, and then locked it. That is kind of when Thomas woke up, but only to find he was somewhat circled by the men, like a horseshoe, and the bar was open space, an entrance to the circle, the only foyer out of this reception area, leading to Henry the barkeep, behind the bar. Henry, was playing with a bottle of vodka-the stem of it as if to grab it for a weapon if need be, and two of the seven men that circled him had pool sticks in hand, kind of hitting the top of the sticks on the palm of their other hand, a nervous kind of message came from that. Thomas knew this was as bad as it gets, and that he should had seen it coming, but it was ages ago since he had found himself in need of being guarded wherever he went. He knew, or figured the sticks would do, could do some horrific damage, should they use them on him, and should he defend himself too much to where they’d figure they had to use them; therefore, he’d have to possibly take a beating, only fight back a little, for there was no way out of this. His fear was, once he started, he’d not stop and that would provoke the use of those weapons.

Henry interrupted,

“You should have left when the getting was good stranger!”

“No kidding,” replied Thomas.

“Wise guy, haw…” he cleared his throat.

Thomas Manning caught the view of each and every person that surrounded him, their vulnerable areas, such as: open legs, open chest area, face unguarded, arms loose or swaying, leaving openings ever millisecond; and he was becoming most uncomfortable with their shark like countenances. He was in good shape for thirty-six years old, and he knew he could take down two men quickly, and possibly another if he did it in one overall sweep, thus, disabling a few if his timing was right for the moment, but all seven and the barkeep, he’d have to run to the door after he put two or three down, if he could, but he heard the latch on the door-which locked it, and possibly he’d not make it out the door in time and them sticks would surely come into the battle: he saw a man get beat once with them in a bar, and they are wicked, they distort the face quickly once hit by those armaments. Talking his way out of this was useless also he concluded, these sharks were hungry now, and wanted the slighted reason to start their game, the fight game, and when you get three or four men together, knowing one is protected by the other, they all get braver somehow, alone most are cowards.

The tall fat man pushed Thomas and Thomas fell against the man closest to the open circle on the right; it was a powerful push he thought but he kept his balance and pulled away from the tall thin older man whom must had been in his late 50s, the fat man in his late 40s. Both had hard muscles, thick hands, labor workers, hard drinkers, brawlers. The fat man stepped out of the circle and push Thomas again kind of like a foot ball with both hands close to one another; over again, Thomas noticed he left his whole lower section of his body exposed when he used his upper section of his body to push, and again he fell into the tall thin mans forearms in the process of his observations. The tall man pushed him back into the center of the circle once again, with a kick to his back, lower back, not a powerful kick; the guy really didn’t know how to kick, although he may have thought he knew; had he, Thomas done the same kick, he would have broken his spine, or if he’d had lowered that same kick just a little and pushed upward, he’d not have walked for a week, one or the other, and if he would have kicked to the side he would have broken his ribs.

This went on for about five minutes, until someone said,

“Are you just going to bounce around or fight like a damn man?” it was a young lad that said that, about nineteen years old, should not have even been in the bar thought Thames, underage-just a kid trying to show off; he was shorter than the fat man, but not fat, not thin, and drunker than the rest of the crowd.

“Come on mister, get on with the show!” He said, then tried to throw a punch at him but lost his balance, and then somehow he straightened himself out within the horseshoe as not to get embarrassed. Henry was leaning with his hands in his chin on the bar-like a thinker,

“And I thought you had some nerve; see, when you come to a man’s bar you got to fight like a man not like a little girl, a chicken.” And he laughed and giggled like a frog.

He got pushed a bit more and then another kick by the thin man, and as the fat man pushed up his chest, cocked his hands as to wallop Thomas a good one, Thomas moved to the side of his punch, and the fat man with all his weight almost fell onto his knees, then as he rolled himself back into a standing posture, he got his eyes refocused back to Thomas, eyes wide as melons, he went for a second blow, and the thin man grabbed Thomas’ arms, and just as he stepped into the open area of Thomas, Thomas noticed his lower section again vacate of any thing guarding it, and jumped up a bit creating a little more force to his kick, and kicked him a whopper in the groin area, and the fat man went down to the floor with tears in his eyes, and agony in his throat, he was in server pain, he could not even talk; he could hardly speak, he was in so much pain.

Then Thomas turned around and grabbed the thin man’s shoulders, and with the force of a bull, drove his forehead into the thin man’s face, breaking his nose and puffing his eyes up. The thin man put his hand over his face, folding them on his face like an envelope, as blood spurted off and out of his nose like a volcano, seeping though his fingers; hence, he wobbled a bit trying to get his senses back, within the broken horseshoe of a circle. The young man quickly stepped into the action thinking his youth was on his side, and Thomas stuck two fingers from his right hand into his eye sockets, pulling out both eyeballs slightly out beyond the edge of his lower eyelid, at the same time he hit him with his left hand right above the nose, on the forehead causing pressure, as if hit by a ball, and the eyes, both eyes popped out from their sockets at once, as they hung exposed, he went into shock-holding them with his hands not knowing what to do. Another man came forward, and he took his thumb and pushed it up tight and hard into his arm pit, trying to puncture his lungs, he dropped to the floor.

Then Thomas Manning did something he shouldn’t have done, he took his eyes off the other men to face Henry coming over the bar with that bottle of vodka in his hands. As Thomas kicked the bottle out of his hands, someone pounded on his upper back-and the back of his head, and he became dazed, and that is when he fell to the floor, covered his face, and had no choice but to absorb the beating with their feet. His ribs cracked, one, two, three, and you could hear his nose snap and crack.

There was a noise at the door,

“Take him out to the back boys and throw him where the garbage is, I’ll get the door,” said Henry trying to catch his breath, he was all of 260-pounds and some six feet tall. Thomas was 180-pounds, and about five foot nine inch tall.

Thomas Manning now lay face down in the back ally with the garbage. If anything, whom ever knocked on the door, did it just in time, surely them pool sticks were to be used had not that knock on that door occurred; it would had been too tempting not to use them at the high point of the battle, especially after he messed up all three of the men, or was it four, possibly even five men [?] he may have even broke the arm of one of the guys, he heard something splinter, I mean a big crack. Nonetheless, Thomas was in bad shape likewise, having three ribs broken, and his nose, and burses all over his body. He felt like he was beaten with a tire iron.

Said a voice to Thomas, a blur shadow in the back doorway, it looked similar to Henry:

“If you get up,” the voice said, “and make it out of here, don’t ever come back unless you want more of what you just got.”

His voice was stern and implacable, like the voice of a king. His opponents did not come out looking for him, nor evidently cared to even see the damage they had done.

He heard the sound of an ambulance coming; it must be for the boy he thought. Then when it arrived, someone said,

“Ha, look back there, a man’s on the ground, looks in bad shape.”

This was displeasing for Henry, but he stayed in the bar and said nothing as they took him in the same ambulance the boy was in. And two fellows took their own cars to the hospital-carrying one person who was gasping for air, everyone but Henry and two others were in bad shape.

“You need to arrest these men,” Manning panted to the investigating officer at the hospital. But as the officer questioned the other men, getting a different story, but the same story from everyone but Thomas, Thomas started to look guiltier by the minute and was thereafter taken to jail along with the two men who had their ribs broken and nose busted. The young lad was left in the hospital as was the one gasping for air, and another man showed up later with a broken arm from the brawl, as it was framed to be by all the bar participates but Thomas, even Henry showed up at the hospital to add his statement to the report. Matter-of-fact, there was a complaint added to the report that he [he being: Thomas Manning] was a karate expert-after they had discover he knew it-and thus took advantage of the situation, that is, until, until Henry came to the rescue of his customers at the bar, and accordingly got a big thank you from the owner.

Hence, they all waited three days in the jail in downtown St. Paul, and the others went back to the bar to discuss the situation at hand, for the court date was soon to arrive.

Thomas Manning was especially downtrodden, and angry during his time in jail, but it gave him time to think and to gain his composure for court. Besides he had made the local news on television, saying in essence: he was the cause of the trouble at “Murphy’s” bar down on Wabasha Street, and luckily the barkeep came to rescue the customers, for fear that they all would end up in the hospital. His mother of course was also a bit disturbed from all this notoriety and Manning, he just wanted it to be over with.

And so the court day came, and the Prosecuting Attorney stood up and the judge came in to hear the case, Judge Rosenboum, and Thomas who had an old friend, Mr. Dudley for his lawyer, stood up and the court procedures started.

For the most part, it was his word, Thomas’ against everyone else’s; and the judge seeing broken ribs from both sides of this case, and broken noses as well, and realizing Mr. Manning was not a tax paying Minnesotan and elections were coming up soon, he made his statement, as he said,

“In all fairness, Mr. Manning, it has not been proven, yet you claim to have been abused, taken advantage of. Yet in a bar, a recovering alcoholic of which you say you are, why I ask are you even in a bar, and a fighter as well, a skilled fighter at that, it is hard to believe you were not looking for trouble, found it, and well: just look at the four men you beat up.”

The sight was not to his advantage, yet he showed some battle wounds also-but the judge noticed there was no sympathy on anyone’s faces.

Before he could say another word, the judge gave him a hard look, added,

“Don’t say a word Mr. Manning, not one word…” and then dismissed the case in no ones favor; both sides being equally to blame, adding up,

“You best stay out of bars like you say you have, and I don’t want to see any of you folks back here again, and that includes you Henry Farmington, bartender!” having said that, he motioned for the next case.

Poetic Justice

‘Life goes on,’ murmured Thomas as he looked back at this whole experience. Possibly this might be a good lesson he told himself and a story for his grandkids, something like that; something he could laugh about in old age, so he thought; adding to his train of thought: let bygones, be bygones, and then caught a train back to New Orleans. His mother had once said, when he was but eight-years old, in a similar fight when he came running home beaten up by five boys:

“Next time run faster or learn how to fight better…” and so he learned both, but she forgot to tell him: ‘stay out of the bars.’ He already knew, one needn’t look for trouble there, it comes your way no matter what, he had learned that long ago, and it appeared, it was a hard learn, in that he was relearning it, even the judge had taken note of that.

-It was a brisk morning in the spring of 1982, two years had passed, or thereabouts, since that event had taken place in the St. Paul bar. He, Thomas, was inspecting in his basement cellar the inventory of his bar, double checking what one of his employees (bartenders) had taken. He owned a hotel, and below it was a bar and restaurant; along with several other properties in New Orleans he owned. The count pertaining to the bottles of wine were correct, so he left the cellar and walked up the stairs, where the door went into the hallway next to the bathrooms.

As he walked through the door he noticed a familiar back of a man, a slight profile, or so it come into view as be recognizable, but couldn’t quite make it out completely, he was holding a key to one of the his rooms in the hotel, he saw his logo on it; evidently he was a vacationer. I repeat, it had his emblem on it anyhow, the nightclub’s crest that is. As the man sat up at the bar and started to finish his drink, his profile was viewing more clearly now, Thomas couldn’t believe what he was seeing, it was Henry, Henry Farmington, the same, the one and only Henry from ‘Murphy’s’ bar. How fate plays its poetic games, if not poetic justice. He quickly grabbed the phone next to the men’s bathroom and called the barkeep, instructing him in some manner; at which time, the barkeep motioned to the busboy to lock the front doors, Henry seeing the busboy paid little attention to him being in the back of him, or is activities. At the same time the boy asked one of the patrons to leave-I’m not sure how he said it but it was in a quiet approach and he did leave. Then some music came over the loud speakers, Manning had told the waitress to make sure it was noisy in the bar area.

Now Thomas Manning walked slowly behind the bar as the bartender walked the other way to gather the other men in the bar, and they started to form a horseshoe around the backside of Henry, up to this point, he paid no attention to his surroundings. Then as he looked up, having been in thought for a moment and looking down upon the mahogany bar, he saw Thomas, he opened his eyes surprisingly wide, paused for a moment to collect his belief, thinking he was the new bartender, they were face to face now, only the bar separating them. Henry put up his hand, right hand, as if to say peace,

“What a surprise Mr. Manning,” he said, adding with a choked up voice, yet not noticing the men behind him yet, ” Oh yes, we all got punched-up that day didn’t we, I hope there is no hard feelings; incidentally, where is your boss?”

“I own the place-,” he said with a smile, and then added, “Henry- you never did get messed up, just everyone else did. But I think today is my lucky day; you will get your turn. You see, you should not have come into the bar in the first place looking for trouble.”

“But…” he never had time to finish that sentence, or the second word, whatever that was going to be, because Manning had punched him so hard square in the face, between his chin and nose, he split his lip, crack two teeth out of place with his two upper knuckles of his right hand, he flew off the stool right into the horseshoe on his back, and the boots of the men started to break ribs, you could hear them snap: one, two, three, and his nose was displaced by a forth kick. One man grabbed a pool stick, but Manning told him to put it down, it wasn’t called for, but he said to Henry, as they carried him to the garbage pit area in the back of the building,

“Should you come back, I will not be so friendly, and allow the pool sticks to be used.”

Henry couldn’t talk he just gasped for air and trembled, shaking his head as if to say ‘yes, yes, I understand.’ He didn’t want anymore of what he dished out at Murphy’s that was for sure.