Today, we’re pleased to present an excerpt from Dmitry Samarov’s new book Old Style, described by the author as “[a]n illustrated book set in Chicago bars between 9/11 and The Plague.” Samarov has an excellent sense for place, personality and setting; this book brings together his skills as a writer with those as an artist, telling a host of compelling stories along the way.
Ask For Rose
Lon pulls out an oversized scrapbook. Yellowed newspaper clippings jut out from between the pages where they’ve waited for decades to be pasted in. Lon starts a dozen projects a night but never completes any.
Today he’s excited because he retrieved this scrapbook from the alley where Hazel left it for him or the trashman to pick up. He’s happy he beat the garbage truck and rescued it. He turns and turns the pages, ads and articles raining down on the bartop like lazy snowflakes. They settle haphazardly about him. Many will remain just where they are for days, weeks, months. Then he’ll happen upon one or another and become rapturous, insisting it’s the exact thing he’s been looking for. Then the feeling passes and the scrap settles on some other surface to be forgotten again. Some of his treasures go through the discovery/neglect cycle many times over. Each and every time they’re the most important thing ever. Until they’re not.
He wants to show me the ads his mother placed in the paper for barmaids, musicians, bartenders, and the like. Some go back to the 40s.
WAITRESS—White, attract. Single. For cocktail lounge, 6 nights. Easy work. Age 24-40. $1 hr.
PIANO PLAYER—Young lady. Or guitar or banjo. Play on request.
MUSICIAN—Piano-accordion. German or Lithuanian speaking. Must be good. For week-ends.
Then they change. No more cocktail waitresses or accordionists needed anymore. She’s selling the bar.
TAVERN—ROSE’S ALBATROSS—Well estab. Good business. You will not be sorry if you buy this place. Widow aged, retiring.
I ask Lon when this one’s from, but he doesn’t know. Decades ago for sure. His father died and she tried to get rid of the place. But she’s still here living a thin wall away from where we’re sitting. Lon is terrified of her. They avoid each other. Communicate primarily via cellphone even though they’re rarely separated by more than a few feet.
BARTENDER—Lithuanian-speaking, middle age, married to work in nice place 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. or rent to good honest man. No drinking. Must have good refs.
This is how Rose and Lon’s father met. It used to be her father’s tavern. He died so she took over. Jack answered her ad for a bartender. He wasn’t married but filled all her other requirements. She rented him a room upstairs, down the hall from her own. He took to visiting hers after mopping up the floors and throwing away the empties around 5 am. She was eight months pregnant with Lon’s older brother when they went down to city hall to make it official.
Lon’s memories of Jack are hazy, rose-colored. He passed when Lon was still in high school, training to become a draftsman. He dropped out to help Rose with the bar. He has nothing bad to say about the old man but still blames him for leaving him to this fate. Running a bar in the same building he’s lived all his life wasn’t Lon’s dream.
TAVERN FIXTURES for sale—Front and back bar, good condition, 2 yrs old. 10 ft workboard and sink with refrigerated section; beer tap; G.E. reach-in white-enameled refrig, 30”x76”x66”; barstools; tables; chairs; booths.
They’re all still here. She never found a buyer. I wonder what she planned to do after getting rid of it all? She probably had dreams too. Instead she stayed. She comes out of her room sometimes after I close the bar. She looks in the coolers to make sure I restocked the bottles and cans. She opens the icemaker door and squints up inside to see if it’s making ice.
If Lon is down here already, he acts put out. Like a teenager being checked on. He doesn’t look her way. His answers to her questions are pissy, monosyllabic. After she disappears he launches into tirades about how she doesn’t trust him to do anything. How she controls his life. You would never believe the man is pushing sixty.
WIDOW ALONE CAN’T HANDLE.
Whatever Rose needed, was missing, after Jack passed, she never got through her want ads. But she kept placing them. Some of the ones preserved in Lon’s scrapbook have dates.
They range from the 40s to the 70s. What made her stop trying and retreat to the room behind the stage with the flatscreen TV?
Lon says she remarried three or four times after Jack. He doesn’t tell me his stepfathers’ names, whether they worked at the bar, how long they lasted. Only that Rose could turn heads well into her sixties. He admires her, loves her, but she terrifies him. He’s still the little boy trying to please her. He was never her favorite. Jim, his older brother, can do no wrong in her eyes. He’s a fuck-up who wrecked a motorcycle that left him with a left leg he drags around like dead weight. He rarely visits. When he does come by, he gets hammered at the bar and hits on any woman who will let him for the price of a draft beer. He’s hateful to Lon. Mocks him for never leaving home. Yet expects his share from the till.
DEATH IN FAMILY FORCES SALE
There were no takers, so Lon and Rose are still here. One day they’ll both be gone, but there will be no more ads in the paper about the Albatross. Nobody sells anything in the newspaper anymore. The building and all that’s in it will be listed on some real-estate website. Maybe pieced out through virtual flea markets and bargain bins. The rest will be hauled away for salvage. The structure leveled to make way for glass and drywall dream homes. No one wants what Rose has been trying to sell for longer than anyone can remember.