Thursday, June 2, 2016

Friendly if you belonged



     Jackie Schaller died last Saturday at 90. The owner of Schaller's Pump, the legendary Bridgeport tavern, was given the proper affectionate send-off by our inimitable Maureen O'Donnell in the Sun-Times. But these old South Side guys, they weren't Teddy bears. They had a toughness that lingered right into old age, as I found out, a little, when the great Ed McElroy took me to Schaller's in 2009, leading to Jackie Schaller's memorable cameo in my 2012 memoir, You Were Never in Chicago:

    For lunch today, Ed takes me to Schaller's Pump. From the outside, the place seems unremarkable—a modest two-story brick building, a large welcome to White Sox fans painted across the wall. In the gravel parking lot, I mention that I was last here with Mary Mitchell, a black Sun-Times columnist who was hesitant to walk into Schaller's because of its reputation, unsure of how she would be received, though the regulars warmly welcomed her once she did muster the courage to go in. 
     "The only black you'll see here is the cook," says Ed.
Jackie Schaller
     On the inside, Schaller's Pump is also unremarkable—your standard small, dim neighborhood tavern, with an elbow-worn wooden bar and a dozen tables. Patrons are older, all white, and Ed knows most of them. We sit down and are joined by Jackie Schaller, a tiny man in a blue cardigan, not two years older than Ed but looking far more elderly, shrunken, pale—his face seems like soft stone worn away by a river. His grandfather started the bar in 1881, and it has operated continuously since then—all through Prohibition, which merely required installation of the peephole that's still in the side door. Schaller calls Ed "Eddie" and they reminisce. 
     "Who took you to your first World Series?" Ed says, and they both laugh. To St. Louis in 1946 to see the Cardinals beat the Red Sox. "I drove down in my car," says Ed. "The Chase Hotel. A guy I knew took care of us."
     Schaller is cooler toward me. Though in Ed's company, I'm still a stranger and a newspaperman at that.
     Did Schaller know his grandfather, I ask. Did he know the man who started the tavern?
     "Yes," Schaller replies.
     Silence.
     What was he like?
     A pause. "Five foot one," Schaller says, without a trace of warmth. Nothing more.
     An older black couple arrives and is shown to a table nearby, where they quietly eat. Times have changed, in some ways, and not in others. I ask Schaller how old he is.
     "My birthday is Jan. 15," says Schaller. "Do you know what day that is?"
    I shrug—nothing comes to mind.
    "Martin Luther King Day," Schaller says, with a quick flick of the thumb toward the black couple. There doesn't seem to be malice in the gesture—those days are gone—but maybe the memory of malice....
     Ed orders a hamburger and a glass of milk. I order a steak sandwich and a cup of coffee, with only the briefest glance of instinctive longing at the men having Budweisers at the bar. Jackie moves off, to see after a big group of tourists arriving at the back room. Ed tells me a little about him. "World War II guy. I think he got hit," Ed says, describing how Schaller went from an eighteen-year-old playing on the St. Leo Light Basketball Squad and mouthing off to the priests to a soldier fighting in the jungles of the Pacific. A common path for the boys of Ed's generation. They played ball, they went overseas, they fought, they got hit, they came home.
    "All those guys. Overseas. Bronze stars. You couldn't get a better bunch of people," says Ed. "All out of Visitation Parish. In Chicago, you know, we go by parish. Especially South Side. Visitation—it's like the pope lived there." Ed holds up his hands in amazement. "Unbelievable, Visitation. So may priests came out of there. So many policeman. Commanders. Firemen. It was so friendly."
    Friendly, of course, if you belonged.




     
     

     

16 comments:

  1. I know several people who proudly claim to be from Visitation, all nice people, but all thinking that most if not all things were better in the old days. I'm from St. Bride's -- we don't think that way, not a bit, believe me, I wouldn't lie to you.

    john

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  2. So they're just a bunch of racists. Don't all groups have a clique mentality or is it just the Irish Christians?

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    1. First tell me: why is it that bullies always collapse at a touch, sobbing at how wronged they are? Always the true victims, in their own minds. It's a bad look.

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    2. We all know who's the biggest baddest bully these days...and the biggest crybaby as well.

      john

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  3. As a frequent visitor to NYC, my husband was raised there & family still there, the bars are just as bad if not worse. If you don't belong, silence & turned heads make it pretty plain...All the different cliques are the same. Irish, Italian, Blacks & even the gays once the regulars start coming in...maybe someday it will be different.

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  4. And don't forget how cliquish certain religious sects in some parts of Brooklyn can be, even if it's not about bars.

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    1. Are you afraid to say "Jews"?

      If you are, ask yourself why.

      Bitter Scribe

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    2. Scribe,interpret things as you will,Mr. Misanthrope,but as per another blog, are you afraid to admit that McCain, even if we don't like his politics, deserves some respect for the misery he went through? And more than the scum Trump will admit? Thus, NS was right to give McCain a bit of a tip of the hat, so to speak.

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    3. ??? What does this have to do with the price of beef?

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    4. Referring to the comment at 5:12, if that's not clear.

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    5. Funny how some people only come on to reprimand others, and not just to me.

      Why did Bitter Scribe not ask James the same question?

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    6. No surprise that the Coey poster would suddenly pop up.

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    7. Not reprimanding, just genuinely confused.

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  5. Yea Neil what speaking of collapsing at a touch what about those New
    York cliques? This isn't only the Irish or Poles. Robert has a point.

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    Replies
    1. What about them? Nobody said it was only the Irish or Poles. Robert is dragging in a red herring, which hardly deserves comment. Just, as a I said, bullies playing victims, because they don't know what victimhood really is. They're like religious zealots who feel oppressed if they can't boss everybody around.

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