When tea just wasn’t our ting.
There are two general kinds of etiquette, the delicate…and the raw.
The dance of delicate etiquette:
“In Ireland, you go to someone’s house, and she asks you if you want a cup of tea. You say no, thank you, you’re just fine. She asks if your sure. You say of course you’re sure, really, you don’t need a thing. Except they pronounce it ting. You don’t need a ting. Well, she says then, I was going to get myself some anyway, so it would be no trouble. Ah, you say, well, if you were going to get yourself some, I wouldn’t mind a spot of tea at that, so long as it’s no trouble and I can give you a hand in the kitchen. Then you go through the whole thing all over again until you both end up in the kitchen drinking tea and chatting.
In America, someone asks you if you want a cup of tea, and you say no, and then you don’t get any damned tea.”
C.E. Murphy, Urban Shaman
“Whoever pulls the last beer has to do the keg run.”
Danny, of Danny’s Garage.
Rob’s cave is not just a personal refuge, nor just an extension of a practice of mid-century Kewaskum, Wisconsin; a time, decades before Rob was born and thousands of miles from his home. The man cave itself is ultimately the extension of man’s primitive inclination to gather in shelter from storm and beast, to talk, to share. And maybe even…to laugh.
When I walked into Rob’s garage he was splitting oak palette parts and placing them into a roaring fire. “Hey, Uncle Lee,” he said, big smile, hatchet in hand. The garage is replete with wood burning stove, fridge, TV, calendar, signs, dart board and oh yes, tools. Rob keeps the fridge stocked with Bud Light and soda and welcomes neighbors as if they were family. He considers most of these visitors to be such.
Faint garage scents trace the air: oil, sawdust, a touch of dampness from the concrete floor. But the rich oak burning in the stove cancels out, or if you’re like some of us, enhances most of it.
There is light in Rob’s cave but most of it does’t come through the windows nor from overhead fixtures, it emanates from the denizens therein. There’s a certain warmth too that’s evident here as in most man caves, a warmth that encourages good conversation. Opinions flow like lager from a tap about news, neighborhood, national or world. But most conversation involves laughter at some point. And laughter is what you think of first when you think of Rob. He’s quick to laugh…and laughter lightens any place.
I chatted with him in his cave and soon neighbors, Dennis and his wife, Janet joined us. All spoke of Danny’s garage…in reverence, albeit knee slapping reverence. It was of a time when that memorable man hosted his garage just across the street.
As you walked into Danny’s garage you immediately became a second hand smoker. You’d see Danny through the thin blue haze leaning on the wooden step ladder that rested against the right rear wall. Opposite him, the TV atop the fridge would usually be tuned to the wrestling channel, but Jerry Springer would serve as well.
And as you you entered through the wide car portal Danny would walk, hand outstretched to you, with a smile that caused weathered crows feet around welcome eyes to smile as well. “Sit down, rest your feet, have a beer,” he’d say in his Wisconsin twang. Then he’d go to the fridge for a cold one. Danny was of German extraction from Kewaskum, a town in Wisconsin of about 4,000. It was evident that a good part of his heart was back in that small town.
Danny liked trains. He spoke of times as a young man when he’d often provide cheese and milk to the conductors for the train’s crews, this was Wisconsin ya know. He had an offer to work on that railroad, a rep even showed at his home with sign up paperwork, but his mom said no. So reluctantly Dan worked with his dad at his gas station and as a trucker, often eating a raw onion to stay awake on long trips. But it was in that occupation, at day’s end, that Danny saw camaraderie that stuck with him the rest of his life. Truckers and neighbors would gather around a hot stove for beer and banter. He liked that. He really liked that.
So, many decades after those Kewaskum days, after the Air Force, after Okinawa, after decades of maintaining Sunoco gas pumps across Long Island, he opened Danny’s Garage.
His garage was free standing, apart from the house he and Doris owned in West Islip, NY. Danny’s garage was a place where neighbors or just about anyone who stopped to inquire about anything would be induced to, “sit down, have a beer.”
Sometimes Danny’s fridge had a keg of Bud inside with a tube that ran through its door to a tap handle on the outside. Other times cases of Schmidt’s were stocked therein, price determined preference. The group at Rob’s said that two kegs or about 15 cases a week were enjoyed at Danny’s. There’s a spot behind that old garage where a stream of kidney-processed malt suds runs all the way to Earth’s molten core.
The fridge’s freezer usually contained a huge bag of roasted, in-shell peanuts, some taken out to thaw as needed, but most times just eaten as is…frozen. Neighbors, friends, even a relative or two came in at the end of the day or on weekends, spend a couple of hours cracking beers and peanut shells while discussing world issues or neighborhood events as they sat on the folding chairs. Visitors placed folded green gratitude in a kitty can to keep the stock up.
Dennis recalls days when he’d take a beer break at Danny’s half way through a lawn mow only to have to mow the second half the next day.
One day a new oil tank was installed and Danny feted the installers with brews and sandwiches that caused a one-day installation to drag on to two. Their boss inquired several times about progress. The tank was coated with so many layers of preservative it’s safe for the next millennium. All went well except for a mal-installed draw tube that to this day will not draw the bottom eight inches of oil from the tank.
A pot-bellied stove heated the garage on wickedly cold days, but damp days were also an excuse to light a good fire up. But that stove only augmented the warmth from the man leaning against the ladder, his elbow wearing smooth the wooden ladder’s step it rested upon. There he oversaw the hospitality he brought from Kewaskum. Danny’s garage was a hospitality cave long before the term “man cave” was introduced into these modern times.
There is a certain raw hospitality in such conditions. It dates to primitive beast-roasting fires of pre-written-history where clans and tribes exchanged grunts and gas. The earliest caves used for human habitation were the Devetashka caves of Bulgaria, some 70,000 years ago.
Since those days, shelter caves have been replicated in various forms all around the globe. Since America’s birth the gathering of neighbors and kin around hot stoves in general stores and home fires included discussions of Indian wars, civil war, world wars and yes, ISIS wars.
No need for living-room comforts of recliners, wall to wall carpet, or central heat. Just basic raw accommodation. I think it’s the basics that bring the best out in conversations. Fire is the focus in such gatherings whether it’s a fireplace, pot bellied stove, campfire or a fifty five gal drum stuffed with flaming two by fours.
Sit by a fire and you become transfixed; it touches a place in all of us, a place that spans millennia. Flames rise, embers glow, smoke rises. You see it with the same eyes of pre-Bulgaria cave dwellers. There is a place in humankind that stays primitive, a place that fire awakens.
But Janet, Dennis’s wife, is known to pick up a tiny piece of paper and such from the floor now and then and place it in the trash. Yes, some of us seem to evolve a tidiness trait that tends to overcome the primitive that others tend to perpetuate.
Finer accoutrements developed at Danny’s: a Betty Boop remote control, a very large phone/intercom key pad for the hard of sight or the hard of sobriety, and best of all…a stained glass window touting, Danny’s Garage. Don, Rob’s friend, crafted the art work for Danny.
Danny ate bacon for breakfast, fries for lunch, and was a two-pack-a-day Luckies man. He died at 72 in 2005 from lung cancer. The local florist provided an iced metal bucket of bottled Bud for the forefront of the casket.
When it was time to clear Danny’s garage for the last time a final party was held therein. On the wall of Rob’s garage is a tiny nook-mantel that holds the last beer Dennis had that sad day. As I sat in Rob’s light-beer-smoke-free garage many a story and many a laugh were recalled at Danny’s. I remembered some of what they spoke of, but much of it was new to me. Mostly though, I recall leaving that famous Danny’s, or…trying to leave:
I’d get up to head for home and Danny would say, “You don’t have to go.” “Go” was that midwestern pursed-lipped “goooh” coming as air through the nose and mouth at the same time. “Have one more,” he’d reliably add. And I might just answer, “Well…just one.”
I have to say, I wouldn’t have been so persuaded…for another cup of tea. Tea just wasn’t our ting.
shedding light wherethesundontshine.
See also my alt. blog, Leebythesea:http://leebythesea.me