I don't know whether to be delighted or appalled that something I participate in has been mentioned as one of the 10 Essentials Activities of Summer by The Chicago Tribune, along with Chicago style hot dogs, grass under your bare feet and the Windy City ThunderBolts:
"- RED LION PUB
A true British pub can feel like a second home, and this vintage Lincoln Park locale is easily one of the city's coziest spots. Not surprisingly, the pub's rooftop deck is just as comfy, a flower-filled place with a large, shady tree and all the ambiance of a private urban garden. On Monday nights, the deck might also be the setting for the long-running "Twilight Tales" reading series-an eclectic, sophisticated gathering where amateur and published authors read their work. 2446 N. Lincoln Ave. 773-348-2695."
'Eclectic' is a forgiving adjective, and 'sophisticated'? Crimes against God and Man, more like. Monday at open mic night I read a new short story, "The Ghost That Blocks the Door", that might or might not be included in the new and improved Tales of the Red Lion anthology
(the following laughingly copyright2006 by yr. 'umble servant):
“It’s not the bar that’s haunted,” Joe said. “It’s the people that come in here.”
While I was chewing that over, Joe cleared the table next to mine and brought a second beer I hadn’t ordered. I was just going to have one and then wander over to my coffee date with Cindy and her friends, but if one beer tastes good, the second tastes even better, so I shrugged and had a nice long swallow off the top.
“You ever really, honestly, think this place is haunted?” I asked.
“I didn’t say that,” the bartender said. “I said that people are haunted, and they bring their ghosts in with them.”
The pub had a reputation for ghosts going way back before the Chicago fire. No one minded, it was good for business: brought in all the Halloween tours and a writers’ group.
“Do you believe in ghosts?” I asked. “You, personally?”
Joe shrugged. He went to the opposite end of the bar to adjust the sound on a war film he was watching, 'A Bridge Too Far'. Joe was on a Great SNAFUs of World War II kick that summer, reliving the world’s mistakes over and over and over. He spoke over his shoulder as he watched Edward Fox order men to a silly death. “It’s easy for us to pretend we have no ghosts, ‘cause we tear things down and pave them over.”
“Someone was going to put up a shopping mall at Fredericksburg,” I said. “Disney wanted to make it a theme park. Can you imagine a haunted TGIFriday’s? Or a Bennigan’s?”
“Now that’s scary,” he said.
I checked the time on my cell phone. “I’m supposed to be somewhere else.”
Joe raised his brow and wiped the bar where there weren’t any stains. “Oh, really?”
“Well, not really a 'date' date,” I corrected. “a woman I know from work, she’s meeting some friends for coffee across the street, and one of the girls is single, so if I just happen to pass by...”
“It’s been a year, now,” I said. “More than a year. They think I’m overdue. You know how women are.”
Amos the bar cat jumped to the counter and head-bumped his way into Joe’s embrace. Joe scooped him up with a critical eye, cleared a bit of cobweb from the cat’s whiskers, and let Amos settle into the crook of his arm. Joe’s fingers found the spot underneath the cat’s chin that made Amos squint with pleasure.
“One door closes, another opens. It’s like this old guy here,” Joe said. “We would never have taken him in, if we hadn’t lost Sally.”
“Everybody loved Sally,” I said. Joe let Amos pour himself onto the chair next to mine. I was in no hurry to embarrass myself at the coffee shop, so I started scratching Amos’ ears.
“Sally was the Queen of the Silver Dollar around here,” Joe said. “The bar couldn’t open without her.”
“I think a lot of the ghosts that people hear were just Sally, climbing in and out of boxes in the storeroom, or knocking a door shut upstairs when it was supposed to be empty.”
“Like the ghost that locks people in the bathroom,” Joe said.
“Yeah, what’s up with that?” There are three or four serious ghosts in the building, and one slightly ridiculous one: here at the Red Lion we have a ghost that jams the door to the upstairs ladies’ room, trapping luckless women in the toilet.
Joe was still thinking about Sally. “We were late getting her checkup, she just looked a little droopy one day and before we knew what was what, her kidneys had failed. Spent a thousand dollars trying to save that cat.
“Now I would have thought that was the worst thing that could happen to an animal, losing little Sally like that, but you know what? Bringing her ashes back from the funeral home, and there’s a girl at the corner of California and Mozart, she wants someone to help her get a cat away from these kids that were using him for a football, and that’s how we got Amos here. The parents of the kids that were abusing him, those bastards were going to use him to train pit bulls. That’s how they blood ‘em; they give them a smaller dog or a cat to kill before they use them in a fight. When I feel bad about losing Sally, I’ve got to wonder, if Sally sacrificed herself somehow to save Amos from something worse.”
“Cold comfort,” I said. “I remember a lot of people telling me that the Lord has mysterious ways we can’t see, that the worst thing that ever happened to you happened for a reason, and you can’t see it, but it saved you from something even worse.”
“Like you were aborted to keep from dying in a war?” Joe asked.
“Hemingway said in a bar once that he knew the saddest shortest novel ever written.” I pretended to scribble on the napkin in front of me. “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”
“You wanted to know about the ghost that locks people in the bathroom upstairs,” Joe said. “That’s what he’s about.”
“It does seem like an odd choice for a ghost to haunt,” I said. “What is he, some kind of pervert?”
“Keeps people from doing something they’d regret,” Joe said. “Delays them just long enough to save their life.”
“No shit?” I scoffed.
“You think it’s bad luck to get trapped in that upstairs bathroom? I say maybe not, because in at least three cases that jammed door was responsible for saving some woman’s life.”
“How is that?” I asked. “She was a minute too late to have a brick fall on her head?”
“Opal Something or other, my dad used to tell me about this one: Opal totters into the upstairs toilet in 1934, when we didn’t have the dining room or the patio upstairs, just a hook shop and a card game. The door to the bathroom jams shut, and she’s trapped in there until she finally kicks it open. Kept her from stepping onto Lincoln Avenue just as the G-men were closing in on Dillinger in the alley next to the Biograph, having been fingered by Anna Sage who wore not red, but a white blouse and orange skirt.”
“Like you were there,” I smiled at him showing off about the dress. “And if she hadn’t gotten stuck in the bathroom, Opal would have been killed in the crossfire.”
“Laugh if you will,” Joe held up his hands. “That ghost is the spirit of the road not taken.”...
TO BE CONTINUED in print somewhere...