One More For the Road...

Courtesy Deviant Art

Joe’s Tavern, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1937
Someone once said I channel Frank Sinatra, not my hero, Dean Martin, so like it or not, Sinatra is my soul-mate... I’ll just have to get used to blended whiskey without ice and keep the fist-fighting down to a minimum...


Hey, Joe, set’em up for me, will ya? It’s been a long, long road tonight.”
“Sure thing, Frank, what’s your poison?”

“Bad tips tonight, it better be the Jack. I can’t afford the Johnny,” Frank pulled up a stool, undid the top button of his shirt and yanked down his tie, fishing into his right jacket pocket for his pack of Lucky’s.

Joe, the Bartender, grabbed the bottle off of the back shelf and was about to pour an ounce into a shot-glass when Frank interrupted his movement, saying, “No, Joe, hand me a tumbler. I’ll keep the bottle. You keep that shot-glass clean.”

Leaning forward with a fatherly look of concern, Joe asked, “What’s eating at you tonight, kid? You’ve had bad nights before. Guests throw tomatoes at you when you were singing or something?”

“Nah, nuthin like that. Lemme tell ya a little story I think you oughta know...”

“Well, go on with ya then.”

“I made a call, see, and well, you know that audition I did for Harry James down at Radio City? Well, he kicked me to the curb. I didn’t get the gig,” Frank said, as flick after flick he pulled down on his metal lighter—no flame. Joe reached into his apron pocket for his own lighter, igniting Frank’s cigarette.

“Aw, well, listen kid, that ain’t the end of the world. Try again in a couple years. You’ve just started singing with the Hoboken Four. Maybe you need more water flowing under that bridge of yours before you grab the Big Ring.”

“Yeah...,” Frank whispered, puffing on the cigarette loosely held between his thumb and index finger. The singer stared at the wooden floor, the aged boards stained with dirt, saliva, crusty blood and sticky booze. He feared this would be his end.

“You’d never know it, Joe, but I’m a kind of poet, and I’ve got a lot of songs I’d like to sing. But tonight, I’m gonna down this drink ‘cause this burning need I’ve found, has gotta be drowned, or it soon might explode.”

“I know, kid, I know. I’ve heard it all before from you crooners. How ‘bout I turn on some real easy songs on the Wurlitzer and you make it one for your sorrow and one more for the road?”

“Thanks, Joe. Hey, I know, it’s a quarter to three, ‘n’ no one in this place ‘cept you and me, and you’re gettin’ ready to close. Thanks for the booze and thanks for listening, for me bending your ear.”

“That’s what I’m here for, kid. All you youngsters, you wanna make the Big Time, and then when things fall short, you wanna drown in bourbon. If it weren’t for you kids, I’d not make a living.”

Frank looked up with those piercing blue eyes and smiled, saying nothing.

A couple of minutes later, after taking several more puffs on his Lucky, the smoke rings billowing up, obscuring his face and the despondency within, Frank murmured, “I gotta make it as a saloon singer, Joe. I’m no good at anything else, and besides, my Ma, she’s wantin’ a crooner son if she can’t have a priest.”

Leaning over the bar and staring straight into the eyes of this diminutive Italian, Joe said, “Kid, you got The Voice, you keep diggin’. Go home. Alcohol is terrible for the vocal chords and you got another gig back here later tonight.

Gulping the last in his tumbler and pushing the empty glass towards Joe for him to fill one final time, Frank said, “Lets’ make this one for Harry James and one more for the road.”

Swigging it back in one go, Frank rose from the stool, affixed his Cavanaugh at a jaunty angle, swung his trench coat over his shoulder and headed for the door. The defeated saloon singer kept his head down and slumped his back, the smouldering cigarette dangling in his hand as he hit the wet pavement on a street abandoned to the wee hours. Mr. Nobody in the middle of Nowhere, New Jersey.

One More for the Road is a literary ode to Frank’s saloon song, his best, in my opinion, One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)