Tuesday at the Tall Tales Tavern

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Tuesday at the Tall Tales Tavern

There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern.”  -Samuel Johnson

If one travels out to the middle of the middle of the middle of the country, they’ll find a small little tavern.  It’s an easy enough tavern to miss, what with it being surrounded by dead ends, detours, and dirt roads.  However, if a person manages to find this tucked-away place, they can step right on inside.  There are no bouncers, no scary security creatures, just a place to cool off in the sun.

The Briar Patch came along quite a while ago.  Nobody can really recall when it started up, but everyone can agree that there was a time when it wasn’t there, and it’s certainly there now.  The place has always been run by a rabbit.  He’s a nice enough fellow, though apparently a little sketchy.  He’s as friendly a rabbit as you could ever hope to meet, but one always gets a feeling that he’s trying to pull a fast one.  In particular, there’s a display in the corner that causes people trouble.  Unsuspecting folks walk up to admire the tar baby and notice a sign that says, “Shake hands!”  Whenever someone does, they find their hands inescapably stuck.  The rabbit will let you out; for a fee.

Now, any shadiness from the owner can be attributed to part of the place’s charm.  The Briar Patch is a tavern that tends to attract a certain type of clientele.  On the walls there are items that the regulars have either donated or left behind.  There’re a few strands of hair from the tail of a husky blue cattle animal.  Looped in a circle around it is a broken shoelace donated by Casey the ball player.  And by far the most scandalous item is Slue-Foot Sue’s garter belt from when she married.  Various items are strewn about, but only the bartender knows where they all came from and who the original owners are.  If you ask nicely, he may just tell you all about them.

On a quiet day like the one they had last week; when the sagebrush rolled by so quietly that even the air itself was taken by surprise, the tavern had two massive visitors.  The owner keeps a special seat for extra-large customers and he brought it out when Paul Bunyan showed up.  Much to everyone’s surprise, it wasn’t five minutes later that John Henry came bustling in and saddled up to the bar.

Bunyan had his keg of the usual and pulled the top right off.  He looked just like a fella trying to enjoy a cool beer; if the beer were served in a wood can instead of an aluminum one, that is. Henry drank his beverage that was so cold that the countertop underneath his tankard started to frost over.  Bunyan looked down at Henry, they nodded at each other, and then the two went back to silently enjoying their drinks.  It was the owner-slash-barkeeper who got the conversation started.

“So, Bunyan”, he said as he twitched his whiskers and dried out an empty glass.  “What do you think of all these new vehicles coming in across the plains?  Must make the outdoor life kinda different for ya.”

“That’s the plain truth”, Bunyan replied.  “I miss running around in the wide open spaces with trees on the edge.  Now these towns are popping up and these steam engines are nothing but a nuisance.”

“Now wait just a minute” Henry said as he slammed down his drink.  “Are you saying bad things about railroads?”

“I think they’re a pain”, the giant replied.  “They’re always underfoot and they cost me my job.”

“How do you figure that”, Henry asked.

“My ox and I were doing just fine taking down trees.  But along comes this fancy city fella and his mechanical saw and locomotive with cars and I’m out of a job.”

“A man ain’t nuthin’ but a man”, Henry answered.  “He shouldn’t need nuthin’ but his own two hands to get work done.”

“You on the side of railroads?”

“I should say I am”, Henry replied proudly.  “Why, I’ll bet I had a hand in most every track that was laid within twenty counties of this place.  I work the tracks, I do my best, and I can’t think of nuthin’ better than to die with a hammer in my hand.”

“Well your tracks are making this country a lot harder for animals and country folk.  Do you know how many big blue oxen there are in the world after all your trains?  One.”

“I’m guessing that’s exactly how many oversized, frostbitten, slothful oxen there were before the railroads.  Really now, a giant blue ox?  Where does a man even find a critter that messed up?”

“Are you making fun of my best friend?”

“I’m commenting that a man should be making a living and supporting his wife, not running around outside causing a ruckus with a farm animal.  I work the land to get some acres and you’re complaining that I’m wrecking things for you.  I don’t see how you can raise a fuss about me ruining the land when you and your buddy are tearing things up pretty good.  Or are you going to tell me that wasn’t you that made a mountain range with your whooping and partying?”

“Are you gonna take that from that fella, Bunyan?”  The rabbit knew full well that he didn’t need to egg on the lumberjack.  Enormous men have enormous tempers, and Paul Bunyan was no exception.

“You’re making fun of me, Henry?  Why, I could do more work in a day than you could in a year.”

“Well seeing as how you’re using tree trunks as legs for your bar stool, I should certainly hope so.  Maybe you should try to fight less and work a little harder, ya big oaf.”

“Gentlemen, please!”  The rabbit raised his hands in protest.  “I have an idea.”  The rabbit looked up to Henry, then turned and looked up, up, and up some more to Bunyan.  “We both know that you fellas can swing axes and bring down hammers.  But what about drinking?  Surely there’s some fun to be had with that.  Plus, we won’t have a brawl on our hands.”

“Now that’s hardly fair”, Bunyan replied.  “I have a keg in my hands and he’s got his flimsy little tankard.  Why, I could fill that think up with one spit.”

“Sounds to me like the animal-lover is afraid of a challenge!”  Henry took his cup and threw it up at Bunyan until it bounced off of his knee.  “Don’t tell me that big ol’ Bunyan is afraid of someone actually standing up to you?  Or do you have some steaming pile of ox dung to go shovel?”

“I think we can make this fair for both parties”, the barkeep replied.  He hopped on the countertop, wiggled his fluffy tail, and let one of his ears drop down to stroke his chin as he worked things out.  “Now, you’re both big, burly men.  One of you, clearly, is a bit bigger.  So why don’t we take ratios in to our figurin’?  I’ll give Mr. Bunyan here a keg for every tankard I give Mr. Henry.  The loser pays for all the drinks.  What do ya say?”

“Are you sure the little man can cover all the beer I’m going to drink?”  The voice from up in the rafters boomed and echoed with mirth.

“Don’t you worry yourself about that”, Henry replied.  “You make sure you’ve got enough coins in your pocket.  I’ll put in the hard work; you just start thinking up excuses.”

The crowds started to gather as the drinking got more exciting.  The first dozen rounds were nothing special.  The twelve drinks after that were a bit ordinary.  Around the fifty-fifth drink, the bystanders were choosing sides.  Neither folk hero showed signs of slowing down.  The bartender kept going to the back for more drinks.  Word has it that the rabbit put in a call to Pecos Bill to dig out an extra river behind the tavern so he could float all the empty containers away.

The shouts and the wages were flying back and forth.  Women three states away were covering their youngin’s’ ears so that they wouldn’t hear the cussing and the boasting.  The contest was not fit for the faint of heart or the weak of liver.  Bunyan got off his seat around the seventy-second drink so that he could sit on the floor and stare Henry in the face.  The two kept at it.  Every chug of alcohol by one was met in kind.  Extra beer was dribbling down their cheeks, dousing their whiskered faces as the liquid streamed onto their chins.

The crowd had done their best to keep track of the drinks.  They started to chant.  “Ninety-two!  Ninety-three!”  Ninety-four!”  The two men started to slow down.  Their moves to lift their respective cups were starting to get sloppy.  “Ninety-eight!  Ninety-nine!”

By now both men were sitting on the floor.  They slurped and gulped.  Finally, as they took in drink number one hundred and eighth, it happened.  The two caught each other’s gaze.  They looked intently and menacingly at the other.  And they both burst out laughing.

They couldn’t control themselves anymore and they spewed out their beer in the others’ faces.  Henry got a wetter than Bunyan, but at that point the whole tavern was mostly covered in beer.  Henry laughed and slapped Bunyan on the back while Bunyan chuckled and patted Henry on the head.

“You’re a fine drinker, Mr. Henry”

“As are you Mr. Bunyan.”

“So”, the barkeeper interjected.  “Does that mean that the competition is over?  You men are declaring a draw?”

“That’s right”, John Henry said.

“We’re all done”, Paul Bunyan agreed.

“No winner can be declared?”  The rabbit asked this one last time, wanting to be sure.

Bunyan and Henry nodded in agreement.

“Then as the officiator of this contest, I declare that since neither of you has won, we have two losers.  Therefore, you both owe me for all the alcohol.”  The rabbit rubbed his paws together and let his buck teeth show in a grin.  “How would each of you like to pay off the tabs today?”

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About anecdotaltales
He's a simple enough fellow. He likes movies, comics, radio shows from the 40's, and books. He likes to write and wishes his cat wouldn't shed on his laptop.

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