A letter from Mr. Roger Horlick of the Board of Governors of the Happy Knoll Country Club to Mr. Albert Magill, president emeritus, regarding the maintaining of the status quo of the Men's Bar and continuing the employment of its present barkeeper.
As you know, there has been agitation recently, chiefly among the younger and less well established members of the Happy Knoll Country Club whose names appear only too frequently on the bulletin board for nonpayment of house bills, to get Old Ned out of the Men's Bar at Happy Knoll and to renovate the whole place. The idea is, in accordance with the argot of a generation younger than ours, that the Men's Bar—where your father and mine used to have their toddies after a hard afternoon on the links—stinks.
Indeed, in a sense the Men's Bar does, in that almost two generations of excellent hard liquor have spilled upon its woodwork, creating an aroma which binds the past to the present. The word among several of our more successful young executives, however, is that the Men's Bar is archaic. They want the mirrors, the beer steins and the canvas of The Frightened Nymph by Bouguereau to be removed and the bar and the brass rail and the two brass cuspidors along with them. In their place, they suggest something more like a Paris bistro or sidewalk caf� with high bar stools, artificial awnings and artificial sunlight. The clique that is most vociferous in demanding this change is headed by a young advertising man named Bob Lawton, whose election to the Board of Governors at Happy Knoll still remains to me a mystery. Granted that every element of our somewhat varied membership should, ideally, be represented, one must stop somewhere.
I don't know how well you know young Mr. Lawton, but probably very well if you have ever met him, because he is constantly thrusting out his hand and saying, "The name is Bob Lawton and it's time we got to know each other better." At any rate, it is the idea of our Bob Lawton to "live it up a little in the bar." Primarily he proposes to have a sign over its door called "Fun 'n Games Room for Men Only," and a scale of chromatic neon lighting which will change at various hours and a number of gambling machines arranged in what he calls a "comedy manner," the proceeds of which will go toward refurbishing the bar, which is now run at a deficit. Without consulting anyone, he has already, during a recent trip to Paris, collected some humorous French drawings of a scatological nature as wall decorations. The only one that I can now recall depicts a frightened dachshund looking at a wet umbrella which is distributing a puddle on the floor. "Mon Dieu," the dog is saying in French, "they will think it is I."
But the thing that really upsets me is the move afoot to get rid of poor Old Ned, who, as barman, is the spirit of the place itself. It is said correctly that Ned, in spite of his almost 40 years of loyal service at Happy Knoll, would never have been made head barkeeper here if Henri Racine had not been stolen under our very noses by the Hard Hollow Country Club. Old Ned is willing to tell anyone that he came to Happy Knoll as a local boy who did odd jobs on the golf course under Old Angus. He was admittedly never good with anything mechanical. Even today he often strips the gears of the electric mixer when he attempts to make a daiquiri. It is also true that Ned only became a barboy after he sprinkled salt on the 18th green, mistaking it for fertilizer. It is true that when Henri was abstracted in a most unsportsmanlike manner, Ned could not mix drinks as well as Henri. Indeed as of today if you ask for Scotch, Ned is only too apt to give you rye, and he pours quinine water into highballs instead of soda. His eyesight is not what it used to be and his coordination, never good, has not recently improved. Annually he gets more flustered at Saturday night dances and he is more and more prone to leave the bar and let younger members take his place.
But none of this is really the point. The point to consider is the loyalty, the friendship and deep interest that Ned has always shown for every member of Happy Knoll for whom he has ever mixed a beverage, including that member's private life and his most confidential business affairs. Through the years Ned has developed an intuitive skill in estimating the incomes and inclinations of our members, and he is a walking encyclopedia about their pasts. Good old Ned! I do not mean for a moment that he talks out of school. Up to date he is the most closemouthed individual in existence and under the proper circumstances, will, I am sure, remain so. He has been and always must be a permanent feature of Happy Knoll. I frankly would not care to envisage my future or that of many others with Old Ned employed somewhere else, say in the bar or dining room at Hard Hollow.
You may think that I am implying that Old Ned is prying and inquisitive. I do not intend such a nonfactual criticism for a single moment. But Old Ned does radiate an atmosphere of unalloyed human sympathy, which Dr. Fosbroke, our psychiatrist member, only the other day said he wished that he might emulate. Old Ned has only to nod his kind bald head surrounded now by his austerely close-clipped white hair to elicit immediate confidence. I am aware of this myself. Indeed I am often surprised later, on recalling things I have told Old Ned about Mrs. Horlick and our married daughter and our son's recent disastrous marriage. I have wondered sometimes whatever had induced me, not that I am worried for a moment about his discretion. He has never asked me a single question. Nevertheless, Old Ned plus even one Old-fashioned is often equal to an hour on the couch of a Vienna-trained analyst. The Men's Bar would not be the same place at all without Old Ned. It would cease to be a sanctum of the soul.
It is, of course, a truism that alcohol is apt to unleash loquacity, but there is more than this in the redolent atmosphere of the Men's Bar at Happy Knoll when, after a day on the links, or even the card room, Old Ned, behind that genial length of mahogany, offers you a glass. For one thing, you never can be sure how much will be in it. Sometimes I do suspect that the dear old rascal deliberately plays favorites and plies those who interest him most with more Happy Knoll spirits than he does the others. After all, can anyone—even you or I—enjoy everyone equally? And after all, must there not be long, dull periods in any bar like Happy Knoll where business, save for weekends and holidays, is seldom brisk until late afternoon? For instance, Old Ned, it would seem, has recently developed a great fondness for Mr. Bert Byles, a new member of ours from Foxrun Road, and I can hardly blame Old Ned for this partiality after his hours of polishing and breaking glasses in a completely silent room, with all his friendly instincts frustrated. Mr. Byles, it seems, is an unusually outgiving person with an active thirst for sympathy, and he is beset by extreme difficulties, both personal and financial. It always does a lot of good to speak your troubles and to have Old Ned nod silently, and I may say in passing that other Men's Bar patrons are interested in the troubles of Mr. Byles, too, because he suffers out loud more eloquently than anyone else. Besides, it is very hard, I have found, in any barroom anywhere to avoid becoming deeply interested in another's domestic difficulties, since these always fall into the patterns that are in the nature of a common experience. But under the grave attention of Old Ned such disturbed confessions assume a new depth and a new value not unlike the program of a radio mediation hour.
As a small example of what I mean, it seems that Mrs. Byles is addicted to what one might term pursuit by telephone. Frequently Mr. Byles has been said to retreat to the bar weeping when he is being paged in other portions of the club, but when he sees old Ned with a bottle of bitters in his hand he knows that all is well.
Under Old Ned's auspices the Men's Bar at Happy Knoll is what General MacArthur might rightly term a privileged sanctuary for all husbands suffering from telephonic persecution. When the bar telephone rings and Old Ned answers, you know that you are safe. His voice, which in his best years was hoarse and unmusical, now carries a conviction all its own. Even a Happy Knoll wife who knows that her husband is in the bar, believes momentarily that he is not when she hears Ned speak. It may be, as frequently happens, that she will call again five minutes later, but you are still safe because of Old Ned's magic. His negative is firmer on the second call, carrying with it an undertone of outraged dignity. Few wives excepting Mrs. Byles ever call a third time.