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Tuesday, 01 February
Excellent Choice

Every theater worth its salt has its own bar.

Not one they own, of course: theaters barely have enough money to put on shows. But they have bars, the ones that, when the shows are over, they repair to, to commiserate, or celebrate, or just to hang out and unwind. And so every theater also has its own bartenders.

When I was a member of Open Circle Theater here in Seattle--good years I would never want to give up, but also strenuous years that took their toll on me--our bar was called The Family Affair. The Family Affair was a blue-collar sort of place that had the virtue of proximity: it was three blocks away from our theater space. It also had the virtue of its proprietors: Bronko and Angela, a couple of reformed degenerates (coke fiends and coke runners in their times; tellers of "we fucked on the beach" stories, which were, in their own way, charming and yet kind of ghastly; and, finally, surrogate parents to a bunch of snotty, mouthy kids with a penchant for something as ridiculously dumb as live theater, for God's sake).

Bronko was well known for his well-used and familiar turns of phrase:

"Hey, easy money, how's it going?"

"What can I get you, Captain?"

Or, most commonly, after any drink order, no matter how outlandish: Excellent choice!" You could order a glass of spinal fluid, and Bronko would tell you it was an excellent choice.

There were other common routines, such as when Bronko would be introduced to, say, a new female companion. He would offer to show her baby pictures. "Oh, I'd love to see that!" some girl would inevitably squeal. Then Bronko would produce a doctored photo of a baby with a gigantic, two-foot erection. That this was never met with alarmed screams or complicated litigation is a testament to Bronko's easy gentleness, and that he was a man who, for Christ's sake, was just fundamentally good. I never, ever saw anyone who responded to him without good humor, except for the low-watt bulbs who failed to realize that he was completely prepared to turn people into interesting shapes when they tested his temper.

Bronko and Angela nursed us for years, tolerating our more ridiculous antics--Anniversary stripteases! Birthdays for the terrifying "Vagitarians!"--with more humor than we deserved. When, unsurprisingly, one or two of our group fell into fiscal despair, they had an obvious (and unquestioning) solution: Give them kitchen jobs. Once, Bronko drove a few of us home in his Caddy to save us cab fare. (Angela: "Bronko! Get off your ass and drive these kids home! I'm not calling that fucking cab company any more!")

And we--filled with drinks and maybe one of the Family Affair's diabolical foodstuffs--happily piled in. (Their food was, ah, memorable: One concoction called the Blue Ox or the Artery Grenade or something was a quarter pound hamburger topped with a slab of breakfast sausage, a fried egg, blue cheese and a defibrillator.)

When I first met Bronko, I did not know that he had been battling cancer for God knows how many years. He held on from the moment I met him for another ten. Some of those times were miserable (and, through my work, I happen to know his oncologist). He lived for longer than anyone had any bloody reason to. He was a tough son of a bitch, and I still remember his booming laugh, his jokes about having "the vapors" . . . and his damn Caddy, which he loved so much.

Bronko and Angela had to eventually leave the Family Affair thanks to some really scummy fuckover courtesy of a couple of their former employees and the landlords; I vowed never to darken the door of the new owners, and I am delighted to report that the new place, after a couple years, went right into the toilet.

When they lost the place--which angered and bewildered them--I know that Bronko had to sell the Caddy. He couldn't afford it any more. He and Angela had a group of us over to dinner anyway. They absolutely refused my offer to help pay for the rather extravagant meal, despite the fact that they had had to move to a cheaper house . . . and take in a renter to help defray living costs.

I got older. I got married. (And The Family Affair plays no small part in the history of our courtship.) And, to my shame, I lost touch with Bronko and Angela once the Family Affair was gone. I wonder what else I've neglected.

God, I miss that place. I miss that sense of belonging, of knowing that crossing the threshhold meant that I was protected, and loved, and that it was mine.

And I miss Bronko, who finally succumbed to his disease last week. He's dead. And, oh, I miss you, Angela, who is still alive, and utterly wrecked, and who doesn't know where to go, and God damn it, whom I have failed.

I am so sorry, Bronko. It's high time I gave Angela a call. I'm going to tell her all about you, from over here. Not that she needs it. But I do.

See you later, easy money.

XOXOX | Skot | 01 Feb, 2005 |

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Comments

*snif*

{Skot}.

Comment number: 005462   Posted by: senn on February 1, 2005 01:28 AM from IP: 24.22.30.173

DAMN it.

I need to make some phone calls today, I think.

Thank you for the gentle reminder about not losing touch.. everyone I love is so far away and it's difficult to keep the bridges from catching fire when you're not paying attention.

I'm sorry for your loss.

Comment number: 005463   Posted by: Melissa on February 1, 2005 07:38 AM from IP: 24.28.2.219

I come for the cheap laughs, and *this* is what you give me?

Damn, man, I'm sorry for your loss. Fine writing. Pass the kleenex.

Comment number: 005464   Posted by: mike on February 1, 2005 09:19 AM from IP: 216.254.63.206

Man, cheers to Bronko. I loved that old guy. One of the most genuine and loving people I've ever met. Hey S, do you have Angela's phone #? Can you forward it to me?

Comment number: 005465   Posted by: Stine on February 1, 2005 10:32 AM from IP: 70.58.74.156

Aw. Man. Life's funny that way. In high school, you swear college won't change you, you'll be BFF...and you stop speaking that October. Occasionally you say hey, you wonder how they're doing. Or someone moves without a forwarding address, or stops logging on to AIM in their free time, or your schedules get too clogged for visits and schmoozing...and even when you have the time, it doesn't occur to you, or you figure, "I'll do it tomorrow. There's plenty of time for that."
I think I have some emails to write.
Thank you, Skot. I'm so sorry for your loss, everyone's loss - he sounds like her was one in a million. My sympathies to Angela, you, Mrs. Skot and your group. Would that I could, I'd take you all out for a drink - or perhaps a glass of spinal fluid - in Bronko's honor.

Comment number: 005466   Posted by: CG on February 2, 2005 12:52 AM from IP: 70.18.193.161

At least I won't start this comment with "I didn't know Bronko, but..."

However, from what you've told us of him, he sounds wonderful, and this is a tribute worthy of what I now (kinda) know of him.

Comment number: 005467   Posted by: special k on February 4, 2005 02:07 AM from IP: 199.126.217.170

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