I was in a Barnes and Nobles about six months ago, and the store had a rack of five-dollar books. I am like a junkie when it comes to discounted books. So I read a few jacket covers before stumbling upon a book called The Tender Bar—a memoir written by J.R. Moehringer, a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. I normally would pass on a memoir written by a newspaper guy, because I figure it will read like a typical third-person autobiography.
I was wrong.
The book made me laugh. It made me feel like a New Yorker in a local watering hole. It made me understand how a boy without a father is raised and how working single mothers make ends meet. And somewhere in between it taught me about Yalies and copyboys for the New York Times.
The book begins with Moehringer explaining his childhood and his absent disc jockey father. (“My father was a man of many talents, but his one true genius was disappearing.”)
Young Moehringer grew up in his grandparents’ house in Manhasset, New York, along with cousins, aunts and an uncle.
Uncle Charlie, who worked at a Manhasset bar named Dickens, takes a liking to the young Moehringer. So what happens is that Moehringer receives his manly education from the bar and its eccentric members. (“I began to dream of going to Dickens as other boys dream of visiting Disneyland.”)
Hey, if you don’t have a father, why not adopt a bunch of inebriated ones.
You would think that this would be where the book goes off into a sort of Cheers caricature, a bar where everyone knows your name. But it doesn’t. We follow Moehringer from New York to Arizona and back, and then into his days at Yale. He gives us the details of those moments, including a gut wrenching scene where he learns from some guy at a Yale party that the girl he loves has broken up with him.
Oh, the cruelty of young girls.
If this was a book about typical drinking it typically would not work. That subject has been covered by American literature. A lot. Instead, what we get are lines like this one: “Drinking at home was the mark of an alcoholic. So long as you drank publicly, not secretly, you weren’t a drunk.”
The best thing I could ever say about a book is that I got lost in the story. While there were parts of The Tender Bar that rambled a little too long, the bulk of the book made me feel as if I was a part of the story. It evoked a story rather than telling one. And for that I’m grateful.