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A TinyLetter Email Newsletter

Thursday, February 10, 2011


(Kudos to Patti Abbott for suggesting these flash challenges! I enjoy writing them as well as reading them.)

Black Bear’s Den was a bar in northern Michigan five or so miles outside of Cheboygan. It sat just off US 23 where the shoulder became the entrance to or exit from the parking lot. Used to have images of dancing topless women done in fluorescent paint. The old owner, Dickie ‘Bear’ Black, shined black lights on and off them making them appear to jiggle. The joke was the sailors on freighters passing through the Mackinac Straits would see those naked, glowing girls and stop in when they docked at Petosky or Roger’s City to spend all their shore leave money.

That was the crowd the Black Bear’s Den attracted. Sailors, drifters, loners who lived in the Atlanta State Forest Area of northern Michigan. You didn’t want to go there if you didn’t have to and really, nobody had to go to the Black Bear’s Den. It was the kind of place where direct eye contact meant you just insulted somebody’s mother. In all honesty, you only went there if you were looking to get your ass kicked.
One particularly rowdy night, a fight broke out. It wasn’t uncommon.

The story goes that a couple of Dominican sailors passing through out of Chicago paid a little too much attention to a certain young dancer innocently named Sarah. Not that this young lady minded, mind you. They were paying the right kind of attention: fistfuls of dollars they were more than willing to tuck into tight places.

Sarah’s guy, a local punk named Calvin but known as Vinnie, who had led the Catholic high school’s football team to a Division Four championship but flunked out of the University of Michigan his freshmen year, decided to make it a point that night that he was going to make an honest woman of his dancing darling Sarah. Drunk enough to be boldly dumb, the former all-state tackle began pushing the Dominicans around. It got ugly when the Dominicans pushed back and one drew a knife.

Dickie Black was a big man, carried his belly weight like a battering ram. He grabbed up Old Hickory Number 6, a handmade baseball bat, and moved like a juggernaut through the crowd to break up the brewing fight. The Dominicans tried to plead their case, saying they were just paying customers and had done nothing wrong. Vinnie disagreed. They were guilty, alright, guilty of admiring his gal.

Vinnie took a swing at one of the Dominicans, landing a punch against the side of his head and knocking him down cold. The Dominican with the knife stepped back, weapon held in front, ready to defend.

Dickie Bear shouted at Vinnie, told him to lay off, he was costing Dickie Bear money. He shoved the meaty end of Old Hickory against Vinnie’s chest. Vinnie stumbled backwards knocking into Sarah. She fell forward onto the blade the second Dominican waved in front of himself for protection.

Sarah died instantly. Vinnie made it through the trial before throwing himself from the cliff on the shore side of US 23. Legend has it the ghosts of the two lovers stare at one another across the two lane state highway.

Even though the crowd knew exactly what happened, it was a full house against a pair of Dominicans. The trial was swift, the verdict fair given the dynamics of the situation. After that, the local sheriff’s department busted the Black Bear’s Den for everything from being open to looking ugly. Dickie Bear closed it down.

There was a young guy there the night of that fight, a wanderer. Carried a guitar and played for change. He immortalized the story, won a CMA. It’s one of those songs that never goes away. The chorus goes:

‘I really don’t mind the scars/You left on my heart when you died/They’re all I have left of you/From all of the tears that I cried…’

If you don’t know the rest, you should.

The Black Bear’s Den passed from owner to owner, staying closed for longer stretches of time then it stayed opened. Not too long ago a new owner came in, reopened it under the benign name of Skipper’s.

Dumped the Schlitz décor for a nautical theme.

Weekends have become karaoke nights during the summer. Some of the locals mix with the weekend trippers. There are still plenty in the area that know the story of Sarah and Vinnie. Some of them were even there the night it happened. Buy one a beer; he’ll tell you the story. Spring for a shot and he’ll sing you the song.

They may have mellowed over the years, but nothing scares these guys. Not even singing a song about people they knew.

And hell, I don’t mind. Keeps my song--and Sarah and Vinnie-- alive.

So many people emailed or posted they wanted the song completed, I gave it a try. Sometimes late night writing, like late night refrigerator raids, should be avoided.

She was a soft looking woman
With a hard hitting heart
She filled it with love
Gave me a big part
Her heart was all mine
But I didn’t know
I figured her dancing
Was more than a show

I really don’t mind the scars
You left on my heart when you died
It’s all I have left of you
From all of the tears that I cried

Sometimes a man
Twists up a thought
Bringing him pain
Like the whiskey he’s bought
He gets an idea
For right or for wrong
His actions eventually
Spill out in his song

I really don’t mind the scars
You left on my heart when you died
It’s all I have left of you
From all of the tears that I cried

I figured to love her
Like she once loved me
But my head got all clouded
And I couldn’t see
That this soft looking woman
With the hard hitting heart
Had always been mine
Right from the loving start


Anonymous said...

It does ring like a lonesome midnight song heard back in the pines and hollers. A place where true love always means an early grave. Lake Woebegone Gothic Noir. Cool beans, Jack. Very cool.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I'll post all the links on the 28th. Very clever take on it. Love the song motif.

Unknown said...

Loved the mood of this one. Great voice :)

Jerry House said...

You should finish writing the song. It's bound to be a hit! Nice work.

Anita Page said...

You're a beautiful writer. I didn't want this to end. How about a collection of stories called outside of Cheboygan?

Kaye George said...

Thanks for a nice read, Jack. And Patti!

Evan Lewis said...

Good story! It really would make a good song.

Lois Karlin said...

Great story. Anita sent me the link. I've been following the "I really don't mind the scar stories" and yours gives the prompt a whole new dimension. Sure you don't write country songs?

R L Kelstrom said...

Fine story. Loved the point of view. The song's a gem. You have to finish it.

Kaye George said...

Nice job on the song!

Cormac Brown said...

A good rural yarn, man.

Alan Griffiths said...

A super story and a nice take on the challenge. Thanks, Jack I enjoyed that.