It was your basic tavern brawl, and you just had to love it. Here we were in Ithaca, New York, at 1 a.m. Saturday, easing off that long, long trip from Cambridge at one of Cornell's local barrooms. Barrooms in New York state are supposed to close at 1 a.m., but it was Harvard weekend and there were still $2.50 worth of teenybopper songs that hadn't been played on the juke box yet.
So all the Cornell boys were there, and they clearly had no intention of leaving until they finished their goddamn brew, ferissake. So I felt that if I hung around for twenty minutes or so I'd get a good look at some of the slice-of-life people, that went to the agricultural school, in action. Getting involved rapidly in the atmosphere of the joint. I ripped off my tie, flipped a quarter in the juke box, and roared for a beer and something to eat, by God!
I've always had a vision of myself as your old time blood-'n'-guts sports reporter, the kind that used to frequent Madison Square Garden in the 1920's. Stomp in and drink with the hardnose people, put THEIR story in print, and show what sports is really like. Not any of the old clean-cut student athlete who dates the local cheerleader stuff. I mean real seamy material-brawls, bookies, point-shaving.
But there hadn't been much of a market for that sort of thing around Harvard lately, and you knew that there was no way you'd find it at Princeton, Yale, or Dartmouth.
Crude Jests and Easy Women
So when I sat down with food and drink at that tavern in Ithaca, New York, and when I heard the dull roar of the drunkards, the crude jests, the easy women, I began to love the men that had admitted Cornell into the Ivy League.
Right about then, a squat, bull-necked dude, wild with drink, began elbowing his way through the crowd, bellowing for another Schlitz. He seemed to be the type that sends floral bouquets to funerals with the inscription "I AM VERY SORRY THAT IT HAD TO COME TO THIS" written on them. I loved the man, for I knew that he would provide the story. I had spent a lifetime waiting to write.
He shoved somebody, and he was shoved in return. I wondered for a moment whether the altercation that had to follow would be a fight or a brawl. There is a crucial difference. A fight assumes that you have a reasonably good idea of whom you are belting, and why. In a brawl, you aren't that particular about either.
But the moment that I saw the guy go crashing through a window. I knew it was going to be a brawl, and a classic one at that. It was just the way I had always envisioned it. In Athens last summer I had seen American sailors tear apart a clip joint in retaliation for a few hundred drachma in change that they never happened to get back from the bartender. But here, in Ithaca, New York, people were brawling just for the pure joi? de sport of it all.
Isn't it Terrible
And here I was, standing next to a girl whose escort had just been thrown headlong through a swinging door, and who had come storming back in to receive a chair over his shoulders. I was champing on a medium-well hamburger, swilling beer out of a pitcher and roaring "All right!" at the top of my lungs.
"Isn't it terrible" the girl asked me hopefully. I belched, and had to admit that she had a point. "Damn right, damn right," I said, and slipped off to order two more burgers and another pitcher of beer.
I began reveling in the Elizabethan atmosphere of it all. This was the only way to run a tavern. The amount you'd lose in breakage you'd more than make up for in the hordes of fans that would patronize the place night after night. By now the patrons had started overturning tables on each other, and the girls were yelling that they were going to become very ill in a very short time. There was much vulgarity, and as the juke box offered "Wedding Bell Blues," the locals were slowly toppling to the floor in a mass of writhing, swearing, drink-crazed youth.
I spotted the proprietor right about then, and swaggered over to talk with him. He was visibly impressed with the brawl, and we had several moments of light conversation about it. Eventually he shrugged and grinned. "Harvard and Cornell, you know." I knew.
I left then clated. I felt power surging through me. Here was Powers, blood-'n'-guts reporter, with some blood-'n'-guts to report for a change. I walked up the hill to the other prominent campus bar, where I had considered spending some time earlier in the night. Both front windows were smashed, and the furniture inside was in an impressive state of disarray. The boys were batting 1.000 in Ithaca, New York, last Saturday.