A few weeks ago, Art Pohlot died. He was a good friend – and that, of course, is one of the highest compliments I can pay him or anyone else.
Yet, we really didn’t spend much time together. I knew him mostly as a bartender in the old Rainier Tavern, before it served hard booze.
Art was a product of two of the largest pioneer families in the Enumclaw region: the Berrillas and the Osborns. He was a round shouldered, unhurried fellow with a full, scruffy, gray beard and a mop of closely chopped, unruly gray hair. He was crude and vulgar with a street-level vernacular and his quick-witted explicit retorts embarrassed a lot of ladies when they first met him, but it didn’t take them long to adjust to his raunchy ways and recognize the genuine humor in many of his remarks.
I recall the time a tiny, waif-like teenie-bopper bounced up to the bar to order the second or third beer she’d ever bought. Her face shone with youthful excitement as she gazed up at the grandpa figure behind the counter. “Hey, Mister! Can you serve me?”
Art’s unflinching eyes stared at her with the intensity of a full-blown warlock. “My little darling,” he purred with a sensual warmth that would have blistered paint on a fire hydrant. “I’ll be glad to serve you any damned way I can.” The blood rushed to her cheeks, she shyly lowered her eyes and her confidence and enthusiasm melted before this weather-beaten veteran of the Sixties.
I first met Art on the rear steps of the Rainier Tavern. The chemistry between us and within us was so similar there was no need for introductions or suspicious sparring. He simply moved to one side and I sat down beside him. (After bouncing around New Orleans, New York and the East Coast for several years, it was my first night back in Enumclaw and, except for a few relatives, Art was the first person I met.)
“What’s happenin’?” I asked.
“Do you mean rationally, psychologically or socially?” he countered.
I smiled. “I wasn’t being that philosophical.”
“Well, the Rainier is a very philosophical place!” He roared with that familiar loud and uninhibited laugh.
During his time with us, Art didn’t accomplish a hell of a lot of anything and really didn’t want to. He didn’t have any children and had very little money. In fact, about all he ever did was serve us beer and, in that capacity, many people from all levels of our town’s societal hierarchy knew him. He certainly wasn’t a pillar of the community, like many locally-famous business entrepreneurs I’ve written about, and he certainly didn’t leave a community legacy behind. Indeed, in a few years there won’t be anything – not even memories – to indicate he was ever here.
Of course, that’s true of all of us. But for me, Art was a bit more than just another passing flash of light in the dark. He was a good friend.