Wearing his New York Mets hat and holding his new baseball mitt, seven year old J.R. Moehringer sits on his front porch waiting for his Dad, divorced from his Mom, to pick him up and take him to his first Mets baseball game. Two hours before his father is scheduled to arrive, he's ready to see the father he has never seen. He waits and waits and waits on what he was hoping would be one of the greatest days of his life, attending a ballgame with his Dad. But Dad never shows up. Although he promised he would be there, he breaks his son's heart, ruins his day. Moehringer learns at this tender age that his father is undependable, disloyal, insincere, insensitive, and self-centered. He also learns that his mother, who comforts him after this emotionally devastating experience, is his source of strength.
This poignant and heart-breaking scene is one of many that tear at your emotions in J.R. Moehringer's true memoir, The Tender Bar. Above all else, this is a book about life; the ups and downs; the rejections; love affairs that steam up then go awry; frustrations, family turmoil and discord; finding your way in the world despite being filled with self-doubt and indecision; and a constant desire for women and hard liquor to wash it all down.
Located in Manhasset, New York, the bar is called Publicans. It is the quintessential neighborhood hangout where Moehringer, as a teenager through college and years thereafter, finds his friends including a love of hard liquor. These include the bar tenders, who give him advice about life, the regulars who include the local softball players who have more than a few drinks after their games at the same place week after week, year after year.
To say this is the best book I've ever read could be a slight overstatement but not by much. I can't think of one I've enjoyed more. This book has it all: sports stories and traditions; deep and harsh realities about how tough life really is particularly within families; wicked funny lines and descriptions of people and views of the world; triumphant moments such as when J.R. gets accepted to Yale even though for years he thought he wasn't smart, rich or connected enough; love affairs that don't turn out well such as J.R.'s with an older Yale coed; untimely deaths; an enduring love of a mother for her son and vice versa; and an irresponsible, nonexistent father.
Factoring in stellar writing skill, marvelous storytelling, a superb sense of humor, and a willingness to tell the truth about one's highly imperfect life, The Tender Bar soars above just about every other book I have ever read. It's not often you read a book that makes you laugh and nearly tear up repeatedly. It's not often you read a book and continue thinking about it weeks after as this one does.
There is so much to be concerned about for this young man, not the least of which is he turns to drinking hard liquor as a teenager then continues through college and beyond on this self-destructive path. Drinking and listening to Frank Sinatra temporarily soothe his pains of which there are so many, mostly his father not being his father. Yet his regular friends at the bar are what he needs to cope, to survive, to get by, and to grow up.
This is a book that you will enjoy, endure, and never forget. It's about a young boy who falls in love with reading books and writing, lusts for an Ivy League education, and then becomes disillusioned with Yale once there. He drinks so much and is so torn up by his unfaithful girlfriend that he stops going to classes and nearly fails out of the school he dreamed of attending as a boy. He almost quits and he almost doesn't even care anymore about anything.
While there are too many to list them all here, here is a taste of some of the book's best passages.
While working in a bookstore in high school, the store owner, a book lover who turns J.R. on to reading many great books says to J.R.:
"You must do everything that frightens you, JR. Everything. I'm not talking about risking your life, but everything else. Think about fear, decide right now how you're going to deal with fear, because fear is going to be the great issue of your life. I promise you. Fear will be the fuel for all your success, and the root cause of all your failures, and the underlying dilemma in every story you tell yourself about yourself. And the only chance you'll have against fear? Follow it. Steer by it. Don't think of fear as the villain. Think of fear as your guide, your pathfinder.
While unsure of what to do after graduating from Yale, J.R. takes a random job as a salesman in the home fashions department in Lord & Taylor:
The woman pointed to various pieces of crystal she wanted to examine. I took them from a case and set them before her on a soft cloth. Lifting them to the light she asked me detailed questions, and though I didn't know the answers, I realized that at Lord & Taylor there were no grades. I told her that the methods used by the Waterford factory in Ireland dated to the time of the Druids. I told her about the bells that chimed each day at the Waterford Castle and assured her that each piece of Waterford was unique, like a snowflake, like a human soul. I didn't know what would come out of my mouth next, and I was just as anxious as the customer to find out. I lied eloquently, profligately, shamelessly. I lied my ass off, lied my apron off, and through lying I felt that I reclaimed some portion of my dignity.
This author was in a zone while writing this book. He found his voice and let it fly. The book exudes silliness, life's randomness, colorful phrasing. It is timeless in its themes and accessible and often hilarious in conveying them. A sports lover will enjoy this book and anyone else who enjoys top-notch writing and full-blown entertainment throughout.