For most of my teenager years, Mondays evenings were synonymous with one thing — Boy Scouts — which remains partial to that weekday.
In my hometown, every boy wore the scarf and sash. Part and parcel with spending every waking minute outside, it was a perfect fit for parents as well — ship the boys out on campouts and give the adults at least one, if not two, nights of solitude.
But it was the campouts, not the meetings, that sustained us. Scout meetings then and now are dreadful. They can run for two hours, and back then hyperactivity was called “being a boy.” You sucked it up and tried to keep fidgeting to a minimum. It’s understandable. Rope tying is only interesting if it involves your kid sister.
So at some point in every meeting, scouts try to explore their surroundings. If the meetings are in schools, for instance, scouts will run around entering classrooms, opening teachers’ desks, sneaking into the girl’s bathroom and staring at the tampon dispenser. No one dared to touch it. It was like a nuclear warhead.
But in 1973 Troop 151 had no chalkboards or planning calendars to infiltrate at meetings. That’s because we met at the Knights of Columbus Hall. The Knights, known for their good works, red capes and silver swords, had their own building. It included a dance hall and meeting rooms and remains today a favorite for wedding receptions and anniversary parties.
But the most valuable part, by far, was their liquor license. Back then, you could only get a drink in a private club, meaning you had to be a VFW, Elk or Catholic.
The Knights’ bar, located on the west end of the building, was long and narrow with a half a dozen booths. It was small enough to feel cozy; large enough to draw a crowd. And when Monday Night Football started in 1970, suddenly the first day of the week took on added significance.
Our Scout leader was Larry Drescher, a man with the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon and white, curly hair that grew out of his ears. Without question, he was (and remains I’m reliably told) the world’s nicest man. But he had one major limitation – he had no Ritalin.
So when the ADD kicked in, we departed the patrol meetings and made our way to the west end. Back then, the halftime show, narrated by Howard Cosell, was a must-see, prime-time ratings blow-out. As everyone over the age of 40 knows, it had the highlights of every game, with Cosell describing the play by play as if in real time. It ran once, and if you missed it, you missed everything.
But it turns out, the bar had other attractions. Mike Murphy was typically there as the bar manager. There was also a quarter slot machine along the east wall, plus no one was lecturing us on knife safety or quizzing us about Morse code. This was every bit saint-meets-sinner in a way scout founder Robert Baden-Powell never envisioned. So brother Tim, Marty, John Holt and typically a Niederee would ditch the mid-meeting drone and enter the liquid zone. Upon opening the door, we were greeted by a thick cloud but no one mistook this for heaven, notwithstanding the occasional Roman collar in the mix. The words “smoke” and “free” had never been conjoined.
Oddly, 12-year-olds with shaggy hair draped over a Scout scarf got noticed. Most of the patrons were relatives — my dad had 11 siblings and countless cousins. Customers who had difficulty focusing would say between puffs, “Hey, aren’t you a Keenan?”
That was a cue to move toward the bar, where perched above was a six-inch black and white television. If we were lucky, we could stay through the halftime show and most of the third quarter before our scoutmaster came a looking. By then, we had a nicotine buzz, had gotten reacquainted with parishioners and hopefully watched Joe Namath or Len Dawson throw a touchdown pass.
St. Pat’s later started its own troop and we split into Troop 120. We got shipped to St. Pat’s school. The Knights bar, Monday Night Football and dropping quarters for a jackpot went the way of the dodo bird. Boy Scout meetings were never the same again.