The Mecca stunk.
Ralph told Jerry, the owner, “That grease is getting old. Starting to stink.”
Jerry said, “I got a box of oil coming Friday. We’ll have fresh oil on Friday.”
Fritz was sitting next to Jerry. Fritz came in a day or two a week and hung around for about as many hours.
“Since I retired and I got the pension and some social security coming in, I was thinking maybe I could help this place out,” Fritz said.
Jerry slid his glasses down and looked at Fritz.
“How? I’m not looking for a partner. Sister already owns half of this and she doesn’t do anything but collect her half.”
Fritz brushed the bugs away from his beer.
“Goddamned pecker gnats,” Jerry said. “Can’t get rid of them.”
From the other end of the bar, Ralph said, “Them pecker gnats are everywhere in the bathroom. Can’t take a piss without a swarm hitting me in the face.”
It was true, the pecker gnats buzzed around the urinal like vultures to carrion.
Ralph added, “Goddamned things buzz all around the toilet then come out here to rest on my beer. Goddamn. You need to take the garbage out every night.”
“Yeah. Yeah,” Jerry said.
He turned back to Fritz, asking about his plan for helping the bar.
Fritz asked him, “How much does a keg of beer cost you?”
The Mecca served 2 beers on draft. Some regular stuff and it’s light counterpart.
“Half barrel costs me bout a hundred bucks,” Jerry said.
“What if I gave you five hundred bucks a month for beer?” Fritz asked.
“Cause I like you, Jerry. Cause I like this place. It’s a shame to see you struggle. And I like most of the folks that come in here.”
“Five hundred free bucks?”
“Well, I have an idea about it,” Fritz said.
“I give you five hundred bucks a month. And I’ll even pay you for the whole year up front. Six grand. I’ll give you six grand.”
“And?” Jerry asked skeptically.
“Anybody walks in here you give them their first draft for free. 12 ounces. If they want 16 ounces, you charge them 50 cents or a buck. Whatever. But the first 12 ounces is free until you run out of my 500 bucks for the month.”
“Your 500 bucks? Don’t you mean The Mecca’s 500 bucks?”
“Sure,” Fritz said. “The Mecca’s. Just think of it, free beer’s gonna drive people in here. The one free beer leads to two or three more. Leads to people buying more food. Leads to way more traffic.”
“And you don’t want anything in return?” Jerry asked.
“Nothing,” Fritz said. “Like I said, I like you, Jerry. I like The Mecca. And I like most of the folks in here.”
Jerry took his glasses all the way off.
“Six grand and free beer. Nothing else?”
“You can advertise it,” Fritz said. “Free beer. And, so you don’t build it up and have to worry the free beer won’t be here next month, I’ll give it all to you up front.”
“You don’t want anything?”
“Nothing,” Fritz said. “Just a handshake. Besides, I’m retired. Maybe it’ll give me a reason to come around more. Get me out of the house to see how things are going.”
“Okay,” he said. “You show up with the six grand and we got a deal.”
They shook hands.
The next day Fritz showed up with the six grand in cash. He put it on the bar.
“Retirement must be treating you good,” Jerry said.
“Everything’s paid off,” Fritz said. “I got the pension and social security and some investments. Things are okay. Thought I’d use what I got to do some good.”
Jerry took the money.
“This is awfully generous, Fritz. I really appreciate it.”
“You’re wecome,” Fritz said.
“I was thinking about putting up a sign,” Jerry said. “The Mecca: Where the Beer’s Free.“
Fritz reminded him, “Just one freebie, Jerry. Otherwise they’ll bleed you dry within a day.”
“Sure. It’s just advertising,” Jerry said. “To get people in the door.”
“Good idea,” Fritz said. “But…….”
“But what?” Jerry asked.
“What if the sign said something like, Free Beer Courtesy of Fritz M.?”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Jerry said. “I dunno.”
“It’s not asking much,” Fritz said. “I mean, it is six grand and a few more letters on your sign isn’t anything.”
“Okay,” Jerry said.
The next day Fritz showed up at The Mecca just after opening. Before his deal with Jerry, he only came once or twice a week and stayed an hour or two. It was rare to see him there so early.
Jerry poured him a draft.
“First one’s free starting today,” he said. “Just like we agreed.”
Jerry pointed to the sign. It was cardboard and written in black marker. Fritz was expecting more, though his name was on it, at least.
Fritz sipped on his beer and waited for the pecker gnats.
“Nothing’s better than free beer,” Fritz mused.
“Free sex,” Jerry said.
“I don’t have enough to give everybody free sex,” Fritz said.
“Pour yourself a freebie,” Fritz said.
Jerry poured himself a free beer. He came around the bar to sit next to Fritz. He took out his tobacco and put some in his mouth.
A few minutes later Bruce came in.
“Hey, Bruce. What’ll it be? We got a new thing. First draft’s free while it lasts.”
“Damn,” Bruce said. “That’s great. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” Jerry said.
Fritz cleared his throat.
“Actually, it’s on Fritz here.”
Bruce looked down the bar at Fritz.
“Thanks,” he said. “I’ll take a regular.”
“Yeah. It’s on me,” Fritz said. “You’re welcome.”
Jerry got up and went around the bar to pour Bruce his free beer.
That day Fritz sat at the bar for hours. And he began coming to the bar most every day shortly after opening and staying for most of the day. He stayed for hours ever day, reminding Jerry or whoever was tending bar to remind anybody who got a free beer that it was Fritz that had paid for it. And if they didn’t compliment Fritz well enough for his generosity, Fritz was sure to remind them himself that he was the one buying them a free beer.
Fritz started hanging around so much he asked Jerry one day if he might get his own special seat at the bar. He said since he was such a friend of the bar that it didn’t seem like he ought to have to sit next to the door, especially in the dead of winter when all the cold blew in.
Jerry said he couldn’t make that accommodation. He said it wasn’t fair to anybody who got a better seat first.
Fritz also began to complain more and more how the guys at the bar weren’t giving him the respect he deserved. He said they made as much fun of him over his sports analysis as they did anybody else. Fritz said that wasn’t nice since they all took advantage of his free beer.
Jerry said there was nothing he could do about that. He said just cause he was buying them free beer didn’t mean he knew what he was talking about when it came to sports.
In the year of giving The Mecca his six grand, Fritz became its most regular customer, expect toward the end of the month when the free beer he paid for ran out and Jerry had to say the promotion was over for the month. Otherwise, Fritz hung around every day reminding everybody how gracious he was for buying them a free beer. Behind his back the bar began facetiously calling Fritz as their benefactor.
After that year, Fritz came up with another six thousand bucks. He reminded Jerry how it looked like things had picked up from the incentive of his free beer. He noted how the grease was usually fresh and how the pecker gnats were gone. He suggested maybe Jerry get a nicer sign with Fritz’s name still on it.
He handed Jerry the stack of bills. But Jerry declined.
“What’s the matter?” Fritz asked.
“I think it’s best The Mecca goes it alone,” Jerry said.
“I can see how things have improved.”
“Well, yes and no,” Jerry said.
After that, Fritz quit going to The Mecca. He sat home for a few months waiting for the call that was going to beg him and his six thousand dollars back. But that call never came. The call never came so in the meantime and a long after, Fritz delighted in the rumors that the grease was again old and smelly and the pecker gnats had come back to The Mecca.
Fritz never stepped inside The Mecca again. But, whenever he thought about the place, he was indignant over how ungrateful everybody there was for all the free beer he’d given them.