The loud noise in the hall was getting closer. I knew what that meant, study time was over. Within seconds my door burst open. It was three of my frat brothers, notorious partiers. The fact they came to me was not surprising. I was one of the few people in the house that had a running car.
One of them said, “Hey, Sparky, want to go to a great bar in Youngstown?” What he meant was, “We need a ride to a bar in Youngstown.”
A little bit about these three. I remember their names, but I’m not going to reveal them. All you need to know is that each came from a very religious family. Their fathers’ were ministers. That’s why they were at an evangelical Lutheran college instead of secular state school.
My Dad used to say, “The biggest troublemaker in town is usually the minister’s kid.” In this case, multiply that times three. I was in college to get a degree, not cirrhosis. These three had other educational goals. What those were, your guess is as good as mine.
By the time they appeared in my room, it was already getting dark and Youngstown was forty miles away. But, having gotten my schoolwork done and with no classes the next day, I decided to live a little and make the trip.
They wanted to go to a psychedelic bar known as The Green. I hadn’t heard of it but I wasn’t up on bars forty miles away in another state. At first blush, this sounded like it could be fun. These guys knew how to have a good laugh. One of them even claimed to have been there.
The advanced billing was the beer was cheap and the girls were pretty and available. Because the drinking age in Pennsylvania was twenty-one, we couldn’t drink in bars. The idea of being able to drink cheap Ohio three-two beer, or as they called it, ol’ low point, in a bar seemed pretty good.
As for the description of the girls, I considered the source and was sceptical. I’d judge for myself when we got there. First, I attended to business. Knowing these jokers, before we left, I got my gas money up front. Piling into my ’63 Chevy Bel-Aire, we took off.
As we entered the Youngstown area, we drove further and further into the inner city. We passed empty store fronts, burnt-out buildings and groups of vaguely threatening people milling around the streets. As we drove by, they were staring at us. I found the whole thing a bit unsettling.
Getting nervous, I asked, “Where is this place? Do you guys even know?” From the back seat I heard, “Take it easy, Sparky. It’s down a couple intersections on the right.”
When we finally got to where we were going, I was able to park my car under a streetlight not too far from the bar. At first, I thought it was a stroke of luck to be under a light. Then, I worried that being where it was would make my car a target. The whole evening I wondered if it would still be there when we got back.
Even before we went into The Green, I had a bad feeling. From the outside, the place looked like a heroin shooting gallery. Then again, so did the rest of the neighboring buildings. The Green had a boarded up picture window facing the street. The reinforced metal front door with a small window near the top, which must have served as a peephole, had bars. The place didn’t look at all like a rocking hot spot.
Standing inside the door was a giant bouncer. He was collecting the one dollar cover charge. Once in, my first thought was, “We won’t have enough money for beer”, so I stopped a waitress and asked, “How much for a glass of ol’ low point?” She said, “A twelve-ounce glass is a dime.”
The thought that a ten spot might as well have been a hundred dollar bill was comforting. Looking around I started to notice the available girls. Each looked like they could suck up enough ol’ low point to turn a ten spot into pocket change in no time.
Right away, I was sure this was not the hip, psychedelic hot spot promised. It was nothing more than a dive bar with a jukebox that spewed only country and western songs. Still, the place was wall to wall people.
As for the girls, I noticed they looked much older than college age. I bet many of them had kids at home that they dumped on a sitter so they could be here. While these girls may have been available, they were not pretty.
Most of the guys had long hair and wore ball caps and jackets emblazoned with union logos. It was clear they were working stiffs. My guess was they hung tailpipes on pickup trucks at the Lordstown assembly plant. There was nothing wrong with that but, rumor had it, the plant was going to start layoffs and would soon shut down. The looks on their faces gave away the fact they knew their futures were bleak.
The Green was their escape, a comfort zone with cheap drinks, world-weary women and second rate country music. If the plant closed, The Green had as much of a future as these wage slaves.
To make the psychedelic bar theme try to work, there were a few black lights shining on some fluorescent paint randomly splashed on the walls. As decorating aesthetics go, it missed the mark. The rest of the bar was dark and in need of a good scrubbing. The men’s room smelled of urine and mildew. I assumed the women’s room was no better. A real improvement to this joint would have been a large fire. I was overcome with the feeling that being at The Green was a huge mistake.
“Which one of you jag offs picked this place? It sucks,” I said. No one owned up. It didn’t matter, we were there and had to make the best of it.
Nervous and worried we stood out, I kept my eyes down, hoping to draw as little attention as possible. A couple of hours passed and we had our fill of ol’ low point with no incidents or any signs of having the slightest buzz. For these guys, it was a remarkable achievement.
It seemed to me, the union guys were looking for a reason to start something with us. I also did not trust any of the girls. They could have been bait, to draw us into a beatdown, robbery or worse. I was the only one catching this vibe which seemed lost on my frat brothers. The Green was like a Rob Zombie movie before there were Rob Zombie movies. The place had ambush written all over it. It may have been an overreaction on my part but I was sure it wasn’t.
“Somebody’s gonna get killed in here. Let’s go before it’s one of us,” I said. No one moved so I got up to go outside for some fresh air. That led to my encounter.
Once on the sidewalk, I realized it had gotten colder but I didn’t want to go back into The Green. I figured the guys would follow me out soon. In the meantime, I looked up and down the street to see if I could duck into a place to get warm.
With nowhere to go and not wanting to wander too far from the front of the bar, I noticed a long haired girl on the corner. She was leaning on the lamppost. Figuring she was a local, I thought she could direct me to an open diner or store that was close by. I walked over to her, smiled and said, “Hi, is there a place around here I could get a cup of coffee?”
She looked at me with eyes that were both piercing and dull at the same time. I was sure she was on something. Once done sizing me up, she said, “Do I look like I’m standing here waiting for you to ask for directions? Beat it. I’m working this corner.”
I couldn’t let that one pass, so I said, “Working? Doesn’t look like you’re working to me, unless holding up a lamppost is your job. Does that pay well?”
“So, you’re a funny guy, huh? This is my corner. Beat it, unless you want to pay.”
“Your corner?” Looking up at the street signs, I did a quick read, then said, “Is your name either Market or Main?”
She didn’t answer that question but said, “If you’re gonna stay, you gotta pay.”
“Pay, pay for what?”
She cocked her head a little to the right, then said, “How about I cut your ass? I’m telling you for the last time, beat it. You’re gonna drive away my tricks.”
The word “tricks” struck a chord. Then the realization hit, “Oh no, I’m talking to a hooker.” I did not know my next move. I could have walked away but I had no place to go. I would be damned if I would head back into The Green, so I just stood there.
That’s when I heard what I thought was the click of a switchblade. I saw the glint of the streetlight off the stainless steel blade. This was not my first time being threatened with a knife, but before, I knew I was never really in danger.
This time, it felt different, this hopped up hooker was moving in my direction. If I didn’t do something fast, I might get hurt. I reconsidered paying another cover charge to get back into the bar. Before I could run back in, my situation changed again.
Unknown to me, at the same time, inside The Green, my foolish frat brothers finally triggered a fight. One of them followed a young girl, who hung around the bar, into the ladies’ room.
Not only was it stupid, because the girl was underage, but she was the bartender’s daughter. She came out of the women’s room shrieking, alerting her dad and the assembled patrons. The union guys finally had the provocation they needed to go after these three.
A classic barroom brawl, including pushing, shoving and punching, started. I only have their version of events. According to the guys, once the pushing started, a female patron grabbed and launched their pitcher of ol’ low point into the melee. It missed them and shattered on the floor. When I heard that, I thought, “What a waste of a dollar.”
Somehow, the guys managed to fight their way to the front door. They avoided the bouncer when he slipped on the beer from the broken pitcher. That fortuitous event opened the route for them to get out.
Outside, this hooker was getting closer to me but her movements were unsteady. Before she could get within range to do any damage, two of the guys came busting out the metal front door. Another followed, chased by the bartender, the bouncer, a couple of union guys and the young girl from the women’s room. The girl tossed a glass at the trailing frat brother. It fell to the sidewalk, missing its mark. With all of us outside on the sidewalk, it seemed like the chase would continue.
Surprised to see people running in her direction, the hooker took off the other way down the street. She must have thought they were coming to protect me, instead, they were running for their lives.
Now that we were outside, we scrambled to the car. I unlocked the doors, we jumped in and peeled out of there in a hurry. I was happy my car was in one piece. It was a relief not to see any cops the whole way back since I was sure I was over the limit.
It was only on the ride back when I got the details about one of them getting caught gassing up the bartender’s underage daughter in the women’s room. Listening, I thought, “A Christian upbringing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” I also knew their version of the barroom altercation and their fisticuff prowess was exaggerated.
They laughed a lot on the way back to campus. I didn’t think this experience was fun or funny at all. After that, I never went back to Youngstown nor did I ever take these clowns anywhere else again.
Years later, after having retired from my law practice, I had time to think about my college days and this event came to mind. Out of curiosity, I did an internet search of my former fraternity brothers. Oddly enough, I located them all on the same website.
To my everlasting surprise, these fellows are now evangelical pastors in the Church of God’s Peace, Love and Understanding. I wouldn’t have predicted this career path for any of them.
Each now holds the title of associate pastor and preaches to branch congregations in three separate states, Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina. In what has to be one of the Lord’s better moves, having them spread out keeps them apart and the public safer.
The church’s website displayed their photos. Each looked downright pious in their preacher collars. The photos, conveyed the right mixture of gravitas and divine joy. I’ll bet it took the photographer a long time to get that special look. Their professional biographies were so compelling that, for a very brief moment, I thought about joining the church. That moment quickly passed.
It was then I noticed a picture of a woman, Margot Benson Tilly, on the website. I had skipped over her to read about my former frat brothers, but I went back for a closer look.
She was listed as, Senior Pastor. I knew that evangelical belief on this matter was clear. According to scripture, only biblically qualified men could hold the position of pastor in Christ’s church. Having an evangelical church founded and led by a woman was unusual. I needed to know how this came to be.
As I studied the woman’s photo, I couldn’t help but feel there was something familiar about her eyes. I was then drawn to the description of how Pastor Tilly came to God. I read further.
Pastor Margot Benson Tilly was born in Youngstown, Ohio. Her mother died when she was a child. An abusive, alcoholic father raised her until she was in her teens. Pastor Tilly‘s youth was punctuated by sexual abuse, drug use, truancy, and abandonment and homelessness. To support her drug habit, her criminal behavior included prostitution.
One night, while on a dangerous corner in Youngstown, Ohio, she was threatened by a man with a knife and chased by three others.
Escaping into a street mission, she encountered a preacher reading from the New Testament. Hearing the word of God for the first time in her life, Pastor Tilly was awestruck. It was at that moment she discovered that the peace, love and understanding of God can save even the most hopeless person.
She decided to follow the Lord and was determined to make it her life’s goal to found a church to minister to the downtrodden of society. The result is our rapidly growing, welcoming Church of God’s Peace, Love and Understanding.
The photo and this biography convinced me this woman and the girl on the corner that night were the same person. Over the years, on rare occasions, I wondered what happened to her after our encounter. Now, I knew.
I don’t believe in miracles but the fact my three former frat brothers are now men of God and working for her defies any other explanation.
As for Pastor Tilly’s biography, I take issue with the description, she was threatened by a man with a knife that night outside The Green in Youngstown.
I am aware most successful religious leaders have compelling, albeit mendacious, origin stories. I also understand she is selling an image, a brand. I suspect she is a superlative salesperson.
Whether it be the flesh or the spirit, Margot Benson Tilly understands, it’s not what your selling, it’s the story used to make the sale. To that end, it is little wonder she changed the passage in her biography to me having the knife. After all, the more dramatic the act of being saved, the more miraculous and impressive is God’s work.
Image by Quidec Pacheco from Pixabay
9 thoughts on “Encounter at The Green by Edward N McConnell”
This is a energetic slice of life, hectic yet it holds it’s narrative edge. Always happy to see you on the site!
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It takes a brave writer to write mainly characters that we can find fault in. That in fact emphasises how well the writer has done their job. If any specific reader has any specific opinion about the characters, then the writer has done their job.
And here’s the weird thing – Even if other readers have a difference of opinion on the characters, that is still the writer stirring up something within everyone and that is a talent.
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Not a copy, but I’m thinking Animal House and my 1960 Impala I got in Eugene Oregon (where Animal House was filmed and I did graduate studies) which replaced a 1949 Buick. Same time period I imagine 1960s. One wonders how we survived.
Memorable and believable.
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Thanks, Doug. I think we all know people like these characters.
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Perhaps to our regret.
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Leila and Hugh,
Thank you both for your comments. I hesitated to submit this because I knew there wasn’t a character in this piece readers could get behind and cheer for. As a general rule, I like to keep things on the lighter side, but not this time. I appreciate LS running it and for always taking time to consider my submissions.
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I like the ‘Stand By Me’ (Stephen King story / film) look back at the past a lot. The pace is great, the story compelling, the tone spot on, and an all round superb read.
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Thanks for reading and your comments. I appreciate them and glad you liked the story.
Sometimes people do remember things differently. We can alter the past even unconsciously. Sounds like Pastor Tilly changed her life, no matter what the reason or the real story. The frat boys were looking for excitement, and they got it. I don’t blame the working class fellows in the bar for being less than friendly to the outsiders. Any man who says he’s never had a vice is fooling either himself or everyone else. Entertaining story!
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