Fortunate Son

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
The story of a baseball hall-of-famers son, Vietnam Marine Corp Veteran, changing a biker bar into a sports bar in the mid-seventies and other life experiences.

Submitted: February 26, 2016

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Submitted: February 26, 2016

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Chapter One

Little League.

Being ten-years old in the late fifties meant one thing; Little League. You lived and breathed baseball. It was the era of a baseball glove at the ready, slung over your bicycle handle bars and a baseball card clipped to your back tire with a wooden laundry pin. But there was a dark side to Little League. It exposed kids to failure. The fat kids didn’t try out or the sickly ones either. They were destined for a childhood of grade school bands, science projects or math while the rest of us got all the attention and the girls. There I was with hundreds of other kids for try-outs with a patch stuck on my back with a safety pin and a number loosely written on it. A beautiful Saturday morning in Harvey, Illinois (rare these days, you can’t see the sun through the gun smoke) and there were kids everywhere. Some had dressed the part in warm-up jerseys with matching baseball pants and plastic spikes but that was rare. In the late fifties, there was no Under Armour or Nike around. Dick’s Sporting Good was founded a few years earlier originally as an Army Surplus Store, but they hadn’t left New York yet. You were left with J.C. Penny or your mother’s creativity. I was one of the lucky ones. My dad made a great living in baseball and we never wanted for anything. I always felt looking like an athlete was half the battle so if they were picking by sight that day, I was in.  I also had what I thought was an advantage but turned out later to be a liability; and that was the last name of “Boudreau”. My dad single-handily put Harvey, Illinois on the map with his stellar baseball career in the forties. Even before then he was a superb athlete, leading the local High School (Thornton) to a state basketball championship in 1933 and then starring as both a basketball and baseball player at the University of Illinois. Our Little League field looked like a minor league team called it home. It was kept in impeccable shape with covered seating for a few hundred, even lights for night games. It was named “Boudreau Field” in honor of Lou Sr. Of course I made a team at the try-outs that day. I joined the Harvey Steelworkers and started my four-year career as an average player with an above average name. Sure, I made the all-star team a couple of years and, compared to many other players, was quite good. But my challenge was emotional. As most eight-year old boys, I wore my emotions on my sleeve and many a game I would find myself in the corner of the dugout in tears.

It’s the bottom of the sixth (played six innings back then), bases full, the Steelworkers are one run behind and there’s two outs. A lefty named Don Lassen is on the mound, probably the fastest pitcher in the league. He had already struck out 12 batters and waited anxiously for me to move into the batter’s box. Here it was, a sunny Sunday afternoon at Boudreau Field with most of the local residents in attendance (some sober) when Bill Turnbill, President of the League and the public address announcer says “Now batting for the Steelworkers, number 5 (my dad’s MLB number, BTW) Lou Boudreau Jr.”. What a classic moment. I will say it took four pitches to strike me out. One pitch, outside by a hair. I could have probably jogged back to the dugout disappointed but not in tears if it hadn’t been for one shirtless old man seated near the Steelworker’s dugout. He yelled “you sure aren’t like your old man kid”. That analysis stuck with me every time I put on my spikes and ran onto a baseball field, and echoed in my mind until I hung them up eight years later.

Later in life I acknowledged that I really wasn’t good enough to follow in the footsteps of my famous father. I should have “gotten over it”, worked as hard as the children of Sandy Alomar, Felipe Alou, Earl Averill, Jim Bagby, Floyd Bannister, Gus Bell, Buddy Bell, Yogi Berra, Bobby Bonds, Bob Boone, Pedro Borbon, Don Buford, Jeff Burroughs, Al Campanis, Jose Cruz, Dick Ellsworth, Cecil Fielder, Tito Francona, Ken Griffy, Tony Gwynn, Jim Hegan, Randy Hundley, Bob Kennedy, Don Kessinger, Vernon Law, Connie Mack. Gary Matthews and Maury Wills (among others). 

Chapter Two

"Semper Fi" or "I hate You Jim McNulty"

Jim McNulty was a lanky kid who lived in the poor side of town and didn’t have much. But one thing he did possess was a magnificent jump shot. From the eighth grade through high school, basketball dominated our free time. Some of the greatest two-on-two games occurred on either Whitter School’s basketball courts or the makeshift court John Rice put together in his driveway. There was adequate lighting for night games and almost every night and all day on weekends you’d find some of the best Caucasian players in the city. I was among the group along with my best friend Pat Petrow, his bigger brother Terri Petrow and Jim McNulty. The four of us had some bloody battles, me and Pat being younger and smaller than our opponents but with the same dedication to win at all costs. There was only one real fight that occurred one afternoon and it was between Pat Petrow and Jim McNulty. They fought on the front lawn of my parents house. Jim won the fight and it was a “coming of age” moment for me. I realized that Jim could kick my ass and that Pat wasn’t as tough as I thought he was. I respected Jim’s basketball prowess and his ability to fight and beat who I thought was a pretty tough kid and it intimidated me. One Saturday afternoon we were sitting in the Sulky Inn (bar owned by Jim LePore who later became great friend) and discussing amoing other things, the Vietnam War. Most of the guys in the bar would be drafted in six months or so but there were a couple who thought about enlisting when Jim McNulty walked in. He announced he joined the Marine Corps. This wasn’t much discussion around why, just pats on the back and we all had another beer. Jim mentioned the buddy program where you could enlist as a group and at least graduate book camp together, it sounded intriguing. Me, Ron Lendi, Paul Renella, Terry Matthies and Bob Piel decided to follow in Jim’s footsteps and join the Marines. We all marched down to the local Marine Recruiting Station, six young men in great shape offering their bodies to the US Marine Corps as long as the group could stay together at least through boot camp. It was done. Now the tough part began, to tell our parents. I didn’t have the guts to tell my mother so I brought Jim McNulty home with me to do the talking. What Jim didn’t know was that just weeks before, my father had contacted the National Guard and worked out arrangements for me to join the Coast Guard and be assigned to the Wisconsin branch in Lake Geneva, right on the border of Illinois/Wisconsin. Except for the cold winters, boat inspections full of bikined girls would have been my assignment. My mother was a gentle women though she did have a Dutch temper we rarely saw. My friend Jim interupted a kitchen conversation and announced to my mom that I was going into the Marine Corps with five other guys in the “buddy program” and he'd "keep an eye on me". I thought Jim positioned it quite well and I expected a hug and a pat on the back. Instead, my mother said in a clear and rather loud voice, “I hate you Jim McNulty”. She then turned away, brushed by us without looking at us and went to her bedroom. She didn't talk to me for over a month, until the day I left for boot camp. 

Our free-wheeling, irresponsible and carousing lives were abruptly stopped the evening of September 9th, 1965. That’s the night that Lou Boudreau was exhumed from Lou Boudreau, Jr. When I say “abruptly”, I mean we were all having a great time as guests of the Marine Corps at Dodger Stadium watching Sandy Koufax pitch his only perfect game against the Cubs when a Marine Sergeant who was escorting us told the group it was time to leave the game. Our collective reaction was “bullshit”. It was only the seventh inning and we were watching a no-hitter plus plenty of beer was flowing. The Marine Sergeant smiled but was stern and pointed us to the exit, reminding us we were now owned by the US Marine Corp. Since we were being seen by the general public, the Sergeant was being very couteous and respectful to us. This would end shortly. Earlier in the day, we had all been guests of the Cubs at Wrigley Field (see photo). It was pretty cool that my dad was doing the play-by-play for the Cubs so he was able to shake my hand and say goodbye.

We took an old, gray Navy bus to LAX for the brief flight to San Diego where Marine Boot Camp was located.  As all six of us boarded the flight, I caught a glimpse of an attractive young lady a few aisles down, grabbed Jim McNulty’s sleeve and we quickly surrounded her. Me at the window, Jim in the aisle and our beautiful target uncomfortably in the middle. Now I don’t want to brag but back then I had a pretty good “rap” as we use to say. Nick-name in High School was “Mr. Cool”.  I started talking to this girl about the Marine Corps, pointed out my friends and then focused in on the close. I tried to coordinate a date with her in the coming weeks not knowing that I was going to be unable to communicate with anyone other than those within the barb wired fence of the United States Marine Corp Recruit Depot in (MCRD) San Diego for 13 weeks. During the conversation, the 10 or so beers I had consumed at the ballgame earlier began to take their toll.  So quickly in fact I had no chance of making past the girl, Jim and several yards of passengers to the closest bathroom so I had no option other than reaching for my barf bag. I was polite, said excuse me, and threw-up loudly into the bag. I then folded the top neatly and stuck it under my seat. Of course, both the girl and Jim were watching every move and were speechless. Me, on the other hand, utilizing what the coaches at Thornton High School taught, a good offense makes for the best defense, I picked-up the conversation exactly where I had left it just minutes earlier to puke. Now this might have worked except for one small hurdle. I had to throw-up again. I asked the girl if I could use HER barf bag, said “excuse me” reached across her lap and proceeded to fill it up. I folded it neatly and shoved it under my seat. At this point, I knew the conversation was over. I looked at the girl first, then Jim and both looked like they were in a state of shock.  I turned my head, looked out the window, leaned on it and passed out. Before I knew it I was being shaken and pulled from my seat by Jim McNulty. We stumbled out of the plane and were met at the bottom of the stairs by yet another Marine dressed in a tan shirt, tie, olive green pants with black shoes so shiny you couldn’t look at them in direct sunlight. He directed us to stay in line, walk through the airport without looking at anyone and board “the vehicle”. The vehicle looked like something straight out of a Hollywood jail movie, a silver horse trailer looking thing pulled by a truck whose cab was painted a drab Marine Corps Green with gold lettering. There were windows high up the side and useless once we were sandwiched inside. It was dark by now and all we could do was look up at the stars through the windows with no clue where we were.

The truck moaned and groaned its way to MCRD, it finally came to a stop, we looked up to see prison camp type lights out the windows. There is the smell of garbage that made most of us cough but that’s interrupted by screams. “Get out you maggots”!. Once out we were pushed, shoved or other-wise forced out the cattle car, we had to stand at attention on gold footprints that were already painted on the ground. The lights were so bright that some would shield their eyes, that was met with quick abuse from the Drill Instructors (DIs). “Get those arms down at your side at attention maggot or I’ll break both of them and do it for you”. The DIs were big, ugly and in shape. No question in my mind they were capable of any threat. This mental and physical abuse went on for at least an hour, DIs strutting in between and through our ranks, trying to make eye contact with each of us. I grew up on the Southside of Chicago and thought I had heard every bad word that existed in the English language. That night I learned I wasn’t even close. Unfortunately, my friend Jim McNulty had a nose itch. He quickly reached-up to scratch it and was caught by a DI. “What’s your name maggot?”, Jim replied “Jim McNulty”. “Nose itch”? “Yep” said Jim. Jim’s first mistake was not to put a “Sir” in front or at the end of his answers, but we hadn't been taught that yet. The DI proceeded to dig his fingernails deep into the skin at the bridge of Jim’s nose and scratch down. Blood soon followed and for the rest of the evening, Jim’s face would be coated with it but he never made a move toward the itch. They finally issued us mattresses and sheets and marched us off into Quonset Huts. We grabbed a bunk, threw our stuff on it and were ordered outside. There we stood at attention while DIs walked down the line making personal slurs on anything they could find. Big noses, large ears, Jewish, Catholic, black, white or Mexican, didn’t matter. These guys had a cut-down for everyone. And the ultimate goal of the Drill Instructors was to strip down every recruit to nothing but a clump of human clay. Then, rebuild that breathing clump into a United States Marine.

Exercise, run, march, exercise again. That about raps up 13 weeks of training to become a Marine. There are so many stories within the stories but I think one is worth telling.  We spent hours on what was called “The Grinder” marching in unison. The Grinder was approximately a one-mile square patch of concrete and tar, waves of heat rising to the sky. It took many weeks to learn the Marine Corps way of marching and for some, many weeks to learn their left from their right. On this particular day, nobody seemed in tandem. The DI finally had enough it and told us to all lie down. Keep in mind we’re in the middle of the Grinder, a mile from anything substantial. He ordered us to lie on our stomachs, crawl up the legs of the man in front of us and stick our nose in the man’s butt. He then ordered us to crawl in unison until we reached the mess hall. Lee Marvin was a Marine and the Marine Corp was proud of that. In fact, they had a huge picture of Lee plastered on the wall at the entrance to the mess hall. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see a picture with Lee Marvin in it that day. Never occurred later in life.

Thirteen weeks of hell and we were all now called Marines. We hugged our Drill Instructors on graduation day and all those difficult times with them were forgotten, but not their training. Lou Sr. attended our graduation, a total surprise. Of course he was happy to see me but neither one of us really appreciated what the previous thirteen weeks had done to our relationship.

There was a Marine Photographer there snapping shots left and right. It seemed strange that this photographer would have a baseball glove and set-up a shot of me and dad with dad slipping a baseball glove on my hand, but he did (see photo). How does that relate to becoming a Marine? Baseball was the farthest thing from my mind at the time. There is a look of embarrassment on my face in this photo. I think it is also a pretty good example of the pressures associated with having a famous father in any vocation. If I was Sinatra’s son,  the photographer would have handed him a hat and a microphone; Joe Namath’s son, a football and so on. Little did I know dad should have been handing me a rifle and ammunition because just weeks later, I was in combat.

The job for the Marines in Vietnam was to search for and destroy the enemy. The Marine Corps in the mid-sixties was an aggressive group of mostly uneducated, ex-jocks who either flunked out of school or joined the Corp for disciplinary reasons and choose the Corp over prison. All had joined voluntarily. Sure, there were some exceptions to include lifers most over 30, either Staff Sergeants to Master Gunnery Sergeants, Captains to Colonels that dedicated their lives to the Corps. But those were the crazy ones, the ones you stay away from in a bar but cling to in combat. In my case, I joined the Corp because I was lost, had flunked out of college and was spending my time drinking and partying. Not good enough in sports to get anyone’s attention, like a baseball scout, even though I had the advantage of a recognizable name.

My father played and managed the Cleveland Indians back in the forties, actually MVP in the American league in 1948, and had become the “voice of the Cubs” during the time I was in Vietnam. I really thought it was my birthright to be a major league baseball player. I was the son of a major league baseball player who, a few years later, was voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. I never thought of the tremendous talent and dedication it takes to make the big leagues or the “show” as they like to say. Approximately 1 in every 200 high school players or .05% will be drafted by a major league team into the minor leagues. Only 5.6% of high school players advance on to college to play at some level of college baseball. Those that make it through college have a better chance to be drafted as 10.5% of college players get drafted of signed as a free agent by one of the major league teams. Almost 100% start in the minor leagues and out of all the players who play minor league baseball, about 10% will play at least one game in the majors. The odds were against me and I had no ”fire in the belly” as I had been enabled my whole childhood. There was only one mention of my famous father during my two years in the Marine Corps.

It happened one night after about a month in boot camp in San Diego. Every night we would basically be tucked in our beds by our drill instructors within huge Quonset huts heated by a single old gas stove in the center of the unit. We would be in bed and lights out by 9 PM and up again at 4 AM the next morning. Most drill instructors carried batons with them and they became torture for stupid Marines. That meant all of us at one time or another felt the stinging pain of being whipped in the leg, back or head for not completing enough chin-ups or burpees, or it was just used to make a point even more memorable. During the day, you could clearly see the drill instructors and their batons so it was relatively easy to dodge their fury. Nighttime was a different story. You couldn’t see the drill instructors but you could hear them. They’d smack their boots with their batons as they walked through the Quonset huts after lights were out to make sure we were sleeping and not talking to each other. You see it wasn’t easy to fall asleep in the Marine Corps. It wasn’t the smells or extreme cold that kept us awake before laying our heads on the pillow each night. It was good old Marine Corps brainwashing. Just before lights out, the Drill Sergeants would bring us to attention in our beds, sitting as strait up as possible, legs bent at the waist. He’d then ask in a loud tone of voice, “What’s the magic word girls?” We would scream “KILL” in unison as loud as we could. “I can’t hear you” the drill instructor would say. Once again, in unison and louder “KILL”. Over and over again, “I can’t hear you”. This occurred every night for 13 weeks and in some cases, lasted for hours until we all were so pissed off we could have killed each other had the Drill Instructor ordered it. Finally, after one rousing response of  ”KILL” the DI said quietly, “Good Night Girls, at ease”. We laid down, exhausted but ready to strike at any second. The DI walked around the pitch black Quonset hut, though we couldn’t see him we could hear the baton being slapped against his boot. The door of the Quonset hut slowly opened with the light of the moon briefly penetrating the darkness, a slam shut and it was over. You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief as we all settled down for a few hours’ sleep. Maybe a minute passed when I heard the Quonset door open again, footsteps and then the ever present baton being slapped on a boot, every other step. The sound was getting closer and closer, louder and louder as I held my breath when a dark silhouette passed my bed. Abruptly, the footsteps and slapping stopped. “Private Boudreau”. Oh no. I snapped up to attention and yelled “sir, yes sir”. “Is your Dad the famous baseball player and now the voice of the Chicago Cubs?” he asked. “sir, yes sir” I replied. There was a pause that seemed to last forever. And then the sound of walking and a baton being slapped on a boot once again. The sound and slaps got quieter and quieter until the DI reached the Quonset hut door, opened it, slammed it and seemingly left. I took a huge exhale and began to prepare myself for the questions about to come from my fellow Marines. Within seconds the door swung open again and in a loud voice the DI yelled out, “Private Boudreau”. I sat-up to attention and responded “sir, yes sir”. The DI asked in a rather calm voice, “with a father like that, how come your so fucked up?’ Then silence and the door was slowly shut. It was Little League all over again?

Chapter Three

Vietnam

I consider myself a lucky man. I have a great wife of 26 years, six healthy children and six grandchildren. I spent almost 50 years in the advertising industry, most recently with the iconic SkyMall Catalog until its demise in January of 2014. I live in beautiful Arizona and get to golf with friends from my high school almost every week. A half-century ago, this scenario could have all been dramatically changed. Have you ever wondered what your life would look like if you hadn’t got married, didn’t take that job out-of-state or worse yet, were killed?  What if someone put a gun to your head, pulled the trigger and fired but the bullet in the gun turned out to be a dud? Would you go on your way and never think of the incident again? I’ve been shot at and hit, awarded three Purple Hearts from combat in Vietnam.

Uncomfortable for me because I don’t have much physical scaring to show regarding the injuries I received in combat. Small scaring on my face via shrapnel, loss of hearing in one ear, concussion and contusions that long ago healed. When I see a veteran with no legs or arms or burned to almost being unrecognizable whom receives one Purple Heart, me walking around with three looking almost normal, the guilt is terrible. And this guilt is multiplied as I know God spared me one day in the middle of a rice paddy just outside Da Nang Vietnam. There is no question in my mind and the minds of everyone in my squad from Charlie Company, First Battalion, First Marines that day I was going to die.

For my ten-man squad it started out like any other day in Vietnam. Early morning and it was already 85 degrees with a humidity you could taste. As we were coming back into the Battalion Area after an all-night ambush, walking on a rice paddy dike, I reached for a white flair to shoot in the air, alerting the battalion perimeter we were “friendlies”. Suddenly, I stumbled down to my knees. At the time, I really didn’t think much of it. Clumsy was something I got use to after my first step as a baby. But the realization that I just stepped in some sort of man-made hole didn’t hit me until Sergeant Richard Toschi, who was following behind me, yelled for the squad to “get down”. I had just stepped into what I was going to realize in a few minutes was the perfect booby trap. This is the kind of scenario that nightmares are made of. There was no noise, no smoke just total silence as we waited for a delayed explosion or a Viet Cong ambush. As the sun began to rise, the squad was in the middle of a rice paddy, totally exposed, on a dike about two feet wide. I waited what seemed to be an eternity then Sergeant Toschi crawled up to where I sat, straddling the hole in the ground that had appeared from nowhere. The hole was square, approximately 12 x 12 inches. There were remnants of clear plastic sticking out from the top and on all sides. The Viet Cong (VC) used the plastic as a “roof”, spreading a thin layer of dirt on the top as to disguise the hole. It was about six inches deep and there looked to be fresh dirt on the bottom as well as a thin wire, coiled up and almost buried. We all were in a precarious position. Was this a delayed device? What kind of device was it? Were there any VC in the neighborhood? Should we all get up and move out? There was a brief discussion and it was decided that we would do the right thing and blow-up whatever was hidden underground so it wouldn’t be used against us again in the near future. A quick verbal vote commenced and I was appointed designated discoverer; I assume because of my proximity to the hole. At this point I had literally dodged the bullet but my curiosity got the better of me. I should have just thrown a grenade in the hole and be done with it. I got on all fours and carefully began to move the fresh dirt on the bottom of the hole, looking for a trip wire. I found it in two pieces indicating I had stepped right through it. Picking-up one end I followed it to the side of the hole where it ended in the nose of some sort of projectile. I expected to see one of our grenades, the usual ordinance used by the VC. Instead I saw the tip of something yellow. I continued very carefully pushing the dirt aside and the projectile grew larger and larger. It then came to me that this was no grenade or can of rusty nails. This was an 155mm artillery shell from one of our own Howitzers, capable of wiping out the entire squad. The shell was about a foot and a half long and had a kill zone of 50 meters and a casualty radius of 100 meters, but worse than that, it was what was called a Willy Peter round. It contained white phosphorus. Exposed to the air it produces 1,000-degree heat & particles that burn through human flesh. It even burns under water and one drop will keep burning right down to the bone. I took one of the grenades I carried, pulled the pin, dropped in the hole and ran as fast as I could for a few seconds and then dove behind a mound of dirt. The grenade exploded and out popped the shell flying head over heels for about 25 feet, splashing into the shallow water in the rice paddy that surrounded us. The shell was a dud. We took note of the map co-ordinance to pass-on to the company commander when we got back to battalion area and we all stood up and slowly walked away. Sgt. Toschi ran up to me and patted me on my back. I turned to him and we slapped hands like I had just made a three-pointer on a basketball court. Back in the relative safety of the battalion area, we drank beer until we passed out, telling the story of the Willy Peter incident over and over again. Its been over 50 years since that potentially fatal step was taken in the jungles of Vietnam. I relive it every night when I lay down and try to go to sleep.

I remember the foul smell in Vietnam and that smell followed you everywhere. After realizing the smell was mostly coming from the ground where my feet were, it began to make sense why the smell never left me. It was my own feet! It was like having a wet dog at your side for 13 months. For a Marine "Grunt” (MOS 0311), feet rarely got dry. You were afraid to walk on rice paddies where it was drier because that’s where the Viet Cong liked to place their booby traps. In today’s lingo there called IUDs but they still have one thing in common, maiming and death. The big difference in IUDs used today and the booby traps during the Vietnam conflict was the lack of consistency of the ordinance. Rarely did you find a normal land mine. The VC had to improvise and became experts on creating booby traps of whatever they found in the field. Bullets, hand grenades, mortars, flares, unexploded bombs, even Ponzi stakes. But the cruelest was called a “Bouncing Betty”. They were invented by the Japanese and used in World War II. They consisted of a used can, preferably a coffee can, with explosive inside full of whatever metal the enemy could find. Usually rusty nails and spent cartridges. The cans would be buried in the ground with a small amount of explosive underneath. When stepped on, this prompted two explosions. The first one was muffled and its purpose was to lift the can about waist high. The second much bigger explosion ripped the can open and sent nails and other deadly debris in about a five-foot radius ripping into one’s stomach and private area. Bouncing Bettys were not created to kill but to maim. This would necessitate a medivac and eventually a much bigger target for the VC, a helicopter. Downing a chopper meant a huge prize for whomever achieved the kill. It was rumored that an enemy soldier who was credited with bringing down one of our helicopters was sent back to Hanoi and treated as a hero. No more war stories. I thank God for sparing me. I think of the 58,195 men and women who died in Vietnam including Sergeant Richard Toschi, killed on July 30th, 1967 (The Wall, Panel 24E-Line 52).

 

Harvey Tribune, Chicago Tribune, Milwaukee, Duval/Boudreau, Playboy Club

 

"Turkeys"

The name of the bar didn’t start out as “Turkeys” but, as they say, “when in Rome”. It was actually starting it as one of the first sports bars in South Chicago in the late seventies and I creatively called it  “Boudreau’s Pub”. It had a few baseball memorabilia stuck on the wall and behind the bar, whatever I could lift from my Dad’s house without his knowledge. My dad was a legend in Cleveland and had become one in Chicago too through his association with the Chicago Cubs. He announced games on WGN radio and TV a member of the very popular Harry Carey broadcast team. He had led the Cleveland Indians to their last World Championship in 1948 as Player-Manager and won the MVP Award. He was elected into the Baseball Hall-of-Fame in 1970 and I hoped to use his celebrity in promoting my bar. I remember the most important item to him was a personal letter signed by Commissioner of Baseball Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. I had no idea how valuable this letter was or who Judge Landis was. Turned out that Judge Landis was the commissioner that had handled the famous Black Sox scandal where members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox conspired to lose the World Series. Players included Shoeless Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver. Judge Landis had written a letter to my dad in 1942 condemning his play at an exhibition game conducted in Florida for the troops during World War II. Dad was known as a shortstop but during this exhibition game, he did some pitching. Judge Landis said that the general public knew dad as a shortstop and that’s the position he was most adapt at and should be giving the troops “his very best effort to entertain them as such”. As a kid, I borrowed many valuable baseball-related items, especially baseballs. My friends would ask why the baseballs I brought out to the grade school fields always had paintings or autographs on them. “I don’t know who cares” would be my reply, as I played catch with a Hank Greenberg or Bob Feller autographed ball until the signatures were unrecognizable.

The bar was located in downtown Dolton, Illinois, a south suburb of Chicago. Dolton was where I had spent quite a bit of my youth and where my parents lived. They had fled from Harvey, a little farther south and a suburb that most recently was named “the murder capital of Illinois”. I had driven by the location by chance and noticed the “For Rent” sign. I knew at one time it was a thriving bar called “The Homestead” catering to the local biker crowd. Too many fights, noise and congestion had condemned the place as a biker bar and the owner was looking for someone to come in and clean it up. I contacted the owner of the building and negotiated what I though was a pretty good deal as far as rent was concerned. The owner gave me carte blanche for interior decorating and as long as a changed the name, it was mine. I needed to come up with $7500 dollars so I sought the help of an attorney friend who also happened to be in the jukebox business. He’d give me the money as long as I put his jukebox and pinball games (prior to video) in the joint, he’d take 100% of the revenue from these machines until the $7500 was paid back. Then, we’d split 50-50. It only took me a few months to pay him back in full.

Back then, the use of barn wood for indoor decorating was very popular. I decided to go 100% barn wood, from wall to ceiling. And I knew where to get the wood. Only a few minutes to the south of me were hundreds of farms with barns. In the middle of the night, a friend of mine and yours truly borrowed a pick-up truck, hammers, flashlights and found the barn wood we needed. Unfortunately, the barn wood was holding up a barn in plain sight of the farmer’s house about 100 yards away. We make a strategic decision. Only tear off the wood from the side of the barn that the farmer could not see. Hours later, the pick-up truck filled to the brim with barn wood, we drove off into the night. I often wondered about that farmer getting-up in the morning, opening his barn door to find the back half of his barn gone. What a shock it must have been. Funny then, sad now.

I had an old high school buddy who went in partnership with me to run Turkeys. He was a dental technician and we really didn’t have much in common except for one thing: women. He was much shorter than me but extremely glib. I came on rather moody and serious until a few shots of tequila loosened me up. I was between jobs and between women when I started running the bar. My background was advertising so I took care of all the marketing. My partner was anal and controlling so he handled the books. He also had a girlfriend that became very active and was a good draw, blonde and attractive. We really never had a problem filling the place up. First, it was filled with the bikers who use to hang out at the old place. It became a test on how much we would take before calling the local police. And even if we did call Dolton’s finest, they would never come inside the bar. We were responsible for throwing out the troublemakers threw the front door of the bar. At that point, they could assist. But getting a hopped-up and drunk biker from Point A (the bar) to Point B (the front door) turned out to be a regular every day occurrence and to the other bikers, entertainment. I was never a big guy. Throughout High School rather sickly looking, a little under six-foot and only 150 pounds. The 60’s when I went to school was the era of Frankie Avalon and Frankie Valli; short, thin and hair neatly combed back. Worked well to get girls but made for serious shortcomings when trying to intimidate. Then I joined the Marine Corps and went to Vietnam. There, I saw plenty of combat, received the Purple Heart and added some weight, all muscle.

Since my partner was much smaller than me, I took on the additional responsibility of being the bouncer at Turkeys. Never had I been in so many fights and it didn’t take long or more than a few black eyes for me to realize we had to hire a real bouncer, maybe two.

As I had mentioned earlier, Turkeys was not my first choice as far as a name was concerned. I actually opened the bar under the name “Boudreau’s Pub” hoping to capitalize on my dad’s notoriety. I had a soft grand opening and it was a disaster. My friends, who were mostly ex-jocks; my dad’s friends who were in their fifties & Cub fans; City of Dolton Officials combined with representatives of a Joliet, Illinois, Motorcycle Club who drove to Dolton, some 50 miles, all attended. If the row of Harleys outside didn’t intimidate you enough to stay out, certainly Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” blaring through the jukebox as you opened the front door would. My dad had brought my little brother Jim to the event. My vision was him smiling and signing autographs to the happy patrons. Instead, he lasted maybe 10 minutes and on the way out told my brother he was forbidden every to set foot in my place again. On the positive side, my dad and brother missed the Sergeant-of-Arms of the Joliet Motorcycle Gang pushing his way to the center of the dance floor and pulling his pants down while chugging a bottle of tequila. The bikers were there to make certain that no matter how much barn wood I slapped on the walls, no matter how many signed baseballs I had hanging around or references to the Cubs, this bar was always going to be known as “The Homestead” and they would do everything in their power to hold onto it. I didn’t realize this meant more black eyes, being shot at again, car tires slit or an attempt to burn the bar down. The “Boudreau’s Pub” name came down and the baseball memorabilia put back where it belonged.

I would have loved to have called the place “assholes” but assumed I wouldn’t get much publicity or be able to use the name in marketing. I settled for “Turkeys”.

My good friend Skip Gault use to hang out at Turkeys. Skip is a good-looking guy, always reminded me of a California Surfer Dude though instead of waves he surfed telephone poles. He was an electrician and a damn good one until he fell off a scaffold and hurt his back. He got worker’s comp and retired to Arizona and lives about 30 miles west of me and we play golf regularly. If his swing and score is any indication, still showing the effects of the fall. Skip was my first "roomy", sharing a two-bedroom apartment on School Street in Riverdale, Illinois. We had no furniture but guests frequently who just sat on the floor, kitchen counter or the balcony. We also swaped cars one day, me giving him my black, '65 Buick Wildcat for his '62 Corvette. Wish we had those cars now. One night Skip was at Turkeys drinking heavily. I was bartending and couldn’t wait to shut the place down for the night, I had a 2 AM liquor license and two options if I wanted to drink after that. One was to turn the outside lights off at Turkeys, lock the front door, turn the jukebox to low and have it as long as I wanted. I could let people out the front door, they just couldn’t get back in. The other option was to close-up and drive to Burnham, Illinois, and find a bar with a 4 AM license. Our favorite spot was a place called “Flo’s Casa Marina”, stuck way back in the forest right on the banks of the Little Calumet River. This was the same river I attempted to jump one drunken night with my 350cc Honda. Never could turn down a bet. I didn’t make it as I didn’t know enough to build an angled ramp on one side. Thought I could just pull-up real hard on the handle bars. Wasn't the first time I almost killed myself on that little 350 Honda. One night outside of my fiend Jim LePore's Sulky Inn, I attempted a "wheelie" after consuming much beer. There was a telephone pole directly in front of me that I somehow overlooked and the bike climbed it about half way up before ejecting me to the ground. Most of the guys came out of the bar, picked me up as well as whatever was left of my bike.

Skip and I were seated at the bar one night shooting the shit with the bartendar Jerry. It was about 3:30 AM and we were in the middle of a heated conversation between the three of us when Jerry pulled out a gun and proceeded to fire a couple of shots to make a point. The bullets whizzed over our heads and slammed into the wall behind us. Now, most normal people would have panicked, got up and ran or at a minimum, dove for the floor. Skip and me didn’t move. We starred down our assailant momentarily, had another sip of our beer. Once our drink was gone, we carefully stood-up and left the bar. Skip tells me many years later that he was in Flo's a couple weeks later and Jerry apologized. I don't think I ever went back, certainly not unarmed.

Months passed, and I found myself back at Flo's on many occasions but now only with my new friends, the bikers. After getting to know these guys, I began to like them. They were honest and certainly candid. Rarely had I seen them pick a fight for no reason and usually, the fight was between two bikers who had broken some sort of biker code. They actually began to protect me and Turkeys became their joint. One night, all four tires on my car were slit. Stupid me for parking my brand new, Buick Riviera right in front of the place but I was gaining confidence in the Turkey crowd every week. We actually were drawing a mixed crowd and as long as the “preppies” stayed away from the biker chicks, everything was cool. That particular night, I had to throw out a very intoxicated member of a Joliet Motorcycle Gang who threatened me and everyone at the bar on the way out. When we pushed him out the door and slammed it behind him we didn’t give him or his threats a second thought. At 2 AM I closed the bar, shut off the lights, locked-up and walked to my car only a few yards from the front door. That’s when I noticed the flat tire on the front, passenger side. On further inspection, I realized all four were flat, clearly slit.

Now that would have ended it but we’re talking about a well-known Joliet Motorcycle Club and me or Turkeys was not going to get off the easily.

I was a pretty good ad guy. I had spent a few years with the Chicago Tribune, moved to Milwaukee and joined WTMJ radio in sales and eventually opened my own ad agency.  Back then there was no digital advertising, it was all about multi-media and radio played a huge part in the media mix. In the mid-seventies, radio remotes (actually broadcasting from an advertisers' location) were very effective and almost every weekend one of my auto dealer clients would conduct one. I had three auto dealers at the time, the largest being Slocum Pontaic. That account had come to us through my business partner Dick Duval, who was the Creative Director with Perry-Metzger Advertising and left with that account to form our agency; Duval/Boudreau & Associates. This was post "Mad Men" days but booze and broads still played a huge part of the advertising landscape, even in conservative Milwaukee. We won our share of creative awards but were bad businessmen and after a few years, the agency and its clients were absorbed by a larger one. I was now seperated from my wife, had gone back to Chicago sixth months before Duval/Boudreau's demise and was working as a roon director at the Chicago Playboy Club. At that point, I couldn't have cared less if the agency survived or went bust.

The best promotion for Turkeys during its transition from biker bar to what I hoped would be a "yuppie" hang-out, was something my partner and me never thought of. We needed customers and couldn't afford traditional newspaper or radio advertising. "Word-of-mouth" back then was the Facebook of today. One dismal night, me, my partner and his girlfriend Debbie with a few patrons sat seperated at the bar awaiting 2 AM closing. We were all pretty smashed when I asked Debbie to dance. Not on the dance floor but on the bar. She was drunk enough to oblige me and she jumped up on the bar and started wild gyrations. A few of us kiddingly threw some change on the bar and she responded by taking her blouse off. More change and her jeans were gone. I reached in my wallet for some serious money but, by that time, it was over and had she climbed down and regained her senses. Little did I know that the patrons sitting at the other end of the bar that night, left and spread the rumor all over town that Turkeys attracted "drug crazed women" who, at a drop of a hat, would jump up on the bar and take their clothes off. I might as well have run a full page newspaper ad combined with a radio remote on Chicago's top station with the Goodyear Blimp as from that night forward, Turkeys was packed.

We were packed the night the Joliet Motocycle Club decided they were going to get their ultimate revenge for one of their members being thrown out a few days earlier. These guys were good. I wish I would have had a few of them along side of me in Vietnam because they knew what combat was all about. Including causing a diversion from the main attack. About 9 PM several of their members attempted to gain entrance at the front door. One of the many rules I had established for entrance into Turkeys was no colors. "Colors" were the emblems worn on a bikers jacket or vest designating what motorcycle club they were members of and they were as proud and protective of their colors as we are of ours (the American Flag). The bouncer wouldn't let them in and the pushing and shoving drew everyone's attention. Suddenly from the back of the bar someone shouted "fire" and combined with the grey smoke starting to fill the place and a burning smell, I knew we were in trouble. I was amazed how orderly everyone was as they vacated the bar and poured onto the street. We could already hear the fire trucks approaching. Within literally minutes it was all over. A Dolton Fireman came over to me and said "you've got some serious enemies my friend" as he showed me the broken top of a bottle, burnt rag still stuck in it. It was a molotov cocktail thrown against the back wall of the building Turkeys was located in, presumely thrown by one of the Joliet Motorcycle Club members. This transition from biker bar to sports bar was no longer a joke. 

24 Game Loser


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