Scruffy Murphy's is a nominally Irish and fully dilapidated bar in Waco, Texas. The floors are concrete. The walls are tagged with all sorts of writing and drawings conveying all sorts of messages, mostly inappropriate. Of the six or so pool tables in the bar, none has a clean, unscarred felt surface or all of the required balls. This means -and I've seen this done- missing balls are shared among tables playing at the same time. A straight cue stick is a pipe dream. Every drink is served in a plastic cup or from a cold bottle. The odd assortment of furniture that comprises the seating on the patio was salvaged from fast food restaurants that couldn't make the grade. I once spent an evening at Scruff's (as the initiated call it) during a thunderstorm. There were more buckets catching rain water from the many holes in the roof than there were patrons at the bar. One of the two urinals in the men's restroom is usually out of order and the door to said restroom, if opened wide enough, exposes anyone relieving oneself to pretty much the entire length of the bar. Scruff's is an unapologetic shithole.
In short, it's my favorite bar.
The usuals at the bar are mostly upper classmen and townies, but at about closing time the population of the bar swells to standing room only as people who struck out at the nicer bars look for one last chance to meet (the running joke is "meat") that special someone, emphasis on someone. The one exception to this routine is St. Patrick's Day when the bar is packed inside and out from about six in the afternoon to closing time. I have thought on more than one occasion that the bar survives the other 364 days of the year on the profits it makes every March 17th.
In the many nights I spent at Scruff's (many more than I'd care to admit), I learned some valuable truths that have been proven again and again as I attempt to navigate my way through this caustically funny life we all try to seem so good at.
- Karaoke is one of the last great egalitarian endeavors of our time. One can absolutely belt out a song with perfect pitch and confident showmanship and receive the same cheers of appreciation as one who mumbles and strains one's way through a song one had no business singing in the first place. It's not about being good, it's about entertaining an audience. Humor and courage can get you through most situations even when talent is lacking.
- Finding a mate is as much about ratios and good fortune as it is about being really, really good looking. Anyone who has spent much time at a bar at closing time can attest to this. There's really no rhyme or reason to love -and I use the word loosely here -it's about meeting someone with the same goals at the same time.
- Never ever, ever, ever get into a drinking contest. Ever. They're dumb, unsafe, unhealthy and do very little to prove anything about anyone other than the fact that those participating are desperate to prove their worth to their peers. This is sort of the lush's version of keeping up with the neighbors. Just because you own a Porsche doesn't mean I need to buy a Ferrari. In the end, we're both assholes.
- There are very few things worth getting in a fight over and almost none of those things happen at bars. Having said that, there is no shortage of people in this world who will fight at bars over girls, perceived slights, lewd gestures from the karaoke stage, or spilled drinks. Avoid those people. If you can't, there's no shame in walking away.
- If you should ever find yourself in the back of a truck, in Mexico, in the early morning, on the way to a drug dealer's house, you have made some poor choices in life. Reassess your decisions and friends but remember every detail of your adventure so you can recount the story to people like me at a bar like Scruffy Murphy's. A well told story goes a long way.
- Never, ever, ever, ever piss off the bartender. There are multiple ways to do this in a crowded bar, but all of them can be avoided if one remembers to not be an asshole. Servers are underappreciated and have to deal with the type of people who get in fights at bars. Be patient. Be clear. Say thank you. Tip well.
- If you should find yourself airborne and parallel to the ground after having been thrown out of a bar (possibly for pissing off the bartender), it was your fault. People who are paid to keep order are often bigger and stronger than you and once they're involved it's too late to say sorry. Be accountable, follow the rules, and you'll get to leave most places of your own accord.
- If you should find yourself involved in a conversation about driving cross country RIGHT NOW to go to a casino, take some time to collect yourself and make a better decision. If you don't take that time, remember every detail of your adventure so you can recount your story to someone like me at a bar like Scruffy Murphy's. A well told story goes a long way.
- If you are employed in a high visibility job like, oh, say assistant football coach at a Big XII university, do not piss on the bar at a place like Scruffy Murphy's. The bouncers will throw you out, the media will get wind of it, and you will no longer have a job. This is especially true if the team you help coach has been consistently horrible during your tenure as an assistant. Even if you're an asshole, someone may look up to you and your employer may expect you to behave in a manner befitting a role model.
- If you go to a bar together -and I'm talking about couples here - go home together. Dance with who brung you, no? This does not mean either of you is going home with someone else. If that's a worry then you're in the wrong relationship to begin with, it means that when one or the other of you is ready to leave, you both leave. This may mean you don't get to stay until closing time, but it will go a long way to proving where your priorities lie. Chalk this up to life lessons learned the hard way. Being unified and supportive helps the gears of love go around.
- The best tasting beer is the beer that costs the least.
- Know thyself. If you're the type of person who goes to Scruffy Murphy's, then you're the type of person who goes to Scruffy Murphy's. Don't try to church it up. People will respect you more if you know who you are and say what you mean.
- If the bar is closing, it's time to go home. Nothing good ever happened after closing time.