I didn’t know the Lew Sebia I read about following his tragic death in a motorcycle accident on Aug. 21. Well, I did and I didn’t. Lew Sebia the successful attorney? Lew Sebia “the bedrock,” to use his boss’s term, of Mericle Commercial Real Estate? Lew Sebia the valuable board member of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce? That Lew Sebia I knew only from afar.
The Lew Sebia I did know was a little boy. Even long after he wasn’t. We’d bump into each other and for a moment I was again a 21-year-old regular at his dad’s bar and he an 11-year-old kid living upstairs.
My first beer after turning 21 was at Frankie Roman’s in downtown Pittston, where I quickly became something I always wanted to be: one of the boys. The “boys,” many with college degrees, several Vietnam veterans, all with big hearts, became a second family. And the way they welcomed me was the way they welcomed the bar’s new owner when Frank Roman decided to retire.
That new owner was Lew Sebia Sr. And it wasn’t lost on us that, at 33 years old, he was taking a big risk, even moving in upstairs with wife, Carol, and their three children (they’d later add two more). What was lost on us was the correct spelling of his name. We started calling the bar “Lou’s Place,” and he never corrected us. Even when I painted it on a sign.
The comic strip “Keep on Truckin” had come out a couple of years earlier and the character, a goofy guy in a suit with one foot dramatically extended, was embraced by the Woodstock Generation. An art major at the time, I offered to paint that guy on the blank wall next to the bar’s entrance. I did a pretty good job, if I must say so myself, and added Keep on Truckin’ at Lou’s.
The bar was packed most every night, but except for Carol serving us cheeseburgers, there was never a woman there. It was just a bunch of guys, all completely committed to making sure “Lou” and his young family made it. There was nothing we wouldn’t do to ensure his success. Around that time, Genesee introduced a beer called “Fyfe & Drum” with a promotional gimmick “Lou” bought into and, therefore, so did we. Each of us purchased a vintage style aluminum tankard with our name etched on it. They were hung on hooks around the bar and when we walked in, Lou would reach for our personalized mug and draw us a beer.
Lou’s Place defined our lives. Most of us had perfect attendance.
When “Lou” decided to sponsor a softball team, the guys voted on the name “Carol’s Cavaliers,” and the colors: purple and gold. Carol and the kids came to most every game.
He had this bowling machine that you’d play by sliding a traditional shuffleboard puck toward the pins. Our buddy “Mack” McNulty, the best pool player of the gang, would hit that puck with a cue stick and get as many as a hundred strikes in a row. You don’t forget stuff like that.
We invented something we called the “Initial Game.” Everyone at the bar got a piece of paper and a pencil. We’d randomly come up with a set of initials. We might write the letters spelling Marlboro down one column and maybe Stegmaier down another next to it, thus creating a list of initials. The idea was to come up with famous names for them.
The more unusual the name, the higher the score. An M.S., for example, the first letters of Marlboro and Stegmaier, might bring Mel Stottlemyer, famed Yankee pitcher, or Maxwell Smart, inept TV spy, but we’d be far more impressed with Mickey Spillane, the crime novelist.
The kids upstairs were well aware of the fun downstairs. That’s why Lew Sebia Jr. couldn’t wait to tell me a story about his dad during the cocktail hour of a Pittston Chamber of Commerce dinner. “Eddie,” he said, “you’re one guy who’ll really enjoy this.” He said his dad had been in the hospital. “I was in his room with my brothers Jimmy and Robbie when his nurse came in. She was beautiful and when she left we kept getting on Robbie, who’s single, for not trying to talk with her. We said we had to find a way to get her back, so I went over to my dad and told him our plan. I said the only way to get her back in the room was to pull out one of the plugs on his machines. An alarm will go off and the nurse will come rushing in. My Dad let that sink in and then said, ‘Will you plug me back in?’ ‘Oh, of course we’ll plug you back in,’ I said, and he said, ‘Okay then. I’ll take one for the team.’”
That story tells you all you need to know about Lew Sebia. Actually, both Lews.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.