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'I tell a lot of jokes and make them laugh.'

January 11, 1987|NANCY REED | Times Staff Writer

Benny Megale learned to tend bar at one of his father's "skid row" bars, serving sailors on F Street at Charlie's Cafe. Except for a stint in the Air Force and a brief career as a welder at Convair, he has been serving up booze and beer for 32 years. For the last 17, he has tended the bar at Stuart Anderson's Black Angus lounge on Kearny Mesa Road, where customers now stop by as often for Benny's banter as for a happy-hour cocktail. The 55-year-old bachelor--who lives with his dog in Mira Mesa--is wistful about marriage, but fills his spare time with hobbies and finds family in friends. He said retirement doesn't look so bad (he loves fishing), but he enjoys traveling to other states to open new bars for the Black Angus chain. He was interviewed by Times staff writer Nancy Reed. Times photographer Dave Gatley photographed him at the lounge.

A bartender is a mechanic, but a bartender who does his job tries to talk.

I talk fishing, women and sports. The customers talk about problems. They want your opinion, no matter what--on boyfriends, their cars, their dog's surgery. Some take advice.

You got to have personality. I tell a lot of jokes and make them laugh. I learned it from my father; he was a clown, always joking. I'll lie just to keep the conversation going. When I was fishing another guy caught a big striper, and I wanted to take a picture so I could say--"Look what I caught!"

I talk rotten to my customers, something like Don Rickles. It is all in fun. I have people who come by to see me.

I am just a crazy bartender having a good time. People don't want a robot. If you laugh and smile all the time, you will always be happy. They say it's good for your health.

The majority of the time, that's what I'm doing. I want to avoid bringing my personal problems to work, but it is hard to do. In fact, sometimes I tell my customers my problems. And life goes on, don't it?

I collect and make my own fishing rods. I wrap poles for friends. I got 40 poles and 40 reels. I buy poles and restore them. I have a pole for every fish there is. It's one of my hobbies. I like to get home and do different things.

I regret that I didn't get married and have a family. Maybe I didn't want the responsibility when I was young, and I wanted women. But now that I am comfortable, nobody's there. I guess I still got a chance. I am not going to give up.

I go home and relax and play with my dog, Patz. A girl I used to know named him that because I was always kidding around like I was crazy--and in Italian pazzerello means crazy.

I collect spoons, I started with a lady who lived with me. I finally completed my set of all states. Customers, people traveling, get them for me. Lawyers who come in have gotten me spoons from Europe. I have 3,331 spoons. I collect John Wayne pictures and I have close to 30 John Wayne movies.

Now that I am close to retiring, I think that I should have went to work for the post office when I could. When you're a young kid you just don't pay attention. "No," I thought then, "I want wine, women and songs." I was 22 and in the bar I would have all the women I want. I wanted the excitement.

I regret it now. When you get a little older, you see things differently. I could have had my retirement, a pension. I'll live on my two IRA's and Social Security.

Some of the people I work with I have known for years. You get close to them. There are no phonies in this business. They are pretty square; they call it like it is. It boils down to one thing: when you need help, they're there. It is like family in this kind of business. When you are down and out, they'll call you.

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