The Cardalians: The characters and mischief in Otto’s Bar

The CardaliansThe Cardalians

The Cardalians is Ralph Horner’s third series of essays, recalling his days in the 1950s as a young man near Cleveland’s Glenville and Collinwood neighborhoods, and the large population of people who came to Cleveland from Cardale, Pennsylvania.

Frankie Franks was the most disliked of all the Cardalians—disliked even by his hometown Cardalians.

Why? Because he was the meanest and nastiest of all the Cardalians? No. Because he had disgusting habits and a repulsive appearance? No. Because he committed some heinous crime or did something very bad? No.

Actually, he hardly ever said anything bad to anyone and kept pretty much to himself. The problem was, he was lovesick. 

Frankie was obviously deeply in love with some woman who had done him wrong, and he was devastated by it. He would come into Otto's, put tons of quarters in the jukebox, and play the same song about 30 or 40 times. It was their song.

After a while, it was everyone’s song, and we couldn't stand it. Can you imagine having a couple of beers too many and having to listen to the same sappy love song over and over and over? It was enough to even make a Cardalian want to throw up!

But the Cardalians never complained about it. Even in their Cro-Magnon ways, they sympathized with Frankie’s pain—even though he drove them crazy.

I ran into Frankie Franks one Sunday morning before the bars were open and he was sober. I was stunned! He was unbelievably gentle-mannered and seemingly humble, polite and well-spoken. He even smoked a pipe.

This was the same Frankie Franks that got pitifully drunk every night over a woman who done him wrong?

Otto's bar, the Cardalians’ home away from home, was a most unusual place. Otto was not from Cardale and he had “done good” by having saved enough money working in the factories to buy his own business—an unlikely combination of a bar in the back and a small grocery store in the front. 

Otto would stay in the bar to keep the Cardalians from drinking beer directly from the tap. He had a little bell in the front to let him know if someone came in to buy some groceries.

Otto would sometimes fall asleep on his stool but would wake up at the fall of nickel on the floor. It was occasionally necessary to wake him up to ask for a beer. Sometimes, Otto would give in to his sleepiness and go home to bed while the bar was still open. 

He would tell the Cardalians to just leave the money on the bar for whatever beers they drank and say to them, “Would the last person to leave kindly lock the door?”

Otto was about five feet six inches tall, about 200 pounds, and had the look of a jolly old elf. But he was not jolly. Although he looked like he could have played Friar Tuck in any Hollywood “Robin Hood” movie, he had a pretty sour disposition. 

That’s why he was the butt of so many Cardalian jokes—practical and verbal. One of the worst was the time that one of Harry Mc Call's sons gathered up some dog doo, placed it in a paper bag, doused it with lighter fluid, lit it, opened the front door of Otto's store, and threw it in.

This, of course, made the little bell ring which caused Otto to leave his post at the bar to see who wanted a pound of bologna and a half gallon of milk.

When Otto saw the fire, he was on it like a flash trying to stamp it out. The second or third stamp caused his foot to slide out from under him and he landed on his ample butt, smack on the dog doo flambe. He was furious!

Otto was cussing up a storm, using words that almost made the Cardalians blush. The fire was out.  It was smothered by Otto’s mammoth posterior. Otto was out too—out the front door, into his big Buick, and on the way home. He did not come back at all that night. Later, the Cardalians meekly put their money on the bar every time they got themselves a beer, and the last man to leave kindly locked the door.

Ralph Horner
Ralph Horner

About the Author: Ralph Horner

Ralph Horner grew up in the 1950s and 1960s on Whittier Avenue in the Central and Hough neighborhoods. In the 1960s and 1970s, at the age of 19, he managed a French Shriner shoe store on Euclid Avenue, where he got to know many of the people who hung out on Short Vincent.  A self-proclaimed juvenile delinquent living in the inner city, Horner observed the characters who were regulars in the neighborhoods he lived and worked in. Now in his 70s, Horner shares the stories of some of his more memorable experiences on Short Vincent with the FreshWater series, Rascals and Rogues I Have Known.