There’s a smart aleck behind the sign postings at Dugan’s Pub in Luzerne
LUZERNE — The 100-hour work weeks started to mount and Charlie Dugan looked for a way out of the bar business.
He passed a civil service test, scoring extra for his service in Vietnam and, of all things, ownership of Dugan’s Pub. But he didn’t get a job, so we went back behind the bar and frequently outside over the past 22½ years to the sign in front to post inside jokes, musings on the human condition and personal and borrowed words of wisdom long before the advent of Facebook, Twitter and social media.
Sadly, though, there’s no comprehensive collection of what’s nearly caused accidents from rubberneckers on Main Street, produced calls from people angry over the messages or brought tears of joy, loss or laughter. Many of them are committed to memory with footnotes supplied by Dugan on their origins.
“It’s whatever pops into my head,” Dugan, 67, said while sitting at the bar left nearly vacant with the exit of a Thursday night crowd.
He’d ventured out earlier in the cold to tell his wife how much he loves her, punctuating his words with his inimitable wit instead of apostrophe, comma or period. “A guy can love a million women A man loves one woman a million ways Happy Valentines Ann.”
Tame but true, he’s been caustic, comedic and consistently original in his copy with few known repeats.
His Veterans Day tribute always reads, “Honor those who gave their lives so you can live yours,” he said.
But callers keep him honest. One sign from a while back read something like, “It’s better to walk your dog than wok your dog,” Dugan recalled. Sure enough, someone dialed the bar to let him know he’d said the same thing in 2004, he said.
“People take it really seriously,” Dugan said.
An astronaut walks into a bar — really, an astronaut walked into Dugan’s and loved the atmosphere.
Dan Bursch was in the area visiting with family of his wife’s sister and they stopped in one night. When he was with NASA, Bursch and fellow space shuttle astronaut Carl Walz held the record for the longest space flight, spending 196 days aboard the International Space Station in 2002. Bursch retired in 2005 and his record has since been broken.
Dugan was thrilled and wanted to mark the occasion with a sign, but first checked with Bursch. With some editing, it ended up, “Astronaut Dan Bursch says Dugan’s Pub is out of this world and he ought to know.”
Most often, however, Dugan doesn’t consult with anyone before signing in.
“Hide the beagle Vick’s an Eagle,” went up when the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles signed Michael Vick in 2009, after the quarterback’s conviction and release from prison for his role in a dog fighting ring.
“If you can’t add, don’t multiply,” was self explanatory.
“We wuz robbed,” was a true story. Gunmen robbed the place in 2001.
“Luzerne County debit cards still accepted here,” went up after the county clamped down in 2007 on paying with plastic following an employee’s visit to a Las Vegas strip club.
“Coming Soon Christmas,” seemed innocuous enough. “You can’t go wrong with that,” Dugan said. But he found out otherwise.
With Christmas months away, a guy called the bar irate about having to see the sign every time he drove past it, Dugan said. The man’s name showed up on the caller ID function of the phone and Dugan presented him with a gift. He went out to the sign and made a slight change for it to read, “Coming Soon Christmas for everyone except (the caller’s name).”
Probably the most popular sign combined convicted killer Hugo Selenski and former president of Iraq Saddam Hussein, Dugan said. Selenski escaped from the Luzerne County Correctional Facility by tying together bed sheets and scaling down the side of a seven-story prison building to short-lived freedom in October 2003. Hussein evaded U.S. forces that invaded the country in March 2003. He was caught hiding in a hole near the town of Tikrit in December 13, 2003, and was executed by hanging in December 2006.
In a wry commentary, Dugan intertwined fact and fiction: “Sadam has escaped He tied 8 Shiites together and climbed out the window.”
It stuck in his memory because people kept calling the bar to tell Dugan he misspelled sheets. There’s a good chance they didn’t know that Hussein was a Sunni and in the majority of followers of Islam while Shiites made up the minority.
An admitted smart aleck, Dugan said his niece’s innocent words comforted him when his dog, Connie, died. She was visiting his house and, at the pool, said, “If God made a better dog than Connie, he kept him for himself,” Dugan said. From the mouths of babes, it became a sign. Dugan said he was bawling as he spelled out the message. When a friend joined him, they both cried, he said.
When he decides to sell the bar, the sign, the box of letters and the backup facade in the basement will be included and it will be the new owner’s responsibility to update it. Dugan doesn’t have that in writing but paused a moment to consider adding a clause in the sale agreement. Buyer beware.
Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott