The Tender of the Flames

by Laura Carrera


I bartend at a pub constructed predominantly of wood. We don’t do flaming Dr Peppers, Spanish coffees, or any other fire-adorned drinks. We prefer to keep the bar standing and the fire department idle. Drinking and fire generally don’t mix, but on any given Saturday night the blaze of a warm, hearth-like glow emanates from the middle of the bar. A collection of candles surrounds a lone man in theatrical attire. The candles vary in size, shape, and color, each supported by a unique holder. They never appear all at once, but accumulate one or two at a time until a colorful group has gathered—not unlike the flow of customers populating the bar—some brighter than others, others dim but steadfast.

On a recent Saturday evening a familiar scene unfolds. A trio of middle-aged men—lawyers perhaps—huddle around their Scotch in the corner of the bar, whispering and giggling like cigar-smoking schoolgirls. “C’mere!” one of them commands, waving me over, and from the sideways flicker in his eye and the concerned confusion on his brow, I know he isn’t in need of another drink. I know his question before he forms it; it is a question I field so frequently I have considered ordering laminated answer-cards for nights when I am too busy to explain. He leans in, nods towards my regular and speaks louder than necessary, “Hey … what’s the deal with the candles?!”

Squares of Tulsa, meet Gordon.

Hypothetically my Gordon-explanation cards would only have two words on them: Ask him. This is because Gordon E. Schacher is probably the most approachable guy to ever light up a Misty cigarette with five-inch fingernails. In the way that many people find smart phones or pocketknives particularly useful accessories, Gordon carries candlesticks. “They go everywhere I go,” Gordon tells me. His explanation for portable ambiance is simple. The candles are all about “freedom and tranquility.” He buys them on sale at Hobby Lobby or Walmart. The candleholders vary in origin, some part of an antiques collection he inherited from his mother.

The candle inquiries are just staging, however. People really want to know about Gordon. He looks like a paradox: shy and flamboyant at the same time. You know he has stories. Mostly, Gordon sits quietly and sips a McSorley’s Black Lager out of the Mayflower-era mug he brings in (another thing we only let Gordon do). He might tell you about his rough work week painting cranes. Or about the time he met Janis Joplin while working as a busboy in Clint Eastwood’s restaurant in California. Or his lifelong passion for gymnastics, ballet, tap, and jazz, which he still practices at least two hours daily to DVDs in his Wagoner apartment. He was once a strong contender for the 1976 Olympics until an unfortunate dismount broke both of his ankles and his professional gymnastic dreams. Unable to compete and in need of work, Gordon joined the army in 1979, where he remained for 13 years. He was sent to Panama and Desert Storm, where he succinctly states he learned “how much the government lied about what they do.”

Gordon picked up figure skating as a hobby ten years ago and has performed as both Goofy and Daffy Duck for “Disney on Ice.” He has won two gold medals in regional competitions and another gold and silver in state, and proclaims if he wins one more medal in the over-50 category he’ll hang up his skates. However, he does enjoy the rather prestigious benefits of being a card-carrying member of the U.S. Figure Skaters, which provides him discounts at the Hampton Inn—his hotel of choice when staying in Tulsa.

Gordon can do back flips for one hundred yards and sew stitches on his own wounds. He can also tell you the best places to buy MAC cosmetics. Born in New Jersey and raised in California, he was brought to Oklahoma by an ex. After the relationship extinguished, he stayed, drawn to the people and the country. Gordon is not immune to the charms of certain beautiful blond skate partners, but is done loaning women his make-up. “I’ve learned my lesson about that,” he says, “You’ll never see it again!” Gordon certainly has no shortage of admirers, and seems to acquire more every time he shows up at my bar.


The Saturday night in question, the pace speeds up. Revelry spreads like wildfire as friends and strangers bond over drinks. The crowd is a motley mix of college kids and PAC patrons, country boys and urban investors. A bachelorette party has descended on a table near the bar. They are a sparkling force of free estrogen, drunk on matrimony and Buttery Nipple shots. Like insects of the night, the bar crowd is drawn to both the glowing girls and my illuminated regular. Without warning a dozen female shrieks simultaneously hit the smoky air, and I venture that one of two things has just occurred: 1) the pensive cowboy at the end of the bar has just revealed his night job as a stripper, or 2) Gordon is doing acrobatics. I turn, slosh a couple of beers, and catch a glimpse of two slender, fishnet-clad calves weaving through the crowd. A pair of high-heeled platforms deftly avoids collision with surprised faces as Gordon walks himself to the bathroom on his hands. When he returns, the squealing bachelorette wants her photo taken with him, and the cowboy (who, incidentally, is not a stripper) looks like he is about to lose his shit over Gordon. After obliging his new fans, Gordon settles back at the bar before his darkened candles. While waiting for me to refill his mug, he swipes at wax, flicks on his lighter, and begins reviving the flames.