Drones Club

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Polly Sleeps.

March was a deuce of a stretch, given the passing of Polly's mother and the financial evisceration of her father's automotive dealership. When the going gets tough the marginal go bust, and her family was put to the screws. Without health insurance her dear mum's emphysema went without the finest care, and without unapologetic cardiac patients sporting Greg Norman and raspberry noses her father could not move a Buick Lucerne to save his soul.

She is trebly distraught, and I am grateful that she has finally found sleep in the other room. No doubt the tortuous closing flits of her mind's final conscious eye were a pastiche of overcranked reels of father and matron holding her precious form in various small back yards...of steadily-reddening Kodachrome snapshots taken at the very moment her apple cheeks expelled their birthday cake candle-puff.

It is one of the true jukes of life that as we go on we feel terrible loss at the memory of a childhood passed—even if it were another's, and a happy one. I cannot help but feel a sting in my eye at the idea of her littler self playing in innocence and joy in a favorite dress, trusting in the permanence of family and home and the very earth, truly enjoying Christmas for its scented cookies and unguessable treasures. That the fresh sheets, bedside lamp, and fluffed pillow which once helped her sleep have long since been thrown in the landfill and buried under mountains of busted screen doors and moldering cantaloupes...these realizations are hard markers along the many lanes in which we honk and shuffle toward the grave.

She herself might not feel the loss of such particular times, but I feel it for her. Call it love, or call it selfishness, or call it a finger of the essence of the pear amplifying both. I'd prepare a bouquet from the garden for her bedside table but she'd know I'd been up fretting. She's canny like that.

Oh, time to get on with it. One can't stew and wallow in these pools of nostalgic regret all night; where would that leave a man? Firmly without his evening intake of Waugh or Nat Sherman, that's where—and that is no wind-swept jetty upon which any fellow should ever find himself.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Working the Old Soil

The rainclouds having retreated, it was once again time to busy my fingers in the earth. Fashion begins with foundation, as they say, so I occupied myself for a few mornings with the removal of winter's detritus: those cheap grassy weeds that grow but do not flower, meandering tendrils of ivy, the moldering carcasses of eviscerated dog toys, and a year's worth of competitively-flung bottle caps. Eventually I had a few level beds with which to work, and I even had a pallet of good red clay brick delivered, which I stacked up and watered on a sweltering day to make humid afternoon sunning bays for my orchids.

Unfortunately Todd*, employing the varied and misfiring talents of his ruined mind, mistook one of my cherished phalaenopses for a heroin-producing opium poppy, and gobbled it right down to the roots. Then, instead of penning a smash album of transcending genius and unifying pathos, he immediately fell over in fits of peristalsis and did a noisy wee on the side of my Coca-Cola. The visuals of the reassembled orchid did nothing for me, so I sprayed both art and artist off among the tomatoes with the hose and went inside for an iced glass of mint tea.

- - -

*Unfortunately Todd: Wouldn't that just be a divine name for a SitCom about the little monster?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Yet More Truth Serum.

As I described previously, some of the boys discovered an old bottle of Sodium Pentothal in a hidden drawer disguised as a regular plank-end in one of my old pub tables. Last night they once again slipped a pleasant little dose into Ray's tipple, and the resulting conversation might be said to exclusively reside below. (I fear it went unrecorded by his drinking buddies.)

RAY: [returns from restroom] So where we at?

ROAST BEEF: Alright dogg you were straight up wrong about it not rainin' today so you got to drain that G&T all at once [points]

RAY: When it rains, I pour! [drains cocktail, motions for another]

BEEF: Oh man rock it and dock it do you know the origin myth behind the Morton's Salt slogan

RAY: [pauses] If I am honest, I recall hearing that the promise Morton's Salt made to consumers was that it would not clump up in times of humidity — a common problem with salt at the time. Hence the clever slogan, "when it rains, it pours." The girl with the umbrella in the rain slicker is iconic, and far more classy than the Jodie Foster Coppertone ad, in which a dog tries to eat a naked child's underwear. I have always found that ad tasteless. I feel that the advertising agent was making an appeal to a powerful client he knew was a pederast.

BEEF: So advertising shapes culture.

RAY: Advertising is culture. In between advertising we do things like talk about what we have been up to, but all we have been up to is following the instructions of advertising. Going to the gym, going to Burger King, downloading the latest music or driving the latest car. If you think about it, even non-sponsored images are advertising: the old woman with her walker is an advertisement for old age; the young boy with no helmet and a cheap scooter is an advertisement for making the community nervous. He will die beneath the wheels of a car, and it is mathematically likely that it will be a neighbor of his at the wheel, and this will make one of the families have to move. A moving company makes five thousand dollars, or less, per move. On average.

BEEF: Wow so we got to get into the moving business.

RAY: It seems unlikely. It's an unpleasant enterprise, and many of the employees report fatigue. There is also the issue of poor meals during travel, which affects the bowel.

BEEF: So this is why you always say that most moving company guys are dumb as a bowling ball but with the same number of major holes?

RAY: [pauses again] I...Beef? Beef. Dude. Why you talkin' about whatever while my G&T goes all Death Valley? Come on, man. Here's a twenty, get us some fries and some other stuff, maybe the mushroom caps comin' out crispy tonight...wait, no. Hate those. Fries and some poppers. Set us up.

BEEF: Word dogg all that comin' up like a Coppertone sunrise.

RAY: Huh? Get a move on, man. Don't be high.

I took the cue and had the kitchen prepare a lovely little platter of fried treats for the men. They stood themselves pints and cocktails well into the night, with "Coppertone" quickly emerging as the evening's wink-nudge word. The fried scallops and lager had a nice "copper-like tone" to them, and Téodor openly mused whether a winsome young lass across the room had a good "coppertone." Lyle asked if Revolver had been released on the Coppertone label, and that curious little Emeril fellow even joined in, refusing to karaoke on the grounds that his ear had a real "copper tone" which prevented him from hitting proper notes. Ray laughed and nodded to keep up appearances, but one did feel a bit sorry for him in spots. Here and there. Not the sort of welling-up that comes when a child with leg calipers topples off a bridge, but the merest suspicion of a wince. Invisible, of course, and fleeting.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The hum-drum happiness of life.

It's been going well at the Dude and Catastrophe lately. Last night the boys found a bottle of truth serum* inside a hidden compartment in one of my old tables, and after nipping and experimenting with it for a while the most wonderful things began to take shape.

One of my favorite exchanges went like this:

- - -

ROAST BEEF: Alright Ray so just take like a teaspoon of this stuff

RAY: Heh! You sure it's okay to mix with Tuaca?

BEEF: Oh hell yes doggie this chemical got almost no effects at this dose trust me

RAY: [sips] Huh! Don't taste like much. This didn't taste like much, but if I could elaborate, I'd say it almost tasted slightly like a sugar substance was in the suspension. Is that right? A suspension? Kind of a chemistry term. I never was good at chemistry. I saw Mark Witterman win the chemistry award in 1992. I wasn't jealous, but the ceremony did make me slightly mad.

BEEF: Okay good uh dogg let's do some questions

RAY: I like questions. I have liked questions since a very early age. From a very young time I have enjoyed answering questions. I often wonder if I could make a career of it. My mother asked me questions.

BEEF: Do you think you are tall

RAY: I am tall. I am a tall person, but not as tall as other people. When I want to describe my height, I say that I am tall, but it depends on your standards. As far as I care to admit, I am a tall man.

BEEF: Good uh do you uh are you a main guy in town

RAY: I am a main person in town. A lot of people look to me to see what I am doing. There are people like me in every city on earth. I am one of them. There is no plan, there is no assignment. It's personality-based. My personality is that I do what I like and people with less personality or confidence can observe me and see that a confident person is doing a certain thing. They can then act like me in order to create safety.

BEEF: Great uh can you describe how you feel about McDonald's food

RAY: It is a wonderful product in terms of sensory satisfaction, but I have been aware of the media surrounding its negative effects on earth, culture, and health. Unfortunately we get used to this food at a young age, through lazy parenting, and therefore crave it throughout our lives. I will not fight this, but at times, rarely, this idea informs my food purchases and I opt instead for Taco Bell. That is, if I am looking for food while in my car.

BEEF: Wow dang that is interesting uh so also now do you know how to do laundry

RAY: Laundry is not something that interests me. I pay someone to take care of that. I could learn how to do it but that is not where my passions lie.

BEEF: Right definitely uh so do you make a pretty mean spaghetti with tomato sauce

RAY: I have worked on this dish, but I have not been successful in making a version which does not totally rely on heaping spoonfuls of grated Parmesan cheese and dashes of salt. I have difficulty with the herbs. I feel as though I do not understand basil.

BEEF: Lots of folks don't understand basil

RAY: I...I'm getting thirsty. Why...whoah. Head rush just now...I...wanted to play darts when I came here today, how come we ain't playin' darts? Was I just blankin' on you guys?

BEEF: Oh uh I'll get you some water yeah and a Guinness would be rad as Dickens

RAY: Doggs, I'm tired of sittin' here! Let's go toss a few. New round on me. What's everyone havin'? Aside from Beef. I got his Guinness order. Dude always has that beer.

- - -

So, then — on throughout the afternoon did the tricks and travails of my little group play out. The other patrons found them self-contained and charming, and stood by through meals and pints and games of checkers and chess to enjoy their harmless, occasionally crude antics.

* Sodium Pentothal

Monday, August 27, 2007

I believe I have found my métier.

The métier of my advanced years, that is. I enjoy nothing more than pulling into the pub around eight in the morning, polishing the brass and straightening the chairs, filling the condiment baskets with their vinegary ablutions, and then, at ten, unlocking the door and cocking the little derby on the stuffed red robin in the window. (When his hat is on straight, we are closed, and when it is cocked, we are open.) It may sound rote and plebeian, but it suits my days just fine to sidle up to the inside of the bar and take an order, make a bit of pleasant conversation, and keep a bit of a book on the side.

Yes, we accept betting under the counter here, and I've got a nice little sideline taking commission on the wagers going round. Covers the rent alone, I don't mind saying. Funny how just being there to take a man's money every day can make one wealthy.

The downside of running a double-vice establishment is, of course, those who plant themselves within and take a bit of a long leash. Ray was the first to test the bounds of the Dude and Catastrophe. Being a man who takes to strong drink like a drain in a fountain—as well as an inveterate gambler—he came to deep lows our first few months of operation.

It started simply enough. He would glide in, buy a round for whomever was seated, and then wonder aloud if, perhaps, anyone had an opinion concerning how skilled he might be at darts. ("Come on, people! Not even a guesstimate?!") Inevitably the wallpaper would put forth a darts prodigy to take him on, and soon the projectiles and cash would blur the air. Ray, being less than adroit at most parlor games, often went high into four digits' worth of debt, and would only agree to halt play at closing time (when I put the robin's hat on straight, the lights dim and the jukebox fades).

In the throes of a binge, however, matters took an altogether different turn. Ray, deep in debt to one particular opponent, repeatedly put up large sums of cash to keep the place open after hours. Sipping or gulping neat Macallan, smoking, and drawing meaningless geometric stratagems on notepads, he crashed into sunrise not unlike Newman in that great film The Hustler. Only, in this instance, he literally crashed — sending salvers of highballs and ashtrays bounding across the floor. Up from the rubble was he hoisted, crowned in dust and crumbled cigarette foil, asking if his toss had landed fair. It had not, and we persuaded his opponent to settle over a round and make tracks amongst the bakers, paperboys, and diffident junkies who scrum at first light.

Even in such instances do I enjoy the highs, lows, and unknowables of the job. It's a bit like manning a joystick at Cape Canaveral: lovely equipment, men on task, and always the promise that things which go awry are capable of going so awry that the course of a federal program is altered forever.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Dude and Catastrophe: A modest success!

Eight o'clock in the morning, January 1st, 2007, saw the doors of the Dude and Catastrophe swing wide open for all the world! Well, in truth, I simply unlocked the front door from the inside and got the thermostat going against the twenty-degree weather, but symbolically I am sure you take my point. It had been Ray's idea that we open on the first day of the new year — I am not sure if he meant for this tidbit to make a lovely talking point later, or if it was based on a misunderstanding of the tax code. Either way, I had on my finest cardinal vest (a cashmere bordering on sweater-vest, with lovely antique scrimshaw buttons depicting the countenances of early American presidents), my green oilskin apron, and the proper old black tie in half-Windsor on a white shirt. I was barkeep incarnate. Not one man in a million could be helped against the desire to order a pint and a pie from me.

Back in the kitchen Auguste, the Frenchman I'd found to prepare food throughout the day, cursed artfully to no-one in his passionate mother tongue. I had fully expected that my modest kitchen staff would be of Latino extraction (and had even taken a mild refresher in that Gatling gun of a language), but Auguste had been the first respondent to my advertisement, and his references were beyond compare. In truth, I found him substantially overqualified to prepare my traditional menu of scotch eggs, fries, burgers, fish, pies, pasties, peas, and the occasional stew. For his audition meal, he took stock of the pub's meager pre-opening larders, and prepared from scratch a morue frite en sauce chaud-froid with fat little pommes souffles. How could I resist this anti-pretentious take on fish and chips? Rather than presenting a trendy modern "deconstruction" of a classic dish, he had reverse-engineered it into its likely nineteenth-century roots. You don't fiddle with the things in your pocket at the end of that interview — you take the man's hand firmly and lead him to his locker.

Food aside, the place was bedecked with a modest assortment of my collected art and found trophies (viz: deer skulls, wonderful old stenciled mechanics' admonitions, petrified leather cleats from my track and field years, and the like), and the espresso machine steamed away like a happy little truckless train. Tables had been set with baskets of HP sauce and other vinegary condiments; a Crewe Alexandra "greats" video showed on the back-bar television (a behemoth wood-paneled relic from the cold war, which sat heavily on the strong old counter). The lights were low, with hurricane lamps glowing here and there like fireflies keeping to themselves among the corners and rafters of the quiet, sound-absorbing room.

Now, despite the myriad experiences from which the outside observer might remark that I had taken little or no intellectual benefit, I have been served well by the following consistent observations upon the nature of our fellow selves:

1) No reasonable person wishes to be slapped on the head,
2) No reasonable person will deny himself a plate of steaming, buttered spaghetti noodles, especially when said dish is proffered by a voluptuous nude maiden of a personally favored ethnic extraction,
3) No reasonable person sets about town at eight o'clock in the morning on New Year's Day.

At best, I expected a few patrons might wander in after lunch, still blinking in disbelief at the stamina of their hangovers, and asking for coffee laced with "that small something which reclaims the body for the sake of the mind" (or vice versa — I can never recall that pithy little bit of drunkards' poetry). For several hours my nil expectations bore the invisible fruit of success. This is known in the trade as a "soft launch."

Around about noon Téodor dropped in, bless him. The last I had seen of the lad it was eleven o'clock on the evening before, and his scotch-scented deportment had suggested that once the new year did arrive, it would likely be cornered into a one-sided conversation about television chefs, cookware, and electric guitar music. How fortunate are the young, who can draw their sabers up the necks of their champagne until the gophers resume their somnolence beneath the navy blue sunlight which blankets the vegetable pastures, yet still wolf down brunch with full pleasure and no fear of peristalsis or malheur.

To his credit, he did seem utterly relieved that no one else was in the place. I silently thanked him for appearing the slightest bit vulnerable to the ravages of a night on the rails, and asked if he'd like a little something to absorb whatever was left of his roiling seas. His wraparound sunglasses firmly in place, his chin in his palm, he weakly motioned with his free hand for an omakase. I carried the order around to Auguste, with special instructions that the guest needed a bit of a fog cutter.

Auguste's "prairie oyster" (huitre dans le merde) is simple but effective. First, he splashes a tablespoon of olive oil into a pint glass, swirls it around, and pours out anything that isn't residue. Then, with the glass at a forty-five degree angle, he slides in an extremely fresh, orange egg yolk, careful not to break it. Down the same chute are poured a careful jigger of brandy, a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, four vigorous dashes of Tabasco, a squirt of ketchup, a dash of celery salt, and a penny. It is taken all in one quick gulp. I purposefully indulged a bit too much one evening just so that I could witness its effects, and I must admit I wish I'd found this recipe much earlier in life. Absolutely invigorating, and, like a fine helicopter ride, it sets one back down on the tarmac so smoothly you'd swear you'd never gone risking everything in the first place.

From there Auguste timed forth a lovely menu of shirred eggs with smelt and flamed pastis, crumbed potatoes, rough planks of buttered "thieves' toast," and Turkish coffee. Over the course of the meal it was a pleasure to watch Téodor spring back into successive stages of animation and well-being. There is something about the French system of eating, there is a logic to it that cares like a mother for even a stranger far afield. The Germans have their shiny shoes, and the Chinese have electrical engineering students raining off of high rooftops, but give me the French any day.

From that first customer things have grown steadily and quite satisfactorily. In future installments I hope to jot down for you a few pleasant little accounts of the days and nights at the Dude and Catastrophe!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Pub Name Backpedal

Ray called today. As usual, all previous arrangements stood up, did a curious pirouette, and landed facing completely different directions. Rather than relay my thoughts on the various touch-points, I shall simply let the facts speak for themselves. Our call went more or less like this:

ME: [answering] Hello?

RAY: It's a thing, man. What I was thinkin' last night. It's a thing.

ME: Hello, Ray. What's a thing?

RAY: So we been openin' this pub, right, and construction's all done, and you got the decor all like you like it, with the big wood bar and old sports mallets and stuff on the wall, but there I was. On the can, dude. I tell you that because I want to be honest at every step of the way.

ME: The bar is physically complete, ready to open, and you had the audacity to sit on a toilet. Ray. Really now. Couldn't that have waited until the future?

RAY: It ain't that I was bein' bad. I mean, it struck me as I sat there, dude. It struck me. "I'm about to open a business called 'Sit Down, Fat Dog.'"

ME: Right. We both liked that name when last we spoke of it.

RAY: Yeah, but things...ideas mature over time, man. You get perspective. Sit Down, Fat Dog ain't a good name for a bar. It ain't a good name for anything, really. First of all, dogs are crass, and no one cares if they sit down. Second, plump animals don't sound edgy. A pub, even a classy friendly one, got to have a hint of edge.

ME: [sighs] So we're without a name again.

RAY: Not exactly. In fact, the opposite of that, then also better. Téodor talked to Roast Beef, man.

ME: Excuse me?

RAY: Turns out Roast Beef had suggested a name to you for the pub before? Anyhow, he and Téodor were talkin' about it, and Beef told him the name he thought of. Téodor really liked it, and came up with this whole design for the shingle, man. It is laden. It is a cuss with a Glock and a hoagie. This thing is ready for action. T even thought so much of the design before he showed me that he had a life-size board carved out and painted. Chills, man.

ME: If I recall, Roast Beef had suggested naming the place, "The Dude and Catastrophe." This was because his computer was more or less on fire at the time. He then hung up on me. I didn't consider it a serious contribution.

RAY: Either way, man, you got to see the thing in real life. Plus, the thing's in the original format, the one you liked, the "The-and-The" style.

ME: Well, I do admit to a deeply ingrained fondness for that style. "The Dude and Catastrophe," though. Seems a bit...Roast Beef. I'm not sure it's entirely my style. It's his diction and mentality from soup to nuts.

RAY: I have put over two hundred and fifty thousand dollars into this project. You picked out the carpet. This is a gentle reminder from Ray Smuckles, LLC, a Delaware Corporation.

ME: [pauses, collects self] I'm terribly sorry, Ray. I was caught up in myself. Please accept my apologies. You've been more than generous. I think it's a gamble, as a name, but life's nothing without a good gamble now and then, yes?

RAY: All I want's a place at the bar, Cornelius. Thanks for bein' the idea man behind this. I'm only too glad to fill in my part. You gonna always have a napkin and a chilled glass for me, right?

ME: And a pewter nametag for the purpose of reserving any tap in the place.

RAY: Daaamn, I like that. So, you got to see this sign. Come on over, chochichuelo. Thing's in my garage. Also I mixed up these things called Dutch Crumbles, I just baked them in the oven. I'm not sure if they're right or not. I didn't have a recipe. I don't even know what they are, actually. I'm callin' them that until enough people can eat them that someone can identify them. Maybe you know what they are.

ME: Perhaps they'll be our signature bar snack!

RAY: Daaamn, dude. You ain't even got to. But thanks.

ME: See you in an hour. I've got the old tootsies in a sitz bath at the moment.

RAY: Old age, man. Cool. See you in a few.

All that said, I'm typing up our chat while the timer runs out, and I'm quite guarded about this design of Téodor's. He's talented enough in his own right, but so young I can scarcely believe he has the collected wherewithal to execute a good pub shingle in the traditional style. Perhaps an extra finger in the Riedel before I trod over, to enhance my generally magnanimous nature.