Sunday, August 09, 2009

Wherein the protagonist becomes self-righteous in defense of tradition and old-fashioned intuition

It was a quiet night, quiet even for a Tuesday in downtown. I stumbled out of King Eddy's Saloon into a balmy Los Angeles evening. Fitting for an evening in Los Angeles, I was on Los Angeles Street, walking south and not quickly enough--my shoes are worth more than a month's rent at a local SRO. I lit a cigarette. I threw it on the ground. I forgot. I don't smoke.

Lucky for me the City's coming back to mama, back to where it was born, and it's filling up mama's womb with million dollar lofts. Where there's a million dollar loft there's a bar serving pretentious cocktails, 'cause when someone's paying a million to live adjacent to a cardboard-box tenement he's willing to spend $14 on a glass of vodka shaken con brio. I'd say he or she, but women have more sense. More sense but no dick, that's what mama always said.

I made a quick right onto Sixth right before three tough-looking hoods in skinny jeans and white belts wearing eyeliner made a grab for my iPod. And who could blame them? I was listening to the Faint. But Quick's my middle name and I made sure my birth certificate didn't lie as I left the toughs grabbing only at air, like when I tried to feel up Molly Archer in the tenth grade. Her middle name was Quick too.

When you make that turn onto Sixth and walk toward Main, you leave Skid Row squalor for a new kind of squalor--the kind that wears Rock & Republic jeans. I hurred across the street and down a small set of stairs. I was walking into Cole's, but I wasn't looking for a French Dip I was looking for booze cold and straight. The bouncer nodded at me and I nodded back. I pretend his name is Marquise.

Cole's after feeding time is an eerie place. Barstools sit on top of the bar, booths are empty, there's no au jus. The mise en scene is unsettling--it looks like if Charles Bukowski shit on a Picasso after eating an Edward Hopper. If you ever make that movie, give me a "story by" credit.

In the back of Cole's there's a door. Behind that door is a bar. That bar is Varnish and it pretends to be a speakeasy. I walked in and sat at a booth in the dim light. I picked up the cocktail menu but I couldn't read it--it's been hard for me ever since my cousin was killed by a cocktail menu. That and the light was too damn dim to read by--crucial oversight or deliberate hip douchebag maneuver? Dollars to donuts on the latter.

I picked up the candle at my table to shed more light on the menu. The menu caught fire. I watched it briefly burn--fire licking at the corners of the paper as vigorously as Mayor Villaraigosa on a Hollywood Blvd. tranny--before extinguishing it beneath my palm. Ouch.

A cocktail waitress slinked up to my table but unlike a slinky she wouldn't be falling down my stairs tonight. She leaned forward and smiled, her low-slung neckline slinging lower from her not insubstantial chest.

"What'll it be," she would've said if this was a movie from the 1940's. Instead she said:
"What do you want?"

You have to love a town that'll spend a few million on a new bar but won't spend five minutes trying to hire friendly staff.

"Well manhattan, up."
"We don't really have a well."
"Excuse me?"
"We don't have a well."
"The fuck you don't have a well."
"We don't have a--"
"Do you have a speed rack where your bartenders keep their primary liquors?"
"So you have a fucking well."
"It's not--"
"I'm ordering a fucking well manhattan because I don't want to have to fucking think, yeah?"
"So is Maker's okay?"
"Is that what's in your well?"

Pause. I stared at her. She stared back. She blinked.

"I'll have that."
"Are you sure you wouldn't like our Skid Row Flip? It's like a manhattan--"
"No I don't want your fucking Skid Row Flip. I want my fucking manhattan as I ordered it from you what feels like a fucking hour ago."

She walked away. I watched her. She was cute but I was sober and in the morning she'd still be dumb.

I watched the pair of bartenders behind the counter. They were surrounded by flasks and beakers. It was a scene more appropriate for a laboratory trying to figure out a way to artifically inseminate a cantaloupe with Burt Bacharach's sperm--and not in the fun way.

The mixologists each didn't look a day over sixteen and unlike in pornography in the drinks business that isn't a good thing. I watched as they carefully measured everything in jiggers and teaspoons. Everything. Every drop of booze, liqueur, bitters, fruit juices, ball sweat, and orphan tears that goes into a Skid Row Flip or Old Bank District Sour or Bunker Hill Rickey is rationed like a Soviet whore apportioning handjobs. I got up and walked to the bar.

"Excuse me, but would you hand me that bottle of vodka?"

I grabbed the bottle of vodka.

"Shh, easy there chief. It's okay. You see this top?" I asked, pointing at the resin pour spout on the tip of the vodka bottle."
"What about it?"
"That's a fine piece of technology my friend. It measures your pours. You invert the bottle and about a quarter ounce comes with each second it pours. Are you following me?"
"How much vodka does that bullshit cocktail you're making require?"
"Two ounces."
"How many times does a quarter go into one?"
"Four times."
"So how many times does a quarter go into two?"
"Eight times."
"So what?"
"So just pour your fucking vodka straight into the shaker. Put down the spoons and shot glasses and mix your drinks like a man, not a pretentious little prick who thinks he's a freakin' scientist because he pours homemade bitters from a graduated cylinder. And maybe that way you won't take so goddamn long to make a FUCKING MANHATTAN!"

I felt a large strong hand on my shoulder. It was the bouncer whose name I pretended was Marquise.

"Is there a problem?"
"No my friend, I was just heading back to my seat."

I sat back down. My iPhone buzzed--someone was Tweeting and that someone was a director of dirty movies. He was throwing a DVD release party in a warehouse off Alameda. Decisions decisions.

The cocktail waitress came back with my drink.

"Your manhattan."

I stared at the drink. I stared at her. I stared at Tom Sizemore making out with a model in the next booth over.

"That'll be $14."

I handed her a twenty.

"Keep the change--and the drink."

Out through Varnish, out through Cole's, a quick nod at Marquise and into a taxi. I was out the door before my drink started to sweat.

"Where to?" said the cabbie. At least he played his part perfectly.
"Just start driving," I replied. "East."


Pshaz said...

haha, thanks! that made my day just a bit easier to get through

Marilyn said...

He's 'ritin, he's really 'ritin

NoYutsNoButs said...

this was diverting in a big way.

Nora said...

you wish you were as cool as this narrator