Current Occupation: Retired
Former Occupation: Technical Writer and Teacher
Contact Information: I am the Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books, in Baltimore. Also I edit an online literary journal called the Potomac – not that I make a dime from either of these activities, so they fall into that limbo of hobby/work. Not sure where writing falls in that limbo since I do sell the occasional copy of published books. Speaking of which, my latest, MATA HARI: EYE OF THE DAY, was published in 2015 by Apprentice House (Loyola University), and another, AMERICAN ZEITGEIST, is forthcoming from Apprentice House as well.
“Hello, I’m from the Kelly Girl temp agency. They sent me here to bartend a party?” I never know how to introduce myself without sounding like a fraud, as if the job might just be a practical joke on me, as if Marge had sent me chasing after a wild goose. Bartending at a New Year’s Eve party at an Elks Club? Really?
“Come to the right place. Name’s Gray, Dale Gray. I’m the manager. Just call me Dale.”
I told him my name but he already had a nickname for me, Highpockets. Wasn’t that some old-fashioned moniker for a tall person? I’m not even six feet. Maybe he just had a name he wanted to use. I’ve been called worse.
“Gene, Marilee, Jimbo, this is Highpockets. He’s filling in tonight for Bruce. Bruce is sick, dammit. Called in this morning.”
It was a busy night. I’d never actually bartended before, but I knew the basic recipes – highballs, Manhattans, Martinis, beer, shots – and what I didn’t know I asked Gene, who was helpful, seemed to get a charge out of showing me the ropes. He was a fast-moving little bald guy who seemed to always be catching up with himself. “Behind you with the glasses!” he’d call, in case somebody made a move and bumped into him, breaking the freshly washed glasses.
Toward midnight, Pinkie, a drunk little middle-aged woman who’d been sloshing Seven-and-Sevens all night long, started singing a song from her high school. “Shelbyville, Shelbyville, you are it! ‘S-h’ for ‘Shelbyville’ and ‘i-t’ for ‘it.’” Then she’d laugh and chug her drink and start all over.
“Don’t mind Pinkie,” Gene whispered to me. “She’s just feelin’ her oats.”
Pinkie’s husband Ted was the Grand Wazir or whatever they called him, the head guy who donned the helmet with the antlers (I figured him for a cuckold anyway) and led the solemn pledge during the Hour of the Elk, at eleven PM, before the party wound down. Members were generally pretty cocky, treating the waitresses and bartenders like servants – the privileges of membership – but Pinkie seemed especially self-confident, uninhibited, and she sidled up to Dale Gray as if she were the lady of the plantation flirting with the overseer, like some Gothic scene out of Faulkner, building him up while putting him in his place.
“Shelbyville, Shelbyville, you are it,” Pinkie began again, nuzzling into Gray’s chest, the aroma of perfume and alcohol poofing out at all of us behind the bar.
The dance band that evening was called Cliff Gee and the Outlaws. They were pretty pathetic, botching songs halfway through, out of tune, unrehearsed. Several of the Elks complained, many rolled their eyes.
After midnight, an hour after the sacred oath, the new year already getting older, the night coming to a close, Pinkie’s fragrance still in his nose, her touch still on his chest, Dale Gray swaggered over to the band and ordered, “You guys get lost, why don’t you? You’re embarrassing.”
Cliff, the shaggy mountain of a bandleader, insulted at being so summarily dismissed, humiliated in front of everybody, bellowed back, “I’m going to kick your ass way into February, Dale Gray, you little piece of shit.” But he and the others packed up their instruments and equipment and headed for the door.
Cliff whirled around and pointed again at Dale. “I’m going to beat the living shit out of you, Gray!” he threatened.
“‘S-h’ for ‘Shelbyville’ and ‘i-t’ for ‘it’!”
Gray came over to where the bartenders were breaking down the bar, capping bottles, washing the last glasses, wiping down the bar, putting away the condiments., sweeping the floor.
“You better be out there and ready to rumble if there’s any trouble,” Gray snarled. “That means you, too, Highpockets.”
Of course, the parking lot was empty when we all turned off the lights and left the club, half an hour later, but it left me wondering where my duties as a Kelly Girl ended and where my loyalties lay. I’m a separate-peace kind of guy, and Gray could have treated Cliff a lot more graciously, I’d thought.