It looked like a dive.
It wanted to look like a dive.
Seedy but safe was its aspiration.
Had it not been in a city 500+ miles from any ocean, perhaps sailors coulda been part of the decor.
…or even Will Eisner’s Spirit…
But what kind of dive featured brunch? With Eggs Nova Scotia and Mimosa’s – good ones (Moët and fresh-squeezed)?
And there was the jukebox, the old soda shop kind with a small unit at every table, with tabs on the bottom to flip that displayed the 45’s available for play – hit sides and “B” sides.
And the mahogany walls…well…the heavily and red-ly varnished tongue-and-groove looked sorta like mahogany…if you wanted it to and you squinted a bit. That pressed metal ceiling however, would’ve been expensive to fake.
Maybe it was a dive of sorts, but it was a dive with a lively clientele. On any given night, you might see a local oil-painting legend and his goat, a gentleman from a fine thoroughbred-breeding family in the garb of a drive-thru carhop (fully attired in roller-skates and angel wings), narcotics undercover agents that everyone knew and flirted with, lawyers, dentists, judges, teachers, preachers… and if someone played Artie Shaw’s version of “Begin the Beguine” on the jukebox, it would be a deadly race to see who among this population would be the first to leap (or crawl depending on the age of the contender or the number of drinks consumed) to the top of the bar to prove that America’s got talent years before television took over that function.
It was a real good time.
It was the Cabana Club.
At this moment though, it was a slow time at the Cabana, a sluggish couple of hours between lunch and the dinner/drinking crowd. There was one couple at a table trying to figure out what to say next to each other that would be effective but not too direct. (The Amazing Rhythm Aces crooned on the jukebox). There were a few barflies sagging over their second or third time-killers (depending on how much soul-cipherin’ was required this afternoon). Morey was in the kitchen contemplating dessert while scribbling the evening’s menu specials. Paulie was holding court.
Paulie was the waiter/bartender/maître d/dishwasher/cook of the Cabana. Essentially, anything the owners (Joe and John) didn’t want to do that day became Paulie’s lookout.
But it was a slow time just now, so Paulie was perched on a bar stool overlooking the room and it seemed to be an excellent time to read the just-delivered afternoon paper……out loud.
Paulie was a local actor – probably the best the city had to offer. Consistent acting work was scarce in town (paying or non-paying), while the pining for an audience was in plentiful supply. Paulie surveyed his domain and determined that bedazzled and befuddled low-rent rendezvous wannabes and blurry midday philosophers would suffice as an audience. Joe and John had fled in the heat of the afternoon so there were no sober, adult voices to stop him.
Paulie’s “Ha!” could cut through the thickest haze, be it composed of alcohol or hormones.
But just in case…
“Ha!” he re-barked.
“Check out this play review by our local Frank Rich.
‘Of the actors involved in Piecework Theatre’s latest effort; “Belfast or Bust”, the least said the better with the exception of a seductive performance by Stella Nolan. Ms. Nolan purrs her dialect with heat, and commands the stage like a jungle princess after a warm rain.’
“What the Christ does that even mean? I wish he would just fuck her and get it over with!”
Paulie held for applause.
It came in the form of slightly belated, ragged laughter. John Prine describes moments like this accurately; “Well, ya know, she still laughs with me, but she waits just a second too long.”
Paulie thought it might be best to refrain from holding out for an encore. Besides, just as he was delivering his punchline on the review, he’d felt something; a bend in the room, a quiver in the afternoon light, a sussuration on the jukebox (Percy Sledge offering some painful, keening psychoanalysis of “When a Man Loves a Woman”)…something…or nothing.
Morey popped up at the kitchen window. He fluttered his eyes and waved his finger in the air. Paulie went to him.
Morey stuttered; “Did you feel that? I think the boys are back in town!”
(Oh, yes-s-s-s. To be perhaps continued.)