Tag Archives: Puccini

Foxy’s and the Flaming Embers

I’ve written about how I got into the alcohol business (see “My Last Job Interview” in the blog archives), but I haven’t described that gem of a first retail job.

It was a tiny liquor store on North New Circle Road across the road from the Flaming Embers Inn and next to Foxy’s Diner. It was a choice location…for something…but not for a liquor store. The store had been purchased by the owners of the new chain Shoppers Village Liquors for the liquor license. They were building a large and fancy new wine shop on Reynolds Road and needed a license. At that time this was the accepted procedure for obtaining a liquor license; buying an existing business. Obviously, if an existing business was willing to sell, it probably was not doing much existing business…at least not enough to continue existing.

But there’s the rub. In 1972, you couldn’t just buy the store, close the store, and idle the license until your new location was ready to go. The license had to be in use. Thus, a tiny shop with lousy access to busy highway offered an employment opportunity to a theater hippie who needed a summer job/40+ year career.

My first day on the job consisted of learning how to operate the cash register and the price gun (22 minutes), how to break down a cardboard box (30 seconds), how to lock up and set the alarm (5 minutes), and how to pronounce “Spañada” (a heinous, cheap, and versatile jug wine concoction from Gallo – you could boil it like a toddy, freeze it into ice cubes, spike it with fruit and/or grain alcohol, and pick up thirteen TV channels, three in color). After my grueling 30 minutes of apprenticeship, I was left on my own for that 4pm-12m shift and every other weekday night shift for the next seven months until the store closed in November.

The first night I finished my duties by 5:30 and the customer flow dwindled to practically none after 6:30. I was left with nothing to do until midnight except watch the small TV (three channels, none in color). I didn’t own a TV myself at that time so it was a novelty…for about an hour. At midnight I closed the store and vowed to not spend another night watching TV. It was another two years before I owned a TV of my own.

Instead, I brought books.

Until college, I read two or three books a week for curiosity and entertainment. In college, my reading was hijacked by the required reading. I reverted instantly to my pre-university habits. That summer, I averaged reading a book a night, and still sold my share of Spañada. If I finished my book early, I was left to contemplate the neon sign across the street and meditate on what kind of business plan would lead one to name their hotel “The Flaming Embers Inn.” It smacked of prophesying an insurance claim.

My typical day that summer consisted of an evening of voracious if indiscriminate reading, closing the shop at midnight, slipping next door to Foxy’s for an exquisite Foxy burger, and then home to work on the musical extravaganza Chuck and I were writing until about 3am. It was an immersive routine of consuming and producing art, consuming dubious but affordable food, and paying the rent.

Thanks to that summer, I don’t believe there’s anyone but me that understands and admires the opening scene of “La Boheme” as I do.

But even as I write that, my head tells me only about a million current and past theater hippies have had the same experience. That fact represents the hope of the world.

My heart interrupts my head to shout; “You lie!”

My head and my heart; those two have never gotten along for any length of time, and with any luck they never will. To brutally paraphrase Nikos Kazantzakis; they are both made stronger by the tussle.

I’m thinkin’ neither was made stronger by Foxy’s burgers.

A Geezer Remembers; How I Met Tosca

I discovered opera in the Cub Scouts. Now admit it, that’s a sentence you never thought you’d read.

But it’s true. Many times my “reminiscences” are not true and I don’t care, but this one I think will be…mostly.

I was manning a booth in a Saturday afternoon Cub Scout Jamboree being held, as I remember, on the floor of Memorial Coliseum. “Manning”…how quaint…how old could I have been? I was a cub scout lookin’ for a badge.

As I recall, there were not too many people in attendance that afternoon. Thus, my duties were not compelling. To be exact, had I the word “ennui” at that age, I would have relished the chance to use it so aptly.

The adjoining booth was staffed by an adult scout leader who was whiling away the afternoon listening to the Metropolitan Opera Broadcast on WBKY-FM (the call letters were later changed to WUKY). I knew the Cincinnati Reds were playing that same afternoon and I thought I might entice him to switch over to the game. Sly boots that I am, I casually asked what he was listening to.

He just looked at me. I think he was considering how much he could tell me before he’d have to kill me.

How could he explain the love-sick foolishness of Cavaradossi or the jealous foolishness of Tosca or, to put as simply as possible, the un-foolishness of the music…ah.yes, the music? I don’t recall there being an achievement badge for opera.

Finally, he explained; “We’re nearing the end of the first act. In a moment, you’ll hear three gigantic, scary chords. They will announce the entrance of a truly evil, foolish man. His name is Baron Scarpia. His name is also those three chords. If you ever hear them again, be assured he is nearby. If you’re not hearing them on a radio or a stage, I would advise you to flee.”

Sure enough, I heard the chords, and wide-eyed and wide-eared I listened to Scarpia’s scene with Tosca to the end of the act. When it finished, I asked the scout guy what Scarpia had said at the end (the opera being in Italian and my Italian being no better then than it is now). He translated; “Tosca! You make me forget God!!”

Well, my little Southern Baptist jaw dropped at that. I listened the rest of the afternoon and was hooked.

I had experienced grandeur, and largeness of spirit, and the gargantuan tragic foolishness to which humans in a post-Puccini world can aspire. Mostly, I fell in love with Tosca (not liked…loved) and I hated Scarpia (not disliked…hated). My little Cub Scout world had expanded exponentially. My values had not changed, but they were applied to a larger venue. I had been made, not different, but bigger.

Yes, I was hooked and I have gone through decades of being alert for “those three chords.” Scarpia will not catch me by surprise again!