You Can’t Go Home Again

On Nov 30, 2001 I finished my first NaNoWriMo effort sitting at Callahan’s, a brew pub in my neighborhood, with minutes to spare. Callahan’s occupied a spot in a little mall that had previously housed Reno’s Cafe d’Italia, a little family restaurant I worked at for two weeks. Callahan’s was better. I was already fairly regular there (they were close to my workplace) when, soon after they opened, brewing equipment started showing up. At the time, there were no other brew pubs in San Diego.

They got the brewery up and running, and after a shaky start while they refined the recipes and got the quality under control, things started to go well. Bernardo Bitter was my favorite, but in the early days it was awful as often as it was awesome. Apparently that brew used a special yeast that was, in brewing terminology, “a little bitch”. But finally they got the yeast under control, and people found the place buried deep in the mall, and all was well.

By 2001, Callahan’s had annexed the next business over and expanded their dining area. The move frightened me, because many restaurants fail when they try to grow and end up ruining what they have.

By the time I was laying the keel of The Monster Within during a later NaNoWriMo, Callahan’s had moved across the street to a larger, more accessible space that had come into this world as a Tony Roma’s rib joint. There was a large mirror on one wall, emblazoned with the logo of Bass ale. I was looking for a name, and in Monster you will find Master Bass.

But people don’t go to bars for alcohol. Alcohol is much cheaper at the liquor store. (Bad Bobby, a friend from another bar and a teacher at Bartending Academy pointed out this obvious truth to me.) People go to bars to take alcohol with friends. Lacking friends, patrons turn to the staff. I had a lot of friends on the Callahan’s staff.

I won’t try to list them all, but there are two I have to mention.

Travis. A really smart guy, well-read, articulate. We weren’t tight, not at all, but in a lot of ways I wanted to be Travis. He felt things strongly, and could explain why.

Rose. My favorite bartender. I have laughingly told many other bartenders that they are my second-favorite, but there is only one at the top. “Rose, you rock,” I would say each night as I left. If she was busy I would point to her and raise my fist. “Am I in your story?” she would ask. Spiritually, she was in many of my stories, but it wasn’t until Worst Enemy, a later NaNoWriMo effort, that I put her quite directly into a story. I’ve never done that for anyone else.

I also never told her about that one. By then I was a nomad.

Occasionally I would pass back through San Diego, and I would visit my friends at Callahan’s. Fewer and fewer of the staff would recognize me, but the faces I missed the most were still there.

Although it has been a long time, and I knew that it was not realistic, I thought that if I walked into Callahan’s today there would still be connections for me.

But Callahan’s, apparently, is gone. No longer can I entertain the thought that I will meet any of my friends, both the staff and the regulars I used to sit next to, ever again.

Bill, Linda, Darlene, Joe, Debbie, Malcom, and all of you, it was a good time. Travis, I know you’re all right.

Rose, you rock.


I Probably didn’t Hear that Right…

I’m at a bar, and a regular was leaving, and I could swear the bartender said, “Be careful; it’s starting.”

A Good Day at the Potraviny

I go to the market often now. Rather than occasionally going in and stocking up with all I can carry, I try to make a habit of grabbing a few things every time I pass by. This has led to a steadier supply of food in the domicile, but less variety. The cycle goes: buy rice, stay home until the rice is gone, go out and buy rice. Today I had to go down to the bankomat to withdraw rent, so I found myself outside the market when I already had a supply of rice at home. What do you buy for someone who has rice? Bread. If you have bread, you have to have cheese. Cheese requires talking to the woman at the meat and cheese counter.

There are three women with whom I interact while buying sliced products. One of them is almost shy with me, one indifferent, and the third is strict. Now that my face is showing up across the counter from her more often, she expects me to order correctly. Last time I was in there, I asked for one hundred grams of bacon. “Deset deka” she said. Ten decagrams. This time I was was all over it, and she gave an approving nod as I said “Taky patnact deka” for my second variety of cheese. While she measured out my cheese I heard “Dobrý den“, and turned to face a very pretty czech girl smiling at me.

Of course, if a girl smiles at me, she is by definition a member of the food service industry. This fine example of the best the republic has to offer (blonde, curvy, cheekbones, taller than me) works at the bowling alley. On days when I need to get out of the house but I don’t know where to go, she is a definite factor in my decision.

It was a good moment. I had won the gruff approval of the sliced things lady and I had a pretty girl smiling at me, who had just heard my successful use of her language. I took my cheese and got in line. It was a little awkward when she ended up in line right behind me, having received her sliced goods much more quickly. On my way out I said goodbye to the people in the store, as one does here, and I enjoyed my walk home.

Fringe Benefits

The waiter here at U Kormidla just took the afternoon round of Slivovice (plum vodka) up to the people working in the kitchen. Hopefully that means they’ll be in an extra-good mood as they fix my lunch.

New Years Eve at Lucy’s

Oh, what a night. What a night indeed.

I rolled into San Diego early, before drivers were too drunk. Amy was bartending at a private party, so I was left to my own devices on New Year’s eve. I wanted to keep my activities close to where I slept. Amy said that Rose (rhymes with rocks) was having a New Year’s eve party in the neighborhood, but I felt funny about crashing it (I never hung around with Rose much except when she was behind the bar), so I went to Lucy’s, a friendly enough place outside the party zone in Ocean Beach. I found a barstool and appraised the beer selection and the beer slinger. The two graying barflies to my left and were flattering her with sincere hyperbole. She was good to look at, no doubt about it.

Her shift was soon going to be over, however, and the beers cost more than I wanted to pay. I began to consider a move to Tiny’s, just up the street, where Erica might be working. Then Christina showed up, and I decided to keep my butt right where it was. The new bartender was dressed to kill, and she had plenty of ammunition. We got to chit-chatting, and I learned that she was getting married in eight days. A pity, true, but her girlfriends were coming in later. I entertained the idea that perhaps the friendly barkeep could act as an ice breaker, overcoming my natural reticence (with all people except bartenders).

The final obstacle for the evening was cash flow. Lucy’s doesn’t believe in credit. No problem; there is a cash machine in the corner.

Um… big problem. I opened my wallet to find no card there. I was down to two dollars, and no way to get more before the banks opened on Tuesday. Tuesday felt a long, long, way away. I looked all over for the card, no luck. I called Callahan’s, where I had had lunch, and they reported no card there, either. Just bloody grand. Time to call the bank and stop the card. I walked back through the rain to Amy’s house. As I called the bank, my phone informed me that I was almost out of credit. “OK,” I said to myself, first call the phone company, then the bank. I dialed T-mobile, only to realize that without the credit card number I would not be able to add minutes.

Right then. The bank, and make it quick. I dialed the number (toll free but that didn’t help me one bit), only to wait and listen to silence. Getting more nervous, I called again and made my way through the menu system. (Note to any banks who issue credit cards – “put a stop on a lost or stolen card” should be right at the top of the first menu.) Next I needed to type in my account number. Quickly I punched in the digits. “Invalid Account number,” the soulless voice said. I started punching numbers again, only to hear the line go dead.

“Crap!” I shouted in Amy’s empty apartment. I checked my remaining time. Seven minutes. I dialed the bank again, and more quickly made my way through the menus to the “enter your account number” prompt. I punched in the digits again, and watched as my phone doubled up a number (my phone keypad has a very bad tendency to double-punch keys). Failure again, and once more cut off. I clenched my fists and looked up at the ceiling, jaw clamped shut, for the moment unable even to speak profanity. Four minutes left on the phone. I searched once more for the missing card, the one I knew would turn up as soon as I canceled it. No luck.

Out there somewhere, someone was buying the whole bar a round on my card. I called the bank one more time, and failed one more time.

That is when I did the pissed-off dance. No one has ever seen the dance before, and I have never mentioned it to anyone before. It is an unplanned and unchoreographed expression of primal rage, an anger that most of you who know me as a mild-mannered and steady kind of guy would not suspect. I don’t know what profanity I was shouting repeatedly as I jumped up and down, spinning in circles, in something like the Incredible Hulk’s posture.

The good thing about the pissed-off dance is that even as I do it, there is some part of me that knows how silly it looks. It is that realization that brings me back to earth.

I went to a nearby pay phone and canceled the card. The next day, New Years Day, was Amy’s birthday (six years to go…). We hung out, did fun things, and she had to pay for everything. I sure know how to show a girl a good time. Today I came back into Callahan’s, and the first thing Diane said was, “You left your card here the other day!” Arrgh.

She Who Smiles Rarely is in fine form today.

I haven’t seen her for a while; I was starting to wonder if she still worked here at Crazy Daisy. No worries, on a quiet Sunday afternoon we are here together, and just as far apart as ever.

At one point as she was approaching my table I looked up, and I read her thoughts with startling clarity. She was preparing herself in case I smiled at her as she passed by, mustering the resolve to perhaps smile back a little if she had to. I looked back down at my work but smiled anyway, letting her off the hook but perhaps still sharing a little cheer.

I did get one smile, as she was taking my menu. It wasn’t even particularly forced.

This guy will be in a story someday

I’m sitting at a table near the door, which I regret now because it is c-c-c-cold outside, and whenever someone comes in the door doesn’t close all the way. There is a waitress and a bartender; she is stretched pretty thin, so when he has a chance he comes around the bar with fistfuls of beers and spreads the joy.

He is not a tall man, but he is a big man. He has neatly trimmed grey hair and wire glasses. His black trousers are held up by suspenders. He wears a leather apron that only just avoids being comical strapped onto the front of his bulk. I was sitting, staring into space, thinking about what to write next when he asked me if I wanted another beer. He had a great voice, smooth and low without being deep, soft but resonant. I accepted his offer and he set a beer in front of me.

This is one of those places where there is a piece of paper on your table and as you add to the tab they put hashmarks on the paper. A gloriously simple system, but one that prevents all sorts of misunderstandings, as well as fraud (there are places here notorious for adding items to your bill). The bartender produced a pen from his pocket, clicked it twice rapidly without looking, made a mark on my tab, then, checking the pen to make sure it was still deployed, put it back in his pocket.