The Terrors and Pleasures of Levitation
The details are inconsistent, cheap, and sleazy. The wallboard and paint are the nondescript off-white that is so dirty looking by incandescent light that it is no vast improvement on the sheetrock surface which it covers. The paint is so thin in the bargain as to be almost translucent. The frosted wall sconces are, culturally, at the extreme fag end of their 1930's art deco roots (art deco in the midst of all this, for God's sake!) , and are, in the bargain, badly flushed to the slightly wavy walls.
The carpet in the ballroom is a dizzying pattern of multi-sized squares, with limp and stretched little curlicues, in a riot of ugly, slightly greyed down, secondary colors, and the overall effect, under the ballroom flourescents, of the churned spring mud between the beds of small, yellowish, arborvitae in an immense retail nursery.
Behind the reception desk are two spectacularly ugly fake Picasso's from the Decorative Cubist Period, equally in mud and urine colors, with the same four shapes laterally reversed in each painting as though one of the canvases were looking at its own reflection in the mirror. The curling, wrought iron rails attached to flimsy pillars on the fake bridges over the stream are so wobbly that I might have crashed into the stream if I had leaned my 280 pounds on them too hard while I was standing in line to get my identification badge. Luckily, I had my leather wrapped cane to lean on.
On my first day of training, the wood shingled bar in the corner (there is always a bar in the corner) with the lattice paned windows, was thumping with the badly played base of a horrible local band and the bare-midriffed, would-be hotties with fabric sashes through the belt loops of their hip-hugging jeans, were drifting in and out the door, fully conscious, as always, of their own fluid hip swivel.
It was called The Relief Pitcher, but hadn't the slightest hint of anything to do with baseball in it or on it to reinforce the pun, except for the customary sports-tuned TV's leering over the bartenders.
The place was absolutely dreadful. Merely looking up to the vaulted multi-story ceiling revealed the optical illusion of the balconies about to topple and crash because the court was too narrow for its length, and I had to deliberately keep my eyes toward the floor to prevent inducing nausea by the inevitable impulse to gaze upward.
Is the horror of all this really there? I'm not absolutely sure. As a consumer of powerful psychotropic drugs (I talk about my particular disorder here.) I have reasonable certainty that years of studying art and artifacts, as well as professionally making photographs, have combined with the drugs to give all things I see a lurid reality of detail that may be too exaggerated. After all, the hotties seemed to be having a good time.
And the hundreds of us in training were all so anxious to qualify, and so full-bladdered as we stood in line for the two small restrooms on the lobby floor during our 15 minute break, that the fact we weren't really having a good time was irrelevant to the issue.
I used to have a good time in such places myself, back before my growing Buddhist life brought me to take the Five Lay Practice Vows, including avoiding intoxicants. In my youth, when I thought nothing of driving from Albuquerque to Columbus in three days of 12-13 hours on the road, the stop for a medium rare strip steak with twice-baked potatoes and a couple of good dry martinis, in some Quality Inn decorating a small town in Missouri or Oklahoma, was a nice treat.
This was particularly the case when the place had a pool, hot whirlpool, and sauna to complete the relaxation process that the two martinis started. I have the Japanese taste for really hot whirlpools (104F to 110F degrees) and, one night, due to a glitch in the thermostat, I had the luxury of poaching my body in the whirlpool, all to myself, while my more faint-hearted fellow guests remained in the swimming pool, enjoying it's womblike temperatures of around 100F degrees. I would alternate on 15 minute cycles between the pool, the whirlpool, and back again.
I particularly remember the resulting night's sleep, between the rough immaculate percale sheets, as being one of the best of my life. It was even more to savor because of the adventure the next day, fully articulated on my auto radio, of running a steady 20 miles ahead of a vicious ice storm sweeping the High Plains and causing hundreds of accidents behind me on I-40.
I had a liking for quiet bars attached to the more traditional and smoother run city hotels, such as the Delta Chelsea in Toronto, or to moderately upscale restaurants, as well as a fondness for the type of mid-scale restaurant, becoming rare in the East back then, but still common in the West, with dark wood and deep red leather covered booths, usually run by Greeks, and called things like the Townhouse, the Lamplighter, or the Coachlight Inn.
The draft beer was always fresh and foamy, the steaks were open flame broiled with a marvelous criss-cross grill pattern, as were the rainbow trout, and the crunchy iceberg lettuce salads, with oil-and-vinegar dressing, were liberally laced with Calamata olives and chunks of Feta cheese. Small tea lights burned in heavy yellow glass at each table. The overall atmosphere in one of these places was that of a steamy affair of secret marital infidelity back in the Kennedy Administration.
I watched several games of the transcendent World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox in one of these places. The young hotties know nothing of such exquisite pleasures. And, as a bonus since this was out West, there was even a true-color and life size statue of a Hereford Steer attached overtop of, and guarding, the outside of the front door, as well as the very prominent sign over the bar stating that carrying a firearm into the place was a fourth-degree felony.
Such were the terrors and pleasures of levitation.
There were also, in the East, the vaguely medieval and quiet little bars called things like The Peasant On The Lane (or, as we used to call it, The Dead Peasant, shot by some gamekeeper or other for poaching), with low, comfortable love seats and coffee tables, and one wall the wine rack of the attached restaurant's wide vintage selection.
There were no ubiquitous sports TV's back then--such things were confined to the jumping places that played Steely Dan and had enough potted ferns hanging from the ceiling to stock a small arboretum. It was a more civilized age. If you really insisted, at The Dead Peasant, you could actually get a properly chilled and strong vodka martini, cold and bleak as a Russian winter.
And then there was my favorite, high atop an insurance building in Downtown Columbus. It's gone now. Rumor has it that the CEO of the company coveted the space for his office, so when the lease ran out, the restaurant and bar were booted unceremoniously out. It had comfortable swivel chairs, sported massive plate glass windows, specialized in small-batch Bourbons, and looked over the city skyline.
Particularly, it had a glorious view of one of the gems of Columbus; a perfect little Depression Modern building, the LeVeque-Lincoln Tower. It is a miniature spire, as exquisite on its own terms as the Chrysler Building or the Empire State Building, though it would be dwarfed by these giants. It is perfectly proportioned, with four subsidiary spires gradually morphing into eight helmed Pallas Athenas grasping a downward pointing broadsword by the hilt.
A good artist buddy of mine, who won't mind my using his real name, Dan Boord, made a segment of one of his wonderful small-format videos, with myself as the acting talent, in that very bar. Dan has been phenomenally successful, as such things go, and you can occasionally view his tapes in places like the Whitney, the Venice Bienalle, and the Museum of Modern Art. The particular tape was titled, Eat Like A Winner. And the segment I participated in was titled, "The Perfect Martini".
In his tapes I was always an unnamed character, The Professor, who was constantly pontificating about something or other. The segment started with a fabulous and comical screen-filling shot of the top triangle of a two-olive Martini with a view out the window of the LeVeque-Lincoln Tower in the background. On the screen, the Martini glass looked as large as a swimming pool.
Out of a few seconds of silence came my voice-over, fast dissolving into a medium shot of me, looking half sloshed and waving another Martini glass with sweeping gestures. I was actually about one-quarter sloshed. I believe in Method Acting and really strive to feel my part.
The dialog, as I remember it, was something like this: "Get the glass cold. Get the gin cold. Get the vermouth cold. Get the olives cold. Put them all in the freezer overnight. Stir one scant capful of vermouth slush into the gin, spear and dunk the olives, and there you have The Perfect Martini! Cheers."
Such are the ruminations on his past of a fat old man, deperately trying to make ends meet in Republican America, blogging for amusement, and still keeping half an eye on everything surrounding him, including the young hotties.