From PJH's Stoop:
I had to admit that I was hungry, tired, and very thirsty. In retrospect, today was one helluva long travel day. As usual, the airport was a hassle and despite the glorification of air travels that the media and television commercials commonly display, air travel is a major pain-in-the-ass. This time, the inevitable plane delay was due to a pilot lamp on the cockpit dashboard that stubbornly refused to light. I am all for safety, but for the love of Pete, let us get the show on the road now. I was slowly becoming half-in-the-bag there, while sucking down cocktails. After waiting close to two hours for the maintenance mechanic to arrive and change the blessed light bulb . . . I was ready to hold a flashlight over the indicator dial.
Oh well. Safety first!
Finally, off we sailed into the wild blue whatever. And, I missed my connection flight. . ..
After losing the entire day waiting for the next connection, calling the rental car agency and advising them of my delay, as well as my hotel, I finally boarded the connection to Florida. Thankfully, that flight was uneventful. The Chatty Cathy in the seat in front of me did not count. That is why God gave us the gift of music and ear buds. When I finally landed, and stepped outside into the glories of all things that are Florida, the first thing that I noticed was the stifling heat.
It was hotter than seventeen Hells in Tampa, Florida.
I despise the heat. I am a cold-weather guy. The colder the better. Snow and ice on my beard make me happy. Very happy. Sweat on my beard makes me grumpy. Very grumpy. My theory is that you can always get warm. Put a vest on, an extra coat, or a sweater. The heat is another story. Even stark, bare-assed naked, you can still be hot.
The locals will tell you that it seldom reaches one-hundred-degrees in the Tampa and Saint Petersburg area, but to my Yankee blood, today, it still felt as if it were hotter than seventeen Hells. After all, it is the last week in September! Time to cool down now.
Since due to my flight adventures, the airlines successfully shot the ass out of my day and it was too late for conducting any business. I knew the next priority was eating and some water. Luckily, I learned my lesson with Florida business many years ago, and always book an extra day. Most of my work tends to be outside and the thunderstorms not only delay flights but they create havoc with the performance of my work duties. So, we turned in the direction of food. And water, and maybe, a few beers after the water.
After finally arriving at one of my favorite haunts in Saint Pete, I bellied up to the bar and panted. The bartenders here all know me. I have been coming here for many years.
I required refreshment. First, my body needed many glasses of ice-cold-water, in order to recover from the horrors of modern air travel and from the heat of the day. The attendants on the plane do their best to keep you comfortable, but they cannot stand and hover over you and attend to your every need. I was dehydrated and the cocktails on the plane did not help that situation. After a few glasses of water, then I could use a beer or two and some substantial food. Charles is the Head Bartender tonight and I have known him for as long as I have been eating here. He smiles and waves at me while pointing to an open seat on the far end of the bar. That is one of the few barstools remaining available. The gin joint is jammed. This is a sports bar. Charles, is a huge sports fan, and we usually talk about New York Yankees baseball and Tampa Bay Lightning hockey. Katie is the other bartender working tonight and Katie can talk some hockey too. After nodding at Charles, smiling, and waving at Katie, I wiggled into the barstool. Since this joint peddles sports and beer, large screen televisions line the walls, the soffit above the bar, virtually every nook and cranny and every sport available is playing. Lately, professional football turns me off, therefore, I decided to focus on a soccer match playing on the television right in front of me. There was a baseball game on another television but it was not a New York Yankees game, and the Yanks are already in the playoffs, so soccer it 'tis.
I plucked a menu off the bar and studied it. Not too much has changed since my last visit of a few months ago. There is nothing special here, but nothing poor in quality either. The food is good; the service is excellent and the prices are very reasonable. After a quick glance or two over the selections, I decided that I would order the chicken sandwich, suck down a few quarts of water, one or two beers and then crash at the hotel. The hotel was within walking distance from the sports bar. Perfect. Today was a travel day but tomorrow was a workday. A workday, outside in the wretched heat.
“Hey, Paulie, nice to see you back. What was it in late early summer the last time that we saw you?” Katie greeted me with a smile and a wiggle. She is very cute, quite bubbly and a good bartender.
“Maybe . . . late June or thereabouts? Four times a year, Katie.”
She leaned in and winked and with a lower growl, the words rolled, “Not nearly enough times for me to see you, Paulie.”
‘Working the tip,’ I thought. It will not work. I tip the same to everyone. Cute or not.
Ignoring the flirt and the ploy, I requested the blessed water.
“Please, Katie, I am so dry. The heat and the travel wore me out. Plane troubles. Delays and missed connections. Joy, joy and triple joy.”
“Oh, oh, Paulie. I am sorry. That sucks. Too bad I was not on the flight with you. We could have passed the time,” Katie said with a wink.
I will ignore her extra flirting tonight. She was now no longer pushing for a tip. There was too much seriousness mixed in there too. I will not venture into those waters.
“Please, I will do a light beer. Whatever the special is on beer,” I pointed at my selection on the menu, “this chicken sandwich here with lettuce, tomato, and most of all, a huge glass of water. As in a reservoir full of water.”
Katie nodded and winked at me and asked, “You want ice in the water or just some plain, old, warm tap water.”
‘Okay, Katie, just a little touch of a smart-ass tonight, eh’? I thought with a smile on my face but no answer to the question. Katie smiled and wiggled off to fill my drink order.
Ah, blessed water. . ..
Katie dropped the water and winked once more, then hustled off to the other end of the bar with a promise to return soon. Within deep gulps of my water intake, my eyes followed the soccer match, and occasionally, wandered the crowd at the bar. When I travel, I am very low key. As I am in most of my life, reclusive is a good word to describe my behavior. Generally, I go to the same places, speak to people such as Charles about sports and keep a low profile. Not too many people even know what I do to earn a living. I am a private person. Trouble lurks in every corner these days and my training as a youth growing up on the city streets of Paterson and Haledon, New Jersey never leaves me. It is not just the Lounge Lizards that you need to be aware of, but if you go spouting off about some lofty employment position or your supposed lofty career, the next thing you know, you are getting rolled in the parking lot for the perceived dough in your wallet. The way that I looked tonight, no one was going to be very interested in PJH. On the other hand, so, I thought.
I wore a tee shirt printed with the famous rock-and-roll band, Dire Straits front cover art from the classic album, “Love Over Gold,” black jeans, and my usual black canvas sneakers. Charles delivered the beer and we chatted for a few minutes about the Yankees. The season was going well, and their chances of advancing in the playoffs looked solid. The bar was hopping, so Charles had to hustle off, but it is always nice to chat with him for a bit. When Charles shook my hand and together, we wished the Yankees luck, I heard a woman clearing their throat and I looked up. There was a young woman tucked in the nook of the bar, about ten feet or so away from me, on the opposite side of the bar. I looked up and she smiled at me. I weakly nodded. As I said, I keep a low profile.
She was young, stunningly beautiful and had an amazing smile. Her red hair tumbled down to her shoulders and all around her. She wore modern, black-framed eyeglasses that perfectly fit her face and her look, and even while sitting down on the bar stool; she seemed quite tall for a woman.
She tried many times to make eye contact, and I narrowly and somewhat strategically avoided her glances. Katie delivered my sandwich, another glass of water and a refill on the light beer.
With a coy smile, Katie said, “Looks as if you have two admirers, Paulie. The gal over there just bought this beer for you. Warning, I am jealous as hell.”
A niggling thought crossed my mind now, ‘Ah, hell, no. I have to finish this sandwich and get the hell out of here.’
I mumbled, “Thank you,” to Katie, lifted my glass in the air, and caught the young woman’s glance. With another weak smile, I mouthed, “Thank you” to her generosity. With that exercise in whooie out of the way, I dove into the sandwich and figured she would get the hint, and I kept my head down or my eyes on the soccer match.
The strategy worked until I finished eating and the young woman pointed at my tee shirt and said rather loudly, “Telegraph Road changed my life. The lyrics, the meaning, the emotions, the piano, the remarkable guitar solo and the melody. The outro blows your mind. It is like no other song. Ever.”
I glanced at my tee shirt. Oh yes, Dire Straits.
The entire bar looked over at us.
Okay, honey, you struck a nerve with PJH. If I cannot talk hockey or Yankees with Charles and Katie is annoyingly flirty tonight, then yeah, I can talk a little music.
I smiled and said, “Interesting. It is such a long song to hold an interest in until you listen to it about 10 times or so.”
A wide smile crossed her face, she picked up her drink, nodded and used some hand signals with Katie to indicate that she wanted to move her tab, and with the rock-and-roll conversation door now open and the open barstool next to me . . . over the young woman strolled. Katie frowned and she was not too happy, but she weakly waved in the young woman’s direction to indicate that she understood.
Oh well. I was not sure of her intentions. Are they flirty or not? On the surface, she did not seem to be a typical Lounge Lizard. There was an air of high-class to her, she was stunningly beautiful and certainly would not have any trouble in attracting a male friend to spend some time with tonight or any other night. She dressed in a light blouse, a cross between a dark blue and black, and her blouse was open on a few of the top buttons, open enough to display some of her rather ample cleavage, but also to display a delicate gold chain around her neck that hung in the pathway to the aforementioned cleavage. On the end of the chain, hung a round-shaped red stone pendant. It was very elegant, not gaudy or overwhelming, but delicate. She wore tight black jeans, with open-toed shoes that displayed a glossy black color on her toenails. While she glided over, it was very easy to admire her lean, tall and very attractive female figure. In a concise summary, all of her parts and pieces were in all the right places. Most of the male species in attendance looked and admired her while she strolled. It seemed as if it took her forever to make her way to the barstool next to me. I think that the elegant stroll was on purpose. When she finally arrived, she stood next to me and smiled for a bit, her eyes studied my face very carefully, and then she studied my eyes. I thought it was rather strange and I felt uncomfortable with the situation and in order to break the gaze, I tugged at the barstool next to me and pointed toward it. Suddenly, I was the immediate object of intense jealousy from every male species in attendance here this evening. Not to mention the now, rather perturbed, Katie.
When she settled in, I said, “Respectfully, you seem too young to enjoy Dire Straits.”
“An older boyfriend introduced me. I realized that most music nowadays is nonsense and bullshit. Thankfully, he is long gone, but the music remains. What a loser he was, but he did give me the gift of introducing me to Dire Straits. Hi. I am, Dana.” She reached out her hand and I took it and we exchanged a warm and gentle handshake.
“Paul John. As of the last few years, I use my middle name too. I try to eliminate confusion with other family members.”
Dana smiled and answered, “That is a very cool name. Paul John. Reverse from the former Pope’s name. He is John Paul. Interesting. Sorry, I am Catholic and the name just jumped into my mind.”
A nervous and slightly embarrassed grin escaped from the corners of her mouth, as if her revealing her religion caused her some pause.
Now, Dana seemed pensive at her own words and she carefully picked her drink up and sipped it. It was not a fruity or “girly-girl” drink. With some assumptions on my part, I made the determination that it was straight bourbon. Straight bourbon, gallantly accompanied by one of those giant ice cubes that are in vogue these days. Dana picked up the drink and while taking a sip, she caught me off-guard with a coy comment that somehow escaped her lips while sipping the drink.
“You have remarkable eyes. I do not think that I have ever seen eyes with colors quite like them. Striking is not even a good word. Amazing works better. Not just your eyes are amazing, but the rest of you too. Great beard. Paul John, you are quite the hottie. I think this drink requires a bigger ice cube.” Before I could even comment or allow my thoughts to wander that this meeting was going to be more than just a discussion about Dire Straits, Dana quickly shifted gears once more, “The Alchemy tour will blow your mind. Right?”
I settled back into a comfort zone with the discussion moving back into the realm of music.
“It will. I think the live performance on the Alchemy video of Sultans of Swing might be the greatest single live performance of a song in rock-and-roll history,” I said.
“True that,” Dana answered. With a quick turn of her head Dana quickly and seriously asked, “Do you think that Love over Gold is a progressive rock record?”
Wooaaah! This chick is very cool. Dana knew her Dire Straits and she knew music too. She was spot on target with the music jargon.
“I do. In fact, I rate Telegraph Road as the greatest progressive rock song of all time. Just a little better than Close to the Edge, by Yes.”
Dana nodded and asked, “You rate the recordings? Okay, very cool. Paul John, you sound very professional. As if you are a music critic.”
“Well, I do dabble in writing some music reviews. Not as much as what I used to do is the past, but I still stay involved. Now, I moved on to writing some other works, but my ear is always on music, and occasionally, an old contact asks me to review some tunes. Both current and classics. I dive into any genre. If we have time, well, I guess that I could tell you a little about what I do and what I have done.”
“We have time,” she said, while almost stepping on my words. While blinking her eyes a few times and lifting her drink to her lips, Dana added, “Plenty of time. Suddenly, I have no other plans for this evening. I just changed them a few minutes ago.”
She leaned in closer to me and she carefully studied my face. This time, I did not turn away and hide. Instead, I met her gaze and I burned into her stare. Dana did not enhance her long eyelashes with much, if any make-up. Her green eyes glowed underneath her eyeglasses and this woman was full of natural beauty. Perfect facial features and delicate pink skin. No enhancements required.
With a deep huskiness to her voice, Dana said, “Please do tell me all about, Paul John. I am all ears. I love your accent and when you speak, it gives me an excuse to study your eyes again. Where are you from with an accent like that one? New York City? Maybe. Just a guess.”
“Paterson, New Jersey. Northern Jersey accent. Similar to New York but different. Thank you for the compliment on my eyes. You are quite a beautiful woman.”
“Gotcha on the accent. It is very sexy. Gritty and rough, and confident. I also said that you were hot. You ignored that remark.” Dana answered and when she did so, she smiled, winked one of her luscious green eyes and tapped the rim of her now empty glass. “It's empty,” Dana barely spoke the words but it was as if she mouthed the words more than she spoke them.
I smiled and with a slight wave of my hand, I managed to catch the now very grumpy Katie’s attention.
Moreover, this, dead reader, is where the narrative ends.
Oh yes, this is one of those types of stories.
Where I invoke a writer’s privilege and force the reader to decide how the story ends, to decide if this was all fact or this was fiction, or perhaps a touch of each, and you, as the reader, get to choose the ending. The ending requires supposition, imagination and reader’s participation. I apologize, but sometimes a reader’s ending is much better than the author’s ending would be. That may or may not be the case here.
My old man in his endless bag of wisdom used to have a saying when it came to a beautiful woman that, “It is often sexier, when you leave most of what she is offering to the imagination.”
Yet, before I dot the final i and cross my last t here, I will leave you with one more thought.
It was in a bar in Florida.
Yes indeed, Telegraph Road can change your life.
She was gorgeous.
Okay, yes, that was three thoughts.
Cheerio for now.