Once again, the most important part of my day was a meeting, and there’s nothing much to say about that. Except that we met, did things, and then unmet. No: a meeting breaks up, or ends. You can’t undo the fact that you met. Oh, you can pretend it never happened, lie to yourself, push away the thoughts until it all seems like a mad, crazy dream. But once you’ve met, you’ve met.
Sorry, blathering. Meetings. They’ll do this to you. At some point you find yourself leaping up to whiteboard something, realizing that you’ve already committed in your mind to using whiteboard as a verb. In the last series of meetings for the Top Secret Thing Phase 1, we got stuck on the word “bucket” as a term for various components of the project, and I thought of two things:
1. The walrus who had a bucket until they took his bucket away, and
2. The big pails of Elf Brand Herring Cutlets we used to stock the salad bar at the Valli. The lid said ELF and CUTLETS in the biggest letters, so you naturally had great sport with the idea of a huge industrial facility that processed thousands of elves, turning their bodies into strips of briny, succulent salad toppings. The bar also had something called Three Bean Salad – a fine band name, perhaps, but it was disgusting slimy stuff no one wanted to eat. Yet we had to replenish it often. This was the first salad bar I’d seen that had a “Sneeze Guard,” and the term itself made you want to stay away.
Still one of the best jobs I ever had.
A few weeks ago I was blathering on about old Dinkytown, and the poet with whom we all had a difficult moment at one time or another. Discovered someone with his exact name and occupation and age had gone up the river, but that’s neither here nor there. I forgot my favorite anecdote.
The Valli was a 24-hour joint, which meant we got the bar rush. Every night. Since there was a bar downstairs, we created our own bar rush; it was a nicely closed ecosystem.
I worked upstairs and down – the 5-9 shift was lucrative, but the fun was downstairs, 9 to closing. Taps off at 12:30, bar emptied out at 1 AM. The last customers in the bar were the U of M janitors, coming off the evening shift to pound down pitchers of weak beer and play pool before they were chased upstairs to have supper. I can see them now: Russell, Mike, Vern, Kitty, a short Gimli-guy who seemed older than everyone, and one other guy who always getting over a hopeless crush on a waitress or a boil on his neck.
Vern was the local Elvis, if you can imagine Elvis with a wallet on a chain. Once I went apartment hunting with the Giant Swede; he was answering an ad that turned out to be the home of one of the Valli waitresses. Sue, in fact. Vern was there. Vern was in bed. Vern nodded Good Afternoon, got out of bed wearing denim-print underwear, sat down, lit a Marlboro 100, and waited for us to leave. Vern was the kind of guy that made companies test market Marlboro 200s and demin-colored condoms.
Russell was a kind soul, given to interludes of stoner philosophy – he was one of those ecumenical sorts who regarded alcohol and marijuana as practiced collaborators, not opponents. Kitty I saw a few years ago when we met at the Valli to welcome back Medhi, who’d gone to Iran a quarter-century before and vanished. Gimli was there too. He was still a janitor at the U. We were now all older than he had been when he was older than us, if you know what I mean. Somehow it all averaged out.
But this is about Mike. He was Vern without the swagger. In a good mood, he was just another cheerful guy in jeans and a flannel shirt and long hair, but he had a smart wary focus that made you step back the moment the mood flickered from good to pissed.
We were on wary terms – I was a friend and former roommate of his girlfriend, so he probably knew I got an earful from the Old Lady. He was right, but I didn’t let on. I wanted to stay on his good side. Same with Vern. It profited a bookish twerp to have the local muscle not regard him with rote contempt.
It wasn’t hard to be on their good side. Keep the coffee filled, empty the ashtrays, be quick breaking dollars into quarters for the cir machine and pool table, and for God’s sake don’t look at them like lower-class brutes who really should not be in a college bar, I mean, really. Most important: let them leave last at closing time. You always winced when a new waiter tried to shoo them out along with everyone else. No. This was their place too.
I know they tolerated me with no particular affection, except for Russell; he loved everyone. But there were a few times I needed help, and they were there. When Door-Gunner Sarge went crazy after I 86d him, and he showed up with the gun a few days later, they let me know they thought he was wrong, and I appreciated that. When
I had to chase down a dine-and-dash runner once, Vern and Mike joined in – not because I was leading the charge, of course; it looked like an opportunity to righteously pound someone. But still, it was backup. This was their place too.
Mike was one of the best pinball players around, and one of the few who smoked while he played. Mike was one of those guys who could smoke a cigarette while he smoked another cigarette. Usually you laid it down on the glass – or, in the case of Rick, you threw it at the backplate before you began just to see the sparks – but Mike just smoked and played, smoked and played. He got better as he drank. But sometimes he got dark when he drank, too.
And so it came to pass on a weekend night that the entire crew was assembled upstairs at the Valli at 1:30 AM, waiting for pancakes. In my mind everyone’s there: Dime-A-Time, the goat-aroma math professor who always sat in B-8 and never tipped more than ten cents; the perpetually grinning and grizzly-faced bobble-headed idiot savant who would sit for hours during peak time working problems on napkins and graph paper; the couples in the private booths of A section, the regulars in B, where you could see everyone come in the door. The loft is open and full. The kitchen’s sizzling – orders shouted, dishes crashing, Springsteen coming from the cook’s radio. Sam’s on the grill; maybe it’s Mickey. (He was the local revolutionary; I saw him the other night on an old 90s episode of COPS. He was leading a protest downtown. There was a scene in which he exchanged words with an officer, but it was with the bounds of civilized discourse. At the end of the segment the policeman said the event went pretty well, but they’d had to arrest some people, and Mickey had bit a cop.) I’m with the Giant Swede and the Crazy Uke in B-5, probably. Probably Jack as well, working through his third pack of Marlboros. In A-4: Mike, and probably his girlfriend, and a couple others. Mike looks dark and drowsy.
Who should sit in A-4 but The Poet. Dressed in the shiny work corduroy jacket and Honest Workingman’s Plaid Shirt. He’s had a wee dram or nine as well. He never came to the Valli. He either drank on the West Bank or Seven Corners.
This wasn’t his place.
We don’t know how it started, but if I remember the girlfriend’s account, one or the other started staring at the other guy. They’d met before. I imagine each detested the other on sight. Mike was a smart fellow; he read books, serious books. The Poet was the sort of stout sour fellow who looked down on everything, and radiated disapproval, so I’m sure he glared at Mike. Two alpha dogs in the same kennel: staring contest.
Don’t know who said it first. I can imagine Mike saying it; I can imagine The Poet barking it out, but my money’s on Mike.
The challenge, having been made, had to be picked up. And so The Poet said:
Well. Where do you go from there? Of course: you speak louder.
“NO,” Mike said. “F*CK YOU.”
The room hushed, as it will when people suddenly sense trouble. Or fun. Or both. And now that it was silent, it was the Poet’s turn.
“NO. F*CK. YOU.”
Maybe Mike realized it was better to leave the Poet as the last one to shout in a newly silent restaurant; made him look like the fool, and more likely to be shown the door. Maybe his girlfriend elbowed him into giving it up. After all, they had a life ahead. A few years later, marriage. Then one kid. Then two. Then that would end – but that was all ahead, a long ways away, as far away for her as the Poet’s stint in stir.
A few beats, some murmurs, a laugh, and the room resumed its usual commotion.
That was a long, long time ago.
Last I heard, Mike was selling insurance in a small town to the north of the cities, and doing very, very well.
That was a day at work, back then.
Today? I had a meeting.
But I don’t complain, because I’m enjoying the Top Secret Thing, Phase 2, and enjoying it. I still keep Valli hours, but that’s what naps are for.
Today: Lance Lawson up at buzz.mn. Later today we should have something else, either the Faces of Price is Right, or First Day Covers. Or neither! Or both. Stay tuned.
Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.
Click – and SAVE!
A Book I Recommend
The Distant Past
- June 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010
- October 2010
- September 2010
- August 2010
- July 2010
- June 2010
- May 2010
- April 2010
- March 2010
- February 2010
- January 2010
- December 2009
- November 2009
- October 2009
- September 2009
- August 2009
- July 2009
- June 2009
- May 2009
- April 2009
- March 2009
- February 2009
- January 2009
Untold Riches Await YouThis is just a fragment of the site, you know. Head HERE for the full menu. Enjoy!