Monday, March 16, 2009


Today's the day before St. Patrick's Day---the wearin' of the Green and the inevitable parties and Pub Crawls. We'd only heard that particular term on the ten o'clock news, in reference to those Bad Boys in Memphis who felt the call of permissible mayhem and obligatory drunkenness, and who would be filmed raising glasses and shouting in the bars, then wandering off down the street, holding onto walls and companions, and occasionally stopping to heave off the curb or onto their shoes.

Here, it seems to be quite the thing, the progression from one watering hole to the next, entourage encouraging each other in feats of consumption and capacity, into a late-night fog of lost keys and lost modesty and gaps in both memory and judgement. And then will come the morrow.

But sometime between Last Call and headachy regret, there will come a time when FOOD is required, quantities of it, in great greasy gulps, or in small, meager portions of blandness, just to tame the queasy tummy.

I was the Designated Driver in every instance of my participation in youthful/idiotic revelry, due to my dislike of almost everything alcoholic. In addition to the taste part, I have no capacity at all---two sips of Christmas champagne and I can’t find the kitchen.

So, on all the evenings in which my friends and colleagues could let down their hair and have a good time, I was the sober one, even to the extent of carrying my own very strong tea once in a Crown bottle, enclosed in its snug little purple bag, to a BYOB joint which provided only ice, mixers and enough smoke to blanket a city.

I sat, enjoying the music and dancing and shouted conversation, pouring glass after glass of tea over my ice, until a gentleman who had claimed me for several dances remarked that I had an astounding tolerance for booze. He had watched me drink it straight, an entire bottle of it, and their table was probably making book on the time I would slide under the table. I remember the disappointment on his face as I laughed and told him it was plain old Lipton's. He probably had a Twenty down on 11:30, Bless his Heart.

We had a wonderful after-hours little hole in the wall---a "caffay" attached to a little grimy hotel, a 24-hours on Saturday joint, with two fry cooks, a couple of take-no-prisoners waitresses in rustly nylon dresses, and the best coffee and grits in the area. An aura of bacon and coffee and smoke enveloped us as we strolled through the sticker-encrusted door.

Thin men embracing coffecups squinted up through their hazes and flicked us with a glance. Tiny women in Chic jeans and hairdos wider than their skinny hips trailed clouds of Shalimar as their stilettos toddled on a staggering path toward the rest room near the kitchen. We recognized faces, night-wanderers---the price of a cup their ticket to warmth and a seat, the grudging companionship of a lighted place their haven from whatever demons and cold they were escaping for a time.

Those big old brown coffee mugs would thump onto the table as soon as our rears hit the turquoise vinyl---the brew black and scalding and perfect, the healing steam rising. Fat tumblers of ice water followed, with the sticky syrup pitcher, a big bowl of yellow butter, and a quick swipe at the gunky ketchup lid. A forlorn Tabasco bottle and another of A-1 stood beside the big glass sugar dispenser and the obligatory garnish---a tarnished brassy ashtray with the grays of a thousand grindouts branded into the bottom.

We looked at the grimy menu, for politeness' sake. The little flappy insert announcing Thursday's Liver Special might have been from a Thursday decades in the past, and the liver equally ancient. Waitress waited. Snap of gum, quick grab of pencil from behind ear---poised over pad; an almost audible tap of impatient Dr. Scholl's. We ordered: Steak and eggs for the hearty contingent, a Denver for me, a simple bowl of grits for Mary, whose ulcers were profound and burps legendary---she was a size 2, but could bellow forth eructations to blanch the faint of heart.

We'd sit and wind down the evening, breathing shallow breaths of the smoke-laden air, wondering whyever we came back to this dingy place. But the omelet was magnificent, a golden pillow laden with perfectly-cooked peppers and bits of still-crisp sweet onion, little dices of ham and great strings of good hearty cheese. The biscuits were high and brown and fluffy; grits were velvety, and the coffee, as above, perfect.

There are hangover cures and there are munchies and there are midnight forays into the depths of an uncertain fridge.

But what you want is Breakfast.

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