Saturday, February 21, 2015

New Fangled-Part 3

The family was boisterous this Sunday.  One of those days when everyone is clicking, feeling connections not tensions.  No one here ever needed an excuse to whip up a pitcher of Manhattans.  Especially on Sundays, when they were a sweet accompaniment to the unctuous smells of roasting lamb wafting throughout the house.  Given the mood today, they would be most enjoyable.

A gale of laughter burst out of the kitchen and chained, feeding on itself, rolling out in waves.  Next, Alex’s grandmother and sister practically fell through the kitchen door, their faces covered in whipped cream.  Gran’s glasses were two solid disks of cream.  She had her hands on  Darcy’s shoulders, who guided her down the hallway to the bathroom where they could both rinse off.  

Papa Lou stood at the small wet bar in the dining room, stirring the pitcher.  He shook his head at the ruckus.  Alex was next to him and leaned in.  “Elles sont déjà pompette, Papa!”

“Ouais.  Tipsy on whipped cream and we haven’t even had dinner yet.  Check the rye.  Your grandmother probably spiked it.”

Shrieks of laughter poured from the other side of the bathroom door.  While Papa Lou stirred the pitcher, Alex had two rocks glasses chilling.  He dumped the icy water into the small bar sink, then dropped a sugar cube in each one and doused them with cherry bitters.  He tossed a couple ice cubes in the glasses and then poured two shots of a luxurious dark Guatemalan rum into each.  Finally, he topped each with a skewer of dark maraschino cherries.

“Ici, Papa.  I know you like your Manhattans and Old Fashioneds.  But try this.”

“Qu’est-ce que c’est?”

“It’s called a New Fangled.”  They both smirked at the punny symmetry, mischievous twinkles in both their eyes.  “Think of it as a Caribbean Old Fashioned.”

Papa Lou put down the long bar spoon he was using to stir the silver Manhattan pitcher and took a sip.  “Fiston!  C’est si bon!”

Alex smiled and tapped his glass to Papa Lou’s.  “tchin tchin!”

“Tchin tchin, fiston!” Papa Lou smiled back.

Alex was standing in front of his apartment door.  He was out of breath.  Had he been running?  Had he paid Ray for the cut?  Yes.   Absent-mindedly he’d dropped a twenty in Ray’s hand as he gaped at the man in the chairs.  Then he bolted the barber shop.  He had no recollection of the two mile walk from Cappy’s to his building, past bus stops and el stations that would have gotten him home faster and warmer.

Alex believed in visits and signs.  Every relative and pet that he’d lost throughout his life had visited him in his dreams.  Papa Lou had already visited him twice.  Vivid, full color, high def.  There was always a message, even if words were not exchanged.  Who the dream was for was never entirely clear.  Was it a chance for the departed to say things they never had the chance to say?  Or was it for the peace of those left behind?  

But this was…something else.  It all swirled.  Cappy’s...  Papa Lou...  Ray’s condolescences...  Papa’s doppelganger...  “You look sharp...”  “Rasoir..!”  The cold air on his near naked scalp... The run home...  The hard sounds of frozen Chicago...  Jogging...  Walking...  Jogging...  His cold-burnt lungs....  This was sheer coincidence.  Had to be.  No. It was a visit too.  A message.

Alex was on the other side of his apartment door.  “Oh, I am definitely gonna need a drink before work,” he said out loud to no one.  And then he heard it.  So clearly he swung his head to look in the direction from which the sound seemed to come.

“Tchin tchin, fiston!”  

In moments Alex was on the couch looking out at the city, a New Fangled in his hand.  He hoisted it up towards the skyline.  “Tchin tchin.  Tu me manques, Papa.”

New Fangled
1 sugar cube
2 dashes of cherry bitters
2 1/2 oz. dark rum
3 maraschino cherries

Place the sugar cube in a rocks glass.  Shake the bitters onto the sugar cube.  Fill the glass with ice and stir in the rum.  Garnish with the cherries.  If you don't have cherry bitters, use Angosturas and mix in a couple drops of the maraschino juice -- that is if you're using good ones, not the neon, red dye #2 kind!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

New Fangled-Part 2

Alex stood outside the door to the barber shop, took a deep breath, and walked in.


He was dreading this.  It had been four months since he’d been in.  He was beyond shaggy and hated it.  But he couldn’t bring himself to do much of anything since.…  Especially getting his hair cut. 

This was gonna be hard.  Very hard.  But tonight he promised that he’d go back to work and he needed to clean up.  They’d been more than understanding, giving him much longer leave than anyone would ever be entitled to and expect to still have a job.  So when he looked in the mirror this morning and saw a wild man staring back, he knew he couldn’t go in looking as he did.  He walked across the shop feeling outside himself, as if he were watching the scene from outside his body.

“Good to see ya, man.”

It starts.  Navigating any one of several dreadful moments:  1) Keeping himself together when those who know express their sympathy; or 2) not flying off in a rage at those who know and ignore the gaping hole of loss in his life, saying nothing; or 3) that moment when he’d have to choose to share that he’d lost his grandfather and best friend when an unknowing acquaintance asks where he’s been or what he’s been up to.  An emotional lose, lose, lose anyway you cut it.  I should have gone to Kwik Kutz.

Alex just nodded with a “Hey, man,” took his phone out of his pocket and had a seat to wait for his turn in Ray’s chair.  By himself.  The silence lasted forever.  The camaraderie and silliness that he associated with this place was gone.  The missing interminable.  The hush in the shop that accompanied his entrance did nothing to help.  Alex’s pulse throbbed in his head.  He forgot to breathe.  His vision was telescoping.  He was about to leave when — 

“Alex, you’re up,” Ray slapped the back of his chair.   

He took a deep breath to clear his head and sat awkwardly in the barber’s chair.  Hold it together, he thought to himself.  Ray spun him to face the mirror, pulled the crinkles out of a neck strip, wrapped it around his neck, then smocked him with his usual flair.  Ray stood behind the chair, hands on Alex’s shoulders and spoke to him via the mirror.  “It’s been a while, Shaggy.  What’re we doing today?”

“Just do the usual.  High and tight.  Start with a zero.”

Ray nodded, gave Alex’s shoulders a tap, and reached over to his counter to pick up his clippers.  The long wavy curls fell away.  Most of the haircut proceeded in silence.  Alex always appreciated Ray’s ability to pick up on his mood and talk or not talk accordingly.  As a bartender, Alex knew this was a skill that required a keen sensitivity, an ability to read all the hundreds of nonverbal cues people throw off without even knowing it.   So really, he shouldn’t have been surprised by Ray’s reticence.  Even though he wasn’t talking, Alex was screaming.  

There was something biblical happening to his mourning.  The reflection of his shorn head in the mirror overlaid his hollowed out sadness.  He felt as flat and two-dimensional as his image. Where was the ash and sackcloth? 

Then the anger hit.  Dreaded Moment #2.  How many times had this mark cut Papa Lou’s hair?  He had nothing to say?  He negated Papa’s very existence by not acknowledging he’s gone.  How dare life go on as usual when this amazing light of a soul has left us!  Alex simmered as Ray buzzed, cut, and trimmed in silence.  The haircut nearly over, Alex was about to boil over when….

“Hey man, I’m real sorry to hear about your grandfather.”  Like taking a boiling pot off the stove, the roil of Alex’s anger collapsed, millimeters from the rim.  “You two were close.”  It was a statement.

“Best friends,” Alex squeezed out.

“That’s rough,” he said.  Ray was making this moment easier.  No questions.  No reminiscences.  No sympathetic talk about the losses in his own life.  Just a couple statements of the obvious and spaces for silence.  Because with this kind of loss there are no words.  

In respectful quiet, Ray practically caressed Alex’s face with the talc brush.  He removed the smock and neck paper and shaved his neck.  Then he gave the hand mirror to Alex and spun the chair around.  Alex looked at the back of his head in the wall mirror behind him and nodded.  

Via the mirror Ray looked Alex in the eye and said, “I’m keeping you both in my thoughts.  We all are,” as he nodded towards the other barbers. 


Alex lowered the hand mirror into Ray’s waiting hand and as his eyes focused on the waiting area, he caught his breath.  Right in front of him sat a gentleman in his mid-seventies.  Short, stocky, round, distinguished.  A head full of silver-white hair with a gentle wave through it.  The spitting image of Papa Lou, looking right at him.  He winked at Alex with the friendly wink of barber shop fellowship. 

“Looks sharp!”

Sunday, February 8, 2015

New Fangled-Part 1

“Alex!  Allons y!”

“Papa, y'ont pas ouvert!”

“Oui, y sont.  J’ai déjà téléphoné!”

Alex had been enjoying this lazy snow day, hanging out in his room.  It was Friday, but he forgot it was a second Friday when he and his grandfather would be heading for their regular trip to the barber shop.

Alex and Papa Lou were best friends, spending much of their free time together.  Both were mischievous and “full of the devil” Alex’s grandmother would always say.  Alex was the only one in his family who studied French.  This created a condition that had the rest of the family on edge when Alex and Papa Lou were in one of their impish moods.  They loved to plot their next prank at the Sunday dinner table.  “Right in front of us and we don’t even know it!” Alex’s mother would complain good naturedly.

These biweekly trips to the barber together were times Alex treasured.  Papa Lou would pick Alex up from wherever he as — school, a friend’s house, home — and they’d drive to Cappy’s. They’d sit in the chairs kibitzing with each other, the barbers, and other waiting patrons until it was their turn to get trimmed up.  Papa & Alex were always a show.  When they were finished they’d leave the shop and Papa would stop on the sidewalk just outside the door, look over Alex’s head and no matter the style or what he thought about it, say with gusto, “Rasoir!”  Like a razor, sharp.  Then he’d tussle Alex’s new coif.  Alex would then give his grandfather a once over.  “Rasoir!”  And when he was tall enough, he’d mess Papa Lou’s new cut as well.  The day always ended with a walk up the street to the Belgian waffle joint for something to eat and drink.

But Alex just wasn’t feeling it today.  It felt more like an obligation.  Teenage ambivalence reared it’s head and all he wanted to do was sit in his warm room on this snowy day, playing video games.

“Alex, get down here.  Your grandfather’s waiting!” his mother yelled up the stairs.

“Aaaaagh!” Alex yelled back as he grabbed his coat and stomped out of his room.

Alex stood in front of the door to Cappy’s bundled against the cold, gloved hands jammed in his pockets, wool ski cap pulled down over his mop of hair, and his collar hiked up around his neck.  He looked in through the wooden blinds on the door to this classic old barber shop.  He didn’t want to go in.  But when he looked at himself in the mirror this morning, he knew he couldn’t put it off any longer.  Of all the memories he had of he and Papa Lou, why was that one coming back now?  It wasn’t a day he was particularly proud of.  He’d been a surly teenager that day.  He especially remembered responding in English anytime Papa spoke to him in French — their secret language that no one else in the family knew.  Their bond.  One of many.  Papa was reaching out to him with affection and Alex rebuffed him each time.  A ruthless adolescent.  And this was the spot where…


Alex ducked so Papa Lou couldn’t muss his new ‘do.  “Pa-paa!  Non!” Papa stood for a beat looking at his grandson.  “D’accord…  Rentron.”  Ok, let's go home.  And home they went.  Papa Lou never stopped talking the whole way.  Some in French.  Some in English.  And his face always seemed to be smiling, even when he wasn’t.  There was something about the glint in his eyes and the slight upturning of the corners of his mouth that never completely went away.  

They pulled up in front of the house.  Alex turned to get out of the car after deigning to give a mumbled “Thanks, Papa” when he felt a meaty hand close around his forearm.

“Oh, uh-uh…”

“Aaah, Papa Louuu…!” Alex whined.

“I know.  But traditions are important,” Papa Lou said smiling, immune to Alex’s mood.

Alex leaned sideways towards his grandfather.  Papa Lou turned sideways, took Alex’s head between his two hands, and gently turned Alex's head until they were face to face.  He then proceeded to land six rapid-fire kisses roughly on the boy’s forehead.  No matter how hard he tried not to, Alex grinned despite his surly self.  Papa Lou released his head from his iron grip.  Alex half snorted and shook his head as he pulled the door handle.

“J’t’aime, mon fils.”

“I love you too, Papa.”  Alex begrudged, disappearing in a curtain of snow as he made his way to the front door.