Skip to content

A Stop Along The Trail

In 2010, I get a call from a private catering outfit for an area of aristocratic society in L.A., to bartend a small political fundraiser over in the Wilshire corridor for a lady who was reported to be quite connected in this arena of questionable motivations with our nation’s leaders. Soon enough, the reason became clear. The guest attendees and speakers for the evening were none other than Barbara Boxer, Al Franken, and John Kerry.  

The high rises in Westwood certainly don’t rent or sell to the poor. You have to be loaded to get into one of these plush floors of luxury, and it doesn’t hurt that you have no interest or wanting anything to do with yard work or mowing lawns. However, with ownership of one of these properties, it leaves no doubt more time available to do what you like and prefer giving time to, the ultimate freedom of choice. We all strive for expanded levels of that in our lives. It’s interesting to hang out with people who have more of it than most, even for just a little while.

This wasn’t my first time in for an event or party to see this lifestyle with my own eyes, so I was used to the standard entrance procedure of “Sign in Stranger”. But this time we all met in the underground parking in the rear of the building and took the service elevator to the 20th Floor. Sort of like being there and not being there! No problem, I love being invisible and making money. I wish I could do it more, like the ability to emanate a duplicate physical presence of myself and work two places at the same time. Kyle Branche – The Bilocating Bartender!

I can dream . . .

The crew of us walked in. Security met us at the door, paid for by the people. The staff had been there before, but it was my first gig at this residence. I just followed and listened initially, until I found my workspace to start setting up. It was one of those extremely rare occurrences where I had to tend bar out of one of those tall, wide cabinet-against-the-wall bars. The kind that opens up, wishing you could hide inside instead of attempting to operate like a professional while my backside was in open view and proximity to anyone walking by. Not the normal positioning bartenders are used to. Thankfully, it was off to the side, so most only saw one ass cheek hidden by all black attire and apron.

Swallowing what little pride I had left for humility to take the wheel, I just said fuck it and started getting things done. It was all very nice, expensive ware to work with, along with my kit, but the physical position was a bother at the beginning. I had everything I needed for the night, though. That usually gets me through the motions I’ve performed thousands of times before in various settings all over town, whether in a real bar establishment, makeshift or from scratch.

Had I known in advance, I would have slipped a mind-alterer down my throat to replace my artificial grin with a real smile. It was only for a few hours though, so I just dug my heels in more wanting to see a close-up of what goes on at this money-grabber over appetizers, cocktails and speaking. After decades in the field, I simply surrender and make it work for me. The pay is all virtually the same, in fact, with private gigs like this it’s guaranteed, which is even better.

No more mysteries of working full-time in one venue wondering if it’s going to be busy or not, and jockeying for the best shifts. With a shitty economy like we have today, it’s even more difficult to rely on a sole source to cover the bills, especially in the world of bar work where the last thing that prevails is security and stability. You can have good runs with hot clubs, of which I have had many times over the years, but there’s always a time where you end up moving on, for a variety of reasons.

I was introduced to the host/client, a well-to-do woman in her late 70’s. She was very nice and displayed all the proper etiquette you might expect. This is what usually dictates my game of mannerisms to match. Wherever I work, it’s always best to blend in precisely to the given environment and crowd. A temporary shape-shifting of one’s personality and movement to what’s going on around, providing a warm fitting with whatever collective energies swirling in the air.

She was a staunch Democrat. And even though there’s nothing wrong with having a strong constitution in any interest or concern that’s safe and doesn’t cause harm to others, the sense that most of us get when we think of politics at this level is that it’s anything but. I’ve been around died-in-the-wool Republicans for 10 hours straight at the Reagan National Library (an earlier story I wrote on my blog, titled “Secret Serviced”), so I’m familiar enough with how people of influence ride.

With the thought of both the big political parties of this country in mind, you get a sneak peek into the eventual realization that many of their actions are not all that different from each other. Not when the color of money is the same, and spends the same way too. It’s just the strange feeling of this underlying aggression on the trail of a campaign year (I hate calling it a season) that seems to run through their veins a little hotter when preoccupied in getting what they want, letting nothing get in the way of their stately post, income stream, or having any part of it being taken away. Another game of sport, with winners and losers, and little left over for the majority.

The worst addiction there is to humankind. The tribe of “Never Enough” seems to never end! Why is there no drug to settle these financial maniacs down, just a hair or two? Regardless, I have the best seat in the house, the bench, the bleachers, the bar, whatever you want to call it. I get to pour, mix, shake, stir and roam. The position of no permanent attention from anyone – my favorite hideout in the open!

The invitees started arriving, some 40 guests in total. Not big in count, but considering it was all confined to an interior, it soon got a bit tight and claustrophobic, with the only exit for fresh air a balcony for three or four. The atmosphere soon became loud with chatting and mingling as I was handling the initial rush of drink with a good peripheral vision of oncoming to my left. Barbara Boxer and Al Franken arrived either together or close to the same time towards the first third of the reception, while John Kerry came through the door shortly after most of the guests had been accounted for. As for celebs, the legendary songwriting couple of Alan and Marilyn Bergman attended the gathering as well.

People had to start spreading out from the hovering in the living room in order for appetizers to get passed through, for a spill of any kind was to be avoided at all costs. Due to the literal white carpet treatment, there was also no red wine or cranberry juice being poured. Fine with me, as it completely alleviated any accidental drippage from my higher end of potential risk, the turn of the pour.

Surrounding the huge, centered coffee table and window space floor-to-ceiling for a good look at the city, the once-combustible energies of the group early on slowly shifted to one of relax, calm and maintain. It was needed, as at some point a degree of quiet would have to overcome the room for the White House elite to commence with their words.

The host spoke over the crowd trying to warmly get everyone’s attention, and after saying a few things to begin, she was interrupted by Ms. Boxer with not the most pleasant of hand-offs, and Barbara took over. Nobody said anything, but it was kind of odd to stand there and witness a moment of impatient aggression like that, as though in a hurry to get the ball rolling to avoid being late for the private jet that takes them to Sacramento. So she starts in with the Democratic mission, their accomplishments to date and what they’re trying to achieve in their respective positions in the future, while holding on to what they got. 

I can’t imagine how difficult it must be on Capitol Hill to be constantly splitting logs to get good bills passed for the people. How many good bills have failed, and how many bad bills have passed? You have to ask what drives them to continue working steadfast for decades in a quicksand nightmare. People that are actually into politics as some form of personal gain are a strange breed, almost non-human, though they always want you to think and believe otherwise. Serving your country in these capacities is a great thing, but turning yourself into a career politician is another, and the hard-working citizens of our land know all too well what that spells.

Following Barbara into the speaking fold was Al Franken. Most of us in the room in their 40’s and 50’s mainly remember him from SNL, so one can’t help but to look and listen to him in an expected somewhat comedic mode. He didn’t disappoint. Though he took less time at the stand, he probably had everyone’s attention more than the others, therefore getting his content on average to seep in deeper. Earlier in the evening I had taken a quick walk through the crowd when I had about a minute to do so, though I didn’t care much for leaving my post in this specific situation. I basically ended up right next to him at one point trying to slip through and around. I don’t know how much makeup he uses for the camera, but he had to be one of the whitest white guys I’ve ever seen, a pale look in sort of a healthy way.

The waiters would go back and forth from the kitchen to the main room, so I was the only staffer out there the entire time. I was a fly on my own wall! How could I not absorb the surroundings, the position requires it, like I do working anywhere else. I have to be on top of it at some functions more than others. It’s the changing nature of each individual event as it takes place.

John Kerry held up the rear with a convincing speech of progress for the country and the economy, but it also circled around the ideals of the Democratic Party and what they would like for positive change. It was all good stuff for the most part, but to people like me in the room, the words and actions have to come together as one, or else the words are just a temporary air space where the foundation doesn’t follow.

The one thought that stayed with me most was when Ms. Boxer worded a paragraph of her dish in regards to monies that made me feel as though the wealthy upper class are simply in cahoots with keeping the status quo. The one area they don’t want jeopardized, holding onto it like a mean guard dog. At the end, guests got out their checkbooks and away they went.

This occasion was very similar to one I worked in 2008, a Jewish fundraiser at a private home in Beverly Hills with close to 100 attending, that included Hillary Clinton speaking with L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa opening up for her. This huge home with hardwood floors became a red wine symphony for the guests, and the very nice built-in bar where I took stage was right in the middle of it all.

Most who attend are rich, political donators to the cause, their cause, primarily voting to keep more for themselves, not what’s good for all. The rich have more to gain and/or lose than the rest of us, which is why they participate more. Campaigning and voting is just a long, expensive show to give the majority the illusion that we matter to them. We don’t! There are no candidates of real presidential stature anymore. It’s all out in the open. No longer can anything be concealed for what it really is.

The pressure was relieved as guests started leaving in quick fashion. I cleaned up the bar and closed the cabinet, finishing just as the rest of the staff were completed in the kitchen. It was time to catch the service elevator back down to parking so we could all share in the reloading of the van before we headed back up and out to our own vehicles. I just had a smaller pack for a bar kit over my shoulder in place of the normal size for this occasion, always a nice relief to walk in with less.

It was getting cold outside that close to the ocean. I slid on my coat in a still-wired moment, as it usually takes a little time to get my head back to normal and settle down from those high levels of attention and awareness to the service of others. Turning on the radio to my favorite Jazz station out of Long Beach, enjoying the time where I catch perfect reception on that side of the hill, I light a smoke and sit back in recline, wanting to disappear to another world more fair and sane, instead of existing in this ultimate theatre of economic pain and financial fuck-over for an entire country that didn’t deserve it . . .

Elevator Sky Movie

I lay out my work clothes with method and a sense of order, somewhat like Jean Reno’s character of Leon in the movie, The Professional, who with all his guns cleaned, loaded and cased, he sits in a chair in the dark, quieting his mind before he awakes and suits up for his next hired hit.

The bar gear sits in the passenger seat along with a selection of shirts; black, white, and a celadon green faded to perfection, to choose pending feel or required wear. That is, if they’re not already hung in the back extra-cab of the truck from previous night’s work. Always sporting inner shirts, I make my dress shirts go around a couple three gigs between dry cleans, hopefully avoiding the use of an iron for once-over, but at times a must. We all have our own ways of making things last.

The gig: A rooftop event on the 12th floor of a large condo building on Crescent Heights, a couple blocks down and south of Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. That’s one way to alleviate the fear of a 13th floor, by not even adding it. Honestly though, do we really think we avoid the 13th by calling it the 14th? I think not. It was the 40th birthday party for actress Salma Hayek’s assistant. She threw it for herself and friends apparently, so it was not a surprise.

Driving through Joni Mitchell’s favorite L.A. canyon, Laurel, its southern terminus is at Sunset Blvd., and becomes Crescent Heights Blvd. The bohemian spirit still endures there, as every year, residents gather for a group photograph at the country market. It was also immortalized by The Doors in their 1968 song “Love Street”. The many legends of the canyon!

Parking is usually tight as a knot down there in the side streets surrounding the location of the event. The key is to get there at the right hour, wait if necessary, and pounce. There were only so many spots open under the building, and with a guest count of over 100 arriving later, people end up parking anywhere and everywhere. The earlier the better for me and the other bartenders, as we have a chance to just simply get there for a few minutes before we head in, to remove any potential driving stress en route, and for tying up any last moment communications with our cells.

I meet Chris and Kerry out on the street, and we walk in together. Taking the elevator to the top, it opens and we step around the corner to a door that leads out to the big, square roof where the party takes place. John and Pete’s in LA delivered the booze and ice, and a party rental service supplied the bars and tables. The delivery guys had split up the beverage order and bags of cubes to both bars, a welcome relief from the norm.

Taking in the day before night overlook in all directions, breathing the air up there in for a few seconds, we quickly get to work on the full prep. We have an hour to rip through it. The caterer is a ways off in his own space, applying his own pace in the mobile galley set up for the passing of many apps, getting ready to grill the meats over the flame.

The DJ arrives, and she is really cute. She has a female co-captain with her, and a sideman to help with the heavy equipment. She was so hot, I didn’t want her to lift a thing. With a dress that was slammin’ short, it wasn’t long before I started praying for a little wind beneath her wings. A sexy blonde with short hair! Who wasn’t looking in her direction? But I kept it cool, with no interest in me being the one to create a thing. I was also working behind the bar with Heather, who I hadn’t seen in a few years, so I was comfortable in catching up with her.

Dusk hit and dark soon after, cocktails, food and music were flowing with the many friends who came to celebrate. I remember it was a bit musty outside, a lukewarm temperature with some clouds in the sky, just the climate for thirst and hunger. It was a sizeable hangout, and who’s not going to show up to a rooftop party with free juice, munchies and tunes? The visual was like a scene right out of a television episode, but all night long, with no “action”, “cut” or “print”.

It would be quiet a dozen floors up there, vertically away from the hustle on the streets, if it wasn’t for the music filling the air with a certain energy that made one wonder if it was heard down below. There was no pool on the roof, but it was a sweet, silent getaway if you lived there, with plenty of open space to catch the sun on its downswing, or a place for a wet smoke and a good cry in a night rain. Add an umbrella, and you could be Gene Kelly. But if you’re going to do that, you might as well fit the bill and throw on a nice suit.

The birthday girl appeared from her plush pad to start greeting her invitees, making the rounds with a measure of consistent effort. She was a very nice lady. Tina, the sexy DJ, made the first move over to my bar. Her petite close-up was sparkling, like I imagined it would, but I had no idea how she was going to make it through to the end with her next-to-bare wear without freezing to death with the eventual cool air shift.

Her order of two Tom Collins was an interesting surprise, given her youth. It made me feel as though she learned the classic drink watching her parents make them at home, or even more appropriately, her grandparents. Hard to know where to cut that generation break! Either way, it went well with her. We flirted at the bar for a couple minutes, and after she slowly walked back over to her spin platform, I was thinking after-party for two.

After our initial rush or two at the bar, Heather took over for a few minutes, and I disappeared to the far west side of the roof not being used, for a quick smoke and a drink, and a look over the safe railing down to the ground floor, high up with the Pacific Ocean invisible in the distant dark.

Slightly after the mid-point of the party, the on-screen beauty herself, Salma Hayek, shows up. I love it when a star like her braves it with a plain Jane look with little or no makeup. Not like she really needs any. But it shows you a different side to her – a bit known, a bit incognito, feeling safe around her assistant’s friends.

I think to myself, as I’m writing this passage behind the bar at The Gardenia while the legendary Janis Paige is performing her show of songs and stories, “She’s 89 years old.” As I’m back and forth watching Janis and looking at this page of words, I realize that new Hollywood can never be old Hollywood, no matter who it is. Different work ethics, different media, a different dynamic shift altogether. It was simply a different time. Janis has been a Hollywood actress, singer and dancer since the 40’s, and she still performs occasionally today. That’s pretty amazing!  Here’s Janis below, dancing with Fred Astaire.

“I’m disappointed in acting as a craft. I want everything to go back to Orson Welles and fake noses and changing your voice. It’s become so much about personality.” Skeet Ulrich, actor

Chris, who’s roaming around occupied with tray-passing, tells me he’s been up and down from the roof party to her condo a half a dozen times. An indication that some small clique think they’re more special than the rest of the party. The ones that don’t want to be seen, yet aren’t famous! I don’t care much for inner circles. They’re not that impressive when it comes down to brass tacks and longevity, more often fat than fiber. People with real talent don’t have to play that. However, the Hollywood machine is very competitive to make it in and be successful. It’s not only what and who you know, but living out a tough existence of few wins and many losses. Ultimately, my hat is off for the many who take the time to persevere and navigate through the unforgiving maze.

As another example, at this passage I’m now at my writing sanctuary near home, Michael D’s Café, at the counter, and sitting two chairs over is the actor, Joe Don Baker, who became famous in the 70’s when he portrayed Tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser in Walking Tall, but has been acting since the mid-60’s. It was 6:30 pm and we were both having breakfast and chatting a little bit. He was in Junior Bonner with Steve McQueen, as well as Cape Fear, The Killing Time, and three 007 films, just to name a few of the 80 credits he has in his career. Joe Don has a new movie coming out next year called Mud, with Matthew McConaughey, Reese Whitherspoon, and Sam Shepard. He’s 76 now, has been in the business for six decades, and he doesn’t make a big issue of himself. He’s totally cool to hang and talk with. After reading the paper for a while, he gets a piece of apple pie to go, and drives off in either his old 240Z or his Citroen SM. Very cool!

Joe Don Baker – on working with Sam Peckinpah in Junior Bonner (1972) “I didn’t care for Peckinpah at all. He was one of those little guys who tries to bully big guys and he almost got his ass whipped for trying to do it to me. Every time I was going to throttle Peckinpah, Steve McQueen would come over and calm me down like a brother would”

Many parties are filled with starving artists and misfits of all types trying to make it, getting some exposure and name recognition. Some stick around for the long haul, and others go back home to where they came from. It’s a natural revolving door occurrence in this town of lost souls. You get used to it with no matter or bother about it, especially after you’ve worked well over a thousand one-off events with a bar. I smile and pour, instantly becoming part of the overall gathering.

After 11:00 pm or so, we slowly start fading out and boxing up excess products we’re not going to use behind the bar. There are always leftovers, but we were lucky to go through quite a bit, resulting in less schlepping at the end. It’s the one drag difference between this work and working in an actual bar. But I do both so, I just deal with it, as it’s always something no matter where you work or what you do.

It may rain, so we get the bars broken down and inside the top floor hallway, with the product going in a small storage/utility room nearby. We take all the open bottles to the birthday girl’s condo for a quick drop-off a few floors down. Back up for a final clean-over outside, I head over to the elevator with my pack of tools over shoulder. It opens, and there’s Tina the DJ, making out with the sound tech assistant. Thinking to myself “Wait a second, I thought you’d be saving that for me?” I immediately tell him that he’d better grab his sound board and speakers that were against the wall in the hallway before they get stolen.

Surprisingly, the poor lug did what I told him, as it was a chance move to get her alone. Nothing could ever become serious with it, just some playtime. I punched the button to the ground floor, but she held it open for him instead of letting us ride alone. Away gathering his blocks of equipment, I came up behind her and put my fingers under her G-string to convince her otherwise, as I knew they were going back down to the party inside. No dice! The deal had already been struck. A closer convenience won out. Those precious lust-filled moments dissipate into thin air as the three of us take the elevator together, not to be seen again. L.A. is like a universe, where you never run into the same night stranger.

I get to my truck, put my tan fleece coat on, and light a smoke standing on the sidewalk. It’s going to come down from the sky. Just a matter of time, I can smell it in the air. We avoid a drench with no cover . . .

A Danger Unforeseen . . .

  

 It was late August, 2005. I had just got home from a gig with Liquid Catering out in the West Hills/Bell Canyon area off of Valley Circle, in a sizeable recreation hall within a gated community. It was a memorial get-together for a teenage boy who had tragically lost his life. The night before at another gig, I felt good, but this day my energy didn’t seem to rebound much at all from my normal sleep.

We had a perfect built-in bar set-up to work out of, so the unloading, stocking and ice drop all prepped as planned. I was working alongside Greg, another bartender from Liquid as well, so it was one of those gigs where 1½ bartenders would have been just right, leaving us sharing a few repeated breaks. Fine with me! Same pay, who cares?  Greg was moving to Las Vegas the very next day, so his mind was both home and abroad. Myself, I just dial it in once in a while on an easy one. You can’t be perfect every night, so I don’t make an issue of it.

The theme of the event was best for us to be numb and humble, anyway, more like cocktail caretakers for the night, where facial expression and nodding the complemented visual lip read in a quietude of observance over alcohol, a rec. room for sorrow and buffet. Given my flat energy for the day, it was fitting for the mourners. I always store some reserve power within my armor in case of need, so I can hit the booster to crank it up whenever, but even that wasn’t working tonight. Something was wrong. I had never felt an overall central drop in my physiological circuitry like this before. Even more curious, there was no reason for it at all.

I took a break, grabbed a small bite to eat, and sat down watching Greg pour in eye-shot off to the side in the back. Sitting ended up being a good and a bad thing to do. After 15 minutes, it felt like I had taken a couple valium. My food consumption was a scene in slow motion till the plate emptied. Of course, it was my time to take the bar now! My breathing became laboriously deeper out of necessity. Strange that it didn’t feel like I was coming down with anything, as once every week or ten days I pop a tincture combination of Echinacea and Goldenseal to keep my immune system up and away from the common cold and flu, since we’re always around and in contact with so many different people all of the time. Don’t want to be tending bar with the sniffles, sore throats and congested coughs. Yuk!

We load and go home. My place at that time on the valley’s old El Escorpion Road was only a few minutes away with no freeway, and I had the next couple days off to hopefully rest and regain. I get to bed well after midnight as usual after checking emails and watching a late movie over some well-stocked soup with organic vegetables. Everything was basically fine, but the fatigue was weird. I crashed with the window cracked just a bit for some fresh air to seep in.

Rising from the dead a little before Noon, I get out of bed and slowly attempt to stand up, but my knees buckled and I hit the carpet. A scary moment of unknown origin became urgent. I rarely ever have to go to the doctor. My medical life has always been about getting clobbered with major illnesses, while avoiding all the small stuff. The last big problem I had with a body issue was 8 years previous. I guess something was due, almost coming to expecting it.

I was parched like I’ve never experienced before, as though I hadn’t drank any water in a month. I had no fucking clue what was happening, but I knew at this point I had to pick up the phone, if I could get to it!  I sucked down a quart of water like I had been stranded in the desert, soaking my throat enough to speak to a receptionist. My doctor, Paul, at his office in the West Hills Medical Plaza, got me in at mid-afternoon, luckily catching him on one of the three days a week he’s there. The final visual shocker was right before I hopped in the truck. All that water, and more following quart one, made me piss like a horse. But it came out brown in color. Uh oh! I stood in silent disbelief, praying it was an easy cure and go-away.

They call me in from the waiting room. Paul arrives 10-15 minutes later, looks at me, and my eyes, and says “I hope it isn’t what I think it is”. Great, that’s all I need to hear. I give a urine sample, as that was ready to flow again, and the nurse takes my blood. I sit in a chair with complete emptiness of power, like someone disengaged the battery cables without my prior approval. I had no pain whatsoever, but the oncoming suffering of deprivation was now taking full control, but for how long?

With Paul at my side again, he offered up the dirty detail. Though we had to wait a day or two for the blood tests to come back, the worst case scenario was to hold true, though not yet confirmed. I had contracted Hepatitis A, from somewhere! I was livid inside, but I was too tired to show it. However, while waiting for the final blood results, the third day after I felt great. My energy bounced back. I was thinking they were wrong. On my way to work at the club, I get a surprise call on my cell from the L.A. County Health Department. They caught me just in time. She confirmed it over the phone with me. I said “Are you sure, because I feel fine now”. She said “Yes, no doubt”. At that point, I realized it was highly unsafe for me to work or be near anyone, regardless how I felt. I called the club, exited the freeway and reversed it back home. This info even gets sent to the CDC – Center for Disease Control, not my preferred database to be on.

With it having a contagion period, I was off work for three weeks, having to cancel or replace myself with another bartender on already booked gigs then. I pretty much stayed inside like a cave dweller. The next day I was down for the count. It hit me again, and this time, stayed. From that point, I had bi-weekly appointments with the doctor so he could keep measuring the levels of virus in the blood. I was in big trouble. It was high in my veins. The doctor was very afraid for me. My eyes and skin were becoming jaundice, and except for the gallons of water, I lost my appetite for food almost overnight. You get this type of thing from ingesting water or food that is contaminated with the virus. Hep A isn’t from drugs or sex, that’s more B and C.

Out of misery and desperation just after the contagious period was over, I sought out the help of an East Indian Herbalist in private practice, unknown to my doctor. I was essentially my own case of life and death at that point. I had nothing to lose. The Indian practitioner knew exactly what powdered herbs and capsules I needed, being all too familiar with the letters and degrees of Hepatitis. In the U.S., people suffer from A, B and C mainly, but where he’s from and other countries, have different forms to deal with, I believe more deadly, like D, E, F, G, H, I and J, of which I was never previously aware of until now.

This stuff was nasty to have to get down my gullet on a daily basis or every other day. Sometimes I just couldn’t do it, being too nauseous for me. But I did slowly recognize a change, where it seemed to somewhat cool the fire in the belly, a relief during any actual food intake through this marathon of barely alive. In those first few weeks, I lost muscle mass everywhere on my body – legs, arms and butt.

I became the master of disguise with eventually returning to work behind the bar, allowing for no more than 10 gigs a month, as I only had about 6 hours of good energy a day, plus it’s recommended to do anything that requires movement or physical activity daily to keep everything else from shutting down. It would have been easy to sit around and do nothing, but I get bored really fast. My mind, therefore my body, has to do something.

I wore extra layers of clothing to not look bone rail thin with 25-30 lbs. loss of weight. I wore glasses and shades whenever I could get away with it. It was just to avoid people wondering, when everything at that stage was safe and okay. Arriving home at the end of gigs, I would at times park and sit in the truck for a couple minutes in silence, just to generate an ounce of power to get up the steps into the house.

All I was doing through this long, dark period was maintaining. I had nothing else, it was entirely stripped away. Dealing with this daily deprivation was maddening to say the least. You get so finished and enough already with it, and with the emotions that surface, I ended up in tears many times, barely holding on during the lowest power times.

I was ill with this devastating virus for 70 straight days before enough antibodies built up in my system to overtake it, kill it and kick it out. Believe me, you do not want this illness. There were times in that brutal period where it would have been just fine to die. The misery was that bad. What your tired mind goes through becomes a humbling, life-changing experience with survival. I went from the suffering and humiliation of dropping all those pounds with only 6 hours of good energy a day, to eating and drinking like a starving horse for two to three weeks with a ravenous hunger that hit, gaining my weight back after it left my body. If there’s something good to come from this, it’s the fact that you can never get it again. Your body’s defense is now immune to it.

The virus was like being possessed by a demon from hell’s gate. Here I was in great shape and I get rocked solid out of nowhere. The channel in which the biggest lessons in my life arrive are through medical illness or disease. It’s been that way since childhood. I just hate it when it comes. But I always end up free and clear afterwards. I don’t have any answers for it.

Below is the original piece I wrote seven years ago, while I was under attack from the virus, with more specific general detail, designed for any of the food and beverage magazines to consider running as a Health and Awareness story. They loved the article, but declined on publishing it, as it’s not the most savory of subjects to go along with food and drink pairing. I agree. But it’s out there, and you don’t see it coming, nobody does. It’s very elusive. That’s the mystery of it, and why it’s so important to be on the lookout. With the attempt of diligence in search of, I was never able to find out how I contracted the virus, because I work all over, not just in one establishment, making it almost impossible to pinpoint the who, what and where. Some months later, there was an outbreak of Hep A at a restaurant and bar in downtown L.A., where some 50 people became ill. It was all over the news, and kinda freaked me out again.

Awareness and Availability

Notification of vaccination for Hepatitis A

To all food and beverage service personnel and management working in the Restaurant/Hospitality industry throughout the United States

With over 12 million people currently working in the industry, and an additional 270,000 entering the business each year (making it the largest employer outside the U.S. Government), it is of ever-increasing importance for all service personnel and management to become and to make aware of the availability of the Hepatitis A vaccine. It has been on the market for 10 years now, which is not a long time considering the number of people that should know about it, especially those of us who work in this business. Hepatitis A, in one sense, is like the worst form of food and/or water poisoning you could ever get. It is a liver illness caused by a virus entering/ingested in the body. You can get it by eating food (unclean or improperly cooked), drinking water that has the germ in it, or by close personal contact with a person who has it, but may or may not know that they have it. This is what makes it so dangerous, therefore potentially easy to innocently or accidentally pass it on to others, which can cause short strings of epidemics or outbreaks wherever they may arise or work.

The main problem is due to the early incubation/contagion period (average period is 28 days, but the range is 15-50 days) that may or may not come with symptoms. This beginning stage is crucial, because if the person does have symptoms come on, more than likely they won’t know what they stem from or what they may be connected to, especially if they’re not aware of what the symptoms of Hepatitis A are exactly, for a person with no symptoms can still give the illness to others. The person may not get early symptoms until the third week for example, or yet, may feel something of a very minor body sensation like a fever or being a bit tired for no reason, but would never think that it was soon to be connected to what could be a major illness. They may think its simple heat exhaustion, therefore may continue working without even knowing, but at some soon point in time the energy-clobbering symptoms will hit and they will hit hard. Along with the extreme energy loss, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the white part of the eyes), dark urine, nausea, diarrhea, complete loss of appetite, stomach pain, and a thirst for liquids (major dehydration) at a level you’ve never felt before. You could drink a half-gallon of water and 10 minutes later you’d be parched. This is what makes it so important for everyone working in the F&B industry to know, is that it can hit anyone at anytime, even office personnel who eat or drink on-premise.

There is no treatment or medication for Hepatitis A once you get it and/or have been diagnosed by your doctor that you have it, through a blood test. It is a virus (viral illness) and antibiotics won’t work. You basically have to allow it to run its course, which depending on the normal health of your body will take 45-90 days before you recover, and there are some individuals who can be ill for as long as 6 months. During this ill period you will also go through substantial weight loss (due to loss or reduction of appetite), will generally feel weak and will be thirsty all the time, so have plenty of fresh distilled water on hand to keep hydrated. Also, keep mobile with your body every day to a degree. Don’t sit around all day and do nothing, even as drained as you may feel. Be a little active with a walk, a bike ride, some work. Your body is in survival mode.

After the initial contagious period is over after a couple few weeks, the only way to pass the disease on is through the stool. Casual contact does not spread the virus. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to keep your bathroom/toilet clean and disinfected/sanitized all the time, and utilizing the “Isolation Technique” is the best way to go. This means that anyone who has the illness should be the only one using a particular bathroom in the house, if at all possible. This helps insure the safety of everyone living in and around the same environment. Nobody wants to pass this devastating illness onto someone else. In fact, this illness is never the fault of the individual who gets it. It’s always due to the negligence or not-knowing of the person who has it and decides to still go to work, and if that person is a food handler in a restaurant or bar, it couldn’t get any worse of a risk than that. This is why management has the higher responsibility to make sure every person on staff is healthy with no colds or flu on the floor or behind the bar. Any staff employee should not be allowed to punch the clock.

Your diet will be trimmed down to what is the most easily digestible, so grains, rice, cereal, and pasta work best and also help to stabilize your weight while your appetite is low for just about anything. Your palate is turned upside down, so your favorite foods will make you nauseous to even think about. Above all, no dairy and no meat of any kind until your doctor notices some improvement. This means no milk in the cereal. For the benefit of your stomach, use a combination of aloe juice and pear or apple juice instead. Also, choose cereals that are low in sugar and higher in fiber and protein. Fruits are okay, but nothing too citric, as the key to eating during this period when the stomach bile is having a hard time not being able to work with the liver, is to avoid things that will cause/result in acid indigestion. Therefore, bananas, cantaloupe, or grapes may be a good starting point. You won’t have a craving for much food for a period of time anyway, so keep it simple, bland, and easy to digest. The energy in your body has been heavily compromised and depleted, so don’t tax it anymore than you have to, especially in the area of digestion.

There is only one good thing to come of this, and that is, once you’ve had it, you cannot get it again, as your body slowly develops antibodies (during illness) that kills the virus and kicks it out of your system, providing life-long protection, and you cannot transmit the virus to others. You also do not need to get a Hepatitis A vaccination shot. To prevent getting this nasty illness that wrecks you for a minimum of two months, check in with your doctor and inquire about the vaccine. The Hep A vaccine has an excellent safety profile, and it’s only a one-shot stage, not a three-stage shot like Hep B is. The protection after receiving the Hep A vaccine begins four weeks after the dose has been administered. If you feel you’ve been exposed to the Hepatitis A virus, short-term protection is available by getting an immune globulin shot, which can be given before and within two weeks after coming in contact with someone who may have the virus.

Other ways to prevent are washing your hands before and after using the bathroom, and before eating. Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating them, drink bottled water, and eat only well-cooked foods when traveling.

To find out how and where children can get free shots, please call 1-800-427-8700. In looking at the world map of Hep A cases, the U.S. is low at somewhere between 50,000–100,000 cases a year, with the majority occurring more on the West coast than on the East coast, while countries like India and the province of Quebec are high, so be careful when you travel. Some of this information has been researched from text available on the L.A. County Health Dept. website: lapublichealth.org, the Center for Disease Control website: cdc.gov, and unfortunately from my own direct experience in late 2005.

MEDICAL UPDATE

As Gary Null reports from his weekly health show on Pacifica Radio dated Tuesday – January 24, 2006. He stated that intravenous Ozone Therapy, sessions of fresh oxygen into the blood-stream, kills the viral infection and knocks it out of the system. This therapy works for Hepatitis A, B, and C.

HEALING NOTE

An East Indian friend of mine informed me that the way to know if you’ve recovered from the illness is to eat candy. If it tastes sweet, then you’re healthy. But if it tastes bitter, then you have not fully recovered. This is what I mean when I mentioned earlier of how this illness turns your palate upside down, making things you normally eat have a nasty taste on the palate.

Silo – Part 3

On some evenings I’d be over at the Blackwell’s house visiting, as Flora had four children that I grew up with, including Mark who was my age. It was fun to catch up with everyone. When I’d head back to the house, it was so pitch dark out with no streetlights, I couldn’t see the road directly in front of me, even after my eyes attempted to adjust. All I could see at a distance on the right was the porchlight, far away. Talk about fright nights! I started jogging silently so I could get there quicker since my heart was beating out of my chest anyway!

Closer, and slowly in my vision I could see the fireflies hovering around the bulb gathering some heat. When they were younger, my mother and my Aunt Billie used to call them lightning bugs. I remember visiting after I graduated high school when I was seventeen. My parents had bought me plane tickets as a graduation gift. Philip and his wife, Melanie, had now been living in the main house on the farm for several years now by themselves, so I stayed with them. Charlie was living up the road. Weeks went by too quickly even for a laid-back pace of lifestyle, and again, it was time for me to go.

Grandma and Gramps would always drive me back to the airport in Syracuse. It was another early morning take-off, I guess in order to get into Arizona at a decent hour, with the mid-country layover in Chicago. It was about a seventy-mile drive, and I was sitting in the back seat alone. I could overhear my grandparents talking about things. I wasn’t paying attention much, as I was staring out the window in my own little world. They’d ask me something now and then or I’d do the same. As we entered into the passenger drop-off area of the airport, the car came to a stop. Gramps turned off the motor, while Grandma went in to see if my plane was going to be taking off on time.

Within a few moments of silence, something hit me. They were getting a little older, and I guess I was too. I didn’t know when I would be back again, and that kind of scared me. After a little bit of last minute talking via the rearview mirror, Gramps turned around and I moved up to the middle of the back seat. We looked at each other and started crying, missing one another already. A couple times during my stay, we had sat in the living room and watched a baseball or football game together. I could smell the cherry tobacco in his pipe. I was this kid, strong-willed, but couldn’t hold it together when it came to things like this; missing people, not knowing when I’d see them again.

Grandma arrived back to the car. Everything was running on schedule. I was hoping it would be late. It was difficult for Gramps to get out of the car and walk through the airport, so we hugged and kissed goodbye. Grandma went back in with me. It was the last time I saw my grandfather. We both had that feeling but couldn’t put it into words, and didn’t want to. At a certain checkpoint I had to go on my own. I hugged and kissed my grandmother goodbye, and told her that I loved her and I’ll see you soon. Even though I had a special bond with both of them, she knew I had a special connection with Gramps.

I remember him getting on me about making a groove path in the lawn above the ditch off the side of the road with the motorcycle, creating a fun jump for myself, but he didn’t care too much for what it was doing to the grass. I was being a bit thoughtless so, I would say “okay” and that would be the end of it. I stopped riding up it. No endless harps about it as long as I did what I was told. I got the message.

Here I was, roaming through the airport trying to find my gate with still-streaming tears in my eyes. I must’ve looked like a lost kid, but I was used to finding my own way through terminals. I just had to clear my eyes and find a bathroom to blow my nose.

Some years had gone by and I was going through a lot of changes in my life, working at a regular job now and paying rent like everyone else. I hardly had any monies leftover for play or vacation. I was working many hours and two jobs, living in Phoenix when the call came in a couple days after the fact.

It happened around 7:00 pm, October 5th, 1981.

It was fairly calm outside. Some days of wind and rain had hit a month and two before, when the hay is cut and baled up into the barn’s loft in August and September. Turning dark quickly, Philip and Charlie were a little more than half the way through with milking the cows for the evening, when Phil noticed the lights flickering in the barn. This triggered a sign of two possibilities; electrical or temperature. There were three silos on the South side of the barn, right up next to it. The opposite side of where the main house was. It continued, so he took a further walk around and then went out back. Near the silo side, that’s where he noticed it.

Fire and smoke was coming from a corner of the barn loft. Phil immediately ran into the barn yelling to let Charlie know and to call the fire department. The main priority at that moment was to get the cows out of the barn, so one-by-one they were released from their stalls after the milking apparatus was moved off the floor and out of the way of the four cows currently being milked, two on each side. Not a moment to waste, the problem of containment had begun from the first notice of the flames, as the loft was full of hay just above.

The power to the barn’s lighting had to be shut off from the main power box, as the hot wiring above is what caused the flickering below. Dark inside, the cows were backing up trying to move onto the center breezeway and find their direction out the side barn door, slowing things up. A flashlight quickly helped show the way. Spreading fast above, smoke was moving everywhere. By the time they finally got all the cows out, the fire trucks arrived and needed to clear the area inside and out. The roof was soon to be engulfed.

Not able to get over there in time to rescue them out of their separated pens, two calves died in the barn. This was a country fire. No pale of water was going to help reduce it any. Even with an entire lake so close, nothing could be done. It was high in the sky for almost seven hours. What all of the neighbors on old Storrs Road grew up with all those years as children and adults, and people that babysat me when I was young, watched through the trees of the road in tears as a family and area landmark in a small historic town, burned away.

It was spontaneous combustion. There was some wet/damp hay up in the loft, with some dry hay sitting on top of it. It started to sweat, and eventual heat levels rose to the point where it caught fire.

A quarter-mile down the land stretch on the road in a smaller retirement house built, my grandparents looking North out of their bedroom window, could only stand and stare at the decades of work possibly coming to an end. With a strong will and strong hands, it was a helpless situation. All the relatives living nearby had been contacted and drove over as soon as they could get there. But the way of life of a farming family had come to a screeching halt, and no one knew what to do or think for a while after.

Thoughts and worries filled the days and weeks to come, while the cows had to be transported and milked elsewhere, not to mention grazing and feeding. Eventually the decision was made to not rebuild, for many reasons. A couple years went by and, having suffered a major heart attack, my grandfather passed away in the Jefferson County Hospital in the spring of 1984. He was 72. He tried to stay alive, but there was just too much irreversible damage. I was never able to speak to him on the phone to his hospital room. When he died, I still hadn’t completely gotten over the loss the fire caused, and it’s like it started all over again for me. He was one of thirteen children, with most of them still alive today, in their nineties.

Today, the silos still remain along with the main farmhouse, unoccupied. A friend of the family who has a cottage down by the edge of the lake, bought up the property and surrounding land, and has kept it virtually untouched ever since, allowing for no development or changes. After forty plus years of tilling the soil, milking cows, and supplying dairy products the last thing it deserved was a tragic ending. My grandmother survived and lived on for more than a decade. I visited her often as she stayed in town in a retirement home nearby the families.

I still go back every few years, in the summer, as the winters are too cold for me to handle, being so used to the warm weather of the West. It’s beautiful at that time of year off the sparkling lake. I stay on Main Street in Sackets at a hotel off the water. After a late-morning breakfast, I borrow my Uncle Donnie’s bicycle and peddle to the farm, like I always do. I’d bike from the Harbor Hotel, around and past the Madison Barracks with my first stop being the old cemetery where my grandparents are buried. I walk the bike over to the gravestone and sit on the ground for a while, and just get there for a moment. I slow it down and doze off a bit, thinking of the past, and of them. I was never really afraid in the graveyard. It was quiet.

A mile or two away is old Storrs Road, where I make a left and head up to the property, peddling faster. From a distance I could see the farmhouse and the tall silos, like pillars of power once storing and fermenting the grains and greens for all the livestock. Corn silage or fodder, as they called it. “Branche Farms” was painted close to the top of the middle silo. The closer I got the more I felt at peace. Entering the driveway, the sun was kissing the water just right. The West side of the house was receiving a long period of extra shine, warming its bones again from the most recent winter.

I sit on the porch of the vacant farm house with memories flooding my mind, like I’ve never left. It’s warm, and I can hear the breeze telling me all is okay here. I don’t have to worry anymore. I can relax. I can smile and feel a sense of deep happiness, but not without a river of tears coming on and filling my eyes. It takes a while to pass, and than I can breathe deeply in.

I wave at people I used to know, and that used to know me. We were little then, but we’re still able to recognize each other just enough to say hello, and go about our day. After a while of doing nothing but staring at the hay fields being cut nearby, the sky being blue, and Ontario rocking with ski boat waves, I watch as two crows come near, landing at the top of the fireplace to join me in the sitting.

Every once in a great while I still have the dreams. Being in the farmhouse at night, being outside, standing in the barn, or walking the dark road. My grandparents would visit me, smiling to let me know that everything’s alright. Then I wake up from the trance. Of all the grandchildren, I was the only one who ever lived on the farm from what I can remember. I can only wish that all of my cousins had experienced it in the same way that I did.

Website – www.SacketsHarborNY.com

Silo – Part 2

At that age, the animals were intimidating to me. Their big bodies and my little body equaled fear. Cows are mild and gentle, and don’t like to be bothered by humans. You can’t pet a cow for the most part. They don’t quite respond like a domesticated animal, and they don’t like being surprised. Watching the Holsteins come in from the field like a swaggering milk gang, slowly entering the opening of the barn doors, their hooves go from touching the brown earth to the flat concrete foundation of the barn’s floor. Quick adjustments are necessary to avoid any slip and falls, so they have to move even slower and with more body weight control to walk safely in their individual stalls.

These four-leggeds have a humble brilliance to them. Every time, they will go into their exact same stalls, just knowing. The ultimate creatures of habit. Once in a while, one or two will get confused, but they soon figure it out on their own. The perfect feed awaits them, so locked in they go, happy with the trade. Each has their own pressure-controlled water bowls at about neck height, so for a few hours they’d hang out side-by-side with the radio on the country music station, swinging and swaying. Charlie would do the South side and Philip the North, setting up to milk them one after the other in overlapping fashion, all the way down the long stretch of the barn. They wouldn’t allow me to milk the cows early on, because they were afraid I might get crushed in between two bellies that swayed too close together at the wrong time.

I used to love watching the cows after they’ve finished grubbing. Their jaws never stop moving, like they’re always chewing something. In the early days it was manual milking, but later on an electric milking system was installed which dramatically reduced all that hands-on labor, and was cleaner and safer. All of the fresh milk was vacuum-pumped to a large main holding tank in another room connected to the barn’s North side, so the big dairy truck could come by a couple times a week for pick-up. It was cooled, and I would open up the hatch at the top, watch it swirl around and smell the freshness. So much milk in one stainless steel container. Like an ocean.

On one particular visit, a calf was being born in the early morning. I swear it was the day after I arrived from Arizona. I was in bed upstairs but there was a floor vent that went from my feet down to the kitchen, so I could overhear all the talk at the table. I rose up, got dressed and went downstairs. The mother had stayed inside the barn the previous night to keep warm. I walked in the barn and Charlie and Philip were already there close by while she was laying on the floor in some degree of labor. I was about twenty feet away. The doctor was on the way over. All went well and the calf was placed on safer dirt ground with some fresh hay for better stability when on its feet.

 

Other times when I’ve watched doctors come in for health maintenance or when a cow is ill, the medicine tablets they use are huge compared to the aspirin that people take. It had to be three inches across, a perfect fit in the palm of your hand, for a reason! But it helps the livestock get better, and that’s important, so it doesn’t spread to others.

You don’t have to live on a farm for twenty years to have it permeate in your blood for good. When I would visit every few summers, Philip and Charlie no longer had to fear the new two-legged creature popping out from nowhere as they once did when I was a little toddler. I had grown up a bit and was finally healthy for the first time, in their eyes. Now all they had to do was pray that I wouldn’t nosedive the motorcycle into a nearby ditch off the side of the road. When they thought I was having too much fun, they’d pull back the reigns and make me do some honest work to earn my keep. I wanted to help, so even that was alright. Gramps and them taught me how to drive the tractor so I could help them bring wagon loads of hay in from the fields, and one by one up the conveyer belt to the barn’s loft where Charlie was stacking and laying on the other end. A bit of heavy lifting for my size, I still put the gloves on and pulled my weight so they could rely on me. Can’t be a lazy wimp on a farm!

One thing I had to make sure of was to never lose the linchpin. I was always aware of the little things, though. My father mentioned to me that knotholes in the wood walls at the top half of the barn have to be watched out for so direct sunbeams through them for extended periods of time wouldn’t cause a bale of hay to catch fire up in the loft. Best if they’re closed up. Back in the field, Gramps would reverse the tractor and combine to an empty hay wagon that I had just brought back and unhooked. I’d be standing between them both, with the pin in one hand and the connector hitch in the other, and when the holes lined up I’d shove the pin down, hooking it up to continue baling in another full load.

Summer’s almost gone. The crops are finishing in, and the last wagon of hay from the just-cut field ends up being our neighborly hay ride for all family and friends nearby the old road.

Humidity hits August off the lake, sunset filled with knats in the air at dusk, and fireflies at night. Not the best time to take a long walk, much less a bike ride without goggles and a nose-mouth piece on. Flying back from Arizona to New York as a teenager, I was hoping the Honda 70 was up and running so I could make across the countryside, through some woods and down to the cottages near the water’s edge. Putting mileage on the little hummer was no problem. The wind blowing my shoulder-length hair, I was free and it was heaven to me. Charlie and Gramps had it fully-maintenanced from the repairman up at the top of the road, knowing I was about to arrive at the airport in Syracuse.

I was always excited to get back to what I thought was my home away from home. I walked over to see the Blackwell’s and the Liptrot’s just up the road a few houses, as they all knew me when I was young taking the bus to school with everyone else. As I would grow and change over the years combined with the infrequency of seeing them, they would always hesitate for a moment before they figured out who it was knocking on the screen door. A shadow memory of the past. A chameleon of continued growth. No, it’s just Kyle. “How ya doin kid, we was wondering who that was riding Charlie’s motorbike!”.

The time would always pass by too fast during my visit. I never wanted to leave. I remember after a couple weeks, only four or five days left before I’d have to head back to the West coast. With fleeting time eating at me little by little, my one wish would not have been for a million dollars. It would’ve been for the clock to stop ticking away those moments I thought belonged to me. It’s probably the reason why I never owned or wore a wrist watch until the age of twenty six. I wanted no reminders of time. The moving of the sun and the moon was plenty enough.

Knowing how much you’re going to miss something can be a bit troubling for a teenager. Emotions and short-fused youth aggression can take over. I was wild in my mind but not a problem-causer by nature. One late afternoon a dark wind must have blew over my shoulders. I was out in the oat field with Gramps, Philip and Charlie, and one of the tractors broke down. Philip asked me to walk back to the farm and drive the other Allis-Chalmers over. It was a bit of a hike, but it’s not like the main property was out of visibility. I just had to do an end-around on foot, but I ran most of the way instead. Gramps had the John Deere 4010 diesel there, but we didn’t want him to have to do a round-trip and a half. And besides, the big green machine was still new, so he wasn’t easy about letting anyone else drive it just quite yet.

Driving back to the field, something was bothering me. I don’t know what it was. I had to give Charlie a ride back to the machinery shed to grab the tools he needed for repair. They wanted to get it done before dusk fell upon us, so I got the tractor rollin’ – a little too much. Charlie was standing on the hitch behind me while holding onto the seatback with one hand and the left-rear fender handle with the other. After clearing the just-cut oat field, I started through the dirt road that lead between the long stretch of corn rows on the way to the single-lane main Storrs road. It was bumpy due to the wet and dry weather changes, some potholes and well, the nature of the soil. I had the throttle up a little too high and before I knew it, Charlie was yelling for me to slow it down. As I was at the point of doing so he bounced off the back end and onto the ground. He was standing up and not hurt. I had stopped and he caught up. It was the first time something like that happened. “Get off there, let me drive”, he said. Now I was in his position, holding on back the rest of the way over.

Lessons have to be taught fast on a farm, good or bad. There’s no time to fart around, and it can be dangerous when not paying attention. It was my turn to learn one, but otherwise I abided well with mostly everything. He dropped me off at the main house, and that was the end of my day of helping out. One day I tried climbing one of the silos, but the cables got too far apart on the way up and my legs and arms wouldn’t stretch out any more. Just as well. I didn’t need an accident !

I remember the first couple of times going back to vacation for the summer. Playing Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots with Uncle Phil. Tagging along with the guys while we drove to the village of Adams to go to the machinery store for parts or whatever. I’d walk in and head right for the big wall case that held all of the kid-sized scaled replicas of the tractors and wagons we had on the farm. I could stand there and stare through the sliding glass doors for an hour. Gramps had already bought me a couple pieces that I had at home, but it wouldn’t stop me from seeing if there was anything new. Then we went to Carol’s Drive-In for a burger, fries and a shake before we headed back.

Visiting when I was thirteen or so, a horse was corralled in the lot just across from the farmhouse and a little ways from the barn. The owner was a friend of my grandfather, who was out of town for a few weeks. My uncles were very busy and so within a couple of hours of arriving, I was made responsible for feeding and taking care of this red Arabian stallion. He was unbroken and a bit wild. A perfect fit. After a short time, we knew how to work each other pretty well.

He had plenty of graze grass in the field, so I took care of his grains, water, and an apple every other day kept the doctor away from both of us. I could tell he wasn’t too keen on sharing the sweets, so I only took a bite and let him have the rest. I would go off and do something else for a little while, then come back and jump inside the large lot and walk him around the entire field. However, the walk turned into a trot and then turned into a gallop the more I got going into a run. I eventually had to get out of the way. Catching my breath, we’d start walking and do it again and again so he’d get some exercise. Back at the front gate, I’d try to get his body close to the wood railing where I’d be sitting on top so I could slowly throw my leg over him, but he would not come over close enough for me to make the move safely. It would’ve been a bareback attempt, but I really wasn’t interested in the worst-case scenario had he not responded well.

Just a few days after, I was in town for part of the day to find out when I got back that a few older guys from around the area had just tried to ride him. That pissed me. But after the first one got bucked off from what I was told, it pretty much closed up the idea of any further tries, even saddled up. I guess my instincts were right, but him and I were buddies so I probably wouldn’t have received the same rude awakening as the neighborhood fella’s did. Good horse sense !

Silo – Part 1

NOTE – This is not a Bar story. This is a short story (in three parts) based from my childhood growing up on my Grandparent’s dairy farm in upstate New York before I moved out West at the age of seven. Just wanted you to know in case you would prefer to skip this post. I put it up here as a place to house it with added photos for any family and friends that wish to read and have access to it at all times.

It was the early evening, with barely a shed of daylight remaining before the night falls complete. My grandfather stood with the help of his canes in the bedroom of the small house that was built on the land just down the road from the main farm house where he and my grandmother lived in semi-retirement. Watching through the window, there was nothing that could be done. It was too late. Flames were growing tall to the sky, with the fire trucks arriving nearby.

Storrs Road runs all the way down to the water. Though cottages line the edge areas of the great Lake Ontario, the interior is soil-rich land for farming. Maybe a bit too rich in the thoughts of some, but who could complain in that direction when everything is green with envy. Ontario is derived from the Iroquois Indian word Kanadario, meaning “sparkling waters” or “beautiful lake”. In the southern part of upstate New York, the lake is five times larger than France, covering over 400,000 square miles. I grew up here in historic Sackets Harbor until the age of seven on my grandparent’s dairy farm. It is one of New York state’s heritage areas and was a shipbuilding center during the War of 1812. Watertown, Dexter, Brownville, Alexandria Bay, Cape Vincent, and the St. Lawrence River are here in the Thousand Islands region within an hour or so away.

In the 1800’s, my great-great grandparents migrated from a town in France called Rosiere, to Northern New York in Jefferson County, an area upstate previously settled by countrymen who came over earlier and purchased a half million acres in large tracts of land, founding the village and calling it Rosiere, near Depauville. Many of the Bonapartists driven from France came to America and settled here. Some of my descendents were soldiers in Napoleon’s army.

Since my grandfather also drove the school bus in the morning and afternoon, not only did he pick me up to go to school, it made it convenient to have me dropped off at the Blackwell’s house after school with their kids of my age, just a couple houses down the road from the farm, until my parents got home from work. I was the first grandchild on my father’s side, so everyone always kept an eye or two on me. This was wide open land for the most part, so there’s no telling where I’d roam. Even Tippy, the German shepherd farm dog made sure I didn’t get too close to the main road. We had a handshake agreement !

This was the early 60’s, and as a child my favorite music to listen and dance to were the Beatles. I even had a pair of Beatle boots. Through manure and mud puddles it didn’t stop me from wearing them anywhere. I sang better with them on. Well, boots and M & M’s !

Out of the eight children my grandparents had, five were boys and three were girls. The perfect combination for a farm, some would say. My father was the first of eight, therefore the first son to work the farm with my grandfather, then Larry and Donnie. My uncle’s Charlie and Philip maintained the 12-hour work days for the most part while I was growing up, as the cows have to be milked twice a day – 5:00 am and 5:00 pm. Charlie had a more quiet but funny personality, while Philip was both funny and chatty. Gramps still liked to do his share of the work, making sure the boys didn’t fall behind. Even with the damage to his legs from polio, he would still make his way up to the seat of the tractor and get some work done. At that age, I didn’t know or understand why, but it didn’t matter to me.

With Larry, Carolyn, and Donnie living off the res, Phyllis and Kathy remained in the farm’s five-bedroom main house with Charlie, Philip, and Grandma and Grandpa. Phyllis and Philip were twins, and the youngest Kathy living upstairs in what became known as the haunted room. Many years later when she moved to the small house, she said the ghost followed her there. Maybe Kathy was the only friend it had.

With corn and oats to be cut and hay to be baled, you have seeding, cultivating and feeding that takes place in never-ending cycles. There’s nothing quite like the pungency when the manure wagon is full and needs to be taken out to re-fertilize the land where the cows graze. After the boys have finished the morning milking, the bovines are released out of the barn so the electric gutter rake can go through its cleanup motions. The center walking breezeway had to be swept too, as the rakes are moving. A farm is a ranch, just with different livestock. And tending to it takes just as long a day. Gramps would back the Allis-Chalmers up to the wagon in the barn’s only side garage. At one time, there was also a Farmall and Massey-Ferguson tractors in the shed.

Hooking it up with the linchpin, he would slowly head toward the main road, passing the mobile home that I lived in with my parents across from the farmhouse with the dirt road in between. I could tell it was Gramps in the seat of the tractor without looking out the window, as opposed to it being Philip or Charlie. Listening, I could hear the way each of them used the throttle and gears. That’s how I told them apart. I wasn’t allowed to ride with them until I was four or five years old, because of the obvious fear of falling and getting hurt. There wasn’t any place to sit, so I had to jump up and stand on the rear axle, holding onto the fender handle for dear life. I was the only child in many ways, but it didn’t stop me from wanting to go for it.

I was ill a lot during those years. With asthma, hay fever, bronchitis, tonsillitis, pneumonia, wheezing, and being in an oxygen tent every year, I barely had time to breathe. I also had what seemed to be endless hallucinations, scaring me out of my wits, afraid to close my eyes, where things appeared larger than life. Buildings and trees turned into moving monsters that walked and followed me. Maybe they were fever dreams, I don’t know, but something took me over for a while in my ills, like a child possessed. It is the reason we eventually moved out West to Yuma, Arizona. The hot, dry heat cleaned me out, saved my life, and I grew out of the asthma.

Feeling better, I wanted to get out and do something, anything. Mom would open the door to the trailer in perfect timing when the tractor and wagon would be right there. So I’d look out into Grandpa’s eyes wondering if I could go with him as he went out to spread the field. Sometimes he was in a good mood and at other times he wasn’t, but he always caught my eye with that “Please get me outta here, I wanna go with you” look on my face. When he smiled, my heart lit up like the sun, then he nodded with a wave and that was my signal to run over and climb up, as he took it out of gear and helped me up with his big hands. Standing next to him sitting and steering, I was on top of the world. When we got out in the field it was a little bumpy, so I really had to hold on.

Yet the times he didn’t smile or pay attention when I was there, I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know what serious meant, and when he said “no . . . not today little Kyle . . . okay?”, I was crushed inside, like all my energy was taken away. Mom tried to make it better, but watching him drive off without me next to him brought tears to my eyes that seemed to last forever, wondering and scared that he didn’t like me anymore. Hours later, I would heal after a nap and at the scent in the air of Grandma baking toll house cookies in the main house across the way. I would wait and watch through the screen door like a CSI: Cookie Scene Investigator. She hid them because she knew I was on the lookout. They were for my uncles, not me! Then the thief of chocolate would pounce in for a couple warm ones when she left the room, and disappear.

On Fridays she would make and bake pizza from scratch for everyone. Imagine the smell of that in the fresh country air. I was in pepperoni heaven. They were cut into squares, the dimension of the big pans themselves. Grandma Branche was the backbone of the family. I remember fetching water from the well outside many times for her. My arms pumping away with kid frenzy, but taught to not overdo it to a run-over, avoiding the waste of even a drop. It took some practice, but I was never a failure at trying. Now I make those same cookies at home today, remembering.

As a child running wild on a working farm, you become the master of scents and sounds. Some good and others not so good. It becomes you, and after awhile, you get to understand the worst of them as nothing more than tones of the earth, however they may test one’s senses. Like anything, you get used to it. I had a strange enjoyment from smelling Phillip and Charlie’s suspender overalls, as they encompassed everything on the farm. A mixture of bright and dark, light and heavy. So I got suspenders too! In the Wintertime, the scents were less pungent in the air.

The corn fields were bare nearby and directly in back of the house. With the sun bright and the snow shimmering, a bunch of us Branche, Blackwell, and Liptrot kids who lived up and down the road would get together in the mid-mornings with a couple of snow sleds or the engine hood of a car and slide down and up the rows, all bundled up in jackets and thick pants, laughing and yelling, with freezing faces.

In the mid-afternoon I’d have to get home and cleanup when Grandpa came in from the fields, as he liked to take me with him to the American Legion in town on Main Street, and introduce me as his first grandson to all his friends. I didn’t understand really. All I knew was that I got to have orange sodas and play shuffleboard for a time, touching buttons on the jukebox, and having fun hanging out with the old guys while Gramps knocked back a few. I loved the sound of the door’s buzzer when you pressed the button to get in with the sound of the lock-snap following. He got happy and sang a lot on the way home, just a short distance . He had a big, deep voice. I sang along a little bit, but I really didn’t know the words.

Cocktails and Clothing

In the late Summer/early Fall of 2005, I head out North all the way down Topanga Canyon Blvd. toward the 118 Freeway to Liquid Catering over in Chatsworth. My truck gets loaded down with product and ice, as Steve had me on an event in Hollywood where I had to be there at 4:00 pm. The gig was a designer jean sale party put on by the Canadian identical twin brothers, Chip & Pepper Foster, set in a big warehouse on Sunset Blvd., just a block east of the Hollywood Palladium. 

The worst part with this type of delivery and bar job at times is getting too sweaty from load work before you even get yourself situated behind the bar with fresh composure. Mentally, you’re changing gears from schlep to cheer, going from lift-labor power to smile, greet and pour energy. The dolly helped, but can’t we just hire a barback who will gladly do this shit so we can stay more on point with our own job description? I checked in with the other two bartenders that Steve had on for the night, and we split up the early duties after the heavy moving of 50lb. ice bags were all in and tubbed.

Bacardi was sponsoring the bars, and their P.R. person, Laura Baddish, was my primary contact. She had flown in from New York to be a part of the denim shindig and to make sure all goes off as planned with product placement across the bar tops. We had a few specialty drinks to make with a variety of spirits, but other than that it was beer, wine and champagne. We knew going into a 6:00pm start that we could be rolling hard if the place got packed, as hundreds of people were invited. It all depended on who shows up and the stagger in which they all arrive. Chip & Pepper had quite a following, and this was in the heart of Hollywood, so anything could happen.   

I was thankful the 18-foot drink stage was raised to proper bar height, or it would have been brutal on the neck. Head down with crotch-view of the bartenders is not the most attractive presentation package to offer the guests, yet it doesn’t stop the various cocktail competitions around the globe to suffer from this obvious lack of advance thought. But it’s usually the hotel or venue that fails to supply the lift sticks with the stretch of banquet tables used. But I digress . . .

Racks of pants filled the numerous aisles in the center of the floor space with name cuts like Stella, Slider, Bump Watch, Ike Nifus, Bobby Baby, Bronson, Yellowknife, Kesha, Union Square, Renner, and Illinois from sizes 24-32 all going for generous discounts from their normal retail prices. I’m so relieved to be past the need for peer image with expensive, trendy brand clothing, a racket that the “in-crowd” people follow like sheep. The one benefit from this type of gathering is getting rid of a shitload of inventory overstock. The cool and safe precaution of invitation count avoids a potential injury stampede if it were to be heavily announced as open to the public, however more the hangers would have emptied.

The guys weren’t hurting for money so, no desperation or liquidation sale here. It was all in fun, tied-in with a level of continued brand exposure and the media sources interested in covering it. Chip and Pepper were in the house to speak in the camera eye about the evening’s festivities, as well as meet-and-greets, hanging with their invited friends, celebrity or otherwise (including Jenny McCarthy who I scoped when walking by) and eventually making it over to the bar for momentary chat over cocktails with us bartenders before another onslaught of interruptions. This is why we keep the conversations short and sweet at events like this. No time for depth or detail. Above all, Chip and Pepper are businessmen, but they also know how to have fun with their freedom, popularity and product line, so that respect always has to be kept in mind. Who wouldn’t want to be in their position?

I’m such a simple-living guy when it comes to being in the middle of all the many gatherings I’m hired at. It’s only my world when I’m behind the bar, but nothing I gravitate to in real life. When you realize how much hype there is behind everything of this nature, I just step back and let the pressure go by. I have no agenda. I have no investment. It’s just my job and I do it well, staying out of the line of fire. Even with the news and indie cameras pointed in our faces at the bar with our black-colored Bacardi button-down shirts on, we just continue to do our thing. I still have the shirt today, sleeping in the closet with the rest of them from events past.

In the midst of the peak-volume hours of the night, I was trying with time-efficient purpose for five minutes or less of uninterrupted PR talk with Laura about a creative project proposal I had in mind. So much for no agenda! But the idea really didn’t even hit me until after I was on-site for a while, always thinking on my feet. What Laura didn’t know was that a couple years previous I had made contact via query letter with a high executive of Bacardi at their main headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. (District of Criminals), after seeing his name and picture in an industry magazine.

That initial idea was to have the brand and their portfolio of other spirits to utilize any and many of my various-spirited cocktail preparations from my two DVD’s with their marketing department, which also could have worked in creating a branded video disc in some of their holiday packaging instead of just some cocktail glass, the boring norm for many brands across the board. He actually sent me a reply letter some weeks after saying that he liked the idea a great deal, and asked that I send a media package to Steve Messer at Bacardi in Miami.

That was motivating news, considering an industry juggernaut like Bacardi would rarely take the time and awareness close to ten years ago to consider a creative from a lowly bartender way down on the chain that just happened to come up with another great promotional idea. And with the rare response I received, it basically meant that it was something they never thought of themselves, hard for the suits to admit when they always want it to be their idea, part of the beg, borrow and steal design they use to move up the ladder. Sometimes you have to go all the way to the top in order to get to the middle!

My wide range and variety of over 100 cocktail preparations that we shot in 2001 were the first-ever to be on the new DVD format at the time, with the debut DVD released when Blockbuster was still renting VHS movies on their shelves just before the slow shift-over began. Steve then asked that I send an identical media package to Laura at The Baddish Group at her offices on Seventh Avenue in New York. And so I did. I continued to make contact with Florida throughout the next year but, it eventually hit the brick wall of college-educated office people with no field or beverage experience, much less creative drive, and heard nothing back from Laura and her firm. I scratched their back but they didn’t scratch mine. I could have developed many things for them, but the videos were too ahead of its time for them to grasp the significance. Too bad I couldn’t have just stayed at the top. Today, brands are paying much more attention to the bartender world, finally recognizing that it’s our hands their bottles are in, and what we could do with them.

Later in the night as things were on a slow fade, I took a short break and walked out to my truck to make sure it was still there. It was parked in the same spot on the side but near the entrance where I did the early drop and load. Security was hanging nearby so I needn’t any worry. They had given me the okay to keep it there but, you know, things can change without prior notice. I have a quick smoke outside chatting with the uniform man while catching some fresh air. Well, fresh for L.A.!

Walking back inside, I notice Laura over to the far end of the bar, so I mosey on over and start-up my new proposal. They’re not afraid to grow and expand in a big way, which intrigued me in hopes of working with them with stronger connections to consumers with drinks, especially when you know Bacardi’s wild history with Cuba. And may possibly be the reason for the continued embargo the U.S. has on the island country in the Caribbean, to keep Havana Club rum out of the states. Imagine the number of lobbyists employed by the brand. Of course that doesn’t keep the rich and entitled from smuggling Cuban cigars into the U.S. in their Diplomatic briefcases that are immune from being checked at Customs.

Keep in mind this was now only a year after Bacardi had purchased Grey Goose for $2.2 Billion from Sidney Frank. Four years later in 2008 I would be in France on a journalist tour, and we’re driving through the countryside, I look to my left and there’s Grey Goose, nothing more than a massive tin shed, and Sidney profits $1.6 Billion from the sale. Is the vodka really that good? I know the bottling is, which probably costs more if not as much to produce as the contents inside. But it’s not the product value, it’s the brand . . .

My idea with Laura was to fly over and visit the distilleries from all the brands under their umbrella to conduct individual video tours along with interviews with the master distillers in regards to processes and so forth, and treks out to the sugar cane fields or whatever to put together nice visual media pieces for them to use in a variety of ways, which could also include a few of my drink preparations in each. I had my videographer, Drew Rosenfeld, ready and willing, and I would be the on-camera host, since I had some pretty good experience at the time. Just a year before, we had shot and produced our beverage travel show pilot, Liquid Kitchen, so we had it down enough.

This project was simple, low overhead, and effective. Drew had his own post-production facilities, so we were ready to roll. Laura really liked the idea and said she would give it some thought and get back with me after she got back to her offices back east. I gave her my business card, and we left it at that, short and quick, so I could get back to the business at the bar.

We had one long last rush with cocktails before the evening sale would come to a successful close. Final appetizers of food were being passed, so we grabbed what we could devour while beginning the breakdown and pack-up of the bar’s leftover stock, as I had to take it back to Liquid Catering on my way home. I get to the finish point of that, about ready to take off after a shirt change, and Laura comes walking out with an armload of jeans. She asks me to take them with me and have Steve, the owner of Liquid, package and send them back to New York for her, as she didn’t have enough room in her suitcases. I’m sure this is something that Steve has never had to do for anyone before, so I glance at her with a bit of question in my eyes and proceed with the normal gestures of kindness and acceptance, since she heard my proposal out and all, but her and Steve had worked together on many L.A. events in the past, so I left it at that.

I get back to the warehouse and begin the beverage extraction from the truck, and Steve walks up. He gives me a hand with the boxes, and I mention there’s something in the cab I need to retrieve. I hand him Laura’s denim pile with her request, and he looks at me with the same look I gave her, but longer. I shook my head not knowing what to think of it myself, caught in the middle of something I’d rather be left out of. He realized I wasn’t the creator of this, so he cut me loose. I’m sure he added the shipping and handling charge into the total balance of the bill.

Laura never got back in touch with me, again, the second time now whether she remembered or not. However, at some point in time after, I started getting these emails and calls from interns of her PR firm. This told me that she had taken the time to put me on her database for useless bullshit information, content and requests that I could do nothing with, making her office people look like total idiots when talking to someone with my bar background and experience in the industry, of which their poor public relations showed no bridge of understanding with cocktails, that which I tried to move forward with them in a good way.

It just felt like a nose was turned up at me for no good reason in return. It’s unfortunate when simpatico ends empty, as there was so much to give and work with for the good of the industry. The arrogance of the New York ego strikes again! But the joke’s on her because, I’m originally from upstate New York!  A lack of due diligence on her part. Not to mention that I had been writing for the industry magazines for a few years at that time, including a regular monthly cocktail column called Liquid Kitchen, so it’s not like I was lacking any proper exposure in the field. There was plenty of productive trust and faith to be gained from my fertile, creative ground.

In hindsight, they had little or no foresight into the media future, or so it reflected anyway. Innovation is not what they do best. They’re more followers than leaders, though they want you to think otherwise. But what they really do is wait and sit back to watch direction, than navigate through already proven channels to avoid any risk or damage, and profit from someone else’s idea.

Later that year and in 2006, YouTube launched, and the rest is history . . .

Since then, I sold my Liquid Kitchen.com internet/web domain to Kathy Casey Food (and Drink) Studios in Seattle so she could do her thing with it, and Drew Rosenfeld has been Senior Creative Director and Head of Production for Larry Flynt Productions in Beverly Hills. I should give Drew a call sometime, haven’t spoken to him in quite a while. Maybe we can do a porn drink show and call it CSI: Cocktail Scene Investigation. Just kidding, kind of . . . (-;

Psychedelic Night

One of my rare occasional clients is a V.P. at Bank of America. She lives out in Newberry Park, a 25-minute drive off the 23 Freeway which slices between the 101 and the 118, basically in the Ventura County. I love going the opposite direction for a gig instead of always having to hop into the heart of L.A.

Mary was celebrating her 60th birthday in 2009 with a 60’s themed cocktail party at her home, and wanted to know if I was available when she called and left a message on my cell. It had been so long, I almost forgot who she was. I’m glad I wasn’t near my phone, or I may have well embarrassed myself by answering it with a blank slate in my head. Who are you again?  I’ve had so many gigs in so many places around L.A. year after year in the last decade, it’s impossible to keep track of them all.

However, after listening to her message, it was her beautifully smooth voice and slightly Southern accent that made me remember her as clear as day. Something about women from the South that just takes my cake. It doesn’t hurt that she is a very attractive 60 as well! Checking my calendar, I was relieved that she chose the only Saturday I had open in the following month of October, week 2.

 

I called her back in the early evening and we started talking about the party particulars. She was going all out with a band and food catered, with a guest count of about 60. I knew she needed a bar, so this time I let her know I had my own custom bar. This put more money in my pocket and allowed her to skip having a cheap portable delivered from a rental outfit, which most of the time I can’t stand to work out of with the functional mise en place extremely limited, always having to modify to the gills with my own side gear in order to make it through the night with a smile still remaining on my face.

Many home parties I’m working out of very nice built-in bars, but with rentals you never quite know what’s going to be there when you show up. My prayers sometimes help when I’m en route to mystery gigs, but there have been some very short-sighted clients in the past, where I arrive and think to myself “Oh my god, you’ve got to be kidding me. You want me to operate efficiently out of this with how many guests?”

Luckily I’ve been able to train clients over the years to have what I need, not what they think is mildly sufficient enough to get by with. The rich can be such cheap asses sometimes, it’s unbelievable to witness right there in the moment staring at them. Sucking it up with a total shit bar set-up has never been the best practice for me. Some steam is bound to exit my eye sockets in the early stages.

But I have my own bar now to buffer problematic situations. I need to look good doing my work. I highlight and entertain the guests. That’s what I do, and I do it well, so the stage needs be lit accordingly, or I’m going to struggle through a faulty performance. Working in real operational bars for the first 20 years of my career (and still do on-call at The Gardenia Room), I dealt with similar function issues, but those fixtures are more permanent than mobile, yet still can make the work behind any bar a bit miserable shift-after-shift. Unless of course, I get bong high on some good, sticky bud and down a couple shots to the point where my concern and interest for excellence diminishes, then it’ll be like, whatever!  I prefer to always give my best, though, straight – no chaser . . .

We confirmed and booked, and I emailed her my full dry and wet stock beverage list as a guideline for her bar purchases, letting her also know that I would bring the ice with me, which is always a nice convenience for the client. But they are responsible for the booze, to alleviate any liability on my end.

The few weeks went by in a flash with other numerous gigs completed, and I pulled up to the street in front of her home at 5:00pm for a 7:00pm start. Bringing the whole bar and kit thing takes me more time to set-up with the extra schlepping and assembly. At the same time the musicians in the band show up in staggered arrivals, bringing their gear in as well, setting up in another sizeable part of the house near the backyard screen door.

Mary and I decided to turn the living room into the entire bar area to help spread things out and avoid guest-clog. I had a good space with everything I needed – top, under bar and back table. Designing a creative, fun bar theatre for everyone comes from the thrill of being clever and the enjoyment to assist the entertainment.

With all the decorations that Mary and her friends put up all through the home during the day, I felt like I walked right into a 60’s/70’s show, with love beads everywhere! We covered the black linen-draped front of the bar with vinyl peel-and-stick decals of peace signs, yin and yang signs, smiley faces, free love, summer of 69’, and whatever else was in the bag. It looked very cool, man!

I had all my black and black on below the waist for comfort and flexibility, but I wore a cool tie-dye shirt with a black vest to show above the bar top. I fit into the theme very easily, as I was a child of the 60’s and a teen in the 70’s, being part of what it was all about – Freedom. The only thing missing was my normally long, wavy hair. But I wasn’t about to throw an unfitting wig on. Though appropriate, it’s weird-feeling and causes funky perspiration when I’m moving and shaking for many hours into the night.

After stocking the bar with all the essential beverage needs and then some, I still went over and raided Mary’s liquor stash in one of the kitchen cabinets to see if there were a few extra things I could play with behind the bar to kind of round-out the capabilities. At many parties over the years, I’ve always created new drinks in the moment with whatever I can put together in a chemist sort-of way.

Even though this was the hippie counter-culture side of Mad Men, I still made a few cocktails of the period like the Classic Martini, the Old Fashioned, and the Cuba Libre. I brought my signature Peanut M&M’s and sugar-dusted Lemon Heads once again adding to the bars’ garnish and buffet selection. Like a hunter spotting a dear, the M&M’s are always the popular highlight to get drained the earliest, refilling often. But it was hard to compete with the 60’s candy that Mary had on hand, including Pixy Stix, Razzles, Sweet Tarts, 100 Grand Bars, even Candy Cigarettes and Scooter Pies.

The dinner food was also a great choice, catered in by Wood Ranch Barbeque out of Agoura Hills, one of my favorite places to munch. I feel like I’m out on the range with good staple and comfort food like that. I could drink their barbeque sauce!

The set-up and prep went by in its usual “where’d the time go” speed, and before you knew it, we were off and running. Guests were arriving in two’s and three’s and soon I was in that rush mode of keeping up pace with demand and supply to crank through the first of many drink waves, something I’m all too familiar with. Thankfully it’s more of a cruise now instead of a constant stress, but that’s the beneficial change that occurs when you stay ahead of the pressure. And wanting to kick ass with the speed and flair of a sport certainly helps sustain the mood, along with everyone else’s.

It didn’t take long before all of us became a bunch of peace frogs after some drinks and the quality herb of today faintly swirling around in the air. I was mildly theme-dressed compared to the partygoers who came in the most amazing costumes, bringing back a lot of hilarious bell-bottom memories. The band was jamming all these incredible songs from Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Hendrix, The Beatles, The Kinks, Cream, The Yardbirds, Traffic, The Beach Boys, The Stones, Bob Dylan, The Who, and of course The Grateful Dead, many more.

During the latter breaks between their many sets of the evening, the band members would all come over to the bar once they had warmed up, and had some drinks to enhance the groove they set for themselves. Overhearing and participating in their conversations at their interest, I soon found out that these players were all session and studio musicians. No wonder they rocked the songs. They knew them inside out, being of the age. However, it’s kind of sad to me that such talent ends up playing house parties, but that’s part of the struggle with being an artist of any kind, you take what’s available. Through the Local 47 Musicians Union, they gig all over L.A. much in the same way that I do.

The female keyboardist and vocalist was a two-tour side player with Jimmy Buffett, and the bass player was a member of Ricky Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band for 8 years. Sitting closest to the bar, he mentioned to me and a couple others unknowing, that he left the band only one year before the tragic plane crash and fire on New Year’s Eve in 1985 that was en route from Alabama to Dallas, Texas, killing everyone onboard except for the two pilots. Lucky man! He said he still has an original packet of guitar picks saying “Stone Canyon Band” on them. Now that’s eerie . . . 

In fact, just earlier this year in January, Ricky’s brother, David passed away in Century City at the age of 75. Harriet died in 1994 in Laguna Beach, and Ozzie died in 1975 in Hollywood.

At midnight, the birthday cake was brought out and all of us got together to sing Happy Birthday. Mary’s a wonderful lady and a lot of fun to be around. She had a great time, and was also smart enough to have a couple friends hanging out on stand-by to tackle the majority of clean-up when it came time.

The party kicked on till about 1:00am before I began the bar’s trimming of the sails. There’s always the time when festivities have to come to an end, but we never really want them too. There is no barback with my private gigs. I do everything myself – the set-up, the event’s long middle passage, and the breakdown. Handling it all can be exhausting.

And then I get home and collapse . . .

Reach the Beach

A Highway Patrol car U-turns while I stretch the distance out to a hundred yards or more going the opposite direction, a matter of seconds and the lights rapidly getting closer. I slow down, pull over and surrender. For the first time in 10-15 years, I get a ticket. Exceeding the speed limit, guilty as charged ! I wasn’t even in a hurry to get to my gig.

Cruising early on the road with my iced chocolate coffee from Michael D’s Diner and listening to Candlebox on the Pioneer, I accidentally exit the third tunnel on Kanan/Dume Road going towards the water like a hot wheel kicked out of a super charger. That part of the tunnel and continued road that leads to PCH begins the long descent back to lower ground, and I just missed cooling the jets down on my own by three seconds at the time the officer noticed my pace.

I had all kinds of bar kit accessories both in the passenger seat and in the open back of the truck. He was curious when he approached the window slowly. Strangely enough, he guessed what it was after taking a short look-see. Thankfully, there was no digging around, as my filled vermouth atomizers were deep in the pack. How would I go about explaining to him the 99% truth that vermouth isn’t the type of spirit that one really drinks straight ?

After some reasoning with the officer as to why, and taking his finger-eye test to prove to him that I wasn’t high in any way, I catch a serious break on the citation. I was in the wrong, but he understood as to why it could momentarily happen on that area of road where, with no other cars in front of you for a half-mile or more, it catches you at the start of it, and you have to slowly re-adjust the speed down accordingly to avoid any rubber burn on the asphalt.

I absorb the semi-costly 15-minute pause, and moved forward with my day of duty, happily escaping worse.

Making a right turn onto PCH, I shag it all the way out to where the old Trancas Nightclub used to be, as directly across the street on the South side of the highway was my work destination, the Malibu West Beach Club. It sits between Zuma State Beach and Broad Beach, not too far from The Colony, an area overall where many celebrities have lived secluded through the decades.

At the nearby Carbon Beach is the famous Deal Maker’s Rock, where all the heads of studios meet, exercise and walk in the morning, and make their movie deals. But whether this happens as much now as it did back in the day is anybody’s guess, though I’m sure the rock still remains.

MWBC is one of my favorite venues to work. I’ve been behind the bar for many weddings here, always setting up stage on the outside deck overlooking for hours of stunningly beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean during the day and night. On a clear afternoon, Catalina Island and the Channel Islands even come into focus at a yonder.

Including the interior clubhouse and patio, the place holds about 120 comfortably, though they claim a higher occupancy number. It’s possible to cram more in, I suppose, but not without hindering the floor staffs’ ability in the dining room to move quickly in and out of the 10-person table rounds without bumping and dumping plates and stemware on shirts and dresses, not to mention the levels of guest movement throughout the evening needing to be of ease as well. A lot of this happens just out of the mere fact that the dance floor is placed more in the middle than off to one side or another.

I’m always thankful of having my own space to work within behind the bar, keeping oops to a minimum. There’s enough to watch out for in my safe haven of constant drink activity, and as the initial guest-greeter for the night’s festivities post-ceremony. But as a keen observer, I can see everything else going on too. You develop a knack to just know where to look after awhile.

I park close and unload all my gear, lugging it in three different trips up the steps and through the main room to the outer back deck where the wedding ceremony takes place. I like getting there before anyone else so I can grab a clean start. There can be a lot to do, especially with the use of real glassware, and half the time I don’t know if things will be set up or not when I arrive, so I have to go with the notion of scratch instead of expectation. There are banquet tables to the side and back of the bar which gives a lot of efficient placement space for product usage, along with some spirit brand showcasing, but if the bar is set up on the other side of the deck it can be too tight for comfort and speed, with less square footage made available.

Initially, the guest seating for the ceremony is lined up in several rows out on the open deck, so in the early goings, there’s some floor shape-shifting that goes on immediately following the exchange of vows, where the chairs used outside have to go back inside and placed around the tables for seating and dining. This happens at the exact moment where I’m buried in a beverage-parched bull rush at the bar with cocktails and champagne flowing, as most of the time alcohol is not served before the ceremony at the request of the bride, groom, and families. It was juices, waters, and sodas only at the beginning.

Guests that are now facing me several deep barely even notice it happening, the chair transport getting completed in less than five minutes, and all the sudden the outer deck is wide-open space to walk around and hang out in for the rest of the evening, with a few tall cocktail table rounds linen-dressed and spread about.

Even on a cloudy day or night, the place is still a beautiful setting no matter what. The bride and groom are married with the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop. With the water only a hundred yards out, it’s hard to find a better (or closer) venue than this for both a wedding and reception party combined under one roof. And when it’s clear blue skies with a warm/cool breeze and a gorgeous full moon in the night above, it becomes unbeatable. Many celebrities have also been married here from what I’ve heard, but that info is kept on the hush, though I do know that Traci Lords was married there in 2002.

It’s not just a place where people get hitched, though. They book it out to whomever wants to use and pay for the facility, so various parties, class reunions, anniversaries, auction-fundraisers, corporate events, and film location managers take advantage of this unique, yet unassuming two-story structure just a barefoot walk on white sands to the breaking surf, complete with a Baywatch-style lifeguard tower, and dolphins leaping out of the water as they swim by.

All the gigs I’ve worked here have been through Pierre’s Catering out of Westlake Village. I’ve been on-call with him for about 5 years now. Pierre has his own unique personality that one has to get used to. He’s loose, happy, a little wild, and an exciting face on the floor, which is a good thing in my book. It’s a lot better that way than a catering owner or manager putting all the floor staff on pins and needles, of which I’ve dealt with before working with previous outfits, so I notice the difference in energy. In my opinion, the less catering snobbery in the business, the better for everyone involved, including the guests.

We’ve had a good and understanding professional relationship, and work well together, but it took a little while for us to get our wires in sync. He also has a sizeable staff of people that have been with him for a long time, which makes my tenure so far always looking like the new kid on the block.

Both Pierre and I have a lot of energy on-location. We like to work in advance of the game, arriving two hours+ beforehand. It helps to be ahead of things when there’s so much timing to consider, as events of this nature and at a rented facility have both a start time and an end time. You can imagine what goes on in-between!

The chaos at different stages and intervals can drive anybody nuts once in a while, but the more experience you have doing this one-off occasion sort of thing, the more you just let it roll off and move on with the always-evolving chores at hand. Otherwise, in can all too easily turn into a shift of temporary angers and muted frustrations.

I remember two years ago a couple who lived in New York City who were getting married there, as I was notified by Pierre to get in contact with them about new, creative cocktail selections they wanted to come up with for the bar. A month before the wedding, the bride and I must have went back and forth 10 or more times each on email. She was nice in thinking she had a handle on the mixology world, suggesting this and that craft-style cocktail from bars or mags, which is all fine with me as I’ve done several party drink menus, but her choices were lacking a clearer direction and purpose with what people like to drink from the east coast to the west coast, given its climate differences and season at hand.

Though several guests were flying out to L.A. for the occasion, the far majority attending actually lived here, which had to be taken into strong consideration over the need of the New York ego bleeding to impress others. We settled on a Superfruit Fizz, Minted Gin Rickey, Peach-Pomegranate Margarita, and a seasonal drink of mine called Pink Floyd, which was quite the hit, and tastes so good even I drink it!  Once I helped her understand the specific set of time-infused particulars vs. body count involved and somewhat reduced capabilities with an outdoor portable scratch bar as opposed to the fully-operational, cooler-stored bar establishment that was in her mind’s eye, than we finally made it onto the same page.

I’m such a journeyman at this place and time in my 30-year career behind the bar, that nothing fazes me anymore. At times, it’s almost an out-of-body experience. Am I really here doing this work for the thousanteenth time?  I’m like a Grandpa in the bar business and I’m only 52, yet I look about 38. But regardless of my stellar credentials, I still plow through like a high-powered bar warrior, with my usual charm, kindness, and youthful look and exuberance getting into the spirit and energy of the party, once again. It’s like I never left . . .

In my position, I have to be one with the people/guests. They feel more comfortable in knowing that I’m not just going to be some stale, mindless drink robot going through the motions with short, dry communication for them, get paid then go home. There’s more to it than that for me. Bartending is rarely looked at as performance art, but in many ways that’s exactly what it is, and one can also create it as such, from simple to complex culinary skills with the spirit and liquid arts.

This is what I’ve accomplished over the years, a state of Barisma, bringing the right personality, level of electricity, and style of magnetism to the bar, along with an organized mise en place creating quick, agile physical movements in a continuous fluid motion of icing, pouring, cutting, muddling, squeezing, juicing, zesting, shaking and garnishing with just the right amount of minimal flare technique in the middle of it all, both the mental and physical operating as one.

At a wedding I worked at MWBC a little over a year ago, this guy comes up to me at the bar. We looked at each other and said hello, he recognizes me, but I suffer the silent lapse in return. It was Chris Young, who I used to rock with behind the bar from 85’-87’ at the Black Angus in Burbank during those busy days when the nightclub end of the chain was promoted at its peak. We hadn’t seen each other in over 20 years. Chris wasn’t married then, but he’s married now!  He still looked like he could be the late Dan Fogelberg’s brother.

It was great to catch up with him during the rare slow spots of the night. He’s been out of the bar game for most of that whole time gone, but Chris was vital early on for teaching me the pace of high-volume when I was struggling into the gear with how fast I needed to move. I was built-for-speed, but felt like a turtle coming out of the gates compared to his end-of-shift ring totals. Then I caught up . . .

Being present as a single man behind the bar at so many weddings over the last 10 years, it still hasn’t warmed me up to the idea of actually going through with it myself. It’s been an interesting detachment for me as something I don’t crave, although I completely enjoy watching it all happen for others, a short distance away, with drinks ready. This is the closest I get to saying “I Do”, by hearing it!  So near, and yet so far away . . .

The looks from a few single ladies eventually gravitate to the bar after a drink or two, wondering if I have a significant other. It’s happened many times before. They don’t have to verbalize it. I can see it in their eyes. But they should know better than to marry a bartender or someone in a position who works crazy hours of the night, unless they’re doing the same. On the surface of the job, it all looks good and cool and sexy, but the other side of the life would be burdened by on-call difficulties and early weekend mornings when I hit the sack. It’s the opposite of a 9 to 5.

Beyond that, they need a deep sense of trust in knowing that I won’t be banging any female strangers at the bar. I don’t need my spouse conducting a private investigation on me, which has happened in the past, and won’t happen again, not after I proved my discipline to be even stronger than hers.

At the end of the night, we’re all pretty much spent with the energies dispensed to pull off another event without a hitch. The clean-up and load-up is always the last thing for us to do, and the last thing we want to do. Pierre’s vans back-up so we can all lend a hand, though I have my own shit to lug back out as well, from a little farther away. I try to keep occupied doing a little bit of both, so I’m not always the last staffer to leave. Like other outfits I work with, we become a catering caravan.

Apron off, shirt off, fleece coat on, the finish line gets a big breath of completion. Heading back up through Kanan/Dume on the way home to the valley, I light up a long-awaited smoke and watch my speed, listening to Coast to Coast KFI-AM 640 – More Stimulating Talk Radio . . .

Next year, in 2012, will be the 50-year anniversary of this private beachfront club. Check it out! Website – www.malibuwestbc.com

Pierre’s Catering – www.pierrecatering.com

Always a pleasure to pour here, looking forward to the next time in Malibu.

Surf’s Up!

A Season Interrupted

I remember it all pretty clearly, for good reason. I moved into the area of Woodland Hills in September of 93’. Four months later in January of 94’, the Northridge Earthquake hit hard at 4:30am, just an hour after I laid down to go to sleep. The distance between the actual epicenter which was in Reseda (a town bordering Northridge), and my new digs was only 8 miles, which basically put us in the next to the last outer ring in the surrounding area of the San Fernando Valley.

It was aftershock city for weeks and months following, becoming a semi-perpetual state of emergency for some time before activity decreased. But with this type of natural disaster, there is no notice, making it a rough surprise when it’s always around the corner. My old 50lb. Pioneer HPM100 speakers went flying across the room, almost kissing each other in the middle. Luckily, I didn’t get clobbered. Outside the same thing was happening as far as movement, with trees, trashcans, telephone poles, transformers and wires.

Many minor quakes on the Richter you can sleep through, but not this one. It was like a hand from the land of the giants grabbed the top and sides of the house, nearly shaking it off its foundation. It rocked hard for a good 20-30 seconds, then continued rolling for what must have been a couple minutes. Attention to time is a bit lost when you’re instantly amped up with adrenaline. We were lucky on our particular block, as some houses in the area were wrecked, and needed major repairs to be lived in again.

The mutual fence in the backyard took a dive in the weak center, and I could see the neighbor’s dog, Spanky, was alone and shaking. There was an open space of clearance in the fence’s gaping wound, so I called the dog over. He hesitated for a moment, then with wagging tail he hopped through and slow-galloped over to me as I was sitting on the sundeck. We calmed each other down for close to an hour, than his owners got home. I walked him back over to the fence to meet his master, and back through he went.

For the rest of that year and more, with so much damage caused everywhere around, some $20 billion worth, where collapsed freeway sections took a serious chunk of that for repairs, and close to a dozen hospitals in the area had to be evacuated into other facilities, a disaster of this magnitude doesn’t leave the mind very soon, another after-effect that takes time for you to begin to feel that you’re back on somewhat solid ground again. Ten years gone and there were homes still getting repairs, almost in time for a next one!

The following year in April of 95’, and I’m off work on a Saturday night. How weird! What am I going do with myself?  I go play hoops for an hour and a half of pick-up games in the gym at the park over on Shoup Avenue, biking distance, but I don’t take my bike. I’m paranoid enough just making sure my game-favored ball doesn’t get lifted.

I get back to the house just in time, getting a call from Kelly at Café Bellissimo, the phone ringing as I walked in the door. Having only worked there for 8 months, she’s frantic and busy while telling me she was in emergency need of a bartender due to a scheduling snafu. I had to be there in two hours, plenty of time considering all I had to do was walk over and across Ventura Boulevard to the restaurant, the closest I’ve ever lived to a workplace. 

I got pretty psyched for this event. Kelly tells me that the whole place is rented out for the night by the Los Angeles Dodgers to celebrate the 50th birthday of hitting and first base coach, Reggie Smith. A couple of the wives of players/coaches lived in the area and frequented the unique venue, with the entertainment being the entire singing server staff, so that was the connection in. The 95’ season didn’t get underway until April 25th, after the 94’ season’s player strike cut that year short with just 114 games played out of a 162-game schedule, so in total there were about 60 games lost.

Wow, I’m thinking “I can’t wait to call Dad after I get back home”, following the gig’s end. My father is both an Angels and Dodgers fan, but he started with the Brooklyn Dodgers when he was younger living in New York, before I came around. In fact, my parents got married the year the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, so when we finally moved out West in 1966, Dad felt much closer to his home team, but Anaheim (back when it was called The Big A) was a closer drive to ballgames, so we caught more of the American League.

The bar at Café B was more of a glorified service bar with a few seats around the corner. But it was really all I needed, and was used to knowing how to set it up for speed and efficiency, from the Black Angus days. I get in there and do a quick-basic inventory and started pulling the needed product from the backroom. With the glassware and backup ice in place, I was in a cockpit for cocktails !

The sedans and limos started arriving one-by-one, and within 30-40 minutes we were packed to the gills with players, coaches, and wives. Out of uniform, some players you can barely recognize without a name on the back of their shirt. But the starters stood out more clearly, players like Mike Piazza, Eric Karros, Raul Mondesi, Delino DeShields, Jose Offerman, Hideo Nomo, Ramon Martinez, Todd Worrell, Tim Wallach, Pedro Astacio, Kevin Tapani, Chan Ho Park, Tom Candiotti, Ismael Valdez, as well as coaches Manny Mota and Bill Russell.

It wouldn’t be a party though without manager Tommy Lasorda. A man of his stature arrives and it’s like the game changes. He pretty much took the stage as the emcee for the night’s festivities. I made drinks face-to-face at the bar for many of the players, and the waiters picked up drinks for their tables out in the main rooms.

I remember Eric Karros and his wife sitting down for dinner about 10 feet to my left, several were out on the large outdoor patio, and a surprise unexpected appearance, for me anyway, of Eric Davis, who took the whole year of 95’ off to heal all of his injuries. He came to the bar and ordered a cocktail, and hung out for a couple minutes while getting a lay of the land.

I asked him about the status of the strike’s end, and he mentioned that things were slowly getting sorted and settled but didn’t know when a deal would be struck, but gave me a hint that it would be soon. When plans for replacement players was put on the table, that’s when negotiations got serious, and soon after on April 25th, they resumed play with only missing a handful of games in the 95’ season.

 ( The 2005 Cesar Izturis bobblehead )

There was a lot of energy in the room, loud with musical interludes through the night from not only the waiters, but Kelly’s husband-owner, Emilio, who got up and jammed a couple songs. He was a member of the 60’s band The Standells. Tommy took the microphone for a speech or a story or three, and to talk about his friend and coach, Reggie Smith. With Italian food in the air and many bottles of vino leaving the wine racks for the tables, everyone was having a good time and getting their fill on.

The birthday cake was brought out from the coolers, and the entire crowd and staff including myself after a couple drinks, began singing Happy Birthday to Reggie, with Lasorda leading the way. It always feels good to get past the heavy rushes that I manage behind the bar, to where I can kind of drop my gear down a notch or two and relax a little bit, but you know, it never ends until it ends. The evening, however, went by all too fast. We wished all the players a great season, and the vehicles they own or rented, took them away like a shot in the night.

How odd this baseball-themed one-off gig, as just a few months later my friend Tony Jenkins, who operated many of the electronic flipping-Ad machines at major league sporting events, always sitting behind Nicholson at the Laker games at the Forum, doing the Clipper games at the Sports Arena, called me up and asked if I could make it down to San Diego on a certain date.

He was working the machines of the Padres vs. Reds series. I made it down there for the night, and both of us sat in the Reds dugout for the entire game with his laptop on his lap. Here I am hangin’ on the bench with the likes of Barry Larkin, Ron Gant, Deion Sanders, Bret Boone, Hal Morris, Reggie Sanders, Benito Santiago, Mariano Duncan, Jose Rijo, and David Wells, to name a few of the notables. Also there was coach, Hal McRae, and manager, Davey Johnson.

The whole time I kept my mouth shut, while chewing tobacco and sunflower seeds ruled the floor and a few holed-out cans. I felt like a teenager again eating popcorn down there, but fuck it I was hungry, being the same age if not older than some of the players. In back of the dugout you’re basically under the stands. Tony would tell me that during some games where he worked close by the players, a few would go in back here and there and talk shop, get a bite to eat from the buffet, have a smoke or whatever, mainly just getting out of the limelight for a few short moments. I said to Tony “They smoke cigarettes?” He says “Yeah, just a couple of them, but they’re already dipping, so what’s the difference!”

The Dodgers and Reds ended up taking first place in their respective divisions, and met in the playoffs, where the Reds swept them 3-0 in a 5-game series, with the first two games being at Dodger Stadium.

To come sort of full circle so many years later, that just a year and two years ago, I got the call to work the bar for a couple of private parties at the home of Mike Scioscia, the manager of the Angels, my Dad’s other favorite team. That’ll be another story for down the road.

Baseball has always been close to my heart, from all of the Padres exhibition games I went to as a 10-12 year old kid living in Yuma, AZ, hanging out with the players, the country-singing star Charley Pride, watching Warren Spahn pitch a couple innings, and being introduced to famous announcer Dick Enberg, has all led up to these events of the past, and the present.

The people I’ve been fortunate enough and in a position to meet, have always been my constant source of inspiration.