On my final night in America I found myself out of options in Boston. It was 11pm, my phone had died, I had nowhere to go and a North Easter (pron: noreastah) had arrived, bringing darkness and bad weather.
Feeling stranded, I trudged aimlessly around Back Bay, keeping low in my jacket to shield against the bullwhip winds and swirling snows, debating whether or not to give up.
Then, among the darkened buildings I noticed a warm light spilling from a window into the night, spreading itself like honey across the snowy sidewalk. Drawn like a moth I approached and pressed my face to the glass, a glamorous bar full of glamorous people. The warmth from inside radiated out and beckoned me in. I decided to enter.
I pushed open the heavy door and stood in the shoals, surveying those carousing in the bar’s caramel atmosphere. White haired aristocrats threw their heads back in velvet laughter; fat men hit on thin women, thin women knocked back fat men; what resembled the entire cast of Gossip Girl sipped champagne in a corner.
I steadied myself and prepared to push forward. Trying to look cool I turned my jacket’s collar up, fished an old toothpick from my pocket placing it between my teeth and, for the coup de grace, I cocked an eyebrow.
As I waded towards the bar I distinctly heard somebody say, “why, that was one of the most petrified looking young men I ever did see.” I glanced at the mirror running along the wall and noticed that I had actually cocked both eyebrows. I inverted into a furrow.
After a fair bit of sidling I got to the bar and found a seat. Observing the bustle I noticed several other young people with toothpicks, jacket collars and eyebrows locked, popped and cocked. But, unlike me, I thought, they didn’t look completely fraudulent
The bartender spoke with almost a parody of a nasally Boston accent; I swiveled to face him.
“What ken I get for you tew drahnk?”
“Oh jeez,” I thought to myself, “what the hell could I order without sounding like an idiot?” The only reference to cocktails I had were James Bond’s Martinis. It’d have to do. “Martini, shaken not served.” Ian Fleming howled from his grave, the bartender stared at me. “I’m sowwy sah, but I down’t think I undahstahnd that ordah.”
I went to repeat myself but a loud voice behind me grabbed the bartender’s attention. “Tom Collins with three slices of lemon, and a Greyhound with lime.”
The bartender snapped into action.
Then the voice addressed me. “Hey sorry for talking over you like that bud.” I turned to face the speaker. Shorter and broader than me, he wore a midnight blue blazer over a crisp white shirt unbuttoned half way, a purple cravat hung luxuriously from his neck and a colorful silk kerchief exploded flamboyantly from his pocket.
“That’s okay,” I said, cocking both my eyebrows and trying to keep my toothpick from falling out, “I thought you were buying me a drink.” This sounded cool at the time but in hindsight sounds more like a come-on. He flashed a diabolic grin, patted his slicked salt and pepper hair then held out his hand at an abstract angle. “I’m Zizi (pron: zjee zjee).”
I twisted my hand and shook his. “Rupert.”
“Where ya from bud?”
“Australia? I represent one of your finest,” pause, “Elle Macpherson!”
“Oh.” I chewed on my toothpick trying to remember what Macpherson was famous for. Zizi waited a minute before saying, “You’re a hard man to impress.” False.
The bartender bought the drinks over. Zizi looked at them, “Did I order lime in the Greyhound?”
“Yes sah, you ordah’d lihme.”
He made a clicking sound with his mouth, “You know what? 86 the lime.”
86 the lime? I had never heard this expression.
Zizi peeled a few twenties from a wad of bills and threw them onto the bar. Then he thought about it and threw an extra bill down, “And back up this young man’s next drink. He’s hard to impress, I like that.” Zizi picked up his two drinks and indicated at a group of women sitting at a nearby table, “Now. I’m going to go see how long this conversation lasts.” He left.
I leaned in to the bartender, “What does ‘back up a drink’ mean?”
“He’s boying your next drink sah.”
“Oh… of course.” I chewed my toothpick for a moment and mulled it over concluding that there was no harm in trying. I crossed my fingers and began to rattle off cocktail jargon. “I’ll have a neat Manhattan shaken, 86 the glass and add some rocks.”
The bar tender looked confused. Then Zizi’s voice sounded behind me. “What the hell was that?” He was still holding the two drinks; evidently the conversation hadn’t lasted long.
“I was just ordering my Manhattan, neat, glass 86’d, on the rocks.”
Zizi narrowed his eyes. “So you ordered a Manhattan both with and without ice, and cancelled the glass?”
I began to stammer a brilliant defense but undermined it by losing control of my masticated toothpick. I fumbled at it with my lips trying to recover but it was no good. It fell. We both watched it drop like a pin from my mouth and plop into his Greyhound.
Zizi and I looked at each other in silence. At this point there was nothing left I could say or do to salvage the situation. So I stood up and began to sidle away from the bar, Zizi looking stunned watched me edge away. I waded back through the sea of glamour, pushed open the heavy doors and exited onto the cold, dark street.
I stood there in the darkness and heaved a sigh. Then I turned away from the bar, lowered my face against the Northeaster, and vanished into the oblivion of wind and snow.