My grandson Banzai has a new name for me: “Pops.”
He used to call me “Umpy,” a name he gave me when he was a toddler, and he couldn’t pronounce “Grumpy.”
I come by my new name a week ago, in Vail, Colorado.
It’s the fifth consecutive summer Kathy and I take Bonz to Vail to attend a concert performed at the Ford Amphitheater. We’ve seen and heard The Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the Dallas Symphony orchestra, the Philadelphia Symphony, the New York Philharmonic.
This year, it’s again the New York Philharmonic: Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58,” and Mozart’s “Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550.”
The orchestra is fronted by stick-swinging Jaap van Zweden; Daniil Trifonov depresses the keys.
The encores encourage comfort: Trifonov’s “Fur Elise,” the orchestra’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik.”
Damned fine concert, beautiful evening, in a crowd, comfortable, at last.
Time to eat.
We trek back to Vail Village, with its mix of Swiss chalet, Austrian Alpine, and high-end contemporary architectural styles, the Village bisected by Gore Creek, the creek waters clear, its bed varied browns, greens, and grays. The creek flows in a channel lined by trees (cottonwoods, blue spruce, the occasional ponderosa pine, an understory crowded with willows), and it courses at a key point beneath a quaint covered bridge. It’s quite bucolic…for a price.
My hips begin to ache as we walk. The pain begins to radiate earthward.
We pause in a small clearing next to the creek, the spot engineered to produce the illusion of seclusion, and Bonz spots a sizable cutthroat prowling a pool next to a frisky rapid.
The creek is named for the mountains where it originates, the Gore Range, the range named for Lord St. George Gore, an Irish nobleman whose three-year stay in the region in the mid-19th century lends a grim footnote to the history of the West. The Baronet cannot be mistaken for Al Gore, since saving the environment was not on St. George’s agenda. During a three-year hunting expedition, the well armed nitwit claimed to have killed more than 2,000 buffalo, at least 1,600 deer and elk, and a minimum 100 bears. It’s said he left each corpse to rot once his bloodlust was satisfied
The Baronet serves as a worthy model for many of the current-day residents of Vail, their kills signaled by bonuses issued following financial crises, and profits from insider stock trades that preceded corporate failures. They left the world economy to rot when their work was done, and they moved to Vail.
We stroll to the core of the faux-Euro wonderland, making our way amongst families of rich Mexicans, in Vail for the summer to escape the heat of their home turf. Money is no concern for them since, even after payoffs to cartels and corrupt officials, they are loaded; the women and girls are expensively clothed and coiffed, the men and boys tailored to a tee, Moorish, beards neatly trimmed, modern-day conquistadors on the lookout for indigenous civilizations. Confronted with the notion they are Mexican I have little doubt they answer, “No, we are Spanish.” Ah, nobility.
We stroll past stream-side homes and condos, the sale price of the least of them edging up to $5 million. This is not Siberia With a View, it is Gstaad squared.
My hips are killing me.
Since it’s Bonzie’s treat, he gets to pick the restaurant. I tell him about the bistro on the main drag at the north edge of the Village, drop a hint about a dandy kinda-Tyrolean stube nearby. Other fine options abound.
Bonz chooses otherwise.
“We gotta stick with tradition,” he says. “The first time we came here, I wouldn’t eat anything but pizza, and we’ve gone to the same place ever since It’s a tradition.”
A tradition, indeed: torture endured at the least desirable eatery in Vail Village. If you lack loads of cash, this is where you land. We fit the profile.
We trudge, my hips ache, we enter, the place reeks of stale oregano and cheap cheese, we’re seated, we order, and, above the din — a train bell rung in the kitchen as each order is ready, music playing at B-1 Bomber afterburner levels, kids shouting, babies crying, drunks bellowing — I yell: “I gotta take a leak. I’ll be right back.”
Kathy doesn’t react; she’s busy grimacing, hands clasped over her ears, eyes shut tight. Bonz gives me a thumbs up, and goes back to watching skateboard videos on his phone. I lumber to the back of the establishment, the pain from my hips radiating down my femurs.
Two young teens wait at the closed restroom door, fresh-scrubbed wealthy white boys, rosy cheeked, careers ahead in investment banking, real estate development, venture capitalism, economy destruction. They’re slumming, cut loose from their parents, mixing with the commoners. We may have passed their family’s vacation home as we walked from the amphitheater to the Village.
The restroom door swings opens on a long-haired, burly fellow wearing unzipped cargo shorts, flip-flops, and a vintage Sammy Hagar Cabo Wabo Birthday Bash T-shirt.
The guy takes a moment to get his bearings, wobbles, then grabs the door jamb to brace himself.
“Hey, little guys,” he says, “whazzz hapnin’?”
The boys are taken aback, their pupils constrict, no response is forthcoming. There’s no one like this guy at Philips Exeter.
Cabo Wabo sways in the doorway hacks up a wad of phlegm, loudly gulps it down, and says: “Hey, you look worried. Relax, guys. No problems in there, no worries. I thought I was gonna pinch a loaf, but I’m corked up. Too many doughnuts. I pissed. Just pissed, that’s all. I can tell yah some stories, though: I’ve dropped some bad ones. Goddamn, if I ate beans or cabbage, they’d have to close the place and call the health department.”
The guy’s right eye tracks independently, focusing on the boys to my side, while his left eye locks on me. My daughter Ivy’s French bulldog, Juanito, is similarly strabismic. I often wonder what the dog sees, whether his brain is able to simultaneously process two different images. Or any image at all, for that matter. The dog is a moron, a canine doorstop.
The churl teeters as he releases his grip on the jamb. The boys are rigid, their backs to the hallway wall. The guy belches, then continues: “Yep, I’ve taken some incredible shits. World class shits. I been around.”
He points at me. “But not as long as Pops here; he’s been around for a hell of a long time, from the looks of it. I bet he’s delivered some rough loads in his day, huh? You better get your asses in there before Pops has an emergency.”
He steps aside. The boys are frozen in their tracks; they can’t move, they can’t blink.
“Well, hell,” he says, “get in there. I tell yuh, it’s fresh as a mountain breeze. I peed on the floor in front of the can, but you can step around that.”
The boys are smart enough not to turn their backs on him; they’ve learned that much at Exeter. They inch past the lout, shut the door, and lock it.
He steadies himself with a hand on the wall and extends his other hand. “Hey, Pops, glad to meet yuh, name’s Peter Parsons. I live here. Parents bought me a condo. I live here.” He looks around, as if trying to recognize something, anything, familiar in his surroundings. “Yeah, here. In Vail. Here. Yeah.”
Ah, I think, what luck: I’ve met the Village idiot.
Pete looks to be about forty years old — snagged a few unbeatable habits during his half year at Penn (Dad and Grandpa are Wharton grads, and major donors), dropped out, muffed the job Dad set up at the firm. After his fourth or fifth failed stint in rehab, Mom and Dad ship Pete to Colorado, buy him a condo, and they call him on holidays and his birthday, if they remember. A check “for extras” arrives in Pete’s account on the first day of every month; a trustee pays his bills.
I decide to have some fun while I wait for the boys to do their business.
I shake Pete’s hand, hoping there’s soap available in the restroom. “Nice to meet you, Peter. Great shirt. You a Sammy Hagar fan, too?”
“Hell yeah I am.” He whoops loudly, makes a hand gesture — an unsuccessful attempt to replicate either a Hawaiian greeting or an East LA gang sign — teeters, loses his balance and stumbles forward. He hits the wall, steadies himself, shakes his head and says, “Fuck, Pops, you know about Sammy Hagar? You like him?”
“Pre Van Halen, yessiree,” I reply. “Montrose? You bet. Not much with Van Halen, since I prefer Roth. Post Van Halen? Some of the Waboritas shit? For sure.”
Peter is suitably stunned. “Fuck, Pops, you know about Hagar? Fuck. This is blowing my mind. What the fuck?”
“Nice guy, Sammy, when he’s not drinking tequila,” I say. “Blue agave treats him harshly, knocks him down, he gets off the floor snarling and stupid. Otherwise, he’s a sweetheart. Know him well. Get a Christmas card every year.”
“Whaaa? You know Sammy fucking Hagar? Sammy?” His mouth drops open, his right eye turns further southward.
“Tight, my man,” I reply, “we’re very tight. Got to know Sammy when I interviewed him and Eddie Van Halen for Rolling Stone.”
“Whaaa…Van Halen? Goddddammmm, Pops. Rolling Stone?”
“You betcha, in it’s heyday.”
“Goddddammm, man…what’s your name. I gotta look you up on my iPad.”
“Name’s Jon Landau. If Hunter was still alive, I’d be in Woody Creek with him and Johnny Depp, instead of here, but…”
“Goddddammm, you knew…”
The restroom door opens.
“Gotta go, Peter. I’ve been eating beans and cabbage. You know the drill.”
The two boys pause inside the restroom like deer on the shoulder of a busy roadway, deciding when to make a run for it.
I block Peter, the boys skitter past.
“Nice meeting you, Peter. Next time I talk to Sammy, I’ll mention your name, tell him you got a condo here. Tell him to look you up next time he’s in town. I’m sure he can find you here.”
I drain, and return to our table. I tell Bonz and Kathy about my experience, about “Pops.” I have to shout.
The food arrives and as we process the sludge I check the bar area, with perfect binocular vision. Peter has corralled several of his drinking buddies and he points at me, smiles crazily, and flashes his special hand sign.
We depart via a side exit, hustling out when Peter’s attention is diverted by a max-tatted, knee brace-wearing middle-aged waitress toting a double pepperoni pie and two watery Caesar salads consisting of limp iceberg lettuce, a scattering of commercial grated parm, and stale store-bought croutons.
“Let’s go, Pops,” says Bonz, “we don’t want that dork to follow us.”
Smart lad, my grandson. Smart enough to avoid Sammy Hagar, and a career in investment banking.
A week later, back in Siberia With a View, Pops creaks, feels very old, my hips and femurs ache, I slide toward self pity and a run of focused self-destructive behavior. I’ve done it before, I’m about to do it again.
I fire off an urgent message to Wanda, my personal physician.
“Disaster imminent if nothing is done, stat!
“Max crisis here at the hacienda, DEFCON 1, the worst outcome imaginable assured without immediate intervention.
“Went to Vail. Walked at least a half mile. Hips and femurs produce excruciating pain, pain excites brain fog that hampers normally excellent judgment, psych state erodes. I’ve worn the tread off the tire, Wanda, the entire fucking tread! What can you do, pronto, to arrest my sharp decline? I have to live and remain mobile to the end of the month. I have tickets to the Santa Fe Opera performance of Eugene Onegin. There will be parking lots to cross, stairs to negotiate, bourgies to dodge.
“I scoured my medical texts and visited WebMD, and I’ve come to the conclusion that injections of massive amounts of cortisone and steroids directly into the hip joints might alleviate the physical pain. With regard to my mental anguish, the injections could be partnered with a delicately calibrated blend that includes a smidge of Demerol and a teensy speck or so of Fentanyl, the brew administered via IV drip in the comfort of my own home. I’m reading Nabokov’s unpublished essays and interviews, and I can’t afford to spend time in a hospital setting, what with the incessant interruptions by nurses, cleaning crews, nervous residents, dietitians, and the like.
“As for complete elimination of the mental burden, I’m convinced a (carefully monitored) two-week regimen of hefty infusions of ketamine will provide the final push that bumps me back to where I need to be: invigorated, positive, a creative engine firing on twelve cylinders.
“Get back to me ASAP and let me know what time I should arrive at your clinic to begin my Ketamine treatments and to pick up the equipment and ingredients for the home IV. Any other suggestions you make, as a consummate medical professional, will be taken under consideration.
A message arrives at 11 p.m.
“Face it, Pops, you’re old, and you’re on the glide path.
“I heard about the new nickname from Ivy. We were relaxing after work in her hot tub, sipping rosé, and she told me about your pizza palace experience.
“The new nickname fits.
“Your hips and legs hurt because, as I’ve told you — how many times? — you’re at least thirty pounds over a healthy weight. Before you went to Vail the farthest distance you walked in the past year is from the basement to the kitchen and back, when you fetch another cocktail and a bucket of high-fat snacks.
“Your brain fog is the result of bad habits, too many to mention.
“Your psychological state is not worthy of attention. You seem intent on finishing yourself off, so I recommend you accelerate your routine and get it over quickly. This way, you won’t be a lingering physical and financial burden on your loved ones.
“No Fentanyl. No Ketamine. Don’t ask again.
“Do not reply, don’t leave voice messages, and don’t e-mail me. I’m busy. If I’m not at work, or in Ivy’s hot tub, I’m training for a triathlon in Moab. This is what healthy people do.
“Incidentally, I’m thin as a rail, and my hips feel just fine.”
It’s now the next morning, 9 a.m.
I’m old. I’m depressed. My hips and legs ache.
Kathy is chirpy, a clue that odd business is brewing.
“I’ve got great news!,” Kathy exclaims as she tips back another cup of decaf and pauses a podcast pimping the newest, remarkable, all-natural Serbian herbal treatment for insomnia, bone loss, and ‘cognitive inhibition.’
Me: “Confirmation of my theory that Elvis, Hitler, Marilyn Monroe, and Janis Joplin never died, and they’re living in an unusually cooperative polyamorous relationship in a fortress near the Argentina/Paraguay border? I knew it!”
Her: “Don’t be an asshole. There’s no reason to smother my good mood with cynical bullshit.”
Me: “OK, sorry. What’s up?”
Her: “Dot and Flaco are in town from San Antonio. Dot just called. Isn’t that great? A guy owed Flaco a ton of money after some kind of poker game, or maybe it was a bet on an MMA match, I don’t remember. The guy had two weeks scheduled at a vacation property here in town and Flaco traded part of the debt for the time at the house. He and Dot flew to Albuquerque, rented a car, and drove up yesterday.”
Her: “I invited Dot to join me at the book club meeting tonight, and she asked if you’d hang out with Flaco. Actually, she said ‘keep tabs on’ and ‘babysit.’ I told her you would.”
Me: “Dear god.”
Her: “It’ll be great. You and Flaco always have a great time together.”
Me: “Dear god.”
Her: “Not to worry. Dot said Flaco’s been out fly fishing on the San Juan most of the day. He’ll be tuckered out and easy to handle.”
Me: “Dear god.”
Kathy is hosting the book club meeting, so I am in charge of whipping up an appetizer and a main dish for the literati to consume as they discuss the month’s not-quite-literature.
The nibble? My take on pimiento cheese. I assemble it in the morning, so it has time to ripen.
I shred a shitload of medium cheddar, dice a jar’s worth of roasted red peppers, toss them into a bowl with the cheese, add four tablespoons of diced pickled jalapenos, plop in a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, loosen the mix with a heroic amount of Hellman’s mayo, sprinkle in some kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, and mix the mess well. I taste, add more mayo, cover the concoction, and slide the bowl into the fridge. Finito.
I celebrate my effort with a vodka tonic.
I suggest my take on duck larb as a main course and Kathy promptly vetoes the idea.
Her: “How about a nice chicken salad.”
Me: “What did you say?”
Her: “Chicken salad. Something refreshing and light.”
Me: “You must be joking.”
I drive to the store to procure the ingredients for chicken salad.
Chicken breasts are poached in herbed stock, the meat cooled and seasoned, cut into manageable cubes, then combined with thinly sliced red onion and chopped parsley, and dressed with a cream-thinned tarragon mayo. I almost like it.
The book people think otherwise; there’s a lot of chicken salad left when the crew disperses. They do, however, manage to polish off the last two bottles of my favorite Bordeaux blanc — the only white wine I enjoy.
As for me and Flaco … once the adventure is over, I am lucky to be alive, as is the case whenever we connect. But my outlook on life is considerably improved. Flaco is a tonic.
A bit of background on my friend.
Flaco is 85 years old, an impressively successful businessman, retired after a long and varied career he begins in the early 60s piloting unannounced nighttime, below-the-radar, roundtrip flights between Del Rio and points south. That brief occupation morphs into a legit air charter service that then sprouts an aircraft maintenance company with hangers located at mid-sized airports throughout the American West. This leads to the creation of a franchise fast food operation with stores in ten states, that then gives birth to wineries in Texas and California and, finally, with no obvious connection, branches into a wholesale bath fixture company serving outlets in those regions of the globe wherein folks have access to indoor plumbing.
Flaco scores big time, and in the offing becomes a world-class partier and connoisseur of practices and substances that provoke less-than-subtle alterations of consciousness.
At 45, 55, 65, perhaps even 75, these inclinations and talents serve Flaco well. He plays in the majors, he’s at the heart of the batting order.
At 80, he begins to get lost on trips to the liquor store and the weekly high-stakes Hold ‘Em game in the Woodlands of Camino Real if he indulges early in the day. And, more often than not, he indulges early in the day.
Flaco and I are very different animals.
Flaco is wealthy. I am a bum.
Flaco has earned considerable prestige with his many successes. I am well known for my lack of accomplishments.
Flaco is extremely conservative and outspoken in his political views, active in support of numerous conservative Republican causes. I prefer to avoid the “fors” and “againsts” of political life, I detest authority, I steer clear of clubs and organizations of all types.
Flaco is a “doer.” I am a layabout, a “do-littler.”
Flaco is driven by the desire to succeed in any and all projects, to accumulate wealth. I am happy to produce a decent painting and a worthy sentence.
We each like to get loaded and tell stories.
Flaco and Dot arrive at the house.
Dot, as always, is quiet, composed, conservative in manner and dress, yet open-minded in a way counter to her demeanor.
Grey-bearded Flaco is his usual, short, whacky self. Only now he’s 85, which adds a special bouquet to the braise.
He’s dressed in his fishing outfit: a stained Huamulan extra wide brim hat, well-worn Patagonia long-sleeved Island Hopper shirt, dirty gray Orvis vest, tan Orvis quick dry shorts, mismatched wool knee socks, and a pair of scuffed Foot Tractor wading boots. His Costa sunglasses hang to his chest on a cord and he has a greasy Roy Rogers bandana tied around his neck.
“Flaco,” I say as I hug him. “How are you my friend?”
“You don’t want to know,” he growls. “Anyway, since you asked: I’m pissed off. I had a couple of drinks at The Throwback on my way back to the house from the river, but that didn’t help. I’m still pissed off.”
Dot touches his arm and says, quietly, “Now, darling, it’s time to let it go. Time to move on. You and Karl are going to have a wonderful time, like you always do. Everything’s pretty rosy.”
“I’m pissed off,” he says. “Really pissed off. He asked how I’m doing, so I’m telling him. Had some trouble finding the river, then … no fish.”
The first of the book-loving clubsters arrive as Flaco and I leave the house.
“Good evenin’, ladies.” Flaco removes his hat in a sweeping movement. “My, don’t y’all look lovely.”
He replaces his hat.
“Bats to the cave,” he mutters. “Let’s get the hell outta here before we get bit.”
“I’ll drive,” I say.
“No way,” says Flaco, “I’m drivin’. Got somewhere to go before we sit down to eat.”
We get into Flaco’s rental, a late model Nissan sedan. Flaco starts the car and the windshield wipers crank on at max speed.
“Fucking wipers!,” he yells. “Turned ‘em on yesterday when it rained on the trip up, can’t figure how to turn ‘em off. It’s these damned Korean cars. Nothin’s the way it’s supposed to be. The goddamned Koreans fuck up everything. Couldn’t even fight their own war, for god’s sake!”
“The car’s Japanese,” I say.
“Same difference. I asked for an American car. Think they had one, huh? No! No American cars, can you believe it? Detroit was once the car capital of the world! What the hell happened? It’s the socialists. And the communists in the Deep State. They hate America. Damned wipers. I’m pissed off.”
I tell Flaco how to turn off the wipers but instead of moving the control arm down he pulls it toward himself, turning on the windshield fluid spray.
Wipers wiping, spray spraying, Flaco makes three attempts to back from my driveway into the cul de sac. On his first two attempts, he runs into a large barrel planter. There’s damage to planter and car.
“Hell, it’s not my car, not my problem. Worthless Korean crap.”
“Did you have a good time at The Throwback,” I ask, as we inch out of the cul de sac.
“Damned good time. Saw some regulars. A whole bunch died since I was here a couple years ago. That happens a lot these days. Stood the living to drinks, toasted the dead.”
“Really? How many people, how many drinks?”
“Four regulars. Two, maybe three drinks each. Coulda been four, now that I think of it. Shots of Buffalo Trace. I love that stuff.”
I ask Flaco where we’re headed.
“Downtown. Gotta take a rod back to the fly shop. Damned good rod, but it didn’t help. Can’t deal with the rocks in the river anymore, specially after I do an edible.”
“Downed an edible, did you?”
“Two of ‘em first thing this morning along with my coffee, one egg over easy, an English muffin, and two links of Jimmy Dean hot. By the time I got to the river, I wasn’t up to wading. Come to think of it, those edibles might be the reason I had trouble finding the river. Anyway, I decided to stay out of the water.”
“Where did I say I’m goin’?”
“Did I say why?”
“Return a rod.”
I give Flaco directions — the fastest route to the main road leading to the highway. He says he knows a better way, so we drive an extra four miles.
Once on the road, Flaco sings Doug Sahm’s “The Rains Came,” keeping time with the windshield wipers, and he manages 20 miles per hour in a 35 zone, occasionally swerving on to the shoulder.
“Rain, rain, rain, rain
“My tears keep tumbling down
“I haven’t seen my baby
“Since I left this town.”
Flaco continues to sing as he motors east, the car half in one lane, half in the other, doing a ripping 25 in a 45 zone. There is a line of at least twenty vehicles behind us, several of the frustrated drivers flashing headlights, a few laying on the horn. Flaco doesn’t notice; he’s busy singing Sir Douglas hits.
He reaches his favorite part of his favorite song, “She’s About a Mover,” and he steps on the vocal gas:
“Well, she strolled on up to me and said,
“Hey, big boy, what’s your name?”
He turns to me with an enthusiastic “Hey, hey,” stares at me (not the road) and says: “Knew Doug and Augie. Hung out with ‘em a buncha times, got pretty trashed. I got the same first name as Flaco Jimenez. Nice man, cordeen genius.”
“So you’ve told me,” I reply.
I pretend that I’m Jon Landau and claim I know Sammy Hagar in order to jack around with a drunken flub in Vail. Flaco really did know Doug, Augie, and Flaco Jimenez. Among others.
He keeps singing.
Flaco’s vocal throttle is open wide, the vehicle’s throttle is nearly closed. We do 25 until we hit the edge of town, where Flaco brakes to 15.
I’m surprised someone doesn’t shoot at us. There’s enough pickups in the vicinity with large Trump flags strapped to the backs of the cabs, and if anyone’s armed …
“Raining in Port Arthur
“Snowing in Fort Worth town
“Standing in front of Barber School hall
“San Antone is my home town.”
As we round the corner near the courthouse, The Throwback comes into view on the other side of the four-lane thoroughfare.
Flaco swerves across the far-right lane without benefit of turn signal and parks across from the bar, the car coming to a stop half in one space, half in another.
“Let’s knock one back, since we’re here,” he says. He flings the driver-side door open and rolls out; a car swerves to avoid obliterating door and driver.
The driver honks, and yells an obscenity.
Flaco yells back. “What’s your problem, buddy? You wanna kill an old man?”
I get out. “Flaco, there’s a crosswalk just over there.”
“Don’t need a crosswalk,” he shouts, and he ambles across four lanes of traffic, cars coming to abrupt halts as he steps in front of them
I go to the crosswalk.
We follow the same routes back to the car after we each down a shot of Trace. Maybe two. We motor on.
Flaco insists on parking opposite the fly shop, even though there are numerous open spots in front of the building. He parks in two spaces, throws open the door and exits. The squeal of brakes and loud shouts follow. Flaco makes his way through four lanes of heavy traffic to the fly shop then returns to the sound of squealing brakes and shouting.
“Damned place is closed. Hell, it’s only a little after six. What kind of way is that to run a business? If I’d done business like that, I’d be living in a rat-infested house trailer outside of McAllen and eating outta-date government cheese. Guy must be a Democrat or one of those damned progressives. Let’s get to a restaurant.”
“There’s a nice place just down the block,” I say. “We can sit at the bar. I know the manager; he’ll get us in and take good care of us.”
“They got chicken fried steak?”
“Nope, but they have great food, and a good wine list.”
“Gotta have chicken fried steak. Remember that old dump in San Antone with the tree growing in the middle of the room and floors like ocean waves? You and me had the greatest chicken fried steak in the universe at that joint. Remember?”
“Sure as hell do.”
“You know how sentimental I am, right?”
“Yep, you’re mighty sentimental. You remind me of my grandson, Banzai.”
“Well, chicken fried steak it is. I bet they serve it at that joint out west of town.”
He refers to what is the worst restaurant in the county, possibly the worst restaurant in the southwest corner of the state. It’s been but a few days since I ate at the worst restaurant in Vail, and now I face a similarly dismal experience. There are few things more disheartening than a crappy restaurant, and I’m already depressed.
“Well, I don’t know…”
“We’re outta here!”
Flaco starts the engine, the windshield wipers click on. Flaco accelerates out of the parking spaces like Lewis Hamilton leaving the pit area at the Barcelona Grand Prix, pulls a no-look U turn across three lanes, narrowly misses a fully loaded logging truck and, for the first time in the journey, he exceeds the speed limit.
Until he sees The Throwback on our right.
We put down shots of Trace, hustle back to the Nissan, and shoot west doing 60 in a 45 zone. Eager to arrive at our destination, Flaco passes on the shoulder.
We enter the worst restaurant in the southwest corner of the state, Flaco cuts in front of a clutch of tourists, strides confidently to the hostess stand and loudly demands an answer to a critically important question.
“You got chicken fried steak, darlin’?”
“Yes, sir, we do.”
“Is the shit frozen?”
“Well, I’m not sure if…”
“Go back to the kitchen and ask. I’ll keep an eye on things. I was the CEO of a fast food chain; I know how to handle customers.”
The hostess is no more than eighteen years old, probably working a summer job before her first year in the veterinary aide program at community college, likely worried that she got knocked up when she drank too much Jaegermeister after the Fourth of July fireworks celebration. She stares across the plywood stand at a short, bearded, wild-eyed elderly man wearing an enormous hat. The man shouts, waves his arms, issues commands, tells a clutch of irritated tourists behind him to go fuck themselves. She wonders why she is here.
The hostess hustles to the kitchen and returns to tell Flaco: “Yes sir, it’s frozen, but the chef says we cook so much of it, it’s always fresh.
“The hell it is,” shouts Flaco. “Frozen? It’s a crime against the idea of chicken fried steak. I created a fast food empire, young lady. I know all about portioned industrial product. Some damned machine extrudes the crap, and neither I nor this man (pointing to me), will spend another minute, or a single dime, in this dump. Frozen chicken fried steak? Hah! Never! And, for your information, the guy in the kitchen is no damned chef. He’s a fry cook, and he’s probably out on parole, so watch your step around him. I know real chefs, and he’s not one of them.” He turns to the tousists. “Frozen chicken fried steak! Unbelievable! Flee for your lives!”
We stagger to the car. As the wipers move in front of us, Flaco turns to me, a distressed expression on his mug.
“Damn, man, so much for sentiment. The edibles are wearing off, and I’m outta ideas. You got any?”
I show Flaco a back-road route to a favorite Mexican restaurant, the genuine article. It’s packed, but Ernesto bumps us to the top of the waiting list in front of twenty-plus angry tourists. One of them makes a snide comment. Flaco tells him to go fuck himself. Five minutes after we arrive, we sit.
“They got margaritas?,” asks Flaco.
“Can I get em with no salt? Gotta watch my blood pressure, you know?”
We each down two large margaritas, no salt, and I listen to a rambling commentary about how the election was rigged and the presidency was stolen from the rightful winner. Flaco then consumes what he deems to be, “the greatest enchiladas I have ever had. And, don’t forget, I’m from San Antone. I knew Doug Sahm, and I know enchiladas!”
We get in the car. Flaco starts the car and the windshield wipers …and goes to sleep.
I wake him, move him to the passenger seat, turn off the wipers and drive home. He rouses, gets his second wind, says,”I knew Baldemar before he was Freddy. Down in Corpus. Knew Huey Meaux too,” and he sings.
“Wasted days and wasted nights
“I have left for you behind
“For you don’t belong to me
“Your heart belongs to someone else”
He’s singing when I park the car at the front of my house. I leave the engine running, and fetch Dot to take him home. He’s singing as they drive away.
I am lucky to be alive.
Now, Pops is still achy, creaking.
I’m not sure how much longer I can keep it up. I’ve got a pesky cancer flitting about in my system looking to roost; the remnant of a tumor in my brain is getting back in the game, slow but sure. I forget names, numbers, and the like. I tell the same stories to the same, patient people, and dribble a bit if I cough or sneeze unexpectedly — one of several problems that occur after the knife jockeys carve out a corrupt prostate. I become more of a recluse as time passes. It’s easy to descend into self pity, if not despair.
But, then, I think about Flaco. Absent help from Wanda, Flaco is my medicine.
Flaco has ten years on me. The asshole nearly killed me, again, but he’s still firing on premium, going balls to the wall, though his balls hang pretty low and he meets said wall at a slower speed than he once did. At 85, he still devours life. He just takes more and smaller bites in order to finish the meal.
Hell, as long as he’s still upright and chugging along …
Now, if I can just get some of that Ketamine.