This is the kind of reckless confession that in these sensitive times is bound to backfire, but here goes:
I’m at heart a straight man who detests seeing lots of fruits in his bar.
Bear with me.
See, I’m the kind of guy that spends a lot of time sitting in bars wondering why I spend so much time sitting in bars.
It’s not that I’m lonely. Ever.
Sit in bars as long as I do and you’re bound to spend some of the time waiting for someone to sit next to you. I think it makes some people uncomfortable to see a man or woman solitarily engaged in thought.
One bar patron likes to point out when I’m sitting alone that I’m sitting there all alone.
“There’s Rodell, sitting there with all his friends,” he’ll snort.
I tell him that a man with a thousand voices in his head is never alone. That’s true. I have a ceaseless inner dialogue going on that may or may not include the topics of baseball, politics, science, arts and what the romance writers refer to as “l’amour.”
My kids are now 21 and almost 16. So if I go home it’s likely they’ll be watching televised entertainment aimed at their demographic and hip mothers like the fair Valerie. The three of them cuddle up on the couch and watch movies that seek a broad audience, true, but mostly an audience of what my old man used to call broads.
What they now call chik flix.
So I tend to linger at the bar waiting for someone fun or interesting to sit next to me for conversation.
On nights when no one does, I sit there thinking, really, I should just go home. But I always recollect the night from about four years ago when I was stationed at my corner stool in Flappers, one of three solid bars in the Tin Lizzy, by happy coincidence where my office is.
It was a Friday evening around 8. I was surrounded by groups of happy, chatty people and I was all alone.
I’m now almost 60, so my roster of wingman drinking buddies is thinning (even as their profiles are heading in the other direction). Some are dying, some have found other places to haunt and some have embraced the sad tedium of lawful sobriety. None of this deters me from a Friday evening guzzle.
I make friends easily and am always accorded chummy respect from my bartender pals.
But on this night it was getting to me. I thought, man, here I am all alone on a Friday night, surrounded by happy groups of people who must think I’m pitiful.
What I’m about to say is entirely truthful and I relate without exaggeration.
Just as I was thinking that forlorn thought, a stranger from Alabama approached and tapped me on the shoulder. “Are you Chris Rodell?”
I told him I was.
“I’m so glad to meet you. I want to buy 20 of your Arnold Palmer books!”
I thought, man, I should never leave this place. And now I rarely do, even though nothing remotely like that has ever happened again.
But changes in taste are challenging my default behavior.
People are exerting pressure to get me to begin imbibing mixed drinks. They’re trendy. They’re artistic. They’re expensive.
I for years now have been drinking double shots of Wild Turkey on the rocks. I have heirloom reasons for doing so, but I also like to tell people I drink WT because it’s the bourbon that’s most representative of who I am.
I’m not a Jack or a Daniel, a Jim or a Beam. And I’m not a Basil or a Hayden.
I’m a turkey that sometimes still gets wild.
I like that for years now, I can walk into a bar and have my preferred libation in my hand about the same instant as my butt cheeks settle onto a bar stool.
I don’t like to be quizzed about what I want and I don’t like being handed a laminated drink menu or directed to puzzle over the pastel scribblings on a dusty chalkboard.
I just want my drink, neat and fast.
I’d be right at home in Martini’s bar in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” where Nick the bartender tells Clarence, the fairy, er, angel, “Hey look, mister. We serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don't need any characters around to give the joint ‘atmosphere.’”
The fancy mixed drink has changed the whole dynamic of the bartender/customer relationship. He or she used to pour you a drink then move on to the next thirsty customer.
Nowadays, the preening bartender stands there to detect your reaction and wait for you to shower him or her with praise, like a soldier awaiting their medal.
He asks if I like it. He asks if the ingredient taste differential is bold enough. He asks if his drink is superior to the foxy chick who pours the late shift.
The only question I like to hear from a bartender is when he asks, “You ever gonna tip more than a quarter, Big Shot?”
Don’t hold your breath.
I like my drinks direct, up front, unvarnished.
I resent being schooled on all the precious garnishes. Drinks now feature blood oranges, Luxardo Gourmet Cherries, and other foreign elements that stand a chance of demolishing the tasteful integrity of the liquor.
It’s something I learned from spending a splendid day with Wild Turkey master distiller Jimmy Russell (above). He’s the reason I remain devoted to the brand.
I’ll never forget the Manhattan dude who had the audacity to order a “bourbon & Coke” right in front of the great man.
Horrified, Russell exclaimed, “Please, it took me seven years to craft it. Don’t ruin it in six seconds. Keep it straight!”
I’ve been that way ever since.
And that’s the story of how I became who I am, a defiantly straight man who detests being in a bar full of fruits.
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