HAPPY HOURS IN HAPPIER DAYS. 8-9-10
Back then, all of the hotels on the island that had casinos in them gave, once a week, what they called ‘Introductory Parties’ whose real purpose was, of course, to get their guests to spend more time in their own bars and restaurants rather wanting to ‘pub crawl.’ They gave unlimited free rum drinks, along with sodas for the kids, and each one lasted for just one hour.
Three of the hotels in the capital city gave their little ‘get-togethers’ on Thursday nights and in a sequence that induced us to put on a suit and tie to be able to attend them all.
There were three of us and we all worked for the same, big international company – on a three-year-on-the-island contract – and we’d all persuaded our wives to let us go out without them every Thursday.
The first of the three parties started at six o’clock and the second one at seven and the third one at eight and, because one of us, in turn, would slip the bartender a five dollar bill – this was thirty odd years ago and a five then was like a twenty today – as soon as we got up to the bar we always got good service and lots of rum in our glasses with very little polluting soda added.
We had no problem with being allowed to attend the parties – which were intended for registered guests only – because we were all Service Technicians and the hotels were our biggest customers and so we got to be well known by the Security people in them all, and to their Lobby staff, and so we didn’t have to show a hotel room key.
Clearly, by the end of the third party we’d all be feeling high and happy and we’d go into that hotel’s casino for some excitement and to see if Lady Luck was with us.
She never was for me but I always played black-jack – or ‘21’ as they called it there – until I’d lost the twenty bucks that I’d set aside for that very purpose. That meant around ten minutes for me, at first, and the guy from Boston would last for around a half hour but the Canadian guy would play for around a full hour and he’d sometimes leave the table with some chips in his pocket for next time.
After maybe a half dozen times like that I realized that it wasn’t just a matter of luck and that I needed help so I bought a copy of ‘Hoyles’ Rules’ and I spent time memorizing the advice therein and from then on it took me a good half hour to lose my twenty.
However, luck does indeed play a big part in it as I found out one night when I ran my twenty up to more than four hundred! (Again, that’s equivalent to around $1,500 in today’s money.) I was positively smirking about my expertise until I noticed that there were three of the casino’s security people standing around the table and they were watching our, and the croupier’s, every movement. It was then that I realized that everybody sitting at that table had won big too because for maybe fifteen minutes nothing that she, the croupier, had done had come out right for the house.
We had all began to increase our bets, seeing that we were then betting with ‘house’ money, and she continued losing. She knew that she was in big trouble but all that she could do was to soldier on, and keep paying out, and she had to fight hard to not get flustered although she sure did get red in the face.
I actually began to feel sorry for her so when I was dealt two aces I opted to not split them, to the horror of everyone around, and I kept drawing more cards until I had six of them and they totaled fifteen and the next one was – yes – a six. She had to draw to her fourteen and promptly busted. Incidentally where I was brought up drawing five cards and not busting gave you a hand that only an ace and a ten (pontoon) can beat , which should be the rule everywhere.
Eventually it got to be time for her to rotate to another table, or she was muscled out, and we all groaned when she said, “Thank you, gentlemen.” and started getting her things together before leaving.
Some of the more savvy players picked up their chips and followed her, hoping to get a seat at her next table, but I stayed there and, of course, I lost a hundred in double quick time.
I had enough sense to know that I was reverting to form and so I quit and I didn’t let that loss detract much from my memorable evening and when I cashed in my chips I asked for small bills and I kept the big roll in my shirt pocket and the heft of it kept reminding me of my good fortune all through the rest of that night.
Our standard routine for Thursday nights was to sober up somewhat after around ten o’clock by playing pool and drinking only beer until it got to be close to midnight when the last shows would start in the clubs in the hotels and we’d have already picked out which one we all wanted to see.
We’d walk to that particular hotel and we’d have already parked the car that we were using that night in the staff parking lot near a side entrance door that was always on, or near, the loading dock. If it wasn’t propped open – which it usually was because back then there were no, or very few, security problems – we’d wait until someone who was leaving opened the door – which was often because all of the staff used it to leave the building and many of them worked staggered hours – and then we’d take up our two six packs of beer from the cooler in the car trunk and go into and on through the kitchen and we’d take one bottle each with us and put the rest in a refrigerator that was handy and then we’d walk on until we got to the wings of the stage from which we’d be able to see most of the show.
The best shows were almost always in the biggest hotel and it has changed hands a bewildering number of times over the years so I have no idea what it’s called now.
Back then, in that particular hotel, there were two massive sets of double doors between the kitchen and the stage – I guess that they were fire doors – and the nearest one to the stage was nearly always propped open to let the cigarette and cigar smoke disperse which was good for the artists because there were always waves of the stuff being generated and it welled up to them.
We saw many good shows there over the months and years and, usually, there’d be only a half dozen chefs, and waiters and what have you, watching it with us.
One weekend Frank Sinatra was singing there from Friday to Sunday so we changed our routine and tried to catch it on the Friday but we had to give up after about ten minutes because there was a huge crowd of staff along with the hotel’s security people and his own people too so while we could hear his voice we couldn’t see him and what with that and the fact that the security people weren’t happy with our being there we left and went to shoot some pool.
One Thursday night we went there to catch a well known jazz singer, I’ve forgotten her name, and she was superb. For some reason the band members were all situated over to our side of the stage instead of in the middle as was usual and, also for an unknown reason, the double doors were all closed up and so it was difficult for us to breathe and it was the same for the band. Also sweat was rolling off them and especially off the singer who seemed to be bathed in it.
We waited for the end of the number that they were playing and when the applause was rolling we opened up the doors and the effect was immediately obvious.
All of the people on stage felt the fresh air flow and they looked over to us and waved and smiled and called out, “Right on, man.”
At the interval they took a fifteen minute break and they came over to where we were standing to get out of sight of the audience and it was very obvious that all of them were close to being exhausted.
We’d already seen that there was a small table and a few chairs to one side and that there was an unopened bottle of Jack Daniels on it and some shot glasses and they went to the table and sat down but they didn’t open up the bottle.
The clarinetist had brought his instrument with him and he put it on the table and then he pointed to the bottle of bourbon and told us to take a drink if we wanted but we showed him our bottles of beer and told him that we were fine thanks.
The singer had walked right past us, with two aides hurrying to keep up, and she went on by and through into the kitchen. The musicians gave her a head start and then the drummer said that he needed some water and he and two others followed her out.
A few minutes later those three came back and the transformation in them was remarkable and then the other three went into the kitchen and they too were sprightly and very different men when they returned.
Not long after that the singer came back and she looked fresh and rejuvenated and she had a big smile for everyone and when she and the band had all gone back on stage I said, quietly, “The water in the kitchen must have remarkable healing powers.”
At the end of the show they gave an encore because the crowd wouldn’t stop applauding and calling out for “more, more” and so the singer’s manager, or whatever, pleaded with them all to do “a little something more even it was only so that we can all go home.”
After the encore – incidentally, I’ll never call out for an encore again ever because from where we sat back then we could see that at the end of every performance every one on stage had already given their all and weren’t in any shape to give “more” of anything – the singer’s handlers escorted her out and away and the band members came over to ‘our’ wing again and that time they sat down and opened the bottle and poured themselves shots.
I noticed that except for the clarinetist, who was still carrying his, they all positioned their chairs so that they could keep an eye on their instruments that were still on the stage and that would stay there until there was zero chance of their being waylaid by audience members wanting – well – anything ‘more’ from them.
It was time for us to go and so we called out ‘so long’ and moved towards the doors but the bass player came over and thanked us for opening the doors earlier on, “Man, the smoke was really gettin’ to us.” and then he asked what we did and where were we from and then, “Jesus, you’re all a long way from home. You must like this island and, let me tell you, you can keep it as far as we’re concerned. Not even the fuckin’ groupies put out, man.”
Before we could ask about that one of the hotel’s staff members came across the stage and he pulled some side curtains away and then we could see, and be seen by, two people who were standing in front of the stage and close to the three little steps that led up to it.
Everybody else had already filed out by then but this couple obviously had a serious agenda that involved making contact with the owners of the instruments that were still in plain sight.
When they saw that we were all over on the side of the stage the woman, she had a long, white, very formal dress on and was wearing a diamond necklace and a bracelet to match along with ear rings that sparkled like mad because a quirk in the overhead lighting was catching them, said something urgent to the guy who then climbed the steps and came over to us.
He was wearing a tuxedo.
The drummer was the most famous – and most recognizable – member of the band and the intruder stopped in front of him and looked down at him. He had weak eyes and he had a nervous and watery looking smile on his face.
“My wife and I,” here he waved backwards to include her in, “think that you were absolutely wonderful tonight and we want to thank you all,” here he waved forwards to, magnanimously, include us all in too, “for a marvelous evening of superb entertainment. We’ve both been ardent jazz enthusiasts for, well, forever and we recognized quality playing up here tonight. Actually, we’re not much into vocalizing,” here his strange smile turned into a smirk, “but on this small island we’ll take what we can get. Right?”
He didn’t get any response at all so he hurried on, “Well, please let me tell you why I’m bothering you like this. We live just ten minutes away from here, our house is on the beach, and we’re giving a late party tonight. It’s for only a dozen or so good friends of ours, uh, I can promise you that none of them are phonies, and we’ll be delighted if all or some of you could come to it. Uh, it so happens that we’re all white but none of us hold with racism of any kind so you won’t feel isolated or overwhelmed at all. There’s plenty of good food and, of course, good booze and there’ll be transportation both ways. You can bring whomsoever you like with you and an instrument or two would be nice although there’ll be no pressure on you to play anything. Uh, that goes without saying, of course.
“So, what will it be? Will you come?”
The drummer looked up at him for a moment or two in silence and then he said, loud enough so that the guy’s wife could hear clearly, “Mister, only thing I want right now is a hole I can put my dick in.”
The woman gasped and raised her arms and stepped back as if she’d been physically threatened.
Her husband said, “Oh my word! Yes, uh, I mean, no, no! Ah, oh my! No, no. Oh, my goodness. Aaaah, no, no. Uh, no.” and he kept saying nonsense like that as he turned away to hurry over and down to where his wife was. She took his arm and they tried not to run as they threaded their way through the tables and chairs on the way to the exit.
The guy from Boston said, “Jeeeez-sus,” and we finished the last of our beers in long gulps and then we left without, for the only time ever, collecting and then dropping off our empties in the proper bins.
When we got to my car I opened up the locks and as the guy from Boston was lowering himself inside he felt the need to speak again and he said, “Jesus H. Christ!”
I dropped them off in turn and not another word was spoken the whole time except for, “See ya tomorrow.” and, “Yeah.”
Well, a few months after that night the Bostonian’s mother died and by doing so she left him orphaned but she also left him her house and so, because his contract was nearly over anyway, he managed to negate the last part of it and he went up there with his family to the funeral and then they moved into the house that he’d been brought up in.
The Canadian had more than a year left on his contract but one day – soon after it was just the two of us there -his boss in Vancouver called him to say that his services were badly needed back home and that he’d already dealt with the problem of his contract at headquarters in New York and so, “Pack your bags, son.”
The going-away party that we gave for him took place in the same restaurant as the one that we gave to the first deserter, and only a matter of weeks later, so the planning for it was easily dealt with.
I soldiered on for two more years – mainly training local people which was frustrating because, as in other Caribbean and Central and South American countries that I’ve worked in, the ones who were intelligent enough to become an asset after training invariably expected to be given a whole lot of, paid, time off to work towards a degree, or towards yet another degree, and also didn’t want to get their hands dirty, ever, and the ones who were capable with their hands couldn’t accept that it takes two years in the field to learn the ropes, especially regarding safety, before they could expect to earn top hourly rates and none of them could they get their heads around the fact that because it serves the public directly it’s not an 8.00 to 5.00 job and that they would be on call 24/7 – but after that I refused to extend my contract again because I figured that I’d soaked up enough sun and had lain on enough beach-sand and had done enough dinghy sailing to last for the rest of my life – which has proved to be true – and I found myself a job in Long Island City and lucked into a fine, rent controlled, apartment in Brooklyn across from the Museum. It had five big rooms with high ceilings and it came with a rent of – if you can believe it – $155 a month!
All through the last couple of months that followed the perfect squelch, when the three of us were still together on the island, none of us brought it up or even referred to it.
I guess that they thought, as did I, that that was because it was complete in and of itself and that any comment at all, by anybody, risked damaging its perfection.
I now know that that was, and is and always will be, impossible.