Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The March, Chapter 46: This Might Work Out After All

Chapter 45

The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads - they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude.
- Ferris Bueller's Day Off

The March presented by Lightweight Group Enterprises held its inaugural event on a warm Thursday night in April.  It was a closed party.  All The March regulars had been invited, as had some press, some minor social luminaries and many of the board members at Bulstrode’s church (Episcopalians, fortunately, drink).  It was going to be interesting jibing those disparate groups together, but Tré felt confident that the décor would be inviting to folks who didn’t normally hang out in bars. And they’d leave early enough. Rosie would play some fly music later in the evening, and that would up the party potential for the drinkier invitees.  He expected it to be a great night.

That afternoon, when everything was in place, Bulstrode, Tré, Mary and Caleb stood in the middle of the new room and took it all in.

The old tile floor had been replaced with a dark-stain parquet.  The cocktail tables were shiny black with red barstools around them.  There were glass (glass!) ashtrays on every table.  The drywall had been stripped, exposing recently tuckpointed brick.  Black framed mirrors and black and white photos of 1960’s sophisticates lined the walls.  The neon beer signs were gone, save for a kitschy old Hamm’s sign from the 50s.  The bar itself had been refinished and polished to a high shine.  Black, high-backed barstools lined perfectly around it.  The shelves in front of the mirrored bar were lit from beneath and polished bottles gleamed on it.  Everything looked clean and classy.

“My construction workers are going to love this,” said Mary, wryly.

“Come on, Mary,” said Tré.  “It looks nice.  Just admit it.”

It did look nice.  It looked like the kind of place you’d go to get a really great Manhattan.  It looked like the kind of place where beautiful women turned sidewise on barstools and crossed their legs at handsome men.  It looked like the kind of place where rich men rewarded themselves for the money they’d made that day.

Tré and Bulstrode separated to wander around.  Tré looked hopeful, Bulstrode looked stressed.

Caleb was depressed.  He tried to imagine his usual crowd of regulars sitting around the corner.  Would they still feel at home drinking shots and arguing over Cubs versus Sox?  Would they play music and sing along to the songs coming out of that beautiful Wurlitzer CD jukebox in the corner?  Would they still holler at the ref during Bulls games from this bar’s corner?  It didn’t feel like it.
This place made him feel like he should be wearing a tie.

The March hadn’t ever been a particularly pretty place.  Years of cigarette smoke and over consumption had left the walls off-colored and smelly.  But it had been comfortable.  It had been the kind of place where plans made to meet for a quick drink before a concert or a play disintegrated as you found yourself instead passing the whole night at the bar.  Even if you’d already bought the tickets.  The March was just like that.

Caleb thought this new March looked like the kind of place frequented by people who stuck to their evening plans.

Bulstrode, on the other hand, worried that the place still had too much local tavern feel.  The echo of Rafferty and the old days lingered.  The people he’d invited were not the types to stop in at their local on the way home from work.  These people attended cocktail parties at fancy homes on Lake Shore Drive or poured a good whiskey from a Waterford decanter when they got home from work.  He liked the way the place looked, but he worried that the barroom feel was too strong, that the people he’d invited would think of him as staff.

And he worried that Raff would show up.  He almost always worried that Raff would show up these days.

Mary put her arm around Caleb’s shoulder.  “Cheer up, Dad,” she said.  “After a few weeks they’ll be burn holes in every stool.  I don’t care who owns this place, it’s still yours.”

Caleb hugged her back and felt a little better.

Tré joined Bulstrode and said, “We’re on our way now.  This place looks great!”

Bulstrode nodded grimly.

A little while later, Brooke and Gio showed up, both in black jeans and with their new black March tee-shirts on.  They got behind the bar and began setting up for the evening, cutting fruit and stocking beers.  They’d already familiarized themselves with the new microbrew station behind the bar.  Before the rehab, they’d served Miller High Life, Miller Lite, and Old Style on tap.  Now they had over 20 microbrews for sale.  There was a collection of single malt scotches and small batch bourbons that cost more per sale than the typical March bar tab.  The cocktail napkins were thick and monogrammed with the L.G.E. logo.

“This place feels weird,” said Brooke.

“Totally,” said Gio.  “I feel like I should be calling people ‘sir.’  Even the women.”

Shortly after 6:00 the invited began arriving.  Mike, the overzealous hockey fan, was one of the first to arrive.  He sat at the corner, drinking a comped bottle of Old Style and looking around uncomfortably.  A few of his drinking buddies came in shortly after and joined him, talking too loudly, shooting the odd hairy eyeball at Bulstrode’s churchy invitees.  Be-skirted waitressed navigated the room, awkwardly carrying their drinks on trays rather than tidily in their hands as they were used to. The floor managers from Marshall Fields sat at their usual table together, drinking free rum and cokes, wondering if they could still get pitchers of Lite when it came time for them to pay for their own drinks.

Bulstrode wandered the floor, ignoring all the regulars.  He gladhanded the illuminati and accepted their congratulations.  He grabbed bottles of 80-year-old single malt scotch and showed them off to his fellow church board members.  Susan held court at a table near the door, so that the first person you saw was rich and beautiful.

“Welcome,” she’d say, greeting their friends by name and with a kiss, a good hostess.  “I’m having this lovely Chardonnay.  Would you like one?  Can you believe Bully’s little tavern cleans up so nicely?”

The sound level remained at cordial cocktail-party level.  Some of the regulars examined the selection on the jukebox, but no one dared play it.

Caleb stayed in the corner with the regulars.  He drank coffee and chatted about The Bulls.  His tavern management that night was less an act of professional responsibility and more an act of solidarity.  Before too long, the room was split cleanly in two.  March regulars by the bar (both A and B regulars, it’s worth mentioning), Bulstrode’s invited guests at tables.  Only the regulars and staff noticed the divide.

At around 9:00, Rosie showed up.  She looked around the room and shook her head disgustedly.  She stood in the front of the DJ booth, which was in the middle of the room, and shrugged off her jacket.  Under it she wore a hot pink body suit into which she’d artfully cut holes here and there.  Over the holey body suit, she wore a pink tutu and motorcycle boots.  She’d mimicked Darryl Hannah’s makeup from Bladerunner.  Her hair was pulled back into a severe bun.

She looked great.

She looked around, shook her head again and crawled behind the DJ booth.  She’d been rehearsing this moment all day.  She cut the polite cocktail music off mid-song and waited until the room was silent.  In a matter of seconds, every eye in the room was on her.  And then she reached over, flipped a switch and Guns and Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” came blasting out of every speaker, turned up to 11.

And just like that the atmosphere changed.  The folks who’d been drinking small batch bourbons from Bulstrode’s expensive new rocks glasses took their leave.  They weren’t really the type to hang out in bars anyway.  The March regulars, who were exactly the type to hang out in bars, started to loosen up.  Shots were ordered.  Spontaneous dances broke out.

The Bulls were playing a West Coast game that night and were just underway.  After a dubious call from the officials, Mike shouted up at one of the fancy new TVs, “Come on, Ref!  Let ‘em play!”  A roar of approval came up from his barmates.

Before too long, much to Caleb’s great surprise, The March began to feel, if not exactly the same, still pretty fun.  And he realized, much to his great, great surprise, that this was due in no small part to Rosie.

Rosie inserted a cigarette into the holder she’d bought at a thrift store that afternoon and returned Caleb’s smile with an imperious nod.

Caleb suddenly felt very fond of her.