Not the dog. The drink.
I follow a blog by a food writer and occasional chef named Michael Ruhlman. I don’t even remember how I found his site now, but I like the way he writes and he has some interesting things to say about food and cooking (as you’d expect). Every Friday, he posts about beverages of the spiritous sort, everything from aged eggnog to new cocktails to the classics. Today, he wrote about a vodka-and-grapefruit-juice cocktail called a greyhound. And I had a rush of memories about a friend who drank greyhounds — only he drank them with gin rather than vodka, as I recall.
We used to work together at the investment advisory firm downtown, the predecessor of the place I used to call my soul-sucking job in Corporate America. He came in after I did by a few years but we were in the same department, although we handled accounts in different investment strategies. He and another guy became great friends and drinking buddies, and it was because of them that we’d all head to the Frolic Room for Friday night happy hour.
Now, the Frolic is — or was, the last time I was there, and word on the Internet is that this hasn’t changed — a dive bar and proud of it. Next door to the Pantages Theatre near the fabled intersection of Hollywood and Vine, the Frolic has a small but classic neon sign over the front door, wallpaper featuring drawings of actors and singers of the 1920s and ’30s by Al Hirschfeld, and the most eclectic jukebox I’ve ever encountered. I mean, when’s the last time you saw a jukebox that played Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin AND “O Fortuna” from the Carmina Burana? There’s barely four feet between the barstools at the bar proper and the ones against the opposite wall, the bartenders were always nice, and more than once, when I said I was “cutting myself off” because I was my own designated driver, they comped me sodas the rest of the night.
But about the guy.
Nice guy. Kinda sweet, actually, in a lot of ways. Very supportive when my mom died, and his drinking buddy told me much later that at Mom’s post-memorial…not a wake, I guess, but not quite a party, either, the guy had gotten a bit jealous of Steve and the fact he was extremely attentive of me. Since Mom died nearly a decade after Steve and I broke up, there was obviously nothing to it except his being a friend in a time of pain, but still…inspirational of a hint of jealousy. And when we were all out and about at the Frolic… Well, I mentioned this guy and his friend were the reason we went there. It was their local, their hangout, and I think they spent more nights there than not. All the bartenders knew them, and what they drank, and as soon as we all walked in the the door, the guy and his friend beelined to the bar where their Two. Double. Gin. Greyhounds. Apiece. waited for them.
I will give them this: they may have gotten tanked most of the time, tanked early and often, but they were pretty much always happy/friendly/joking, not angry or combative or offensive about it. And more than once, the guy would wind up with drinks in both hands and one arm around my shoulder, and when I left (because I generally left well before they were ready to call it a night), I’d get a sloppy kiss on the cheek and some comment that…I don’t quite know how to describe it. Never an out-and-out declaration that he wanted to give moving past friendship a shot, but there was something more than friendship in the undertones. And I would think, “Dude, say it when you’re sober, so I can believe it.”
But he never did. And I’m not sure it would have worked, because his drinking worried me at first, then came around to scaring me. Eventually the booze wasn’t enough for him — he got hooked on crystal meth, although he kept himself together enough to keep the job for a while. Whether he left on his own or got himself fired for finally not keeping it together, I honestly don’t remember. I’d hear about him now and then through what passed for the grapevine connecting current and former employees, and he just never seemed able to leave it behind, not for years.
He did get clean eventually, but it took too big a toll on his health, and I was shocked to tears when my friend E told me, several years ago now, that she’d heard he’d died.
I haven’t thought about him in years, and then tonight I saw Ruhlman’s Friday Cocktail Hour post about the greyhound, and suddenly it was all there again: dark-blue pinstriped suit with the jacket off, his tie askew until he got around to taking it off and shoving it in a pocket, white shirt rumpled and coming untucked, drinks in both hands, laughing and joking…
Everything but his name. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember his name. Then I remembered an idea I’d had for a series of stories set in that dive bar, and that I’d started a file to keep track of which real person was the inspiration for which character, and there it was.
His name was Paul.