One of my favorite local places to hang out is an unmarked speakeasy bar tucked away in the basement of an independent theater downtown. To get inside, you descend down a long flight of polished, creaky wooden stairs to a locked door where there’s a wall lamp and a light switch. You flip the switch, the lamp goes on, and then you wait. A minute or two later, the door opens and someone will subtly emerge from a darkened hallway to “check you out.” Then they guide you inside, and around a corner to another door.
When that door slides open, things remain dark, but now you hear warm, casual conversations trickling out from inside… along with cocktails being shaken, and ice clinking against glass.
You’re escorted into a small but richly decorated room with dark, chic wallpaper and antique-style lighting; you can almost hear the bulbs buzzing. Other patrons pay you little mind as a professionally dressed bartender works his or her magic behind a fancy, well-stocked bar with a red “Bar Open” light adding to the ambiance. You’re seated at a thick, candlelit table.
The experience charms your senses; the theme a throwback to the prohibition days of the early 1900s. I love everything about it.
After a few minutes of enjoying the atmosphere, including watching a waiter or waitress finalize elegant-looking drinks with slices of fruit, stirrers, and whatever else, the people I’ve arrived there with order their cocktails. When it’s my turn, I order a non-alcholic alternative (my current favorite being a creamy orange/pineapple mixed beverage whose name I can’t remember at the moment).
You see, I don’t drink. I never really have (other than a sip here and there). But I genuinely enjoy a lot about the alcohol culture.
I know… It sounds weird, so let me try and explain...
From an early age, years before I’d even thought about picking up a drink, there was plenty I liked about the commercial aspect of drinking. Beer advertisements on television were the bomb. Everyone in them was having a rip-roaring good time, whether it be from playing sand volleyball with women in bikinis, or riding kayaks over water falls. A lot of the commercials were funny too. “Tastes Great!… Less Filling!” Spuds MacKenzie, “the original party animal!”
Coors even did a short-lived rip-off character of Spuds named “Beer Wolf.” Few people remember it, but I do because I owned at least three Beer Wolf shirts that I wore with a certain amount of pride. My father worked for Coors (in Golden, Colorado) for many years, and enjoyed an employee discount at their merchandise trailer. So, I stocked up on apparel, the artwork of which I thought looked pretty cool. No one else at school had Beer Wolf merch, because it was never sold in retail stores.
You know what else I liked? Bar mirrors. I thought they were cool with their thick wooden frames and sharp imagery printed at the center. When a friend managed to get his hands on a few, I bought some from him to hang in my bedroom. I can’t remember which beer brands they were; I just remember thinking they looked great.
My parents probably thought my interest in such things was a bit weird, but I don’t remember them giving me a hard time over it (which was strange in itself, because my mom in particular gave me a hard time over just about everything). Maybe it was because they never had any alcohol in the house, and figured that boozy artwork stood little chance of acting as a gateway drug to actual drinking.
If so, they were right. I didn’t have a sip of alcohol until I was well into high school. Though I don’t quite remember the specifics of that moment (other than that it was beer), I do remember it tasting absolutely disgusting. Worse than disgusting, really. I’m talking about running out into the street screaming disgusting, or Gob Bluth hearing about his parents having sex disgusting. That reflex oddly never went away as I grew older.
“It’s an acquired taste,” I’d hear from people over the years, whenever I’d try something new. Another frequent line was, “You can’t even taste the alcohol.”
But I could always taste the alcohol. And to me, it always tasted really bad… no matter what it was, from beer to wine to rum to mixed drinks to everything else. Alcohol even triggers a bit of a gag response in me (I have a similar issue with baked and mashed potatoes, believe it or not, which people find way stranger than my issues with drinking).
I suspect it’s genetic in part, being that my parents never formed a taste for booze either. And I was never inclined to spend much time on the “acquired taste” concept for one specific reason: though I never got into drinking, I witnessed a lot of it, in excess, growing up.
When I was a teenager, I worked at a restaurant not only with a lot of people my age, but also with folks who were a few years older. They’d have weekend parties at their houses, of which we were all invited, and when I’d go, I’d watch a number of my friends get totally smashed. At times it was funny, but it was also glaringly self-destructive. I saw how it damaged relationships, and burdened others, and the scenes really left a lasting impression with me. What I saw didn’t make me think any less of them — these friends of mine, and I was more than happy to serve as the go-to designated driver for each and every one of them (a role that lasted all the way through college), but I knew it wasn’t for me.
I’ve joked with some of those friends over the years that they were the best “scared straight” program a kid like me could have ever hoped for. It may not surprise people that those experiences also provided me with a fair amount of inspiration for my books. After all, my protagonist Sean Coleman is a man who has long struggled with alcohol.
Those who’ve read my novels may have noticed that when I write from Sean’s point of view, I rarely touch on the intimate details of his alcohol abuse. This is in part because it’s a world I have little knowledge of. Instead, I focus on the poor decisions, strained relationships, and other negative consequences his drinking has caused him. Of that, I do have some observational experience.
To be clear, I don't have a poor opinion of people who drink, nor have I ever. Just about everyone I know drinks, including my best friends. It’s just part of our social culture, and most people approach it in a perfectly responsible way. Frankly, I don’t even think much about who’s consuming what these days (unless someone who doesn’t know me well is trying to pressure a drink on me).
What continues to intrigue me, however, is the imagery behind that culture, whether it’s the “shaken not stirred” sophistication of James Bond, or a neighborhood pub with bar games and a great jukebox in the corner. I dig the lounge atmosphere and ambiance. Even the sleek shape of liquor bottles kind of fascinates me, as do the quirks of the patrons passing through.
That’s something else readers may have noticed about my books: the special attention and detail granted to such places, whether its “The Cuckoo’s Nest” outside of Des Moines (named after an old after-work hangout in Lakewood, Colorado) or “The Wicked Scallop” and “Sunshine’s” north of Pawleys Island, South Carolina. They’re fun for me to describe in sight, sound, and smell.
To give you a taste, here’s an excerpt from From a Dead Sleep, when Sean’s in a roadside bar believing he’s hustling a stranger at pool:
Sean was eager to increase his winnings and motioned to his competitor to rack up. The loudmouth seemed a bit sharper on the second game, and Sean grew nervous after his streak of four sunken balls in a row. The game had commanded the attention of the others inside. The young couple leaned forward in their seats, occasionally offering words of encouragement to both players, and the bartender even crept out from behind her perch a few times to follow the action. The bouncer showed little interest, watching from afar while he sipped from his warm mug and greeted a couple of truckers who arrived separately.
The loudmouth’s cigarette smoke played games with Sean’s weary eyes, but he wasn’t going to complain about it. Someone had punched in some Ted Nugent on the retro jukebox near the entrance and the rhythm of the song “Stranglehold” accompanied the smooth, crisp flow of Sean’s ownership of the table. When he sunk the game-ender in a corner pocket, he earned a smatter of applause from one of the young couples. He wasn’t sure which.
…The loudmouth pulled his partner aside and seemed to be consulting with him in the corner of the room. The reflective material of his jacket danced under the dim rays of a couple of dome lights above as he angrily pleaded with Curly about something. Sean figured he was trying to borrow more money from his quiet friend to continue on. His instincts told him to walk away, urging him not to ruin a good thing, but he was caught up in the moment of an impressed group of peers and the sensation of rare success. He held a chalk block up to the tip of his cue stick and ground it loudly, signaling that he was game if his adversary was. The bartender brought him a fresh beer. He nodded to her in acknowledgment but forked over no money, opting to settle up later. He could sense annoyance in her conduct, but he didn’t care.
I had way too much fun writing that entire chapter.
Are you a fellow weirdo who likes the alcohol culture way more than alcohol? Or do you have a favorite bar you could tell me about? Send me an email or leave a note in the comment section below.
Save the Date!
The date and venue have been set for my Restitution book launch party!
When: Saturday, February 5th; 6-8pm MT
Where: The Kress Cinema & Lounge in Downtown Greeley, CO.
The Kress is a super-cool theater venue with a slick bar and lounge. There will be food and fun. You can even catch a movie there later if you like! (Plus, that speakeasy bar I described above is right downstairs).
It will be a night of celebration, and I’ll be visiting with attendees and talking about my novels. I’ll also be selling and signing copies of my books. There may be a surprise or two as well.
The event will be in their Fireplace Lounge, and will be open to everyone, so feel free to invite your friends.
And when I say everyone, I mean…
(God, I loved Gary Oldman in that role.)
Hope to see you there!
Free Books (and Other Stuff) for Lending a Hand
My publisher, BQB Publishing, has created a Facebook “street team” group to help spread word about their upcoming book titles. If you join the group, and share posts on BQB books with your friends and followers on social media, you get free stuff!
In fact, right now, group members can download my first book, From a Dead Sleep, for free.
Speaking of New Releases…
My publisher released two new titles last week that you might find interesting.
The first one is The Kingmaker’s Redemption by fellow thriller author, Harry Pinkus.
When political kingmaker Jack McKay chooses to change the arc of his life by representing a candidate he really believes in, he unleashes the full fury of his former client Liberty Party leader, Randall Davies. Davies becomes laser focused on ruining Jack’s career and his life by having Jack framed for a horrible crime he didn’t commit.
You can learn more about it here.
The other is a non-fiction book: A Good Spy Leaves No Trace, by Anne E. Tazewell.
Her father was a man cloaked in mystery, a man of contradiction. James M. Eichelberger was a writer, philosopher, decorated WWII intelligence officer, CIA Agent, and oil industry consultant who died a penniless alcoholic. After he left her family in Beirut, Lebanon when she was six years old, Anne E. Tazewell only saw her father seven times before his death in 1989.
A Good Spy Leaves No Trace is part ghost story, part secret political history, part call to action and part family memoir…
Sounds fascinating! You can learn more about it here.
Obligatory Dog Shot
Got their new Indy and Olly’s bandanas to help homeless dogs find homes.
“I must break you.”
Believe it or not, Rocky IV was actually the first Rocky movie I ever saw… which made that driving montage scene, where the filmmakers looped back through the earlier films, fairly meaningless to me. Still, I could tell it was of huge significance because of the powerful Robert Tepper song that was used: “No Easy Way Out.”
There's no easy way out
There's no shortcut home
Words to live by... unless you come across an actual shortcut home, in which case it’s no big deal to use it.
Like everyone else who bought that soundtrack back in ‘85 (in my case on cassette), I didn’t know who Robert Tepper was. But I dug the song, as well as a few others on the album: “Burning Heart” and a re-release of “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor; “Hearts on Fire” by John Cafferty; the all important training montage (Dragooooooo!!!); and what was also my introduction to the Godfather of Soul James Brown: “Living in America.”
At some point, probably in college, I traded in the cassette for record store credit, but a few years I ago I saw the vinyl re-release at Barnes & Noble, and images from the aforementioned driving montage began flashing through my head.
So, I felt inclined to pick it up, and listening to it after all that time made me feel like we won the Cold War all over again.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Also, if you’re not caught up on my Sean Coleman Thrillers, you can pick the entire series up at a great price on Amazon. And if you’re interested in signed, personalized copies of my books, you can order them directly from my website.
Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!