16 September 2004

Sense memory

I must be in some sort of nostalgic phase these days, because I keep having random, trivial memories from my nightclub-owning days float up to the surface and then pop in my face with a fresh, soapy smell. In reality, the smell soundtrack to most of these memories would run more along the lines of stale beer, overflowing ashtrays, and the Pine Sol I used to swab the decks with every day that actually did little to mask the previous two smells.

My office in the basement smelled of the mildew that lined the concrete walls, discarded deli sandwich wrappers, and the fifty million cigarettes I smoked each day back then. I would sit down there, counting last night's drawers, taking occasional pulls off my grande coffee from across the street, and taking much more frequent pulls off my Parliament Light smoky-treats. The Green Room was right down the hall from my office, so there was a healthy dose of rock band sweat in the air, too. Unfortunately, the Pine Sol only made it to the basement on rare and special occasions.

If it was a delivery day, my workday would be punctuated by the appearance of guys with dolly trucks topped full of cases of beer, thumping down the rutted concrete steps into the basement. We were always hovering on the edge of insolvency, using last night's take to cover this morning's delivery, so most of our distributor contracts were COD.

It would usually be two guys humping the beer we couldn't afford, the driver and an ever-changing cast of young strong assistants, each of whom I always thought of as Igor. The driver would always be older, and usually wore a support belt around his lower back, even though Igor did all of the heavy lifting. The back belt was more like a badge of rank, like sergeant's stripes.

While Igor stacked the cases of beer in the antique walk-in cooler next door, Sarge would come into my office with the invoice, which I hardly ever bothered to check against the actual delivery, circle the total, and lay it on the desk in front of me. I'd glance at it, wince, then swivel around to open the safe on the floor next to me, and hand over the bulk of last night's sales to cover the cost of the beer we would sell tonight.

My favorite delivery driver was the Budweiser guy. I can't stand Budweiser, prefered Harp at the time, and this truly mystified him. As I counted out the stacks of twenties I owed him, he'd ask me again if I had renounced my affection for foriegn ales and crossed over to the True King of Beers yet. This guy passionately, fervently believed in his product, and couldn't fathom why I wouldn't recognize what so many Americans agreed on -- the superiority of a bottle of Bud over any pretenders to the throne.

One day, as I was crossing the street with my grande coffee first thing in the morning, I saw his truck parked outside a nearby bar, making his delivery. He always drove one of those massive white trucks with the red script "Budweiser, King of Beers" scrawled across the length of the 18-wheeler. As his Igor loaded the dolly in the back of the truck, my Bud-loving buddy sat in the driver's seat, adjusting his back brace.

When he saw me, he jumped out of the cab, scurried around to my side of the truck, and framed each syllable of script with his short arms, shouting across the street to me:


(scampers over to frame next syllable)


(scampers a little further down the line)


Then he stood facing me and my coffee, arms held out toward me in mute appeal.

What could I do? I invited him and Igor inside for a Far-Too-Early-In-The-Day bottle of the King of Beers that we couldn't afford to buy, and couldn't afford to give away. I made them late for their next delivery when I gave them quarters for the video golf game, and I watched them play while I smoked.

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