Joe's Oasis and Grille

Have a seat at the bar, enjoy a tall cool one and listen to Joe the Bartender kibitz with our cast of regulars. Joe discusses everything from behind the bar, from favorite drink recipes, new gadgets, raising rugrats (or is that rugrat raising?), home-improvement, sports, and, of course, politics. So, welcome! The bar's open!

Friday, March 09, 2007

"We're All Just One Trade Away From Humilty, Buddy" -- Not Listening to Marv and Other Dream Killers


It was a slow day at Joe’s Oasis and Grille. I was behind the bar, the ribbed glass rack of the sink waffling the half-rump-cheek I had leaning against it, turning the pages of the bar newspaper spread before me on the two feet of mahogany that usually separated me from my customers. But not today. Not even a visit from the toothless old cockney, Boonie Davis, coming in for his dram of plasma and a shot of life-blood.

Not much happening in the news. I see Ann Coulter got herself into trouble for calling some pansy a fag. She refuses to go into rehab. Mrs. Bill Clinton re-discovered her southern roots … in a black church. Call her the Reverend Hillary. Britney Spears is still fashioning the cue-ball look, and Anna Nichole Smith is still dead.

A sliver of light yawned across my newspaper as the front door opened, letting a flood of high-noon sun fill the dark void of the bar like rain-water pooling in a pothole. The shape of one of my regulars, Harv O’Connor filled the door. His voice bounced off the saltilo tile floors, but he wasn’t talking to me. Looking like a demented homeless person, his jaw was flapping, his voice captured by some high-tech mic embedded in that phallus-looking device tucked in his ear, the flashing blue light at the tip streaking his hair like a punk-rock zebra striping. Blue-tooth, they call it. Just another way for sales guys like Harv to never get off the phone.

I folded up the paper as he slid up to the bar and waited for him to finish his conversation.

“Dos XX, Harv?” I asked, sliding open the glass cooler.

“Arnold Palmer,” he replied.

“Good for you. Still off the sauce during the week. Bad for my business. Good for you. Still hitting the gym regular?”

“Weight train three days a week. Cardio every other day. I’ll have my usual.”

I mixed Harv’s Arnold Palmer and put his usual lunch order in: Cajun Chicken sandwich, half-bun, Creole dressing on the side. Side salad, blue cheese dressing.

“So what’s on your mind, Harv? You got that no-vacancy look in your eyes again, like your mind is full to capacity.”

He sipped his AP and gave his lips a little smack of satisfaction. I was glad to see he’d taken the electronic phallic-thing out of his ear. Most guys these days leave those damn things stuck in their ears like a piece of jewelry.

“Just thinking about a friend of mine. Starts a new job on Monday.”

“Oh, is this the friend who’s been struggling to get work … the Ground Hog Day guy, right? The one who’s short term gigs kept ending, and he said he felt like a Bill Murray character in Ground Hog Day … waking up to the same day. What kind of a short-term gig did he get this time.”

“No, see, that’s the thing,” Harv said. “This is the for real thing. He got a permanent position. A good one, with the kind of company he was looking for, you know. A leading advertising company, you know, with the glittering glass high-rises, marble floors, mahogany-lined board rooms …”

“I thought they were smoke-filled board rooms.”

“Not unless the board-room is outside and fifty-feet away from the building. But seriously, I’ve been thinking back on his ordeal and realized, I was nearly a dream killer.”

“Dream killer? What do you mean, Dream Killer?”

“He had a dream to make this thing work, to get to a position like this, you know. But that market he’s in, tough, man. Tough. I remember one day, instead of telling him to keep chugging along, you know, like I tell myself everyday, I started on the ‘time to look for something else’ routine.”

“Well, Harv, you were just trying to help your friend. You didn’t want to see him struggling.”

“Yeah, but dreams need to be pursued with vigor, Joe. And you gotta watch for out for the Dream Killers. Even when it’s with good intent, the wrong words can kill dreams. You know who the worst Dream Killers are? Our closest friends and family. They can say the wrong thing because they’re so close to us and don’t like to see us struggle, then, boom, we wanna keep them happy, we lose the dream.”

“I always figured they try to keep you down because if you make it, they’ll see all the areas where they failed. I always say, regret is the worst thing to live with.”

“Well, either way, I hope I’m never a dream killer to my friends. In fact, he’s been a real inspiration, you know.”

“Awe, c’mon, Harv. Guys like you don’t get inspired by the un-employed. You’re out getting juiced up by the shakers and movers … the Trumps, the Zig Zigglers, the real podium-pounders. I mean, you’re doing all right. How can an un-employed guy inspire you?”

“I was watching the movie Wall Street the other day, and it’s like Marv in that movie told Budd Fox: ‘we’re all just one trade away from humility, Buddy.’ I’m on commission. My business can be just one-trade away from humility, if I listen to the Dream Killers. Guys like my friend who struggle, never give up, and succeed, hey, they inspire me. I’m sure you’ve got dreams, too, Joe.” He raised his half empty (or should that be half-full?) Arnold Palmer to me and tipped it in honorary toast. “So, I hope I’m your dream builder, not a dream killer.”

After Harv finished his lunch and left, back on the phone as he departed, I couldn’t help but think about dreams, and then found myself owning up to how I’d been remiss in following my own advice lately about not living with regret. I went to my little cubbyhole office and stared for a minute at the clutter on the desk: booze invoices, liquor order forms, a tattered drink recipe book, employee schedules, lunch menus. Then I looked at the tattered John D. MacDonald paperback sitting amidst the clutter. You’ll always find me carrying a paperback … one is always in my reach.

I clicked on my computer and my home page popped up, the screen filled with the latest and greatest in the drink-and-entertainment world. I shut it down and went deeper into my computer system, to a file I hadn’t touched in way-too-long: a started-and-unfinished novel. I looked at the words of the opening, and was still satisfied with what I read. Why had I put it away?

I popped open another file. I titled it “Technique Study: The Great Ones” … word-for-word paragraphs from the works of great writers that I longed to emulate; to study; to learn the craft from. Pages and pages … some dead, some alive. MacDonald. King. DeMille. Cruze-Smith. Leonard. Burke. Hemmingway. Conrad. Twain.

Then I did something that was un-heard-of in the history of Joe’s Oasis and Grille. I went and hung the “Closed” sign on the front door, in the middle of the day, told my cook to take the rest of the day off. My regulars would be in full-blown panic in a few hours, but I had dreams to catch up on. Dreams to catch. I closed my office door, scrolled down to where I’d left off some time ago in mid sentence, and started to write.

I won’t be listening to Marv the Dream Killer anymore.

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