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Not Always A Charlie Watts Drum Fill

Gone Gator

August 2, 2003

New York Bartending School’s sprawling campus covers two floors of a five-story midtown building on West 39th. I approach the institution’s sacred halls on a Monday, the beginning of another two-week semester. But I’m blocked in my initial attempt – not due to misplaced transcripts or lacking GRE scores, but a bomb scare two blocks down. It’s more than a scare for the bank manager with metal case chained to ankle, having been told it contains a highly sensitive explosive. I empathize with the guy, who in the Post photo the next morning looks to be having an off day. The cops take care of the situation and open the street, and I make it to my first class.

Nothing half-assed flies in New York City, with the possible exception of beaches and World Trade Center memorabilia. Even attending bartending school, there is comfort knowing yours could make most others look like cheap imitations. The place is impressive, with large offices and two huge “classrooms” set up like nightclubs with full bars covering three walls. There is a large morning class going on downstairs, but my smaller afternoon session begins on the fifth floor. The building has no elevator and I can already see that I will get my money’s worth in calf development.

There are four of us total, including the instructor who has been in the business many years, managing bars in Florida. A likeable kid from Flatbush with family in Mississippi mans the station at the end of the bar, and beside me is Jimmy. Jimmy wears a Rolex and clean, expensive T-shirts. He has invested in a Korean restaurant to get out of ‘corporate America’ and bounces on his feet and claps when he finishes mixing a drink before me. Jimmy is very short.

I return to Brooklyn after class and glance at the watering hole across the street, deciding not to get a beer. I’m sure I’ll go back, but suddenly I feel like a prostitute seeking intimacy after a full shift. Or something like this, anyway. In my mind, I see a solid black line take a precarious dive on a chart at Anchor Steam’s corporate headquarters.

* * *

Lately, Tom Petty lyrics have been running through my head. I’m not sure why – I’m closer to Florida here, but the Big Apple has little in common with the Land of Oranges. Most of the words are from a lesser-known album, “Southern Accents.” I haven’t listened to this collection in years and don’t have it here. Yet, as I fill Gatorade bottles with ice water and put them in my sublet’s small refrigerator, these words come back to me.

Well she picked me up in the morning
And she paid all my tickets
Yeah she screamed in the car
And threw me out in the thicket


There’s a southern accent
Where I come from
The young’uns call it country
The Yankees call it dumb

Goose Gossage was a Yankee. I heard Chris Rock speak recently of growing up in Brooklyn and being a Mets fan. He said it was hard to like the Yankees because if you’re a fan of another team with a star player, you really don’t know whether he’s playing for you or just killing time until he’s in pinstripes.

I heard about a Giants game from my dad the other night. It was Barry Bonds’ thirty-ninth birthday – a full year ahead of me. He threw a guy out at the plate in the top of the ninth to save it, then hit a homer in the bottom of the inning to win. It must have been one of the rare instances when they decided to pitch to him. I can’t see these games live out here, and lack the cable hook-up to catch highlights. But I’ve seen the swing enough to replay it perfectly in my mind– bat cocked back confidently, barely any nuance or motion, and a follow-through so compact and effortless it seems he’s swatting at a bothersome fly. One that lands four hundred plus feet away, somewhere in the San Francisco Bay.

Honey don’t walk out; I’m too drunk to follow
You know you won’t feel this way tomorrow
Well, maybe a little rough around the edges
Or inside a little hollow
Yeah we get hit with some things sometimes
That are so hard to swallow

Have to get down there some day.

2003 Rick Monaco All Rights

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