On a recent Friday night I was staying at the downtown YMCA. Don’t ask. The irony in its being referred to as the “Y” for “Young” was not lost on me. I wondered if the other old guys there were aware of it. I think of such things: Does that guy have a sense of irony?
It was once said in front of 20 or 30 people by Dave “the Waterman” Ross that “John B. will not drop a dime on you, but he’ll drop a dime on himself.” That is what I am about to do here. That Friday night at the Y, I took it into my head to go to that mock English pub, the Elephant and Castle in the Holiday Inn on Harbor Drive. Just, you know, to see how much it might resemble a real British public house. I spent more than a little time in those back in the Bronze Age. It is said “in the rooms” that “If you hang around a barber shop, sooner or later you’ll get a haircut.” You may know I should not go there. I had four drinks with no desire for any more. That can happen, it just can’t be guaranteed.
Feeling touristy, I took one of those pedicabs for six bucks. A kid, probably named Jason, pumped the wheels. He told me to call him when I wanted to head back, but by that time I thought I’d better walk off the two Stolis and two Sam Adams beers. This was after meeting three nice people at the pub.
One man, a good 20 years younger than me whose name I do not (and I’m not sure why this is) have permission to use, makes compact resuscitation kits for a living. He invented these particular types and is president of his own company. I offered to call him Q, as in a James Bond novel (nothing like his real initial), but he wouldn’t go for it. This nameless fellow, who saves lives for a living, was one of the most genuinely humble men I have met in recent years. He did not get drunk. No one did.
The E&C does look passably like an English pub — no suits of armor, but they might have a dart board, I didn’t notice. Sorry. I was talking to the nameless entrepreneur. I seated myself between him and a pleasant-looking couple. Not too close...a few stools from anyone. The couple was from Minnesota. I made some crack about Fargo, and the gentleman, maybe 60 (the woman appearing much younger, maybe 40s), said in a deadpan tone, “That’s in North Dakota.” Well, I knew that, but the couple did have the accent.
The man and woman introduced themselves, but two strong drinks and two beers will induce a memory lapse after decades of imbibing. Their names have fled. I didn’t know I was working until it was too late. I said something lame about sensible Midwesterners, quickly adding that I was from Illinois.
“Uh-huh,” I think they both said this together, like well-rehearsed twins, neither of them even nodding their heads. The woman had raven-coal hair that was not dyed. Not a gray strand in sight. I want to use the word handsome, but I do not mean to suggest she was in any way masculine. I’m trying to remember the bartender, or barman as they’re called in Jolly Old. He was young, in his 20s, maybe early 30s but I can’t describe him. I’m shot out.
My overwhelming recollection of that winter late-night Friday was that the place was warm and it was a chilly night. Warm has become a priority. In that sense I guess it had that cozy British quality. That’s probably an illusion. We have warm barrooms in the U.S., even in, say, Fargo — or Buffalo. The Princess of Wales on India Street may be more authentic, or Shakespeare’s farther north on that same street, but the Elephant and Castle on Harbor Drive has a hotel-y charm, if an artificial Englishness to it that becomes more convincing with drink.
Hardly a raucous Friday night, not even crowded (fine with me); very civilized, in fact — another plus for its Englishness (such as it is) right there.
I believe I said more than once to the res-kit innovator/businessman that his was important work, certainly more so than mine. He would only shake his head, smile, and say, “No, no. Not really.” I could not help wondering what it might be that he would consider important work. I did not ask, nor did I bring up Mother Teresa. As I may have indicated, I was not whacked, just buzzed with some faulty-memory-inducing brain damage involved.
Something in the nature of even faux British pubs makes me want to speak with an accent and say, “Royt!” and “Cheerio.” I hope you are affected in no such pretentious manner. I am actually part English, on my mother’s side, the Calverts and the Arburns. The Calverts of Baltimore and, yes, the whiskey people too. My friend Mark calls alcoholism “Satan’s scribbling on your genes.” He’s a biologist.