Saturday, December 24, 2022

The Twilight Lounge

Who the fuck goes out for dinner on Christmas Eve?

It is your first year away at school and you’re working as a waiter at a high-end Italian restaurant. It’s packed with customers right up until you close at 7:00 P.M. You knew that this would be the case and have plans to leave straight from work to make the three-hour trip home to see your family. They must really miss you, or maybe feel sorry for you, because they have rearranged the regular Christmas Eve schedule to have dinner ready at 10:00.

You call your mom as you walk out the door of the restaurant to let her know you are on your way. You’re really looking forward to spending the holiday at home.

The first 90 minutes of the drive are easy. As a matter of fact, you’re making record time and starting to think that you may even be home before 10:00.

Then you hit the Tule fog.

Tule fog is a thick ground fog that settles in certain areas of California’s Great Central Valley. It’s a phenomenon that happens throughout the winter following the first significant rainfall. Within it, visibility is zero percent. As a matter of fact, accidents caused by Tule fog are the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the state. So, you’re fucked.

You’re in the middle of nowhere on a rural stretch of State Route 152 between the towns of Los Banos and Chowchilla. Even on a clear day, there is nothing to see but fields of cotton, vineyards of grapes, and orchards of peaches, pistachios, and almonds. There are no shops, stores, gas stations, or anything else for about 60 miles. So, you’re really fucked.

When you hit Tule fog, it’s like running into a wall of thick, black soup. It doesn’t start slowly and get gradually worse. It just begins and there is nothing to do but apply the brakes, make a U-turn, and hope that you don’t get broadsided by an oncoming vehicle.

You manage to turn around without incident and head in the opposite direction. You have two choices. Knowing that the nasty fog will sometimes dissipate without rhyme or reason, you can either pull over and wait it out, or head back to your apartment and try to make the drive in the morning. You decide to find a place to safely wait it out and start slowly driving back towards Los Banos.

Less than two miles into your escape, you see a commercial building with a small dirt parking lot that you never noticed before. You decide to park there and hope for the best. You call your mom to tell her what is happening and encourage her to not wait. She sounds disappointed. You feel depressed.

Turns out that the little commercial building is a bar: The Twilight Lounge. What better way to wait out the Tule fog than to go inside, get warm, and have some hot coffee? Right? So you venture in and find that it’s full of migrant field workers, all from Mexico. You don’t speak Spanish and very few of them speak English. But soon, you are joining them at the pool table and in and in games of dice. You all laugh and even dance. Your idea of a hot cup of coffee changes as you start doing shots of top-shelf El Conquistador Anejo Tequila and learn a variety of traditional Mexican toasts.

Even if the fog clears, you won’t be leaving anytime soon. Somehow, you understand that everyone at the Twilight Lounge shares the same dilemma. You are all spending Christmas Eve away from your families and you are all a little sad. And in this, you all find joy.


Originally published by Terror House Magazine, July 17, 2019

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Drinking With St. Nick

For many of us of a certain age who grew up in the Little Neck area of New York, one place we cut our drinking teeth was Patrick’s Pub.

My first visit there was in 1970 on my 18th birthday, when my dad bought me my first legal beer. It was a true rite of passage, not only of time but of place, for I would spend many an evening and early morning there over the next decade before relocating to Florida.

In 1964 Frank Mockler introduced his family's Irish coffee recipe at the World's Fair in New York. The concoction got such a great reception, Frank and his brother Patrick decided to open up their own Irish pub.

Once in operation, they buttressed their famed drink with traditional Irish dishes.

Patrons enjoyed burgers if so chosen, but it was the menu items like Shepherd’s pie and black-and-white pudding that became staples. Patrick’s kitchen also offered a steak sandwich on garlic bread that was a fan favorite. Everyone had their favorite dish to help soak up the alcohol. Mine was the ample helping of steak with three eggs, a four A.M. meal I ended many an early morning with after spending the night in Manhattan.

Patrick’s stayed open for nearly 40 years. The building consisted of two adjoined sections, a long bar section, complete with dartboard, that opened out into a well-lit dining room in the back of the building. The tavern in Cheers had nothing on this place.

Naturally, St Patrick’s Day was a major night for the pub. Customers would dive into plates piled with a generous serving of corned beef, cabbage, and boiled potatoes while pipers serenaded them—if one considers the sound of bagpipes as euphonious.

Drink enough whiskey or green beer, and everything starts sounding good.

Another big night—certainly my most memorable—was December 24, 1971. I was in the Navy and home on leave at the time. Visiting Richie, one of my best friends, we hung out at his parents’ house for a while but decided early in the evening to visit Patrick’s. People usually needed a reservation to get in, but since it was only a bit after 10 at night when we left his place and midnight mass hadn’t even begun yet, we took a chance on getting a table.
With money in our wallets and hope in our hearts, Richie and I drove over and found that our luck held out.

I opted to go in uniform that night. Although people in the armed forces weren’t greatly loved at the time, I still ran into a number of veterans at the pub. Being in uniform proved a good way to sometimes score free drinks while there, swapping stories though most of the older guys had the better and livelier ones; I hadn’t been in long enough to gather my own.

“Look at that,” Richie said to me as we walked in. The place was crowded, but he pointed to an empty table in a far corner of the raised dining room that adjoined the bar.

“Great,” I told him. “Go ahead and grab it while I get a pitcher.”

Ordering our beer and an appetizer to justify taking the space in the dining area. I also sprang for a couple of shots of whiskey to make some boilermakers. That seemed a good way to toast in Christmas morning.

Not long after midnight, we—along with everyone else in the back room—heard a booming, boisterous “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merr-r-ry Christmas, everyone!”

There, in the side door that led to the parking area, Santa stood in all his glory. The outfit and beard were perfect, but his basso voice was the real attention-getter.

Our faux Santa wended his way to the first table, sat down between two couples, and started singing “Jingle Bells.” Everyone in the place joined in while Santa sat there conducting the chorus with a mug of beer he’d grabbed off the table.

The tune over and all applauding, St. Nick now moved to another table and started in on “Oh, Christmas Tree,” refilling his empty mug from that pitcher of beer. At times, our St. Nick conductor forgot some of the words but filled those gaps by loudly belting out “Da-Dadada-Da-Dadada” followed by “Da-Dadadada-Dada!”

That carol done, he stood and moved to the next table. Once there, he started in with “Silent Night.” Of course, now everyone quieted down to reverently sing when I noticed that the mock Santa, between slurring the words to the carol, was refilling his mug from their pitcher too.

"Check it out,” I nudged my friend and pointed. “Santa’s getting tanked. On everyone else’s beer.”

And so he was.

“Think I wore the wrong outfit tonight,” I noted.

As the night went on, we noticed he never hit any table that didn’t have both an obvious couple and a fairly full pitcher within reach: our Santa spent time with a different group, leading them in song while siphoning—at times spilling—the contents of whatever pitcher was there, pouring a portion into his own glass.

Eventually the crowd thinned out, leaving behind the last few stragglers—including Richie and myself—and one snoring Santa.

The bartender came over to wake him. “Come on, Santa. Time to get back to the North Pole and the wife.” He removed the hat and wraparound beard, then stood back. “Anyone know this fellow?”

His identity was a mystery as none of us still there recognized the guy now collapsed against the side of a dining room bench.

The bartender eventually called a cab after checking his wallet for a name and address. With daybreak approaching, the rest of us left. I left facing the daunting task of trying to wrap presents under the influence. Still, it had been one extraordinary Christmas Eve.

So, join me and raise a glass to the Mockler brothers and people like them. They give us great memories as we move along in years, and those remembrances make getting old worthwhile.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

No Xmas Tree

Just near empty bottles

of very good whiskey

2 women and I drank

during the course

of a week that ended

with us not speaking

to each other since.

I put roses like those

I steal from the neighbor's

garden in said bottles

as a reminder

there is much beauty

in this world.

Even with the women gone.

The knife one of them

threw at me for looking

at her friends legs remains

on the floor where it landed

after hitting the wall and

missing me by a foot.

A  reminder that

any  Christams

even for a man with little

to lose can be more

curious than planned.

When it extends to

New Years Eve.

I/he does not mind

the things they stole

or borrowed with ill


“I'm never fucking

you again,” she said

“and you ain't fucking her neither”

were her parting words

as they stumbled ouside

to the snow

Ending his one affair

since his divorce

three years before.

All the bottles empty

after he downed a double


He found himself

still reaching for

what lingered sweet

long enough to be


Ten years of marriage

most good until

the end..

His wedding ring

lost in a desk

alongside knowledge

his wife pawned hers.

He placed a comically

large seashell to ear

just to hear the sea

scream for the past

like him

on most days.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Just for Tonight

A shot of rum

Some music

More rum

More music


Feel free

And forgetful

For an evening.

Tomorrow will be waiting.

Monday, December 5, 2022


“Happy hour” around here begins quietly enough.

The first arrivals, the greetings, the half waves,

The nods. This group knows all the bartenders

By name and enjoys the waiter who likes to call

Himself, “the medicine man” and asks about

Doses and prescriptions. It begins slowly and

Grows louder, the conversations get to laughter,

Louder voices win out after a time. There’s a jazz

Band that plays some days and drowns out voices.

The listeners nod along to the music, love to hear

Something attributed to Fats Waller or even Count

Basie, but Dave Brubeck numbers get the most

Applause, applause for the most familiar. Happy

Hour lasts longer than an hour and the specials

They offer stay on as long as the crowd is thick and

Easy to please. Then the place starts to clear and

Go their separate ways, some act busy, some act

Afraid to go on to the next thing, and some need

The bartenders to call them a cab. That’s something

They’ll do for you if you are a regular and they know

Your story, the story you told them one Happy Hour

After a few too many.