At least three of our customers were stoned. They reeked of grass…reefer…Mary Jane. According to a 1943 article in TIME magazine it makes sense: “The association of marijuana with hot jazz is no accident… (the) drug seems to heighten the hearing—so that, for instance, strange chord formations seem easier to analyze under marijuana.” One reefer-mad customer was a tall, skinny Truman Capote look-alike with circle glasses, gray hair in a tight pony tail under a beige page-boy cap, wearing a multi-color, multi-pattern Mexican shirt with a flower-enshrined Madonna on the back. His Capote-esque whiny voice made him irritating. He geometrically compounded it with his stoner in-your-face excessive talkativeness. The Doorman Code calls for restraint and professionalism, even though fists were forming at the ends of my French-cuff arms. The innate was denied. I turned my attention to the accomplished guest jazz guitarist who laid down smooth rhythms accented by the trumpet and sax. My night ended with a Black Russian, expertly and generously made by the owner, while I made a note to reread In Cold Blood.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Day after t-giving…black Friday. At the jazz club, crowd expectations were modest. It ended up being an Ike&Tina-Turner-Proud-Mary night. It started out nice and easy, and ended…nice and rough. Early on we had several couples (one pair of smoochers who stayed all night), a group of five, and a couple of lone wolves. Collectively, they filled up the stools around the bar. The tables in front of the band were empty. I said to the owner, “It’d be nice if we had another dozen.” I stepped outside into the freezing air and looked skyward for a falling star to wish on and settled on the blinking amber street light down the block and wished, while thinking “what the hell, it might work.” It did. With 40 minutes left before closing, a dozen 20-somethings walked in—all friendly and predestined. They ordered domestic beers and vodka kamikazes, bought the band drinks, and hooted, yelped, and danced as the band perked up. The regular saxman who had the night off, and had happened into the club, was called on stage for his signature song, Grover Washington’s Mr. Magic. Supported by a heavy bass, a groove-laden wailing beat was laid down. And the magic of the amber-light wish was fulfilled through the last several songs. The night became a strange collision of destiny with coincidence.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Yeah, it doesn’t hurt that all of her models are insanely cute, but North Carolina photographer Marie Killen offers more than shots of beautiful young women. Her portraits display creative staging, dramatic lighting, technical proficiency, and a playfulness that is endearing. To demonstrate her competence, it would be nice to see portraits of the battle-scared, life-weary women and men seen in grocery stores at 11 at night or the over-worked, anxious commuter stalled in the river of traffic. One suspects, that even with “normals,” Killen could capture their beauty.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Part of the doorman’s trade is to be aware of the full moon. Having a full-moon calendar may be as essential as breath mints, a cell phone programmed to 9-1-1, and a taser X3 electronic control device. Full-moon lunacy might explain the antics last night, including the belligerent customer who wore the Davy Crockett coonskin hat with dangling raccoon tail. Tonight was tame by comparison. Any lunatics in the crowd were no doubt soothed by the jazz siren, who sang a mix of jazz classics. Not that I noticed, but it was pointed out to me that she looked quite captivating in her black leather mini-skirt. Over the course of the night, there were two groups of four and another couple that hesitated at the door. I invited them all in with the deal: “pay on the way out if you enjoy the music and your experience in the club.” All stayed, enjoyed, and only one four-some departed without paying—and to be honest, they could have forgotten. It was nice to see again the gentleman who writes in his journal while sitting at the bar. As the singer belted out the Billie Holiday song God Bless the Child, and her blonde hair fell in her face as she cooed “God bless the child that's got his own… That's got his own,” I watched him writing madly in his notebook and realized that we are clearly brothers of the pen. At any given time or place, that could easily be me sitting at a jazz club bar writing in my own notebook.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
The quartet’s music was angular with soft corners. The bass rained plump notes on us. They were avant garde with a melodic undercurrent—much like the crowd. A bear-shaped man with dreds down to his ass had a hard look when he entered the club. After a couple of hours of soothing jazz, he left with the same street face. As doorman at the jazz club, I keep people in the entranceway until the cover is in hand. I heard a hard knocking at the door, opened it, no one. A guy rushed around the corner, “Why do you keep it locked?!” I let him in, checked the door—unlocked, and then found him well past my control point gesturing like a stranded islander waving down a propeller plane and yelling “It’s 1975!” I mistakenly asked for the cover and his ranting escalated. The bartender snarled at him to get out. I cornered the time-warped dude and corralled him toward the door as he yelled, “Read it in verse 411—it’s 2010 and the end is upon us—you will repent!!” I was wondering if the bible has a directory-assistance verse while he made a couple more threatening lunges to the open room before parting the door like the Red Sea to escape our prosecution. The bartender locked the door until he was safely blocks away and said “He’s O.K. when he’s on his meds.” Clearly, he needs a refill. All returned to mellowness, once the agitated prophet was gone. It was coming to closing. The sax and keys were well into a cat and mouse—harmonize, then stray apart—thing when a young noodle-drunk guy made his way in. I was supporting the wobbler when he said, “What did you ask?” I didn’t ask you anything, what did you think I said? It was fast becoming what computability theory refers to as the halting problem so I broke from the who’s-on-first exchange and went to the heart. “I can’t let you in, but you can’t be out there wandering alone—you’re an easy mark.” He confessed he was out with two friends who got lucky with the ladies and left him stranded. A cab was called for Mr. Unlucky and tried to keep him alert until the taxi arrived. I learned he’s half black, half Winnebago…alone in the world. He said he didn’t know what to do. “That’s easy,” I said, “you’re taking this taxi home.” As I loaded him in the taxi, he was slobbering, “You were nice to me…I love you, man!” When the cab pulled out, I quietly said, “I love you too…I love you too, man.”
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Swiss cheese crowd—steady flow of jazz lovers, but plenty of empty tables and bar stools. Blame it on the autumn chill, the armored police vehicle parked in front of the dance club down the block, or, as the bandleader hypothesized, the welterweight championship fight. So, while Manny Pacquiao was pounding Antonio Margarito’s face to a pulp, the band was pounding out Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, and other favorites. There were date-night couples ordering flavored martinis, a couple of lone-wolf guys, and a shadowy couple that I swear were gypsies… Romani… tinkerers. It was subtle, but they had sorcerers’ eyes. Just like wild baboons, I know enough to not maintain eye contact. The cover charge transaction was handled professionally, but my eyes were submissively averted. I don’t need charms, cures, or conjurations, thank you very much. A narrow miss, but I don’t think they knew that I know. Time will tell if my luck has been jinxed.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
It happens. The jazz club doorman has an uneventful night. No close encounter of the 3rd kind. No visitor from afar. I could stop at the period of the last sentence, but things happen all the time. Nuances of life. Sure, there were a couple of guys—players—who hemmed and hawed at the door flashing their wads of cash while yammering into their cells. It was early and we needed bodies, so I waved them in. “Welcome gentlemen—hope you’ll have enough time to enjoy a beverage before being pulled elsewhere.” They stayed for the first set and slipped me fives on the way out, as though they were big tippers. I’m learning the game. There was the young perfect cutie with her boyfriend. I stared at her perfect features, perfect skin, perfect hair. Then stared at her photo ID—perfect features, perfect skin, perfect hair. I was getting caught in a loop—the perfect her and her perfect ID photo. “Everything is perfectly fine,” I stammered. The night was clicking down when a young guy appeared with urgency in his face. I pointed him to the Men’s Room. When he finished and was exiting, I stopped him… “You gotta stay—it’s a Grover Washington tune and the tenor wails.” He did and the tenor did wail and I felt no guilt about forcing culture on this disenfranchised youth. Somewhere, somehow the magic will click deep inside him and he’ll go, “aha.”
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Ethnic culture saturated the night. As the band was setting up, I was warned to expect a large group. “I didn’t know the Hell’s Angels liked jazz.” “No, silly,” I was told, “don’t worry.” A half hour later, a dozen gentle-spirit Asians were seated at reserved tables. The jazz singer was belting out Nat King Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” when the man dressed in full West African garb told me the educational system needs to be fixed. He’s a pedagogical researcher with 20 years spent on a new learning model that could straighten up the school system. We were discussing the pros and cons of the Whole Learning Model when the bartender gave me the look that I should get back to tending the door. We were on the cusp of figuring it all out too. The club continued to fill up with the whole rainbow of humanity. As I was folding up the sidewalk for the night, I met a young couple. The woman was born in France and, as of last week, she became an official U.S. citizen. She had correctly answered the 100 questions required to pass go and collect her citizen papers. With her husband fondly rolling his eyes, she said “Do you know who wrote the United States Constitution?” I smiled, “Easy—a bunch of angry rebels, like me. A couple of them have their mug shots on the currency you probably have in your purse.”
Saturday, November 6, 2010
The night was for the dark haired—deep walnut, ash brown, espresso black. The few blondes, rather than being striking as exceptions, looked out of place. One dark-auburn woman, named Gabriela, was a wet-faced beauty who had earlier learned that a 42-year-old neighbor had died in his sleep. As doorman, I try to assume a you-lookin’-at-me toughness. Gabby saw me for the empathic mark I am—friend to the downtrodden, depressed, and dispossessed. In a 30-second therapy session, I learned more than I need. Her cost: five bucks cover charge. The jazz quartet was well into an exceedingly complex blues-in-F-sharp improvisation—the keyboard guy played like Devi, the Hindu goddess with four arms—when the Gabster returned from a frigid-cold smoke break all tearful. Sounding like Carl Rogers, I said, “It’s gotta be rough…” She blubbered, “I just talked to my son for the first time in five months—these are happy tears!” Remember—I tell myself—you’re just the doorman.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
I worked with Michael Waraksa many, many years ago. He created an illustration for a marketing piece that I had written for a client of mine. I don’t remember the piece or the client, but I do remember Michael… and thinking “this guy’s insanely creative and will go places—where, I have no clue, but he’s going there.” And go he has. His freelance illustration has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Nickelodeon Magazine, Time Magazine, The Progressive, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Golf Digest, Psychology Today, AARP, Washington City Paper, Information Week, Las Vegas Life, Reason, Management Review, Kyoto Journal, Astronomy, Cincinnati Magazine, Milwaukee Magazine, Business 2.0, Boating Magazine, The Washingtonian, The Milken Institute Review, Grist, Governing Magazine, Treasury & Risk, American Society for Quality magazine… to name a few. Over the years, Michael has won a trunk load of awards for his exquisite work. No surprise. What is a surprise—and I might be wrong—is that Michael appears to be living in the same East Side Milwaukee flat where I mailed his payment check some 20 years ago. In the maelstrom of life, there may just be stability.