The bap

In Russia, for some goddamn reason, they call a restaurant a “pektopah” and a bar a “bap.” But you could certainly argue that the bar in this particular St. Petersburg hotel deserves a word of its own. I might call it a “movie,” because that’s what it feels like when you’re here.

It’s a long movie, to be sure, what with us hanging most nights past 4 a.m. But putting in the hours means we get to see the whole story arc. How the hookers, who don’t look like hookers at all—in the US of A they’d be the most elegant broads in the room—periodically shift tables and then one after another stand to troll the crowd. How the smooth-as-silk manager signals to them with a silent nod that he needs their table and they temporarily move to the table in the hall. How each hooker (and this small bap is generally stocked with four, distributed among two or three tables) has a rose-colored drink, non-alcoholic, on her table with a straw in it. Some kind of red-light sign, but mostly, I think, to remind the staff what’s up.

But enough of my ogling the whores. What I wanted to tell you about was the gangster part of the movie from last night.
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Does booze give you superpowers?

For those of you too drunk to read any further, the short answer, according to my empirical research, is an unequivocal duh. But allow me to elucidate.

I’m 19 (back in the day when the drinking age was a sensible and civilized 18) and get an invitation to an open-bar party at my old Catholic grade school in NYC. Open bar. I don’t have to tell you that those are words to set an Enthusiast—particularly a broke-ass college kid—to a-trembling. I am so there.

Since the cocktail party is scheduled for only two hours—and since it’s my pre-heat for a Friday night frolic—there’s a lot of work to do. And I set about it enthusiastically: Jack, chased repeatedly and relentlessly by Miller High Life. Pretty soon, my skinny ass is wasted. In fact, maybe the most wasted ever, before or since. And pretty soon, I’m in trouble. Or they are.

A lot of this has had to be reconstructed later with the help of my schoolmate/drinking buddy who came with. But I have no doubt about my motivation: I’m looking at an older, irretrievably square crowd—uptight, wine-swirling mackeral-snappers in striped ties. And rather than being engaged in some bullshit conversation about my progress toward respectability, I decide to bring some “conversation” of my own.

So I circulate around to each happily chit-chatting couple, stand close to them for a moment, grinning, watching, pretending to be interested, politely waiting my turn to enter the discussion—only to issue forth with an ungodly shouting that makes all conversation impossible. Not a little whoop or yelp. This is a long (30 seconds?), high-volume, non-verbal, unremitting vocal drone, a weaponized yelling designed expressly to destroy cocktail party palaver. And when I say loud, you have to understand that people think I’m loud when I’m just talking (I once got a note from a woman at a restaurant that read “your loud voice wrecked our dinner!”) and that, once upon a time, I sang in front of a very loud rock band.

I work my way around the room, assassinating comity, one conversation at a time. And it’s not just the loudness that’s disturbing, it’s the randomness. My beef is at such a conceptual—and dubious—level that these poor Catholic partygoers are like: what the fuck?!? If they ever said the word fuck.

On and off, the sonic assault continues for maybe 15 minutes, until the principal, a gentle, caring, middle-aged gent, approaches and throws a friendly arm around my shoulders and says, with a genuine smile, “I think it’s time for you to go.”

Let me explain that when this man was younger he had been afflicted with an illness (TB?) that resulted in one of his lungs being removed, which evidently carried a certain morbid, if heretofore unrecognized, fascination for me. So he’s easing me toward the door when I fling off his arm and throw mine around his neck and drag him to the floor. I have the kindly principal in a headlock on the floor, and now I’m yelling at him: “No one-lunged bastard is gonna throw me out!”

I gotta admit, if it’s comical now, it was mortifying the next morning, and for many mornings after. In any case, it’s my buddy and our unfortunate dates who ultimately disentangle me and the principal and get yours truly the fuck out of there.

But, alas, the night is still young.

The four of us pile in a cab, headed downtown to the Village Gate, where one of my all-time favorite bands, NRBQ, is playing a couple of sets. On the edge of Union Square, we get stuck in traffic. Stopped cold. Lots of honking and yelling, but no forward movement. Suddenly, without notice, I fling the cab door open and start running into the darkness and crowds of 14th Street. My friends and my date, not surprisingly, are happy to see me go. And after patiently waiting out the traffic jam, the cab deposits them, 10 minutes later, at the door of the club.

And I’m there to greet them!

This is the superpowers part. Apparently, I flew like Superman or ran at supersonic speeds like Flash to beat them to the Gate. No other explanation is possible—unless you subscribe to the crackpot theory that I ran around the traffic jam and grabbed another cab a block or two away. But that strains credulity, not to mention the rules of super-hero science. No, the facts point incontrovertibly to me acquiring temporary superpowers through the liberal application of booze.

Once inside the club, I barge into the dressing room to tell the band (I think) how much I love them, only to be physically threatened by a visibly agitated lead singer who is restrained by his band mates who are yelling at me to “just get the fuck out!” I return to my friends, who’ve found a comfortable booth, and, at some point during the set, go to sleep. On the floor. The ushers clear out the club for the next show—my friends finally making good on their escape—but somehow no one notices me. As the room begins to fill for the second set, I rise up off the floor and, looking around for my companions, discover instead some unwitting acquaintances from high school, to whom I attach myself for still more bar- and party-hopping until six in the morning, when, my superpowers depleted, I stiff them on a cab ride uptown.

—Toots Shor

Superman photo courtesy of rustman, flickr.



I did that?!? Not actually a person from Afghanistan

Back before we knew alcohol could kill you, in multiple ways, I was known to have a tipple or two of an evening. This occasional column, intended strictly for cautionary purposes, is about some of those multiple ways and some of those evenings.

We’re going to see the Tubes on their first-ever tour of the States (yeah, that long ago–you don’t even know who the fuck the Tubes are). And, of course, this being winter in Michigan, we’re wasted.

Not wasted enough, apparently. When the later-to-be-famous out-of-town rock critic offers your humble reporter a Quaalude to top off a 12-pack of Stroh’s, the humble reporter wolfs it, only to report back to the critic 20 minutes later that his motherfuckin’ Quaaludes ain’t working, what the fuck?!?

So he hands me another.

We harass the Tubes onstage–most of the harassing being done by the perma-wasted crazy guy who’s driving us(!) and who actually works at an insane asylum. He’s barking “Fuck you!” over and over in the lead guitarist’s face. Nevertheless, after the show, we follow the band back to their motel and barge in on the after-party, where, luckily, there is fine California weed to augment one’s dual-ludes-and-12-pack high.

Then we hit the road for whatever other lethal perils might be found in the frozen Michigan midnight.

We’re tooling down the highway, madman at the wheel, en route from somewhere up north to Ann Arbor down south when we spot a hitchhiker, and the madman decides to stop. Or decides a little late. So first he has to throw it into reverse on the highway. As the hitchhiker slings his duffle bag in the back seat with me, I–answering the inscrutable logic of the buzz–get out and lay behind the car. Whereupon the madman backs up some more until he’s pinned my arm. Eventually, I yell enough for him to pull forward and set me free and yell some more when I take my seat back in the car next to the (frightened? psychopathic?) hitchhiker.

Then I see her.

Turns out the hitchhiker has a girlfriend. In the dimness, I can just make out her golden tresses, wavy and multi-hued, by the far window on the other side of her man and his hobo luggage. She is gorgeous–or her hair is. And I have no shame.

I snake my arm behind the hitchhiker to tentatively touch Sister Goldenhair. She doesn’t respond. Except, well, she doesn’t respond! Which may be the best response a guy in my condition could ever hope for. She doesn’t recoil. She doesn’t retch. She doesn’t complain to her boyfriend or jump out of the car. Emboldened, I run my fingers more assertively through her mane. Again, no response. No slapping hand. No screaming, ducking, nodding or otherwise shrinking from my advances. Nor, thanks to my cat-like dexterity, does her boyfriend notice.

Now I am full on petting her, or at least her head, transported by that sleek, golden coiffure. But as my hands dance lovingly around the lassie’s noggin, it dawns on me that there is something odd. At first, I deny it. How could there be anything wrong with the most beautiful woman in the world? The most beautiful–and pliable–woman in the world?

I begin to explore. My hand arches to encompass the top of her, admittedly, not very large head, which seems to ultimately form into some kind of bump. No, bigger than a bump–a red-rubber-ball-sized mini-dome. My hand rotates left and right to assess its true circumference, but there’s just no getting around it: the top of this girl’s head comes to a weird, blunt point.

I rouse myself from erotic reveries and lean forward to peer past the hitchhiker. And it is then that I see, finally, that the love of my life, the object of my fondest fantasies, the shining vision of my drunken vision quest, is indeed an Afghan. And not, mind you, a person from Afghanistan.

Yes, dear reader, this Alcohol Enthusiast came on to a dog.

Postscript: Many years later, after I had shared this tale far and wide, a commercial for (I think) BMW came on the TV. It was a typical scene of a couple in a top-down convertible speeding down a scenic highway. The view was from the rear and overhead. The man, who was driving, wore shades. His lady sported gorgeous golden tresses, which blew in the breeze. Then the camera flipped around, and we could see the couple from the front. Of course, she turned out to be an Afghan dog.

My question: can I sue?

—Toots Shor

Stroh’s photo courtesy of prettywar-stl, Flickr.