2.19.b We Are Programmed To Receive…
Dressed in a well-loved Eagles t-shirt, jeans just this side of threadbare, purple kicks, and a Cheshire Cat grin the (new) Doorman held it open and stepped aside, “Please come in. If I can steal those keys from you?” Handing him the ring, I moved to the left (heels against the edge of the fabled postage-stamp-sized stage – squee!) and watched him close & relock the door – which incidentally is obfuscated on both sides.
Tumblers pivoted, and keys pocketed. His mischievous smile returned, “If you could follow me, Ms. Arden.”
Falling in step, I attempted to casually scan the room, which proved difficult due to the towering blind spot created by my guide’s broad shoulders and the narrowness of the room. Unwilling to hyperextend my neck trying to gain a comprehensive look around him, I settled for a few sideways sneak peeks at the other patrons, who returned my looks with curious glances of their own.
In a flash, my escort was gesturing towards the right half-moon booth in the back of the speakeasy. Pausing for a moment before taking a seat, I caught my first panoramic view at the Rare Records Room and…
…Holy Cats Batman!
Gold records arranged like dragon scales decorated every square inch of the walls not occupied by long back leather bench seats or the bar. Oh man, and the bar. The bar is a thing of beauty. A counterpoint to the modern feel of the rest of the room, the swirls and whorls of the art deco design, when combined by the eye, created a dragon curled possessively around his horde. Unlike Smaug’s golden trove, this dragon guards sixty feet of glowing liquor bottles – twelve rows deep (without a single repeat, I’m assured). Golden light, emitted from three dusty brass and crystal chandeliers, dappled the entire establishment (the dust would drive Aunt Pearl crazy, but it adds to the overall atmosphere of the joint).
Ira’s delighted voice recalled me to reality before my gaping mouth caught any flies. “Good evening Phoebe. I take it you’ve never eaten here before?”
Me (snapping my jaw shut): “What gave it away?”
Ira (eyes crinkling): “First-timers are always struck with the same look.”
Me: “Do the rumors do justice to the mac’n’cheese?”
Ira (slow smile spreading across his face): “No.”
Me (returning his smile): “Then prepare yourself to see that expression again…”
Ira (chuckling): “Looking forward to it.”
Diverting our conversation, my guide reappeared at the periphery of our table.
My Guide: “Would you like your drinks now or wait for the last member of your party to arrive?”
Ira: “We’ll wait, he won’t be long.”
Heart sinking into the leather cushions I fussed with my cutlery, an audience of any kind would curtail me from asking virtually every question on my list (and yes, I’d written them down – so I wouldn’t forget one under the influence of cheese).
Sidetracking me from my wilty feelings My Guide, after ascertaining this was my first visit, started quizzing me. First up? My favorite & least favorite flavors, cheeses, pastas, flowers, colors, and allergies. Then he inquired after my fondest & saddest memory, best friend and three things I couldn’t live without. Finally, to round out the twenty-questions session, he asked me to name something, anything, I hated.
After he departed, I wasn’t sure if I’d just finished a creepy stalker quiz, psychological evaluation, or both.
Taking a sip of water, I was saved from trying to recollect my place in the conversation by the arrival of the last member of our party (and apparently I wasn’t the only one with Hogwarts on my mind).
Leo (wearing a red and gold Weasley inspired sweater & grin): “Evening Ira, Boss….Did you just get The Grilling?”
Well, that’s all the confirmation I’ll ever need to prove I’ll never make it on the professional poker circuit.
Scooching over so Leo could take a seat, we were saved from an awkward pause by both the rituals of polite conversation and then by My Guide’s timely arrival with a tray of one-of-a-kind cocktails tailored to our tastes. He also reassured us our dinners were bubbling away in the oven as we spoke.
(If it’s half as good as this marionberry vodka drink, I will be spoiled for any other mac’n’cheese for all eternity.)
Realizing my companion’s concoctions remained untouched, I lowered my glass, bouncing my gaze between the two men, both of whom appeared unexpectedly uncomfortable. Unsure of the root cause, I rode the pause, waiting for one of them to speak (with the barest flutter of butterfly wings starting in my stomach).
Leo (blurting): “Something’s rotten in Nevermore, and we don’t know what to do.”