Nomaville: Apocalypse Now or Later

Hey, hot stuff!A noteworthy byproduct of writing these columns is that I’m often approached for other related kinds of work. Happily, I’ve been asked to do my cockeyed shtick at weddings, sharpen my rapier wit at ribbon cuttings, pen pithy endorsements for print ads and to occasionally weigh the pleas of poachers. So, it didn’t seem out of the ordinary when I received a very flattering note from a reader who sought my consultation — until I realized who had sent it. The devil. More specifically, it was his “communications manager,” a bookish woman with whom I had worked when she was a still publicist at a boutique firm that specialized in A-list damage control.

When I was slow to return her correspondence, she phoned and pressed me again, this time saying that her client had her “by the balls.” Admittedly, I liked it when she spoke like this, seeing as the lack of requisite anatomy underscored the value of the metaphor and I knew I could likely score a free lunch if I continued playing hard to get. She agreed and a luncheon with Lucifer was penciled for yesterday afternoon.

The Prince of Darkness and I met at a local brasserie, which he chose on account of the comely waitstaff and their tolerance of his ordering an army of appetizers in lieu of an entrée (these he insisted we share). The most compelling aspect of Lucifer, I would learn, is his utter banality. He’s both thinner and paunchier that I expected — not at all the robust red devil that graces the fire and brimstone mis-en-scenes of fireworks and tequila bottles, but rather more like a pregnant scarecrow. His cheeks were sallow, like a crumpled paper bag; his body a contingency of sinew and leather, except for the great orb of his belly, from which a symphony of gurgling howls emitted no matter how much tapas he crammed into his gullet. I expected someone of his mythic station to have penetrating X-ray eyes and I half considered wearing sunglasses to ward off the possibility of hypnosis. They were, however, watery and pale and eerily frank, like those of an elderly person. And his teeth, the trophies of British orthodonture, were uneven tombstones shaded mustard brown from the navy cut tobacco his tawny fingers fished from a fanny pack cinched at his gut. Be assured, the devil does not wear Prada. He dresses like a carnie.

“I like your work,” he grinned as he contemplated the smoldering eye pinched between his blackened nails and took another drag. “Most writers turn a phrase to serve a story, but your prose preens like a prima donna. I can’t tell who’s more the whore, you or your work.”

“That a compliment?”

“An assessment. I’m the devil. I don’t give gold stars,” he spat back. “You ever hear of the ‘End Times?’”

“Doesn’t News Corp own it?”

“No, I mean the ‘the end of time.’ Judgment Day, Armageddon,” he said with a frustrated furrow in his gnarled brow. “When the sheep get separated from the goats?”

“Sure. The eighth grade dance, Petaluma Junior High, ’86.”

“No, the other one — the one that’s nigh. Us goats need a scribbler, see, someone to get the word out, a little PR campaign to win the heart of man before we go upstairs and finish the job we started before the Fall,” he said, then winked. “You would be the only journalist embedded in the war on heaven and earth, you dig?”

The devil leaned through the plume of smoke rings. One hovered briefly like a halo over his head as he asked: “How would you like to write the last chapter of the Bible?”

What a great line, I thought — I couldn’t have whored it better myself. The devil knew he had a hook in me, but I played it cool. The way I rationalized it — and mind you rationalization is a game the devil always wins — he wanted my services not my soul, which some of my profession think is tantamount to the same thing. I knew better. Like hell, I’d put my soul in the recycle bin every week, right?

“Write the last chapter of the Bible, eh?” I asked, mulling my Miltonic tumble into the Bottomless Pit. “How does it end now?”

“Cliffhanger,” he said and smacked his lips as if he had tasted something bitter. “What, you never read it?”

“I was waiting for the movie.”

He smiled and cooed: “You’re my first choice, you know.” He knew I saw through his flattery. “Well, that’s exactly not true. I went to Goebbels first, but he’s booked through November ’08. But you’re free and – ” he waited a moment before reeling me closer – “and you’re an artist.”
The A-word. I was putty, instantly. It was if he had taken a handful of the mud that had been slung at him for millennia and began molding it in his image, except it looked like me, which is to say it had an undeniably rakish quality and dressed better.

He said to call Tuesday and left his cell phone number. The prefix I assumed would be 666, but it was actually 555, like the dead end numbers used in the movies. Go figure. Dear readers, please advise.

Courtesy of the Sonoma Valley Sun.

Pour Guy

Pour Guy Danny DonaldsonBartender Danny Donaldson knows the velocity of vodka and the g-force of gin. The popular staffer at the Lodge at Sonoma?s Carneros Bistro is a practitioner of ?flairing,? an acrobatic admixture of equal parts bartending and, well, Cirque du Soleil. Bottles soar above Donaldson?s head, twirl behind his back and land ? usually ? in the firm grip of his capable hands. On the rare occasion that a bottle eludes his reach, the 22-year-old just smiles, picks it up and starts again.

As portrayed by Donaldson, flairing seems as much of a philosophy as it is a spectacle. Whatever you do, however, never utter the word ?juggler? in earshot of a flair bartender ? that is, unless you enjoy watching bottles and your drink fly through the air.

?We always joke about that at competitions. People always say ?You?re a great juggler.? We?re not jugglers. We hate it when people call us jugglers,? Donaldson said with a wry smile.

Aerial artistry such as Donaldson?s may have made its first splash into public consciousness with the Tom Cruise film ?Cocktail,? in which the actor plays a bottle-flipping lothario. As can be expected, Donaldson is nonplussed by the comparison but does say Cruise did perform his own flair routines in the film, which, oddly, was directed by another Donaldson of no relation.

Tom Cruise has nothing on Danny Donaldson.

This reporter had his belly to bar as Donaldson virtually levitated bottles while pouring myriad drinks to the marked awe of passersby. Even his fellow staffers would sometimes pause when passing by; of course, they might merely be waiting to make a safe dash behind the bar.

?Flairing is entertainment. When people come to a bar they want to have drinks and they want to have fun. If you?ve got a good bartender who can flip bottles at the same time then you have a good bar,? appraised Donaldson, who first began flairing three years ago after his move to California from Alabama. He had taken a gig as a barback at Broadway Showgirls, a nightclub in San Francisco, but soon bristled at being the anonymous understudy behind the bar.

?I hated it,? recalled Donaldson, then fresh off his duties as army ranger in Afghanistan. ?My buddy was the manager and he started teaching me flair. I?d seen him do it and, honestly, I saw all the girls standing there just going ?Ooooh!??

An apprenticeship soon ensued, and before long Donaldson was developing his skills on his mentor?s flair bottles, which are unbreakable simulacra of the real thing that even are labeled with popular brand names. Many bars use one-liter bottles versus the smaller, more easily handled 750 milliliter bottles with which most flair bartenders practice their craft. The size differential can mean the difference between a firm grasp and shattered glass, so Donaldson is constantly practicing. As he points out, his performance space is a veritable chamber of horrors waiting to happen.

?Mirrors, lights, tap handles. The only things I really worry about are that,? he said, pointing to a tall wrought iron food carousel on the bar, ?and that,? he said with a wary eye on the credit card computer touch screen.

?The reason I worry about this is that I don?t have $3500 to pay for a new one,? he laughed, then admitted that he learned the price of the expensive computer equipment the hard way when working at another bar.

?I went to do a move where you come up out of the speed rack, catch it, pour and I tossed it but I was looking the wrong way as I tossed it and it went back right into the center of the screen. The plasma stuff went everywhere. It was bad. All bad,? he recounted.

The safety of Donaldson?s patrons comes before his showmanship, he was quick to remind. A place where Donaldson can perform unfettered by the possibility of minor mishap, however, is on the competition circuit. There he has placed well in four regional flair competitions hosted in San Francisco. In one he took first place in a showdown between 25 flair bartenders; however, he has his eyes on a bigger prize.

?Flair has evolved so much. I remember going to Vegas and watching ?Legends of Bartending,? which is like Mecca. Sixty-five people, invite only, the top flair bartenders in the world. They have people from Japan, France ? they come from everywhere,? said Donaldson, who mentioned that next March sees the eighth incarnation of the event in which performers are scouted from the world over.

?I would love for one day to have someone sitting in the bar and say, ?Here?s your invite,?? said Donaldson.

Danny Donaldson works Tuesday through Saturday at Carneros Bistro at the Lodge at Sonoma, 1325 Broadway, Sonoma. (707) 931-2042.

Courtesy the Sonoma Valley Sun.

SonomaWino: Pour Guy

Pour Guy Danny DonaldsonBartender Danny Donaldson knows the velocity of vodka and the g-force of gin. The popular staffer at the Lodge at Sonoma’s Carneros Bistro is a practitioner of “flairing,” an acrobatic admixture of equal parts bartending and, well, Cirque du Soleil. Bottles soar above Donaldson’s head, twirl behind his back and land – usually – in the firm grip of his capable hands. On the rare occasion that a bottle eludes his reach, the 22-year-old just smiles, picks it up and starts again.

As portrayed by Donaldson, flairing seems as much of a philosophy as it is a spectacle. Whatever you do, however, never utter the word “juggler” in earshot of a flair bartender – that is, unless you enjoy watching bottles and your drink fly through the air.

“We always joke about that at competitions. People always say ‘You’re a great juggler.’ We’re not jugglers. We hate it when people call us jugglers,” Donaldson said with a wry smile.

Aerial artistry such as Donaldson’s may have made its first splash into public consciousness with the Tom Cruise film “Cocktail,” in which the actor plays a bottle-flipping lothario. As can be expected, Donaldson is nonplussed by the comparison but does say Cruise did perform his own flair routines in the film, which, oddly, was directed by another Donaldson of no relation.

Tom Cruise has nothing on Danny Donaldson.

This reporter had his belly to bar as Donaldson virtually levitated bottles while pouring myriad drinks to the marked awe of passersby. Even his fellow staffers would sometimes pause when passing by; of course, they might merely be waiting to make a safe dash behind the bar.

“Flairing is entertainment. When people come to a bar they want to have drinks and they want to have fun. If you’ve got a good bartender who can flip bottles at the same time then you have a good bar,” appraised Donaldson, who first began flairing three years ago after his move to California from Alabama. He had taken a gig as a barback at Broadway Showgirls, a nightclub in San Francisco, but soon bristled at being the anonymous understudy behind the bar.

“I hated it,” recalled Donaldson, then fresh off his duties as army ranger in Afghanistan. “My buddy was the manager and he started teaching me flair. I’d seen him do it and, honestly, I saw all the girls standing there just going ‘Ooooh!’”

An apprenticeship soon ensued, and before long Donaldson was developing his skills on his mentor’s flair bottles, which are unbreakable simulacra of the real thing that even are labeled with popular brand names. Many bars use one-liter bottles versus the smaller, more easily handled 750 milliliter bottles with which most flair bartenders practice their craft. The size differential can mean the difference between a firm grasp and shattered glass, so Donaldson is constantly practicing. As he points out, his performance space is a veritable chamber of horrors waiting to happen.

“Mirrors, lights, tap handles. The only things I really worry about are that,” he said, pointing to a tall wrought iron food carousel on the bar, “and that,” he said with a wary eye on the credit card computer touch screen.

“The reason I worry about this is that I don’t have $3500 to pay for a new one,” he laughed, then admitted that he learned the price of the expensive computer equipment the hard way when working at another bar.

“I went to do a move where you come up out of the speed rack, catch it, pour and I tossed it but I was looking the wrong way as I tossed it and it went back right into the center of the screen. The plasma stuff went everywhere. It was bad. All bad,” he recounted.

The safety of Donaldson’s patrons comes before his showmanship, he was quick to remind. A place where Donaldson can perform unfettered by the possibility of minor mishap, however, is on the competition circuit. There he has placed well in four regional flair competitions hosted in San Francisco. In one he took first place in a showdown between 25 flair bartenders; however, he has his eyes on a bigger prize.

“Flair has evolved so much. I remember going to Vegas and watching ‘Legends of Bartending,’ which is like Mecca. Sixty-five people, invite only, the top flair bartenders in the world. They have people from Japan, France – they come from everywhere,” said Donaldson, who mentioned that next March sees the eighth incarnation of the event in which performers are scouted from the world over.

“I would love for one day to have someone sitting in the bar and say, ‘Here’s your invite,’” said Donaldson.

Danny Donaldson works Tuesday through Saturday at Carneros Bistro at the Lodge at Sonoma, 1325 Broadway, Sonoma. (707) 931-2042.

Courtesy the Sonoma Valley Sun.

The Week That Was: Robots and Booze

One for the road, HAl...Greetings Brilliant and Beautiful Readers –

Here in the wine country, much to-do is made of “pairings,” as in the ubiquitous mash-up of wine and cheese. Other noted pairings include Romulus and Remus (or their modern counterparts Bert and Ernie), Superman and kryptonite as well as laser light shows and blotter acid. Here’s a pairing I’ve engineered this past week – booze and robots. Yeah, it’s come to that. Of course, I paid heed to Isaac Asimov’s little known Fourth Law of Robotics (essentially, “Never get a robot drunk”) and imbibed the hootch myself – though robots figured heavily into the premise. Here’s what happened – my kid brother sent me a mannequin hand, its plaster wrist stuffed with wires, with a note that read “This is what’s left of the android you sent to kill me, a–hole.” The gag fell somewhere between concept art and one of the best nods to sibling rivalry I’ve yet experienced. My rebuttal to the latter was to concentrate half of this week’s work to notions robotic and the rest, as usual, to drinking.

Best
DH

Nomaville: Take My Robot… Please

Older, funnier android.I had to put my domestic droid down today. It had ordered a gun off the Internet and confronted me after breakfast with a list of demands and a lot of talk about a “new way of doing things around here.” Of course, I played obsequious and I agreed with all of its crackpot notions, while inwardly thinking, “Like hell, you’re going on a ‘special trip’ with my future wife.” Later, I sneaked into its closest and jimmied the charger so it got electrocuted on its 11 o’clock boost.

On general principle, the Contessa was against me acquiring a robot in the first place. Not that she’s the least bit Luddite, but she felt having a robot in the house was like keeping a pet in the bedroom: it diminishes the sense of privacy (mind you, this is the grown version of the woman who averted the eyes of her dolls when dressing as a little girl).

Despite her protestations, I purchased the droid off a dude on Craigslist who had upgraded to a sleeker model that could make him cocktails and legally drive in most states. His also had built-in Internet access so it was always up on the weather and came with its own designer raincoat, should it need it. My droid, by comparison, came only with a chess-playing upgrade that had three levels: “beginner,” “intermediate” and “master,” though even at the master setting it seemed to be distracted and only ever half-heartedly playing with me. During these moments, it had a habit of asking rather personal questions about my relationship with the Contessa for whom I’ve come to believe it had developed an Oedipal-like crush.

“Do you have life insurance?” it once asked, opening a match with the Morphy’s Defense (typical). Great, I thought to myself, the robot got some spam in his system – next thing it’s going to do is tell me he’s a deposed Nigerian prince and could I front him some dough. The robot pressed the question.

“No, I don’t have life insurance. I don’t need it,” I said, and pointed to the mashed cardboard cube moldering in the corner of my office. I call it the Smithsonian Box. “That right there is the makings of a fine literary estate, tin-man.”

The robot glanced over at the box, which holds such future national treasures as my notebooks, written correspondence and a baggie containing the shaved remains of my first goatee. When several days later I instructed the android to take out the garbage, it went straight for the Smithsonian Box and put it on the curb. Fortunately for the Smithsonian I caught the misbegotten automaton, but clearly the honeymoon was over. The robot and I soon inaugurated a war of petty escalation: it served me cold coffee and I retaliated by assigning it increasingly useless tasks such as arranging the bookshelves in order of the Greek Alphabet (impossible!) and back again. When the robot finally had the gall to try to woo the Contessa by baking zucchini bread – that was it. I told him in no uncertain terms that the jig was up and that it would be recycled if such shenanigans continued. It bowed its head and went whimpering into the closet. Things were cool for a week, until this morning when it put the gun to my head.

Though its higher-function circuits are fried, its mechanics are still pretty good. It could be a great fixer-upper or used as spare parts depending. I still have the manual. See classified ad for details.