‘Nuff said wider template

one boy walking up to another boy on a beach with the nuff said essay title boys

BY STE7EN FOSTER

Color me surprised.

But I am now, improbably, in the fourth quarter of my life, to my surprise and the astonishment of everyone who knows me, a football fan.

I admit that at first watching football was just an opportunity to spend time with my son, who is one of my favorite people in the world despite the fact he is related to me. He’s an amazing man and, to my parents, the Golden Grandchild, calling them of his own free religiously every week and visit with them for over an hour. Mostly, I think this is while he’s having a few drinks, but he’s a charming and convivial conversationalist with them and they, naturally, worship these calls. Mom and he will talk about everything under the sun but it’s mostly football with my father, my son spouting stats and scores like he’s trying to knock Tony Romo out of a job. (See? Now I know things like who Tony Romo is.)

Out of the blue one day a few years ago, he asked me to join him at Revelry with all the other like-minded revelers to chug a few beers and watch The Game with him. I have become but was not then a beer drinker and I don’t know if you’ve been to a sports bar recently but a good martini is not exactly in their repertoire. I don’t blame them for this, as I know making a good martini is a learned skill. I didn’t figure out how to make a good one until I was 50. And my first one was legendary it was so bad.

I was a bartender at, of all places, a lounge in the restaurant of a Howard Johnson’s called, I shit you not, Sweet Daddy’s, a bar with a name so gay you will be shocked to find out it isn’t, in fact, a gay bar. To enter Sweet Daddy’s, you would either travel the sidewalk that ran from the check-in desk in the lobby toward the restaurant, choosing either the fork that would lead you left to a small awning-covered unmarked door guarded by two sentry shrubs or continue on to the restaurant and enter the bar this way, which many hotel guests did, since there was no name on the exterior entrance nor any signage on the path pointing you toward it.

Once inside the restaurant, they would ask where the lounge was and they would be pointed toward the back of the restaurant and wander, tentatively, through the large-windowed, brightly lit dining room to the last tables, a trio of duos, half banquette half chair. Against the wall was a grooved (not groovy), windowless door painted bordello. The grooves were painted dull gold, as were the four hearts that ran vertically up the right side of the door, a small gold nameplate above reading SWEET DADDY’S.

It always took people a good ten seconds or so standing there, now plunged into near total darkness. When their eyes adjusted, they would see the small bar on the right, booths lining the wall, a softly glowing jukebox to the left inside the entrance. Awash in crimson and with a name like Sweet Daddy’s you were obviously disappointed when you did not see a pimp in a wide-brimmed hat and plume sitting in the corner booth shaking down Cinnamon and Diamond for the night’s take. Instead, you’d see a jittery kid looking like he should be the one having his ID checked, not the guy asking you for yours. I was only the bartender by default.

Hui-Te was the real bartender. She was not exceptionally pretty but she exuded an exotic sensuality and dressed like a high class call girl. She was always pamperingly polite to me. To the regulars, she was this enigmatic maker of drinks who listened to their stories with devotion, laughed easily, and had an aura that maybe you could get her number but was ultimately always unattainable. The men were oblivious to it but I’d watch her sometimes, how she’d laugh at odd places and always at pauses the customer would generously leave, the silence queuing her reaction. I always wonder how much she actually understood.

To all the other customers, she was an imperious mystery, her unpronounceable nametag throwing them off axis immediately and, if it didn’t, her heavy Vietnamese accent certainly did. You pronounced it hyoo-tee but nobody ever got that. Even the manager had it wrong, calling her “Hooty,” to which she would never correct him, just laugh at him. But no one corrected Joe. He looked like a prized offensive lineman who’d just left the NFL about an hour ago. His arms, with biceps stretching the limits of his brown short-sleeved shirts were bigger than my thighs. He had one gold front tooth, a high-pitched voice, a lisp like Mike Tyson, and 95% of the time he was a pussycat but that other 5 was terrifying. I saw him ream out Shelly, one of the waitresses, one night and his hands were curling up into fists and the veins on his neck bulged like extension cords under cheap carpet. Shelly stood there and took it all and none of us could believe he unleashed such fury on her. Shelly! Of all people. Shelly looked like a Nebraska farm girl just in the city, all freckles, honeyed hair, and innocent eyes. Shelly would later confide in me that she and Joe were actually lovers which didn’t make any sense but perfect sense all at the same time. We all cowered when Joe came out of his office, but he was powerless around Hui-Te. If the bar wasn’t busy enough to her liking, she’d just close the place down.

“I solly, dis iss lass caw, hee-ya yaw check. I take kay yoo. Tank yoo bewy much,” she’d tell the sole couple in the lounge.

“But it’s not even midnight,” they’d say.

“I know. Dat too bad. Chahge to yaw woom?”

I swear she almost bowed. But she never had to. They’d always gulp down the last of their drink, pay, and leave.

But one day, Hui-Te failed to show up for work about an hour into happy hour. I found this out when I went into the bar to order a drinks for one of my tables and saw Joe behind the bar freaking the fuck out. Before I could tell him what I needed, he held up the soda gun.

“Do you know what these letters stand for?”

I looked down at the glowing buttons and took my best guess.

“C’s Coke, L is Sprite, D diet, S soda, and W’s water.”

I got that right which meant I went on to the bonus round, which was bartender. Hui-Te never showed up again and there behind the bar I stayed.

Luckily it was almost an entirely gin & tonic, bourbon & coke crowd. Occasionally some tourist would order a pina colada, which I made courtesy of the bartender’s bible, the Mr. Boston Delux Official Bartender’s Guide and Howard Johnson’s vanilla ice cream. Besides for having to constantly telling people that no, I didn’t know what happened to Hui-Te or where she went or how to get hold of her, I had this bartending gig down pat.

Until Martin came in. And his name should have clued me in right away.

She was the Empress of Elixers and the Keeper of Secrets.

I’d counted my tips with her some nights after she closed the bar and Hui-Te made a fucking fortune, even nights when I counted less than ten people going inside the place, although there could have been a hundred using the outside entrance I never knew about. 

that bar. I’m sorry, lounge. Sweet Daddy’s wasn’t a bar. It was a secluded destination for husbands to take their secretaries, single ladies, and longterm affairs without fear of the Mrs. ever stumbling upon the nearly invisible grotto. It just seemed implausible this not-quite-seedy establishment was literally in the shadow of the gleaming Howard Johnson’s hotel and restaurant.

The hotel was located just off the highway coming into San Antonio so it was always busy. Travelers would check in because the rates were cheaper than they were in the tourist trappy downtown. And there were enough southerners who were formerly northerners intimately familiar with Howard Johnson’s 31 flavors of ice cream, all-you-can-eat fried clam Fridays, and its iconic architecture, virtually every lobby looking like a rectangle raped in the stubbornly retro color combo of orange and teal. The specter of rape actually hung over the hotel ever since 50’s and 60’s pop singer Connie Francis had been raped at knifepoint at a Howard Johnson’s in Long Island. When Francis sued the chain for failure to “provide a safe and secure room,” the 1976 trial was a sensation, with Francis on the stand for four days. She eventually was awarded $2.6 million, the largest settlement for a rape case ever at the time, but she was never the same. Rape still carried a heavy shame with it in those days and Francis receded from the public eye, embarrassed, terrified to be in public, and emotionally damaged from whole horrible experience.

Nothing so awful happened at this Ho Jo’s though. 

 

Astros celebrating on the field after winning the world series

Martin was a salesman who did not act like your typical sales guy. He equal parts laidback and distinguished. He was like a good ole boy who went to Washington to be a congressman you actually wanted to vote for. He had a newscaster’s soothing timbre and while he didn’t smile very often, he was warm. But all this I would discover later, right now, he was scaring the shit out of me when, after giving him my standard Hui-Te schpiel, he told me what he wanted to drink.

“Just a martini. Dry. One olive.”

Thankfully, he went to the restroom after he ordered so I was able to consult Mr. Boston without looking like a total nube. I followed the recipe exactly:

1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce dry vermouth

Martini drinkers just had a coronary over reading that, but I had no idea it was wrong. Mr. Boston is supposedly a BIBLE.

Well, Martin comes back and I’m wiping glassware with such dedication it may heat to liquidity and become blowable. But out of the corner of my eye, I see him take his first sip. And he grimaces a little but I, a rum and coke guy, just assume that’s a normal reaction to drinking straight alcohol. Or the toothpick stabbed him in the tongue. I wasn’t gonna ask any questions. Then he tries to get my attention. In a tone that sounds like he’s going to tell me my mother just passed away.

“Say, ah, Peaches?”

Now at this time, I’m still dating women. And I’m not the most macho guy in the room, but I’m no screaming queen either. But this guy had my Kinsey number down.

“Yes, Sir?” I pipsqueaked.

“This is your first martini isn’t it?”

Still clueless to where this conversation was going, I admitted this with pride.

“I can tell.”

He then introduces himself to me as Martin and motions behind the bar.

“May I?”

I see no problem with this, so I proceed to watch him put ice in a shaker, liberally pour in gin and then, for all intents and purposes, just hovers the bottle of vermouth over the shaker and maybe a teardrop fell out, I can’t be sure it was almost microscopic. He shakes vigorously, pours it into a glass, and drops two speared olives into it.

“That’s how you make a martini.”

Like I said, that lesson didn’t really sink in until 30 years later. And I’m not going to go behind the scenes at a bar where my son is a regular. I’m sure I humiliate him quite enough.

So I look at Revelry’s cheekily named drink tent that’s crumpled and sad on the table and order something noxious that takes me four whole quarters to choke down. But I’m with my kid and having a blast.

By the end of the season, I am totally into this football shit. I’ve not only managed to remember certain players, I can usually determine why there’s laundry on the field (look at me go). The only thing I really have a conniption about is the countless times the quarterback throws the football straight into the turf. I come from a football-watching family so I’d seen more than my fair share of games, I just didn’t enjoy them all that much. But for the life of me, I could not grasp how these guys knew their receiver wasn’t open, they’re about to be tackled so running’s not an option, so they just basically spike the ball. In my day, that was called intentional grounding. Today, I think the quarterback would have to literally dig a hole with a shovel and bury the ball before they’d get an intentional grounding call. It infuriates me. Still.

By the third year of this Sunday ritual, I even have my favorites. Number 1 being the Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce. Not because he’s a brilliant player (which he is) but because he was on a McDonald’s commercial and he was smiling and dancing, gleefully committing to what was basically a variation of the booty slap. Eventually I see him for the fantastic tight end he is (is not has) and I just love to watch him play. But Mahomes..

Mahomes is magic. And I grew up with Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton, and Johnny Unitas. Mahomes averages 9.5 yards per pass attempt with 32 touchdowns, 6 interceptions and 27 sacks on 433 dropbacks in third downs. He seems to anticipate his receivers’ changing dance steps. There’s a sideline clip of still-stunned Kelce telling Mahomes, “I..I don’t…I don’t understand how you know what I’m doin’ before I’m doin’ it. I don’t…I don’t know!” He’s thrown a ball out of Arrowhead Stadium! But he’s not just raw power, he’s delicate touch a fucking laser at deep throws. In his first season as a starter, Mahomes pitched a perfect season. There have only been eight of those in 70 years. He can run the ball, slipping past tackles like water between fingers. He throws with both hands. He snagged the 2019 Best NFL Player ESPY Award and became the first Chiefs player to win MVP.” He’s 25. I am practically a Patrick Mahomes/Chiefs stan.

I have not one, but two football yells. This goes from excited bellow to unabashed yell at the end:

Mahomes!
MahChiefs!!
MAHTEAM!!!

And then there’s the barrel-chested, deep-throated:

PATRIIIIIIIIIIIIICK!

Love this kid. I love his goofy voice. I love that he is the goofiest, sweetest kid off the field, but on he’s a calculating, focused futurist and when a teammate scores, his face transforms into furious adulation, a rage of victory. I love the little gay sashay walk he has.

My passion for this kid is enormous. But before I fell in love, I was in hate. Total hate. Of the player my son worships.

Tom Brady.

Grrrr, I hate that guy. I hate his fucked up hair, a coif that refuses every attempted flattering cut. I hate his banal “good looks.” I think he looks both stupid and arrogant. He kisses everybody on the lips—it’s creepy. I think Deflategate was real. I hate his coach who always looks like he can’t wait to get off the field because that’s two hours he hasn’t been beating the children. I hate that he’s married to Giselle Bündchen who I wouldn’t like either but she can fly a helicopter and you gotta give a girl props for being able to fly a chopper when this is the kind of woman who would never have to open a single door if she didn’t want to. He’s not sexy in the least—he’s boring. And I hate anyone who wins all the time. It’s not natural.

I’ll grant you, this is gay:

“Hey, Sam, who is that?”

“He’s [player x] he’s a [position]. He [stats],” my son answers. He used to ask why, but he doesn’t anymore because he knows why because I always say,

“He’s cute.”

You know what’s gayer?

The way my super-straight son swoons all over Tom Brady. The highlight of his best friend’s wedding wasn’t the wedding. It was the fact that it was an hour away from Gilette Stadium, a place he visited and recalls with a tone approaching reverence. He doesn’t just have a New England Patriots #12 jersey, his dog has one. And I know she hates it. He did try to even the playing field by giving me a Chiefs’ jersey for Christmas, but I don’t wear it like a vestment like he does. One time I told him to take the shirt off it was getting on my nerves and he stripped it off only to reveal the second duplicate jersey he was wearing. Insane.

This hate affair was immediate, if only because I’d heard Brady’s name mentioned every time someone uttered anything about football. I didn’t know who the fuck he was I was sick of him. When I got to know his particulars and see him constantly on camera during games, I loathed him all the more. It didn’t matter who the Pats were playing, I was rooting for them.

And when Brady became a Buchaneer, both my son’s affection and my vitriol simply transferred to the new team. Bonus hate points: it was Florida, a state so loony even Bugs Bunny sawed it off the nation.

Covid came and, for a time, put the kibosh on our Sunday date, but as the NFL returned, so did we. And then, it happened. I was confused where the season was exactly because of the metamorphosing schedule, so when the Chiefs were playing the Bills, I didn’t realize this was the playoffs. When they won, that meant it was gonna be Brady vs. Mahomes.

Sometime during the 2019 season we moved from Revelry to my son’s apartment. I thought it was to save a coupla bucks but it turned out it was just so he could show off his increasingly skilled kitchen prowess, the results of which I happily scarfed down before kick-off. So much the junior chef, he executed a flawless and flavorful Beef Wellington for New Year’s. When I asked him if we could watch the Super Bowl at my house, I had no idea he’d take me up on it. But he had one reservation.

“What are you going to have to eat? Cuz…you know…”

I knew. I don’t cook. I used to when he and his sister were little, but now not so much. He was playfully playing the asshole, but I took him seriously and told him he and his palate would be impressed. He hedged his bets by saying his was still going to make chili con queso the correct way using two types of cheese instead of phoning it in with Velveeta like everybody else not named Raul, my son’s self-selected middle name. But when I devised my menu, I told him his queso probably wasn’t going to be worthy to get past the front door, much less onto a plastic plate.

But hosting the Super Bowl wasn’t the only reason this was going to be a blowout feast of epic proportions, this was going to be my last supper because three days earlier, for the first time in more than a year, took a mirror in my hand and angled it so I could see the full view if you were standing behind me. And I was naked. When I saw this vision, all I could do was to shout, stunned:

HOLY SHIT! Oh my god. HOLY SHIT! Oh my god. HOLY SHIT! Oh my god. HOLY SHIT! Oh my god. HOLY SHIT! Oh my god. HOLY SHIT! Oh my god. HOLY SHIT! Oh my god. HOLY SHIT! Oh my god. HOLY SHIT! Oh my god. HOLY SHIT! Oh my god. 

Astros George Springer Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman with Leslie Jones on Saturday Night Live
Astros George Springer Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman with Leslie Jones on Saturday Night Live

OH MY GOD! The cat saw! The cat SAW!!! What have you done to the cat? The poor, poor cat.

Notes. My team is letting me down. The other team’s defense. RA is pummeling through my guys like they were plastic cardboard cutots that are sitting in the stnads. And every singlt play thyey’re cheating or getting flagged. New tricks. New trick. 20-year-old. he makes me laugh. but is there something else? am I leading him on. Is my subconscious doing this becaous it strokes my etgo. I make a coment about how this guy is cute and my son will just roll his eyes and he has no place roling his eyes because the only ghin gayer thanme looking atfootball players is his raltainshop with tom brady.

Notes. My team is letting me down. The other team’s defense. RA is pummeling through my guys like they were plastic cardboard cutots that are sitting in the stnads. And every singlt play thyey’re cheating or getting flagged. New tricks. New trick. 20-year-old. he makes me laugh. but is there something else? am I leading him on. Is my subconscious doing this becaous it strokes my etgo. I make a coment about how this guy is cute and my son will just roll his eyes and he has no place roling his eyes because the only ghin gayer thanme looking atfootball players is his raltainshop with tom brady.

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