I spend many hours standing beside the bar at the once infamous Palm Restaurant. It’s simply amazing how much you can tell about a person simply by the drinks they order.
At lunch time, a person ordering a spicy Bloody Mary usually meant that he/she had a rough night. The more one ordered, the more likely that nighttime of partying reached into the early morning.
A person ordering ice cold beers usually meant at one time, before the Armani suits and the Gucci purses, that he/she worked with their hands and enjoyed watching baseball games on hot summer days.
A person ordering non-alcoholic beers, one after the other, and then switching off to ice coffee had probably just come back from a vacation at the Betty Ford Clinic or was a newly inducted member into AA.
A person ordering a $two-hundred dollar bottle of wine, with a glass of ice on the side, or ordering a shot of $150.00 cognac mixed with coke-a-cola usually meant that he/she had just recently come into their money and were trying to show off to their guests or to customers on other tables. Unknowingly, revealing to the world their uncultured minds and tastes and they were usually terrible tippers.
A person ordering a gin martini, with a splash of vermouth, and two olives, or a short gin and tonic with a squeeze of lime usually got a rise out of me, disturbing my peaceful and contemplative state of mind. I would always have to take a walk by the table and without fail the person ordering the gin was usually an older man or woman, wonderfully dressed, confident, and totally unconcerned about what any one might thing about them. They were the last, rapidly diminishing members, of the three martini lunch.
Gin was our least ordered drink at the restaurant. After all, to drink gin martinis you had to have fortitude, an iron-cast stomach, and a prowess that would have make Don Juan proud.
Many years previously, when I was just a mere budding, teenage alcoholic, I sat down with two of my friends on a park bench in the lovely community of Parkchester and we finished off a half gallon bottle of Gordon gin with a couple of six packs of beer. It was a Friday night after Thanksgiving, and my friends and I wanted to try something different to usher in the Holiday season. After about six shots of gin and three beers, I didn’t remember a thing about that night. The next thing I remembered was waking up with my head in the kitchen sink, vomit spread across the cabinets, silverware, pots and pans and my dear mother pleading to God for answers.
It took me the rest of the Thanksgiving weekend and a week after to fully recover from that night and I have never since touched an ounce of gin. Lets face it, I never had the fortitude or the prowess to master a drink that separates men from boys and women from girls.
After my Uncle Al and my lovely Aunt Carmela were relieved and giving a temporary furlough from raising my two brothers and I after my mother’s death, I would go over to their apartment when home from school with one or both of my brothers to have lunch. We would try to arrive right at 11:30 or before because my Uncle Al was a very punctual man and for some unknown reason it would bother him to no end when we were an hour or two late.
So on the rare occasions when we arrived on time, or somewhere near 11:30, it was their custom to greet us already having finished their first of many gin and tonics for the day. Not to be unsocial, we would help ourselves to the refrigerator filled with beer in honor of our visit. My aunt would prepare lunch while my uncle would make another drink for himself and his lovely wife. After lunch was over my aunt, not one to sit down for very long, would take her shopping cart and go shopping at the local supermarkets while my Uncle Al had us moving furniture back and forth, with a short reprieve every half hour to enjoy a beer while he fixed himself another gin and tonic.
After traversing the streets of Parkchester for three hours or more, covering easily five to seven miles, my aunt would arrive back at the apartment with a cart filled with groceries. Assuming correctly that my uncle would have kept us there the entire time she was gone doing some insane chore, she would always have a beautiful roast among the groceries which she would “season” and prepare for dinner as well or better than any chef in all of Manhattan. The woman loved to cook and while sweating away in the kitchen my uncle would fix her another gin and tonic. They so loved their gin and tonics.
After dinner, I would help my aunt with the dirty dishes. After all, she was my favorite and I never had a doubt in the world that she would do anything for me and my brothers. She, like my uncle, possessed a fortitude, prowess, dedication, and an unconditional love for my brothers and I that made us among the luckiest human beings in the entire world.
After moving to California, I naturally saw them a lot less but we often talked on the telephone and it never failed but when talking to them they always seemed to be enjoying a gin and tonic with a slice of lime and my aunt was always cooking and couldn’t wait for me to visit so that she could make me my favorite dishes.
I usually made it home for the Christmas holidays, but due to unseen circumstances I didn’t make it home until a week and a half after Christmas in 1994. I had told my uncle to buy my aunt something really nice from me and I would pay him when I got home. They kept their Christmas tree up and when I arrived home that year we celebrated Christmas a week and a half late. My uncle bought my aunt a lovely black dress from me and she was very excited and jokingly remarked that when my uncle finally took her out to a nice place that would be the dress she wore.
I had not been home in nearly six months, and I was taken aback by how much weight my aunt had lost. She was always in excellent shape, after all she could walk to the moon and back and then some, yet the amount of weight she lost was noticeable and when I asked her how she was feeling she would always remark great. She was still moving around like always, cooking constantly, and enjoying her gin and tonics with my uncle; yet never once in the time I was there did I see her take her cart and go to the supermarket.
The night before leaving, I approached my uncle and asked him point blank if my aunt was sick. It was probably the first time in my life I demanded an answer from him. He reassured me that she was fine and that she had been on a diet and was finally at the weight she always wanted to be. The answer was inane and totally unsatisfying. Surely, he couldn’t believe my aunt was fine. If so, maybe all those gin and tonics over the years had finally distorted his vision and effected his mental capacities.
Sitting on the plane the next morning, I remembered back to the days just before my mother died. She had been deteriorating before my eyes for months and yet I never saw it. I thought she was recovering wonderfully from the operation she had months earlier. My friends would ask me if she was doing okay and I would always reassure them that she was doing great. Neighbors would ask after seeing me walking home with my mother from a doctor’s appointment if she was okay and I would defiantly reply that she was wonderful. It wasn’t until the day before she died that I saw everything that my friends, family, and neighbors had been witnessing for months.
Three weeks after I went back to California in 1994 my aunt died. My uncle, so blinded by love, refused to see the obvious until they pronounced her dead. Talking on the phone with him a few days before she died, he told me that he expected her back home from the hospital in just a few days. She was just having a few tests performed, but otherwise she was great. This time I didn’t demand any answers because, for once, I already knew the answer.
I flew back for the funeral. According to my uncle, she was to be buried in the dress I gave her for Christmas. Walking up to her open casket, I closed my eyes and pretended to be saying a prayer. She didn’t need any prayers from me. She was a saint and if God couldn’t see that he was blind.
Before her casket, with my eyes closed, I visualized her drinking a gin and tonic with a squeeze of lime, cooking, and laughing at my uncle’s obsessive behavior. A woman with as much fortitude and prowess as any person I have ever known.
Happy Birthday, Aunt Carmela. Love you.