Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Preternaturally Sober

With your forged identity papers falsely adding two years to your then nineteen, and the topping off of your growth spurt at six feet, three inches, you were able to make your way into the fabled cocktail lounge in an iconic cluster of buildings between Crescent Height Boulevard and Hayvenhurst Drive at the eastern end of The Sunset Strip.

This was The Garden of Allah, where writers you might not otherwise have known or known of gathered to ease away their daily encounters with the Hollywood studio heads, and where choice bits of information were thrown to you with the three- or four-drink sincerity of hard drinkers and hard writers, by which was mean that they would wobble off to write their own stuff before getting such sleep as they could in order to appear at the studios to turn out their pages, and you would go home to study for tomorrow's classes at the university.

You still have in your equivalent of a reference shelf the two-volume set of Greek Myths as presented by Robert Graves, a purchase pressed upon you in at least fourth-drink sincerity by a writer who told you, "All memorable story comes from these myths.  Read through them, then bring them up to date. Change the magical powers of the gods to fate or karma. You'll never want for story." Indeed, he called two recent motion pictures to mind, then told you the myths from which they had been taken.

The occasional actor found their way into The Garden of Allah as well and as you sat amid a group of the regulars one night, watching from afar a delicious, ironic scenario evolve at a corner table, candle lit, shadow drenched, populated by a couple who seemed to you out of a French or Russian novel of decadence.  

The woman was of the romantic fantasy you then indulged, slightly but not dangerously older, which is to say thirty. Her dark hair barely covered her ears, leaving the long neck that caused you to say involuntarily, "Modigliani."  Soon, your table reached agreement. She was, indeed Modigliani-esque.

She wore a full-length gown and a row of pearls that reminded you of the grin on her companion's face. For his part, he was pouring champagne, which seemed to you a remarkably wonderful thing to be doing, particularly because the next round of your whispers at your table had to do with, "Look how she's guiding his free hand. Do you see that?"

What we all saw was a seduction in progress, our opinions varying from moment to moment as to which of the two was the seducer. Someone saw fit to nudge you for lesson time. "We should always know who the lead character is."  This became an issue while we all became aware that the man was becoming drunk, drunk to the point of losing any chance of success that night.  

One of the actors after a time suggested they should send you over with a respectfully written note to the man. After some heated discussion about the content of the note, the decision came down to, "Order yourself some coffee before it is too late," this barely winning out over, "Order some fucking coffee. Now." and enough laughter from us that she, the dark lady of the scenario, looked up and over at your roistering group.

Soon we lot interest in that spectator sport; the man was at the point of resting his head on his hand, his elbow wobbling on the table. One of your memorable takeaways from that night was the vow made to yourself never to reach that degree of drunkenness in the presence of any lady, much less a lady of that beauty.  

The major takeaway came from the drunken swain.  "When I am cast as drunk," one actor said, "I endeavor to act preternaturally sober."  In addition to loving the word preternatural, you appreciated the solemnity and incisiveness of the advice. The best way to appear convincingly drunk or, for that matter, anything else, is to exaggerate sobriety. Look at that poor drunk, trying to keep it under control.

Two weeks later, although you had not set forth to test this new information, you were in as opposite a world of The Garden of Allah as you could imagine, which is to say a sorority house, made aware, thanks to a precipitous forward snap of your head, that you were, charitably, less than sober.  You took in the wisdom of your elders. You must appear to be deliberate, thoughtful, by all accounts sober.

One of the sorority sisters, also a classmate, watched you for a moment with interest.  "You seem unusually quiet and thoughtful. Is--is there something wrong?"

"Er--" you said, focusing on the fact that you'd recently had breath mints. Many of them."Er--no.  Not at all."

She looked closer.  "You've been drinking, haven't you?"

"Not," you said, "on a week night.  No, no."

"My god," she said, "I get it. You're shitface drunk."

"No, no," you said. "Sober. Preternaturally sober."


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