Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Nurse the Hate: The Story About Having A Port In New York

I bought a bottle of Sandeman Fine Tawny Porto on my last suicide run to the grocery store.  I can tell I must be getting older as I have developed a taste for tawny port.  It's a shame I cannot sit at a dinner table with friends and say, "Gentlemen, let's allow the ladies to retire to the parlor while we have our port in the library."  At this point I can stare at Netflix by myself and need to restrain the urge to gurgle the port down a beer stein.  I am watching the clock, waiting to get back on my path.  Like you, I am stuck in this purgatory.

I always think of the English when I think of port.  They established the trade after all.  I watched a British period docudrama last week where men shot blowguns at targets while their ladies jousted with verbal barbs at a proper emotional distance.  That was a generation that knew how to handle a pandemic.  "Yes, as I understand it Perkins spent 13 agonizing days with the fever before succumbing in that tent in Burma.  Nasty business this...  Oh, my honor?  Freshen up my port, would you Williams?"

I got into port about 30 years ago.  My Uncle Jack (who Bobby Latina clipped his name for "The Jack Fords" for those interested in minor Ohio rock and roll trivia) was amused that I had taken a liking to this very out of fashion beverage.  I remember having a port at Windows On The World on top of the World Trade Center.  I didn't have a dinner jacket, so they gave me the "rental" penalty jacket.  Restaurants would sometimes require gentlemen to wear blazers, and if they didn't have one they would provide one they kept behind the reception desk.  The key was that this jacket would be blatantly unfashionable and fit poorly, theoretically punishing you to the point where you would never again forget a jacket at an establishment as fine as this. 

The problem with this policy is the poorly fit blue blazer was better quality than anything I owned, so this was like traveling where I had my clothes shipped ahead.  Imagine walking into a hotel room and they made you wear a clean pair of Chuck Taylors as opposed to the filthy cheap knock offs you normally wore.  "I can wear this?  Seriously?  Sure!"  I was probably wearing an early 90s enormous XL cut shirt with an ugly pattern that looked like a pajama top and some unflattering pleated pant, so anything that covered any of that eyesore was a welcome addition.

When I traveled to New York under these circumstances, I was jolted to understand how out of fashion I was at that particular moment.  I remember once going to a party at an apartment across from Wall Street and I noticed I was the only guy with his shirt tucked in and wearing a belt.  "Wait?  We don't tuck our shirts in anymore?  When did you guys find out?  Who told you?"  There is never a time that you feel more Midwestern.  The good news was I got the tip and became one of the first Cleveland guys to wear his shirt untucked.  "Hey man...  Look at Miller.  How come his shirt isn't tucked in?  Is that a thing now?"

That night with Jack Ford we had a port at Windows.  After dinner Jack Ford wanted to take us to an old bar he knew in Manhatten where he insisted we all had to get another port.  I returned the blazer to the sneering host, in the back of my mind noting I needed to buy new clothes when I got back to Ohio.  Jack drove us to the bar.  He swerved all over the road with the misguided confidence of a senior citizen with a belly full of gin and port.  We stopped at a place with long graceful brass rails down the old wood bar.  It was one of those New York places that seemed like it had always been there and would always be there.  They had three different ports, so we split them up amongst us.  I remember my father was there, and my cousin Nancy.  My mother had recently died, so my father must have been lonely.  The holidays are brutal that way, an experience each of us is doomed to have unless we have the relative good fortune to die before our loved ones.

The night had hit that point where conversations had drilled down to the person immediately next to you.  I asked Jack about his business, a murky "international moving company" that had extensive work in Central America, Africa, and the Middle East.  We were drinking a Taylor's Tawny, a nice but by no means great port.  It was a good one to have at the quiet last part of the night.  Jack had his guard down a bit, something I had never seen.  He was probably drunker than even I realized.  He stared straight ahead and starting talking.  It wasn't so much to me.  It was something on his mind he had to get out.  "I was in Nicaragua one time with two guys I worked with.  We were doing this project down there.  We were at this little country bar.  A beer joint basically.  We all had to take a leak, and they had an outhouse in the back.  There were three stalls, you know, those little boxes with holes in the ground.  I was heading out with the other guys, and then this kid bartender asked me if we wanted another round.  I turned back at the bar and some local got up and cut me off to go to the outhouse.  So I ordered another round and then all three of those guys got machine gunned in those outhouses."

Up to this point we had been having our normal dry sarcastic banter.  Jack got faraway for a minute.  He looked at the mirror across from us, all the colorful bottles in the three deep row, paused and knocked back his port.  I was stunned, waiting for some kind of "Ah gotcha!" punch line.  There wasn't one.  We sat there quietly for a moment.  The spell broke.  He tuned his head to look at me, returning to the present.  "How's your port?"     


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