Special of the Day
Pork Belly Melt W/Cheddar, Balsamic Onions on Sourdough
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? But I’m not here to eat; I’m here to drink.
A small, scrubby bar about the size of an ordinary living room (additional seating outside). Over the years, beer signs, chalkboards and photos have haphazardly covered the walls. The chalkboards list the daily specials and a dozen local drafts that change daily. There’s a life-sized cowgirl sign, she’s sitting on a fence blowing smoke from the barrel of her revolver. A print of the famous picture of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on Victory in Europe day hangs over the hallway at the back of the bar.
The bar, in Hillsborough, North Carolina, is jammed. It’s always jammed. I’ll call this friendly, crowded bar, the Lead Penny. It’s always noisy, lots of laughing, the music is eclectic: George Jones followed by The Clash.
I’m what might be thought of as a retiree, though I’m still doing the same sort of work I’ve been banging away at for the last thirty-plus years. I write. I’m a retiree only in that I’m about the age most people are when they quit their gainful employment and fall back on savings, Social Security and pensions. If they’re lucky enough to have them. I’m lucky enough to have a lovely black-haired Irish beauty of a wife who has had good jobs and now a pension and various income streams that seem to be enough to keep us from sharing a can of Friskies with the cat, not that I’d feed my beloved cat Friskies. The cat’s name is Sweetie.
I’m 72 years old and look like many of the guys around my age who are in reasonably good condition — no canes or walkers. (Knock on wood.) I’m lucky to have a full head of hair, which is a silvery, pewter color. My lady hair-cutters always compliment me on my hair, not that I have much to do with it; lucky genes. I have a grey goatee; I’m what we used to refer to as portly.
As noted earlier, I’m a writer. Over the years I have had dozens of books published, fiction and non-fiction, primarily a series of time travel books featuring a history professor named Alex Balfour. Alex does not rely on a machine to thrust him back into the past, nor does he have a closet with a special opening in the back. It’s just kind of a skill, which is genetic in his case. The series did relatively well, though not well enough. The publisher canceled it years ago. I still have many kind fans who email asking me to continue the series, but it takes me a year of work to write a book, and I fear I don’t have that many years left in me. If the books made money, that would be something different, but they don’t. Or at least not enough. You can find my many books on Amazon here.
Back to the bar: The Lead Penny.
The Penny has a great kitchen with several daily specials and a menu of smaller items that are prepared by guys you might call chefs rather than cooks, though they’d probably rather be called cooks than chefs. They are known for their spectacular chicken wings, which I recommend if you can fight your way in on Chicken Wing Night, or any other night for that matter.
As I said, I’m not here to eat; I’m here to start my drink odyssey, my 69 Drinks. I was sitting in the Penny at the bar and noticed a strange plaque on the wall. I then realized there were a number of other such plaques all around the room. It’s hard to read the writing on them in the dim lighting; crudely fashioned, they have a carved portrait of a man or, in a few cases, a woman, a name, the words Club 69, and a date. You could easily miss these plaques among the jumbled profusion of advertising signs and photographs of patrons doing silly things.
I ask my drinking partner, Mark, also a recent retiree who lives two doors down from me and is currently sitting on the bar stool one over. “What gives with the wooden plaques?” He’s a regular at the Penny. It turns out that these plaques commemorate a small cadre of brave men and women who have taken the Lead Penny Challenge: to buy and consume at least one drink from each of the 69 bottles in the back bar that stretches around several walls of the barroom. No time limit. However long it takes you — hours, days, weeks, months, years. If you complete the challenge, you get a free carved wooden plaque commemorating your achievement. I am reminded of Alice, she of Wonderland, who finds a small bottle and a note that says, Drink Me. Who could resist? Certainly not Alice. After about half a minute’s thought I make my decision: I’m in.
I’d like to add right up front; this is not going to be a blog about the delights and characteristics of various liquors or the pleasures of the drinking life. Scores of blogs already hand out advice and information on spirits. I find these blogs only mildly interesting, and I have no interest in duplicating their efforts. Then what is this blog about, you may reasonably ask?
It is about me and my interesting small town, history, aging, friendships and anything else I find compelling. It’s about living, making my way through what I call my third act. A few years ago I wrote a memoir, and I enjoyed looking back and seeing how my life has been influenced by events large and small, mostly small. I am reminded of Homer’s Odyssey (really, who isn’t? Joke!). In the beginning, Homer’s narrator explains why he is going to tell the story of Odysseus and his great journey. Here’s Homer…
For myself I declare that there is no greater fulfillment of delight than when joy possesses a whole people, and banqueters in the halls listen to a minstrel as they sit in order due, and by them tables are laden with bread and meat, and the cup-bearer draws wine from the bowl and bears it round and pours it into the cups. This seems to my mind the fairest thing there is.
It’s a story. I’m a minstrel. I’m just pouring wine into the cups, 69 drinks, one by one.
Am I, like Alice, about to slip down a rabbit hole?
I certainly hope so.