Sundays were swimming hole days at Hogscald for the crew. I never received invitations and the snake handlers in town frightened me. So I spent the Lord’s Day at Chelsea’s, a sticky dive bar up two flights of Spanish stairs. Live music was good there. Deliciously fried okra soaked up the shots of whisky in my stomach and kept me sober enough to walk home. I loved the kindly gentlemen who made it their responsibility to order my drinks and twirl me on the dance floor. None of them ever made a pass at me. Their way was just good ol’ fashioned hospitality and their muscular arms and Southern accents were thick as Chelsea’s chocolate cake.
This fauxlebrity free zone was après-dirt-track-date perfection. Outside there were no junior agents nor struggling actors in leased luxury cars shouting by the valet, “Whose Rover is this?!” And I thanked God for that. The patrons of Chelsea’s owned their vehicles, American of course. No one there had ever seen an episode of The Hills and everyone worth talking to knew the secret to making their mama’s fried chicken–soak it in buttermilk for three days. Understandably, I got cranky when a torrential downpour thwarted my walking there the Sunday I desperately needed to get down on my knees and quench my thirst.
Colors in Carroll County were rich and deep and royal that afternoon. Blood red leaves lay rumpled on the rural routes. Yellow sassafras blooms set a periwinkle sky on fire. Clouds flattened on the horizon. Everything was ablaze and ready for rain.
My room smelled musty from the weather. So I took my phone outside. Water started spitting from the sky, but at least I could breathe.
“Mama, everyone in town says the KKK sponsors the Passion Play.”
“Will Mel be starring as Pontius Pilate?” Braveheart had just been arrested for drunk driving in Malibu and was also taped ripping on those fucking Jews. She continued. “You know darling, it’s not a good time to be an educated liberal. Especially where you are. As far as they’re concerned, ya don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout nuthin’ and ya think yer Black Irish.”
“Well aside from the Klan, I do like it here.”
“I’m pretty sure Bill Clinton ran with a similar slogan. I don’t want some Andy Griffith throwing my baby in the pokey.” Beep.
“Mama, I got another call. I’ll talk to you later. K? I love you. Bye.” Click. “Hello?”
A few minutes later, Pop’s ratty truck from set pulled up. Pony was driving. I hopped in. He never said who told him I didn’t have a ride and he never said how he knew I went to Chelsea’s like church on Sundays. If I had to guess, I’d say it was my friend, the Elvis that should have been (Damn you, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. You were already playing the King of England. You had to be America’s king too?)
For the next few hours, the rain poured outside like the whisky did inside. Music played, foosball happened, and stories were shared. My palate for peaty scotch amused him.
“I thought girls like you only drank vintage champagne.”
“Girls like me? Only? No. Sometimes? Yeah. But being how that’s not an option at this here watering hole, I’m happy sipping Strathisla.”
“Please don’t be. That’s so embarrassing. The way I see it, it’s common sense. I mean who doesn’t prefer a quality single malt to street grade smack champagne?”
“A lotta women don’t have a taste for scotch.”
“A lotta women didn’t have a writer father like mine. If they did, they too, would have an affinity to all that is amber. Do you remember eighth grade? Remember the first weekend you ever got drunk with your friends?”
“Nope. Never drank until I was legal and I’ve never done drugs in my life.” This as I’d later learn is why all his friends called him Pony. Just like Ponyboy Curtis, he was the track star that made good grades and always did as he was told.
“How boring. How old are you?”
“And you’ve never even smoked pot?”
“No. I run. I surf. I play soccer.” I stared at his inked up arms. A geisha on one side. Disney bluebirds on the other. A hipster tattoo on the inside of his right forearm. Two words: FRAYED KNOT. Below the lettering? An image of a frayed knot. Bad puns at its worst. I really couldn’t stop staring. I thought nice boys only colored on paper.
“My girlfriends stole bottles of their mothers’ Lillet. My mama didn’t drink so I had nothing to steal. The only contraband available to me was my dad’s and it smelled and tasted like leather and burned going down. But I drank it anyway and that’s how scotch came to be my middle school beverage of choice. Availability.”
“You’re better off with the scotch. I know a girl who has a glass eye because of a rogue champagne cork.”
Chelsea’s was crowded now and really loud. “Let’s leave. Let’s find a bottle of champagne,” I said.
“Okay. I think you’d look great with a glass eye.”
Of course, there wasn’t a decent bottle to be had in all of town that day. So we went back to the hotel where the cast and crew were staying and invited them over for a Scrabble tournament and an impromptu pum runch party of which I was the hostess and remember not a whole heck of a lot. Below is my recipe for pum runch and that’s exactly what you’ll call it too after a glass.
1 1/3 cups gold rum
2 cups passion fruit juice
1 cup guava juice
1 cup orange juice
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
a dusting of freshly grated nutmeg
a dash of angostura bitters
4 cups of ice
Mix everything in a large pitcher. Serve in high ball glasses.