By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
On a Thursday at the Office in suburban West Palm Beach, I felt more like I was on a cattle ranch than at the tidy little neighborhood joint that pulls in all types for the weekly one-man show by blues man Ben Prestage.
It's not hard to figure out how they named the place. "You can say, 'Hey, honey, I'll be home late I'm still at the office,'" I was told by a patron at this bar, where the clock actually runs backward.
Since it was after 9 o'clock and I still hadn't had any vittles, my cow-poking began with the menu: "So what makes the roast beef sandwich obscene?" I asked, remembering the stenciled sign painted on the front of the building.
"It's really big," Angie, the bartender, said.
When I couldn't decide what to order, the 40-something next to me a homeowner from the neighborhood decided to help. As thin as a strand of angel hair pasta, the Italian-American claimed she ate there all the time and always had a good meal. But it was the beef she was pushing.
"Only the red meat!" she said.
I looked her up and down: "With your figure, you're a great spokesperson."
She leaned over and whispered "liposuction," with an after-shush to seal the secret.
"I had these two little meatballs right here," she said as she grabbed her outer thigh. What was with this woman and meat?
I took her advice and ordered a steak, declining onions on my salad, since a girl never knows when the right cowpoke might mosey along. A few minutes later, a sleeveless pool player was eating the raw slices of my rejected veggies.
When I wondered aloud about his manners, Angie reminded me, "Hey, you said you didn't want them." True enough.
"Are you Jewish?" Linda inquired. Tired of explaining my Jewish-by-maternal-conversion background, I simply nodded, expecting she was going to razz me for being a cheapskate.
"Yeah, Jewish girls always have big boobs," she declared.
Since I wasn't genetically Jewish, I guess it had to have been all those years saying the barucha, as my stepdad called the Hebrew prayers, that had blessed me. (Note to self: Must have "Blessed art thou, King of the Universe, who giveth the big boobies" translated into Hebrew for the next time I actually celebrate the Sabbath.)
My slab o' meat arrived still mooing, and I was chomping away as Linda reintroduced the subject of her thigh-posuction: "You know, God made you the way you should be. I wouldn't do it again."
Before I'd finished half my dinner, I had to excuse myself for the obvious reason: All this chewing of the fat was distracting me from what I'd really come for the music. Ben was over in the pool room accompanying a female guest musician singing a countrified blues tune.
"I'm tired of people singing the blues about stuff they know nothing about," I said to a couple of other women at the bar. "What's all this shit about country girls, waiting tables, and her momma taking in laundry. Who takes in laundry?"
"Well, where's she from?" one of the women asked about Ben's partner. I shared what I'd overheard, that they were both residents in the quaint seaside burg of Hobe Sound.
"Yeah, tough town," the brunet laughed, conceding my point.
Uncharacteristically early, Ben announced that he had only a few more songs left. There'd be no cigar-box guitar playing tonight, always the highlight of the evening. His girlfriend, he claimed, had confused the bass and guitar cases when she was cleaning and he'd brought the wrong instrument. Now I had the blues.
Over in the pool room, the guys were giving Angie a ration of shit for her Northernism when she said she had to "warsh" the glasses. One of them was the Onion Eater.
"My name's Josh, but everyone calls me 'Bama,'" he said in an accent that suited his nickname. I asked about his weird eating habits. "Yeah, I just eat onions like they's apples."
I leaned my face just an inch from his and tipped up my nose: "Let me smell."
No more than 25, the young-un exhaled his sweet breath softly into my nostrils. Hmm, no onions. Sweet young thing, indeed.
"Sometimes they call me 'Cowboy,'" Bama said, bragging that he'd earned the moniker for his ability to rope steer. "I'll show you."
"You had me at 'rope,'" I thought as he ran off to fetch his gear. I waited in the parking lot with the rest of his posse, all out-of-state cable guys who'd come to town to help make repairs and improvements after Hurricane Wilma and had just finished the last of their work.
I used the time while I waited to talk to bluesman Ben, whose beard and mustache had grown in so thick that I could barely see his mouth. It was more overgrown than the crotch Afros I'd seen in '70s porn before shaving was popular and everyone had a disco bush.
"You should lose this," I said, gently pulling on his beard. "Or at least trim it up."