"Fuck Ernesto! Come get dirty at the Dwarf, where I'll be singing in the rain!" said my favorite singer/songwriter, Keith Michaud, text-messaging me on the night the midget storm blew into town.
It was good timing: The weather had put me in the mood to get more polluted than the Lake Worth lagoon, so I had some work to do. Good thing the Dirty Dwarf is known for its especially potent brews.
More than once, my friends and I asked one another, "What is it with the beer here? I've had two, and I'm already wasted."
Seemed like as good a time as any to get together with Mark, an old friend who had returned after several years in Paris.
About Mark: He was grunge before Seattle made dirty and disheveled a fashion statement, but he cleaned up his act during his time abroad. His ensemble noir included a Fantomas T-shirt paired with trousers and dress shoes and decidedly un-Florida trench coat and umbrella. And the shoulder-length, gelled hair?
All I could do was try to counter his Euro-fash with my local style. And nothing says "American" like a polyester dress and plastic flip-flops.
I was hoping he still knew how to toss back some brewskis, domestic or imported. When we arrived, Keith was already playing, with a tapestry and a battle ax serving as a backdrop on the wall behind him. We said a quick round of hellos on our way to the bar, where gargoyles guard the hootch.
"It's a weird place," said my friend Kim, who seemed annoyed we had taken so long to get there. "It's like it's not sure what it wants to be."
Truth be told, owners John and Douglas Rudd knew exactly what they wanted the place to be, and after 19 months of slavish devotion to create a medieval/Renaissance-themed restaurant that offers 24 hard-to-find drafts, the father-and-son team accomplished its mission.
In fact, Douglas pointed out the knotwork and dwarven images he'd Dremeled into the tiles on the floor and bar.
"Most people don't even notice this one," he said, pulling out the handmade stools at the center of the bar to reveal the largest of the dwarves that was carved into slate inlaid there.
What Kim found incongruous, I suspected, were the scads of indie-rocker "cooligans" who show up to hear Keith play. Tuesdays pull in not only his fans but his buddies from his band Summer Blanket and other local bands, including members of Secret French Kissing Society, El, Legends of Rodeo, and the Sloppy High Fives.
And, for sure, from the outside looking in, things seemed weird but that's frequently how families work. Especially an incestuous one like this, in which band members and romantic interests had been swapped out and passed around.
Like a family, we'd commiserated on our losses. For instance, when Douglas found out my dad died recently, he bought a round of shots for the whole bar, who all toasted in my pop's honor.
And we celebrated our wins. Like the time when Dashboard Confessional (with Lake Worth's own John Ralston) played on the Tonight Show and Keith took a break from his repertoire of originals and cover songs so we could all watch the local heroes make their national TV debut.
And like most families everyone has their role. As usual, Keith was playing the sensitive artist. It was hard to blame him for being full of righteous indignation that he was casting his musical pearls before rutting swine.
"I have 150 watts that say I can be louder than you," he challenged the loud-mouthed chit-chatters who were trying to score with our friends Misty and Lisa, two gorgeous, educated, and sociable chicks who couldn't make a love connection.
To help out my single sisters, several weeks before, I'd reviewed their assets (some of which were quite obvious). I was flummoxed they seemed perfectly datable to me.
"Are your standards too high?" I ventured.
"Well, I'd like a guy who has a job, a car, and some form of communication skills," Lisa replied, rolling her aquamarine eyes at the slim dating pickings. "Yeah, maybe I'm being too picky."
"The ones I settle for don't like me either," Misty said wistfully, her usual smile slumping momentarily into a pout.
"Maybe you're just not slutty enough," I suggested, hoping to liven things up with humor.
"Come on!" the roommates protested as both sets of hands flew up to showcase the cleavage spilling out of Lisa's plunging aqua tank top.
"And they're real," the blond bombshell bragged. "Thank the Germans."
I think Wayne Newton said it best when he sang "Danke Schoen."
This Tuesday, it looked like my friends were finally getting the appreciation they deserved. I was hopeful.
Keith stopped playing long enough to ask for the score of the Marlins/Cardinals game in progress on the large-screen TV above the bar. When the question of where the game was being played arose, another friend, brainy Drew, spoke up.
"It's St. Louis. You can tell because there are actually some fans in the stands," he quipped, causing Mark to chortle into his beer.
Meanwhile, another dynamic duo Ryan and Joe were establishing their selling points to Lisa and Misty. Joe, now a business partner with his buddy in a paint contracting business, confessed that he'd once been a stripper, and not in any way that related to paint removal.
"Women were very touchy-feely, but men were very sucky-feely," he observed.
"That's why I couldn't strip," Lisa interrupted. "I'd just want to kick the shit out of the people who tried to touch me."
I suggested she should consider a career as a dominatrix, for which she'd get paid extra for the ass-kicking. I had no suggestions for Joe other than perhaps not to lead with the stripper thing when meeting a nice girl like Misty.
About that time, my buddy Job bellied up to the bar for a fresh cold one. When I accosted him, he said he hadn't recognized me.
"Your hair's different," he explained.
When I insisted that I hadn't changed my look, his friend David stepped in to smooth over the disagreement: "It's the barometric pressure."
Hmm. I think he was on to something a new science to explain the correlation between beauty and weather: cosmeteorology.
I didn't have long to consider the possibilities of this new field of research before Keith handed me the guitar to play a few songs while he took a break.
I looked around for Mark, but he had either gone to the little "rogues" room or was outside smoking. So I took the mic and began to play. Almost immediately, the room became a blur. And not because I'd been hitting that super-yummy Dogfish Head ale with the 11-percent alcohol content.
It wasn't the storm's low barometric pressure either. It was nothing but nerves, which made me oblivious to just about everything but the fact that my guitar-playing was sloppier than the blowjob Ernesto was giving South Florida. While I played, Misty and Lisa's suitors gave up and went home, and after just two songs, I followed their example. Anyway, things were getting soggier by the moment.
"Where's my raincoat?" Mark asked as we prepared to leave.
"I don't know. I can't play shitty guitar and keep track of your stuff at the same time," I said before heading up a bar-wide search for his trench coat.
On our walk home, I solved the mystery, deducing that either Ryan or Joe, like the houses they painted, needed a new coat. I floated the idea that Joe, in particular, was our prime suspect.
"After all," I laughed, "it's not much of a transition from stripper to flasher."
Mark shrugged off the loss: "There was too much polyester in it anyway."
And that, my friends, is what three years in France can do for a person.
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