Spare the Rod
"I can tell you're not used to live entertainment. You're the 17th worst crowd I've played to. I am the show. You are the audience."
Just about every entertainer fantasizes about delivering such a rant to inattentive audiences of ungrateful chit-chatters. But it was a half-pint Rod Stewart impersonator at the Wishing Well in Boca who finally had the guts to say it.
"What the hell do you have to talk about that's so important? Your stupid kids?" he continued indignantly as the people in the front (who were paying attention) shifted in their seats uncomfortably, the people in the back continued to gab, and my friend Kim and I looked at each other incredulously, still nearly deaf from the ear-blistering volume of the P.A.
His vocal impersonation (he'd just finished "The First Cut Is the Deepest") was dead-on, and his looks were a reasonable facsimile from the big nose and tousled blond hair to the white, open-shirt tuxedo ensemble paired with white jeans and red Converse high-tops but the chutzpah!
"Look, keep talking and you're gonna end up arguing and going home in separate cabs," he warned, and by this time, he had the whole pub's attention. "Or you can shut up, and by the end of the night, you'll end up looking deep into each other's eyes and say... 'That singer was a bit of an asshole!'"
The audience erupted into laughter. If it were a punk-rock show, beer bottles would have been flying before anyone got around to the punch line. But at a Hot Rod show, the audience is a little more, well, mature. Down in front by the Irish pub's namesake garden well, families of several generations watched the show. Some seemed to be enjoying themselves quite a bit on this Friday night.
A colorful woman of a certain age with eggplant-purple hair and a chartreuse shirt clambered out of her chair and swung her arm overhead as if she were a rodeo cowboy as she belted out the lyrics "This old heart of mine" along with her cheery blond friend of similar years. The two told me they are big fans of both the Rod Stewart as well as version 2.0. They frequently make the haul to Dania Beach to see Hot Rod's Wednesday show at the Field, and they've got tickets to see the original Rod in Madison Square Garden on Valentine's Day.
"So you're groupies?" I asked.
"Well, not yet," blond said laughing. "We're still working on groupie-ship."
Meanwhile, as Hot Rod was taking us through music history with song factoids and comedic banter with his band, I took a cue from the huge mirrored sign behind the bar and ordered a Bass ale. The waitress told me there was none.
"Sam Adams?" I asked, prompted by a similar sign on another wall.
Disappointed, I settled on a Yuengling and griped to Kim about the décor, which besides giving me false hope about my favorite suds felt more like a beer garden than an Irish pub, thanks to the silk-vined trellises that dominated the design scheme. No one else seemed to care, though.
"What's up, Hot Rod!?" exclaimed the silky-haired 20-something with silky, long, blond hair as she and her friends claimed the high-top next to ours.
The band launched into a version of "Will I See You Tonight?" while the new arrivals, FAU students and bar regulars, sang along and mimed the lyrics, having a shamelessly good time.
"We love Hot Rod," said one, a cute guy in a gray baseball cap. "Our parents listened to this stuff, so it's the stuff we listen to. It's like a karaoke hour with songs from the '50s, '60s, '70s, and '80s."
Well, he was close. Except that the show had been going on more than an hour already and there were songs from even further back in time like "The Way You Look Tonight," which near-Rod explained had been "getting people laid since 1924." Actually, it first appeared in a 1936 Fred Astaire film, Swing Time, and won the Oscar for best song, but who's counting? Now, however, he was singing "My Girl" as he stood atop a barstool with his tuxedo shirt gaping open, revealing his nipples. Between lyrics, he danced with his arms out and his hips wagging, as if he were drying his back with a towel.
Gratefully, we were distracted by a guy who fell on the stairs on his way up to the loft area to play pool. Kim began to complain that the scene including the girl whose bad bleach job and hair-sprayed style reminded her of Long Island circa 1983 offended her sensibilities.
"Use it as an opportunity to feel cosmopolitan," I suggested as a girl with sunglasses whose lenses were nearly the size of dessert plates came through the door.
Between gulps of chardonnay, Rod was beating a dead horse with his "shut up and listen" schtick. It was mildly amusing at first, but by now, it was just getting old.
It didn't seem to faze Patrick, a hematologist and faculty member at the University of Florida, who came over to introduce himself.
"Hematologist?" I queried, knowing it had something to do with blood but not exactly what. "Cell counts and stuff?"
He set me straight: "No, I teach doctors and nurses how to get the mix right."
"Like a blood bartender!" I joked, trying to find common ground with this guy, who looked to be upward of 50.
"Unlike a bartender, if you get the mix wrong, people die," he said, obviously more serious than his colorful tropical shirt might suggest. When Patrick began singing the praises of the Hot Rod show, I figured I'd pump him for important info.
"Does this guy ever take a break?" I asked, needing a break of my own both from the ear-piercing volume and the now-sore throat I had developed from yelling over the music.
Patrick cheerfully replied, "No, he plays like three hours, no break," like it was a good thing.
I decided it was time for a trip to the patio, where people had been drinking and chatting, oblivious to the stage show.
A couple of attractive guys were outside, swigging their light beers and looking uncomfortably unattached. One of them who later introduced himself as Dan brightened as Kim and I approached.
"Not here for the Hot Rod show?" I asked.
Dan shook his head. He and his buddy (cousin Chuck, who was visiting from Pittsburgh) had been directed by a girl in the car next to them as they waited at a traffic light. It was an adventurous, though unreliable, way to make plans for the evening.
Trying to make conversation with Chuck, who was very nicely dressed and a little standoffish, I asked him what he did for a living.
"Financial planner," he replied and clammed up again.
Maybe a little teasing would open him up some.
"That explains it," I said, smiling. "By the clothes, I figured you were either just really conservative or gay."
I turned back to Dan, who was far friendlier: "So where do you usually hang out?"
"Strip joints," he laughed.
"And gay bars," Chuck shot back.
At least it was something. I laughed and tried to draw him in further with a discussion of his work, a conversation that dead-ended in my professional motto: "If you don't have your ethics, what do you have? I mean, besides more money and a lot better car!"
Chuck and Dan excused themselves under pretenses of getting another beer and never came back. Kim, who wanted the boys around for company while she smoked, was disgruntled. Whatever. I left Kim with her addiction, shrugged off the abandonment, decided to blame it on the entertainment instead of my conversational skills (self-deception, after all, is an ethical gray area), and tried again with another group of patio people.
I lucked into a friendlier bunch.
"We're like the U.N. here," the blond said with an Irish accent and introduced me to everyone by their countries of origin: Australia, Brazil, Venezuela, U.K., and, of course, the good ol' U.S. of A.
"All the friends I have, I met in this pub," Miss Ireland continued, explaining that she and everyone at the table were regulars.
Miss Brazil, living up to the sexy, glamorous stereotype her countrywomen are known for, gave me a Miss Universe smile: "This place is great for meeting new friends."
"Everyone gets naked after 2 a.m.," Señor Venezuela interjected and then suggested we do a shot. "How 'bout a redheaded slut?"
I declined since it was late and I didn't want to end 2006 with a DUI.
"So you guys aren't into the Rod Stewart show?" I asked.
"He's a Rod Stewart impersonator?" their mate, Mr. Outback, quipped. "I just thought he had bad hair."
Speaking of hair, Venezuela was charmingly persistent.
"You want a redheaded slut?" Venezuela asked again, suggestively referencing my hair color.
"Obviously, you do," I laughed. "Look, don't start with me. I have no problem calling the INS on y'all about some expired visas."
Miss Ireland told me that what she liked about the place was that it was laid-back, adding without a hint of irony: "It's locals serving locals."
Obviously, the bunch felt at home despite their legal status as foreigners. While Hot Rod was performing his rendition of "Lady Marmalade," I was remarking that the place was very un-Boca despite its Mizner Boulevard address when it occurred to me why. I made a quick visual survey for confirmation and summed it up:
"The Wishing Well: Where the Rod Stewart is fake but the boobs are real."
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