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Wednesday, Nov. 02, 2005
“Danny, listen to me,” I pleaded. “Sooner or later you’re going to have to have your cabinets in something other than black. I’m serious. Don’t you get tired of the same old black fixtures, black tops, black paint? C’mon, why don’t we lighten things up here a little, heh heh.”

It was useless, but I tried it every time. Every high energy eatery we’d ever done together had a core group of things that became the signature of his restaurant design. A backbar in total and utter black, from floor to liquor, lighted by small spotlights strategically placed. The bar itself, dark tile with a black wood bar rail, maybe a scattered bit of color in the tile bar top. Black wall trim. Dark, dark flooring. Black table tops. Black spandex on the twenty-year-old waitresses with the pouting lips and cultivated derrieres, for gods sake.

“But it works, Outfoxed,” he’d reply. “We make money off this look. This is the way they do it in the City,” and I knew he wasn’t talking about downtown Swampland by a long shot. He was talking about a cultural mecca sort of city, some 9 hours to the north of here. The black was omnipresent, with one other theme color. In this case an aqua befitting the island theme, but which would basically fade to black when the lights went low and the doors flung open for the nightly crush of women in Prada heels and men in suit coats, strictly without tie, and a black shirt.

I’m a natural wood sort of guy, ash with a white tint or cocobolo in clear, nothing darker than cherry. Hell I’m not even that fond of walnut, which is heresy in my trade but there you go.

“One day, my friend. One day I’ll show you some real wood and make you like it,” I chided without heed. Some things won’t change, and Danny’s penchant for the things made black by my hand was highly regarded by the masses and regularly specified.

So I made big louvers for the outside (painted black), ginned up some cabinets and countertops (black laminate) and delivered them all to the former Burger King.

“Now, then, for the real stuff” Danny enthused as I screwed off the last cabinet. “We need some angled fins above the backbar, you can make them out of birch if you want. And the wine will go here, and the liquor over here . . .” and he was lost in the moment of creating on the fly. I’m used to it, used to drawing up sketches of high dollar fixtures on the floor or a scrap of cardboard and going back to the shop and turning to. “And I’ve got a stain color for you, too!” Which was damned unusual. A stain color? Could it be, after all these years?

“Look, it works so well!” he enthused, holding out a palm sized wood sample with the stain on it, complete with an affixed label detailing the stain color and topcoat sheen and all that.

Black.

Stone cold black. I sighed, made the unnecessary comment about how original it probably was, how much like Rustoleum from a can, and called the supplier. “3 gallons of the usual, Fred. Yup, Danny’s job. You know the drill.”

I was on my way out the door when Terri the voluptuous intercepted me. “Outfoxed honey,” she purred. “What about our hostess stand? Have you started on it? What’s it gonna look like?”

“Terri I honestly don’t know,” I said. As part of Danny’s process of creation, he is forever adding things, things he ought to have down on paper but which slows the creative burn of inventing things out of thin air. It doesn’t bode well with Terri, who is a rare combination of drop-dead looks and a good business horse sense.

“Well damn,” she snorted. “We’re supposed to open in a week. Think maybe we ought to get this figured out pretty soon? Like, today?”

Danny was summoned and it was in a moment of blind activity, the beer tap guy was pulling up, the sound system man was shouting questions, the chef needed a decision on plates and forks. Danny sketched a blob on the bottom of an empty coffee cup and tossed it my way.

“Something like that, okay? Black. Oh and put some mouldings on the front. You know.” He was trotting towards the kitchen and calling over his shoulder. “You know what I want, Outfoxed, I trust you . . .”, from a distance.

Terri looked at me with a small frown, huge liquid eyes and pursed lips. “Do you? Know what he wants, I mean? I wish he‘d get this stuff straight from the start. My mother is the hostess for this club, did you know?”

I didn’t, her mother being just a slightly older version of Terri, and with just as much business savvy. The hostess stand for a NYC level club being what it is, I was starting to get a little uneasy about just what the focal point for entry, sign-in and ferry-to-table was going to look like. And a blob on a coffee cup wasn’t exactly reassuring.

“No problem,” I chirped to Terri. “Got something in mind already.” Which was patently false, but I wasn’t going to let on. “Don’t you worry, darlin’.”

I call her darlin’, just to keep her off balance. Usually with a slow drawl and a big grin. When dealing with the beautiful people, I like to be the sort of kindly lad of the South who is there to reassure, to poke around the fishin’ hole, to calm the nervous energy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it just kicks the vibe into high gear.

Terri breathed heavily, something most men would have surrendered a months pay to see, but I was well and truly used to it. “Outfoxed, I don’t know how you do it sometimes, but you’re the man. You got the vision, baby.”

Again with the vision thing. I jumped in the pickup and hauled ass.

Hostess stand. Black, with some mouldings on the front, he said.

But he never said the mouldings should be black now, did he?

Oh the evil that can be, when the woodman is presented with the open ended challenge. Oh the cunning and the beguiling. Oh . . . and I just so happened to have some cherry, a little stash of it with straight grain and it might be just enough for the mouldings.

I found myself still working on it in the Dwarf Garage two nights later, when Ally poked her head out of the kitchen door and asked, “Are you still at it? It’s almost midnight for crying out loud. What in the world is so important with that thing?” And in truth, it did look like a ‘thing’ at that point, there was no real finality to it yet.

“I’m ambushing Danny,” I muttered with just a touch of mania cackling around the edges of a giggle. “Put some mouldings on it he said, some mouldings.”

I think I scared her, she surely backed her way into the house quick enough.

It was another full 14 hour day but the deed was done, and I loaded the Station into the truck in an early dawn with the sky threatening rain. Hoofed my way to the restaurant and had it unloaded and in place before anyone else showed up, but when someone finally did, it was the Hostess herself, Terri’s mom.

I was in the restroom area fiddling with some doors, adjusting closers or something, and I heard the click of heels on tile and looked up to see her boring in on me.

“Outfoxed, is that your design? The Hostess Station?” She looked just a little grim.

“Uh. Yes.” Never let guilt show, in these cases.

She looked at me as if I was wearing designer clothing and affecting a French accent, instead of a T-shirt advertising spinner baits, and gushed. “Ohmilord it’s awesome. Awesome!”

She rattled on for some time about never having a proper Station before, about how the mouldings set off the louvers out front (glad she noticed, ‘cause it’s exactly what I had in mind), the color, the shape. But the one thing going through my mind was “Hee, if the mother likes it, the kids are gonna fall right in line!”

And you know, I live for moments like this. Moments when flipping a Burger King into something different gets a signature penned by my own hand. With mouldings and everything.

And the kids, indeed, fell right in line.

It was not the hardest thing I made for this club by a long shot. It was in fact made easy in the sense that I knew what I was going to do and just did it. In the safety of the garage, out of sight and away from helpful suggestions.

It was considerably easier than staining and finishing thirty-some table tops which showed up the day before opening, which had to be sprayed out in the parking lot, although the help of a half-dozen nubile waif servers seemed to be a calming influence on my frenzy. Or hanging, in a cloud of dust and shavings, six metal liquor racks which showed up the day OF the opening and were, obviously, critical to the success of serving mixed drinks at the bar.

But. Eating that first meal on opening night with Ally? The red snapper with some unknown sort of beans, set off with a swirl of art-deco sauce? And a gin and tonic or three? All of which was comped by the triumphant Danny? And the cooing of the servers, and the handshakes from the crowd who were made aware of me, over there in my corner booth?

That was the easiest thing of all. So long as I hid my blackened fingers, with the stain that would just not wash out, under the table. The black and shiny table with the custom lampshade hanging low above it.

(Yeah, I promised a picture, but I've had a helluva time getting back to the restuarant to take any pictures in the past couple of days. Some other time, for sure.)

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