Some years back, I started a little series of barroom stories set in a two-flight walkdown just a stone's throw from Manhattan's Chelsea Hotel. I've done four novelettes now, collected into a book under the bar's name (THE LAND AT THE END OF THE WORKING DAY) and I have to say they've been well received.
They're all on the whimsical side (like me, I suppose) but one of them -- 'Cliff Rhodes and the Most Important Journey' -- is wilder than the others. The gist of these tales is pretty straightforward: the bar's regulars hang around telling jokes and reflecting on life while the owner, Jack Fedogan, serves drinks, plays jazz music and, every once in a while, gets himself embroiled in whatever conversation is going. Coincidentally, the music Jack is playing in these tales is the same music as I'm playing while I sit in my office writing. Who'd'a thunk it, huh? Go figure.
Well, it's into this situation that a visitor usually comes to pay a visit. In the case of 'Cliff Rhodes', it's two visitors. And the story that usually unfolds is, on this occasion, several stories. Now these are not Christmas stories--and what I mean by that is, it's not December, there's no snow on the ground and, instead of playing, say, the Ramsey Lewis Trio's fine Christmas albums, Jack Fedogan is stoking up a long-time passion for the great Dave Brubeck. So, no, it's not a Christmas story but then again, it kind of is. And that's why I'm offering it to you with just a few days to go before the old fat guy starts his rounds of the world's chimneytops.
I'm also offering it as a doff-of-the-cap to the late Dave Brubeck who has given me and Jack Fedogan countless hours of enjoyment down the years. Oh, and yes . . . there's a nice postscript.
The American poet Dana Gioia -- a good friend and a keen supporter/promoter of my work -- called me up excitedly to comment on the copy of the WORKING DAY book. He's enjoyed it immensely, he said. Loved all four stories but the 'Cliff Rhodes' one took the buscuit. "And," Dana said to me, "it'll tickle Dave, too. I'm meeting him for lunch in a couple weeks: why don't you send me a copy inscribed to him and I'll pass it along."
So I did just that . . . though I found it a tad difficult to precis five decades of enoying COUNTDOWN TIME IN OUTER SPACE (it came out in 1962) into a single pithy sentence. And whan the dust settled on that luncheon meeting, I did hear from Brubeck, who thanked me for what I'd written about him and his music. And that's it.
Give it a read. But do me a favor: pretend it's late December, there off the Manhattan sidewalk. Close your eyes and you'll be able to smell it, New York, and you'll hear the faint rim-clicking of Joe Morello's sticks, Brubeck's playful fingers on the ivories, Paul Desmond's mourneful alto sax and the deep-bass thrumming of either Norman Bates (no, the musician, meathead!) or Eugene Wright.
As they used to say on The Fast Show . . . nice!
Happy Christmas, folks.