There was a room I loved and loathed growing up. Red light, jazz, a bull with Raybans, horns, photographs of naked women, ashtrays and a poster of Moulin Rouge. It reeked of cigars and the hint of bliss. It was my father’s bar at our basement. The forbidden room of red lights and slates.
He would have been 66 today. I wanted to write his memoir and toast his 33-year sojourn. Yet all I could think of was his bar.
I barely saw him. He taught me how to draw finger puppets and how to sing “La Cucaracha.” Every other memory is of him going down the stairs in his plaid buttoned down shirt. And that the forbidden room gobbled him up. Nights and the early mornings were spent inside with the godfathers, uncles and aunts I made out as they were swallowed up too. I didn’t know then what they did. I just knew it was something dark, and wicked, and completely wonderful.
It was mid-morning when the doors were opened, and the hanky-panky, the enchantment, and the magic uncloaked. Then I could enter through curtains made of shells that cascaded like rain. Then I could enter my father’s world. Take a whiff of the smoke and oak, ogle at illicit pictures and my father’s self-portrait, listen to bebop, and tap the sharp teeth of the animal skulls that adorned tables. I would take in Picasso’s Guernica of bulls and horses in agony, an evil eye over it. The wall had my father’s painting of a man with one eye, his nose a woman’s boob drinking from a goblet. There were huge bottles of alcohol decorated with cone shell necklaces and a whiskey flask perched on a canon you can swing. I would plump myself on a patterned couch that embraced me like a father.
I barely knew him. They say he adored Hemingway. And jet planes. They say they loved him and his signature drink, the Zayco Doble. And that he painted his magnum opus while stoned. But I didn’t know him that way. The Zayco Dobles and La Cucaracha took him at 33. He lives in my memory of a bar with red lights and slates.
And so what began as a memoir for my father will end as an ode to that forbidden room I clandestinely entered. It could have been my door to him: to get a trace of him from cigars, whiskey and jazz; to toast him at my own drunken sojourns; to love him by loving dark things and secret places; and to wish for a day that I could pen my magnum opus whilst stoned.
And so, on your 66th birthday Pap, feliz cumpleanos. iSalut!