Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine: The Little Lighthouse

The Little Lighthouse
Brandy, Coffee, Advice

     As I walked into the Little Lighthouse Restaurant I paused at the entry and listened to the double doors close behind me. They sighed quietly as the hydraulic closers pulled them shut, then clicked solidly closed. Good. I had hung those doors three years before when I remodeled the Lighthouse for the Markos family. They were a pair of seven foot, two and a quarter inch thick oak beauties I had been saving for just such an application. I still had a warehouse full of architectural treasures I had saved over the years from my old days of doing commercial restaurant installations throughout the South. Every saloon on Coronado Boulevard had some souvenir from those days; the mahogany bar top with gleaming oak elbow rail at the Crooked Angel, the hundred year old cherry back bar at the Mermaid Cafe. None of these local joints could actually afford such luxury items and I had put a lot of them in for the price of a bar tab. Will Work for Beer.
     Maria Markos was at her usual post by the front door. Dark, plump, a very young fifty, her brown eyes were always alive and twinkling and were something good to see on a hungover Monday morning.

     “Blix!” she cried. I get coffee there every morning and every morning Maria greets me as though she hadn't seen me in a year and I was the best thing to happen to her all day. She is Johnny Markos' wife. Johnny is the current Markos who owns the Lighthouse Restaurant. Ruby Beach is a very old Florida town. It was founded in 1750 by a Englishman who was dabbling in white slavery, importing Minorcans and Greeks and a sprinkling of Italians to East Central Florida to work his sugar and indigo plantations. This took place just after Spain relinquished the Florida territories to England following one war or another. The whole enterprise failed, ultimately, but the area retained a strong Greek population. Almost every restaurant in town had a Greek owner; at least all the good ones did, and most of those owners were named Markos.

     “Blix!”, Maria said. “I've saved you your table.”

     “Thank you, Maria,” I said. 'My' table is actually the one closest to the kitchen where Johnny sits and drinks glasses of ice water and watches his customers and keeps one eye on the kitchen and one eye on the cash register. It's only “my” table in the early morning while Johnny is out getting the fresh vegetables and goat cheese and other ingredients he gets from some small organic farms outside of town. I am reasonably certain that those farms are owned by people named Markos.

     “Connie will be with you in a minute,” she said. She turned as a foursome of senior citizens came through the door, tanned and brisk. “Good Morning!” Maria cried, going towards them like they were some very well loved and much missed relatives just returning from a long trip. “I have a table especially for you!” She would keep it up all day. I really liked Maria.

     Connie the waitress came over. Connie was the opposite of Maria. She was tall and thin and treated her customers like not-too-bright badly behaved children that were not hers, but had to be cared for and fed nonetheless. She had always been at the Lighthouse. Connie never aged. She had always looked thirty, probably always would. She gave me a very thorough once-over.

     “Still drinking too much, huh?” She had brown eyes too, that twinkled just like Maria's.

     “Yes, mother,” I said. The fit and tanned seniors were laughing it up a couple tables away, enjoying some golf or tennis joke from their morning exercise. They looked rich.

     “Pipe down over there or you won't get your mush this morning,” Connie said to the group. This brought another big laugh.

     “Sock it to me baby,” one of the old guys said. More laughter.

     “Look, miss, if you're busy maybe I could get my own coffee,” I said. Connie gave me a twinkling dour look.

     “Be quiet.” She went into the kitchen. I was still trying to think up a snappy answer when she was back with a plate of rye toast and a steaming mug of coffee topped with a dab of whipped cream. I gave her a look. “Of course I did,” she said. “It's Monday, isn't it?” She went towards the seniors with her coffee pot and order book. “Alright, wiseguys, what's it gonna be?”

     I put some of Johnny's home made tangerine jam on my toast and took a bite. Yeah, baby. I spooned the whipped cream out of the way and sipped the coffee, wondering if Johnny would miss the double shot of Metaxa Amphora brandy Connie had pilfered from the dusty bottle in his desk in the backroom. Probably. But then again, for all I knew he was keeping it there just for me, anyway. I took another bite of the toast and another sip of the coffee. Something had been nagging at me since I woke up and I couldn't get a grip on it. Something Cromwell had said about old pottery. Oh yeah, I was supposed to go with him to a warehouse somewhere to look at some abandoned crap in a storage unit. Good. I wasn't in the mood for work this morning, anyway. In fact, I was almost never in the mood for work these days, which probably explained why my construction business was down from a twenty-two employee operation with a front office and a million dollar plus workload at any given time to a little frame & trim crew of six guys and Rusty. “Oh well,” I thought, “I ain't dead yet.”

     I swallowed the rest of the liqueur laced coffee, threw a five on the table and got up to go.
Connie was coming out of the kitchen with a big breakfast tray for the happily aging millionaires two tables over. She gave me a wink.

     “ 'Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do.' That's Confucious,” she said.

     “Yes, mother, it is indeed confusing,” I said. I went through the old oak double doors into the sunshine. They closed quietly behind me, with a gentle sigh and a solid click. Molly's old jeep was sitting across the street in front of the Crooked Angel. It was my old jeep now, covered in rust and seagull crap and without a top. It had come with the shack. I walked over, got in and fired it up. The sun was high enough and hot enough to dry the morning dew off the torn seat. I put the Jeep in gear and headed south down the beach.

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