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.

Smiling In the Sunshine; The Prayer of the Conquistador

Prayer of the Conquistador

     Once again offshore, wicked Ponce, now alone, is poised at the wheel of his trimaran, skirting the inner edge of the Gulf Stream and making a steady fourteen knots. The wind is from the east by southeast and on this reach the seventy foot trimaran is a gigantic prehistoric bird, flying, flying, using wind and wave and the inexorable pull of the Stream to make a fast and unerring course due North, to Mosquito Inlet. As always, Ponce stands like a statue at the wheel, immobile, wasting no motion; the years have taught him well and nothing is wasted, neither thought nor energy nor time. Especially time.

     Far to the West he can see the tops of the highest buildings, reflecting the morning sun as it climbs up from the sea. There are penthouses there, Ponce knows. Many penthouses, the unreachable castle towers of the criminally wealthy. Ponce knows these places, he is a one familiar with the robber barons and their consorts. These are the people whose feet never touch the ground, coming and going from towers in the sky, traveling by helicopter and private jet and giant luxury yachts. Ponce knows them well. And they know Ponce.

     As morning passes, the Old Conquistador sets the helm on autopilot. He waits, watching to be certain that the yacht is settled and steady. The Stream moves about on its way North, and will take him ever further offshore. But there is no hurry. Going below, he puts a stainless steel kettle on the stove and sets the digital controls to boil. Lightly tapping his fingers across the keypad of the locking titanium cupboard, the door sighs open, an faint cloud escaping like exhaled breath and he takes down a small aluminum canister. He shakes a precise amount of ground herbs into his palm, then drops them into an ancient ceramic mug bearing the image of Quetzacoatl embossed on its surface. He takes the hissing kettle and pours the water into the cup. The cabin is filled with the aroma of coffee, mint and other smells, cocoa, maybe; powerful, cutting, densely pungent but ultimately pleasant. Pleasantly haunting, perhaps.

     Going back on deck, Ponce glances at the compass, (a habit of a long lifetime) and then goes forward to the bow of the boat. The morning is no longer dawn, it is day now and the world is warming, heating the misty air around the boat. The El Condor Pasa is leaping across the sea, plunging, thrusting ever forward as Ponce, clad only in light cotton pants and the worn old rosary around his neck, settles into the lotus position on the bow pulpit. He sips from his steaming mug, scans the horizon for signs of other ships, then closes his eyes and begins his morning worship.