Shorebilly's Swill: On Personal Celebrity and Children Reaching Milestones
This week I may bounce around a little bit, just to give you a heads up. It should come as no surprise though since the style and format of my writing is normally about as structurally sound as a third world mud hut during hurricane season. That combined with my ADD and the fact that I’m juggling 2 babies while writing this may explain why I wander a bit with my stories. I actually have the rare gift of both ADD and OCD. This essentially means that I can’t focus for very long on what I’m obsessing about, so it’s constantly changing. I’m like a mentally deficient bowl of alphabet soup. Unfortunately, the only medication I take for this is made from potatoes and distilled in Holland. Ahhh. I feel better already. Now what were we talking about?
This past week, I had one of the more unique, unexpected, and flattering incidents of my life and it came while working behind the bar. A very nice couple from Pittsburgh was in and they were being tended to by my friend and coworker. I noticed them chatting with him for awhile when he glanced over his shoulder at me with a sheepish grin. He then said while looking at me coyly:
“I don’t know. Do we have a Syd Nichols working here?”
I approached them cautiously. It’s seldom that I find myself at a loss for words, but at this moment I honestly didn’t know how to respond. So, I engaged in conversation with the couple to find out why they were curious about this Syd fellow. (I normally go to great lengths not to refer to myself in third person because that would put me on my own list of people to hate. I apologize in advance for my hypocrisy.) Upon chatting with these nice folks, I learned that they had been vacationing in Ocean City every summer for many years. They were now contemplating purchasing property here. About a year ago they started researching various web sites pertaining to this area. In doing so, they happened upon a site called Shorebread Magazine. While perusing the site, the female member of the couple stumbled onto a column titled Shorebilly’s Swill. Evidently, the rants and ramblings of this character, who goes by the name of Syd, intrigued her. Despite the fact that my children wear Baltimore Ravens pajamas, and my occasional harmless barbs at our friends from north of the border, she fast became a loyal reader.
This lovely woman claims to have read each and every installment of the Swill. (Which means that she’s read approximately 49 more of them than my own wife.) Her husband confided in me that she looks forward to Tuesday each week to read a new one. I was blindsided. This may have been the most flattering moment of my life and I didn’t know what to say. I was not quite ready to admit to being Syd, so we chatted some more. She went on to tell me that they were in the final days of their annual vacation, and that one of her goals on this trip was to track down and meet Syd. Having read a year’s worth of articles, she followed all of the subtle clues, leading her to where she now was seated. I must admit, I was impressed by her detective work. She told me that she was almost certain that she was finally in the right spot. On the previous evening, this couple had gone to another bar in town which seemed to fit the description of some of my earlier stories. While at this other bar, she engaged in conversation with the bartender. At some point, she said to him,
“I know it’s a stretch, but do you by chance know a guy named Syd Nichols?”
He laughed and shook his head before responding. This time of year there are approximately between five and ten thousand bartenders in this town. Out of all of them, she happened to be seated before my best friend who is a main character in many of the stories I’ve written about. She was right to have gone to this place because I worked there for ten years. My longtime friend steered them in the right direction, and more than likely shared with them some of the stories that decorum won’t permit me to write about, here.
At this point, I figured it was about time to admit that Syd and I were the same person. I didn’t want to commit too soon. I had to first find out if this was someone whom I had pissed off. At first she seemed a bit reticent to believe me. I don’t think I was what she had expected. I think once she realized that no one in their right mind would ever admit to being me, it became a bit more plausible. I also showed her pictures of my kids to put faces with the names and to lend credence to the fact that I have in fact procreated in at least 3 different decades. She seemed genuinely happy to meet me, and I have to admit, it made my whole week. I finally met an actual fan that I neither claim as a dependant, nor dine with on Christmas Day. If I had any reason to believe that it would ever be worth more than the bev nap it was written on, I’d have offered her an autograph. I’ve never used actual names here, and I won’t start now, but you know who you are. It was an absolute pleasure to meet you and I look forward to seeing you again. Thanks so much for the support. Keep reading.
Now, to transition from someone whom I’ve only just had the pleasure of meeting, to someone I’ve known for 21 years and counting—since the day of this birth. Two weeks ago, I touched briefly on the fact that the eldest spawn of my seed, Blake, had reached the milestone of the age of legal consumption. As a parent, it’s a bittersweet moment when your child turns 21. On the one hand, I’m so proud of the man he’s become, and excited to see him grow up. Also, admittedly, the thought of sitting down somewhere and having a cocktail with him is kind of cool. On the other hand, I’m saddened by the fact that the little boy I once held in the palm of my hand and sung to sleep had grown up so fast right before my eyes. (I’m now mentally cueing up the song Sunrise,Sunset as background music in my head with a slow crescendo, as I write.) For the past several years, it’s been my job as his father to embarrass him in front of his friends. Despite this, of the hundreds of bars in this town that he could’ve gone to, he wanted more than anything to come to where I was working—all he wanted was for his old man to serve him his first legal drink. Not exactly a Hallmark worthy moment, but I thought it was really cool. I was torn between tears and excitement when he arrived shortly after midnight.
We were so excited to see each other as he approached the bar. The poor kid didn’t stand a chance though. There were 5 of us working behind the bar, and they all knew he’d just turned 21. There were several friends and local off-duty bartenders seated at the bar—some of them used to change his diapers. Some of these people had waited years for this very moment. I don’t know if their goal was to destroy me or my kid, but they took great pride and pleasure in the act. Karma was about to bite me on the ass for all of the freshly turned 21 year olds whom I’ve temporarily disabled over the years as a bartender. Being surrounded by those many people whose sole mission was to buy him a shot, rendered his demise imminent. I vetoed as many of these as I could being father first, bartender second, but I was too grossly outnumbered. Painful as it was, I was left with no choice but to stand back and watch the scene play out. After several shots in a short time, my son came over to me and hugged me and said,
“Dad, I’m in pretty good shape, huh?”
What he didn’t yet realize is that the traffic jam of booze had now bottle-necked inside of him. I looked at my offspring with fatherly wisdom and said,
“Yeah, you’re doing ok now, but mark my words, in about 32 minutes from now you’re going to be an amoeba.”
Approximately 31 minutes and 9 seconds later, my son’s motor skills were now almost the exact equivalent of his 10-week-old sister. His capacity to speak coherently rivaled hers as well. He fortunately had a really great bunch of friends with him, and it was unanimously decided that it was time for him to go home. I felt awful, but I knew there were much worse places he could have been at this moment.
Now, the arduous process of getting him down 4 flights of stairs and safely into a cab would commence. He refused to leave without his Dad, so I went along for the process, abandoning my post. The problem was that he no longer recognized me and thought I was lying to him when I told him I was his father. We made it to the first landing and came to a screeching halt. I grossly underestimated his strength and his grip on the stair railing. The 5 of us “assisting” wrestled with him for about the next 15 minutes to no avail. I looked at his friends, each of whom had at least 4 inches, and 50 pounds on me and said,
“Let him go. It’s time for plan B.”
Everyone, including my son, released his grip and stared at me curiously waiting to find out what plan B was. In one fluid motion, I scooped him up, threw him over my shoulder and fireman-carried him down the remaining 3 flights of stairs. His buddies were torn between hysterical laughter, and amazement over what they were witnessing. I tossed him in a cab and sent him home with specific instructions for his friends who communicated with me throughout the remainder of the evening.
Well, I’m certainly out of space. My son is fine, (my back, amazing is as well, given my track record in that department), and we laughed later. Thanks for playing along.
Until next week,
For another shot of comedy, read Syd's other ShoreBread columns:
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