CHAPTER NINE: THE FALSE APPEARANCE OF EXCELLENCE-JAN 1977
1977 had just begun and we in the midst of an energy crisis. Besides cattle farms, and the Race Track, Raton depended on coal mining as one of its main sources of industry. They worked in small mines, not yet big enough to spoil the beauty of the mountainsides they were digging into
Ecology was not a concern for anyone. No area was off limits, even the nearby pristine Sangre de Christo Mountain range that bordered Raton. Many entrepreneurs, with deep pockets were drawn to the area for the possible opportunity of exploitation.
A group of American investors became familiar guests, frequenting the Palace every month or so. They were a friendly, spoiled, indulgent group of men who were used to the finer things that came with wealth, and they had no shame in showing it.
This particular evening however, someone called ahead. They would only speak with my father, directly. Of course, my ears and eyes were all over this and I gathered as much information as possible while listening to one side of the conversation.
My dad’s voice was all business, but I swear his feet were about to flutter together fast enough to lift him off the ground. He made the occasional cough that gave him time to catch his breath without revealing he needed air.
I watched as he looked at the ceiling, regaining his composure.
“Yes, Mike, of course. We’ll make it special. Everything will be perfect, you know that! You’re dealing with me, remember? The lobsters? They are superb, Mike! Would I serve anything else? C’mon, do you really have to ask?”
Garble, garble, garble, on the other end of the line. My dad’s smile broke out into laughter.
“Yeah, you too, Mike, I know. We all know how to return the favor, don’t we? No worries here! All right, we’ll see you later on this evening, what, about 8:00 pm? Ok, 8 to 9 is fine. You know I’ll stay open till you get here. Yeah I know, you always appreciate it, Mike. As I do you, you know what I mean? Ok, I'll see you then, “
I scuttled out of my hiding place and went back to my normal routine, checking orders, watering glasses. My mind couldn’t put it all together, but I knew it had to be important.
Suddenly my Dad came from the bar into the restaurant and summoned all three waitresses on staff that night.
“Maria, Andrea, I want you to take over Susie’s tables. It’s not that busy I’m sure you two can handle it. If I you get too busy I’ll see if I can call in Katherine. Susie, I want you to set up the Casino room. I want you to go through the linen and pick out the best, no stains, you hear me? We have a special group coming in and you are going to handle them, got it?”
Maria, Andrea and I looked at each other and shrugged. “Ok, Dad, if that’s what you want.”
Maria took my tickets from my tables. As I headed toward the linen closet, Dad pulled me aside.
“You know that investment group, the one with Mike?” I nodded, who could forget, he was disgusting. “Well they’re coming in tonight and they are bringing a very, very important person from Germany!”
God, I wished I could roll my eyes. “Ok, Dad, I’ll handle it, I promise.”
“You bet you will.”
He trotted off to the kitchen to inspect the lobsters. Then he started in on the cooks about which were the best filet mignons to choose for the occasion.
It was only 6:30, so I knew I had some time, at least.
The vacuum was pulled out, the polish was sprayed, the Windex squeaked on the colored glass. The linen was laid, the silverware set, the crystal in place and the candles lit. Perfect. What was strange was, I didn’t feel any pressure, I knew I could do it. The room was breathtaking.
The group finally arrived, accompanied by a huge man that looked like Stalin, from the pictures I’d seen of Stalin. He talked kind of like that too. He expressed heavily accented “oohs” and “aahs” while taking in the surroundings. Good sign, I thought.
My father was exuding every ounce of charm possible, which was a lot. After engaging them with pleasant banter, he led the group across the bar and into the Casino room. More “oohs” and “aahs” except this time from everyone in the group. Everything was coming off without a hitch. My chances of having my head cut off at the end of the night are diminishing with every moment.
I don’t’ know who benefited most, but my dad was invited to join them, they were insistent.
I suggested the mushrooms and escargot and everyone was delighted. Then dad said he had a perfect wine for the occasion and joined me as I left the table. I put the order in for the hors d’oeuvres and follow him to the wine cellar.
That special moment had arrived. I was to serve the most expensive bottle of wine in the house. It was a Rothschild.
“Now this is the one!” He pulled the bottle from the rack. He held it so tight; I thought he was going to crush it into a thousand pieces.
“Now listen Susie, you can’t fuck this up! Serve it like I taught you. You’ve done this a million times. DON’T SCREW THIS UP!!”
Gulp. Wow, thanks for giving me such a sense of calm, DAD! I looked up at him and saw his vulnerability. Two thoughts came into my head. Pay him back and blow it or feel sorry for this empty being. “Sure, Dad, no problem, just like always!”
He handed me the bottle as if it were a newborn baby and winced. “DON’T SCREW THIS UP!”
He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his face. He was one step behind as I walked out of the wine cellar, through the restaurant, and into the small hall that led to the bar and Casino room. I looked up to my Dad and smiled before addressing the “The King of Germany." Then I began my routine. “This, sir is a gift from my father. Please allow me to delight you with one of our best pleasures. It’s been in the cellar awaiting the appropriate guest who can truly appreciate its uniqueness!”
The German looked at my innocent smile before lowering his eyes to my bosom, where the bottle of wine rested. I gently sat it down on the table and ceremoniously began to turn the corkscrew. They were mesmerized. Upon the “Puuoopp” that accompanied the extraction of the cork, all eyes raised and everyone at the table began clapping lightly. I removed the cork from the corkscrew and coyly placed it under the German’s nose.
“Please sir, is it to your satisfaction? The cork is tender, would you like to feel?” He was beside himself as he took it from my hand. I smiled and picked up the precious liquid and poured a teaspoon into his glass. He picked it up, taking in the aroma. He sniffed then took a slight sip, which he rolled over his tongue and swished between his cheeks.
“Absolutely delightful” was his response. “I must come here more often!”
I poured the wine into the rest of the glasses and melted away to my dad’s side behind the entrance of the casino room. He looked at me and his eyes said it all. “Perfect, Susie, perfect!”
At the end of the night, I pushed the vacuum cleaner through the dining room. After all the patrons had left and the doors were closed and locked, I turned the eight-track player as loud as it would go and sang to the Eagles or Eddie Money, or Fleetwood Mac. I kept pushing the vacuum through the dining room around and around and around, lost in the motion of the chore. I took my time cleaning up, as did the other employees. The cooks were scraping their grills and the dishwasher was still rinsing the last loads of dishes.
As my last chore, I casually went behind the bar and restocked the cherries and limes. I looked longingly at the bottle of Crown Royal. Since my Dad was still gathering the cash drawer I went for the Canadian Club instead. He had an uncanny ability to see with his ears and I knew I wasn’t allowed to drink the expensive stuff….unless he offered it. But I did anyway when he wasn’t around.
I came to savor the smoothness of Crown Royal. It didn’t burn going down or make me queasy when it settled in my stomach. In an instant, a far away glow would surround me, witnessed by the slight smile that replaced my pierced lips. My beautiful soft features would emerge. My face expressed me, I became angelic.
“You did good, Susie, real good! I’m proud of you. Go ahead and grab the Crown, you deserve it! We made a haul tonight! “
He pulled he cash drawer out and gathered the bags of cash underneath. With the other hand, he juggled a bottle of Scotch.
“Okay, I’m going up, I’ve got some work to do, I’ll meet you in the room in a little while.”
“Okay, Dad, I’ll lock up and be up when I’m done” He was already out of earshot.
Then all over again, it hit me. He was already upstairs in his office counting the nights take before placing it into the safe… right next to the gun.
“Wayne, are you through with the trash, is everything taken out?” He knew I was up to something.
“Uhh, not yet, what’s up?”
I loved it when he grinned and grew happy I came up with something to mess with dad.
“Okay”, I whispered.
“When you go dump the trash, let out the air or dad’s back tires. Not all the way, just enough to make them soft, you know what I mean? He’ll never notice if you’ve got to do it just right.”
“Yeah, yeah! I know what you mean!” He was beaming.
“I’ll cover you, just be quiet, ok?”
I looked at him. He was almost out of control with delight.
“Paul, you’ve got to do this right. Only let out enough air to make them soft, don’t take out enough to make them flat! That way his brakes won’t catch but he won’t know why”…
“He’ll be outa control driving around all day tomorrow! He won’t know what is going on! Can you do it?”
“I got it Sue, I got it! I know exactly what you mean!”
When he came back in, we hustled around until I announced loudly so that Dad could hear.
“Alright, Paul, go on up! I’ll lock up the bar!”
Dad didn’t pay attention as Paul hit the second floor, passed my dad’s office and went to his room. This was how we stood up to this thing called my father.
I couldn’t stop hating him, this irrational tyrant; and it was draining me. The dread of death, the pain of expecting our demise shattered me. But, as I found ways to fight back, I grew stronger. I had responsibilities to my brother and Baron. I had to pick up my pieces and put them back together, like a broken Japanese vase, one piece at a time.
My anxiety increased as the time grew short before going upstairs. He would be waiting. One more shot, no two. Whew. One more. OK, now I was ready. Aah, shit one more shot. Then another. Crown Royal became the drink I chose at every opportunity.
How was I ever going to stand up to this man, this thing called my father? He was such a terrifying presence. I cannot convey it in words. I cannot describe the fear. I cannot describe the dread of death, the pain of accepting my demise. As he dug in deeper, I sank further backwards. I was trapped, forced closer towards my edge of my sanity, my existence.
The more he dug in deeper, the more I sank backwards, forced closer towards the edge of my fortitude, my sanity, my existence. Thank you, God, for Crown Royal!
As he hit his local hot spots the next day, he careened and smashed into every curb he tried to stop at. It was a spectacle that was gossiped about for several days, until my Dad got the attitude that made everyone shut the hell up. But the embarrassment exposed him. Our trick worked perfectly!
One day soon after, I was watching a film on TV still haunts me. It was a World War II documentary. American soldiers had gained control over of a Pacific island inhabited by civilian, mostly old men, women and children. The decimated Japanese forces were put down quickly. The grainy black and white video filmed hysterical mothers clutching their babies as they leapt off giant cliffs and crashed on jagged rocks at the ocean’s edge. The women were choosing death over the terror of the approaching US Soldiers.
I have wondered over and over what the women were thinking as they leapt to their certain deaths. Was it relief, a kind of bliss? Was it total abject terror? On the other hand, was it a mix between the two? Was it absolute insanity or serene release? I wondered about that….a lot. I thought about it every time my eyes led to the top of the Palace, the roof.