Inside the Great Red Doors
From the distance The Black Sheep appears like a pirate ship to me. As I skid down the dirt track behind the liquor store, I imagine a Jolly Roger flying up high in the wind above the steeples and laugh to myself at the image. The distinct odor of barley and hops wafts from the brewery as I stroll across the parking lot, triggering the memory of when the brambles caught fire one summer, nearly burning a lot full of cars, including my own. I pause for a moment to view the soothing, dark green mountain looming behind the downtown plaza. Its silent presence fills me with a feeling of security and awe.
A rush of excitement hits me as I approach the entrance of my favourite place in town. The message on the bottom of the specials chalkboard reads “Where You Belong”. How true. I grab hold of an iron door ring and pull open the great, red doors, acknowledging the challenge of the stretched staircase. I imagine it is a mountain and climb past the family photos on the wall to the top for the reward. There…there it is! The voices, the beautiful voices of a crowd, talking, sharing, learning and laughing. Ahh…the sweet sound of laughter. I’ve got to get me some of that!
I bounce into the room and glance around, greeted by delicious smells and smiles from faces I recognize. I head to the hearth, which holds a most inspiring fire sculpture with orange flames leaping about behind ram’s heads. Sinking down into the crimson velvet of the chair, I let it envelope me in relaxation. I wave to the bartender and she nods back in understanding and sends over my usual libation. How easy my stress dissipates here! I settle back and watch the clouds pass by the elegant windows for a while, and then gaze at the hills as they turn pink in the sunset. The sunlight moves through a magnificent performance of purples, pinks, and oranges. Quite inspirational, really.
I order dinner and another drink, and then join some friends at the bar, chatting up a storm. As the light fades from the outside, the room transforms and starts to glitter. I lean my head back and gaze at all the tiny gold stars painted on the ceiling twinkling at me, reminding me that some things are worth the extra effort, (those took me three days on a scaffold to paint up there) and that the best things in life aren’t things.
A cheer goes up around the dartboards, and is followed by a bubbling of laughter. The servers spin around the room, visiting patrons and keeping them smiling. A new group of people enter the room and embrace their friends with affection, settling around one of the larger tables. One by one, the tables are occupied and the room fills with delectable smells from the kitchen, intriguing conversation, and plenty of merriment. Jolly good company, I’d say!
At the end of a satisfying evening I stare into the fire, feeling rejuvenated and ready for tomorrow’s challenges. The embers glow back at me with such a ferocity that they appear to be alive and breathing. Could it be that they too, are full of the energetic breath of The Black Sheep?
I was led here by a reoccurring dream. But not a dream of the usual sort, all mixed up and difficult to understand, but a waking dream with clarity, a vision. I envisioned sitting in a large room filled with family, friends and laughter, I saw the stars shining through the large windows and felt the warm fire at my back as I looked out across the room and its activity. A good place for writing stories, I thought. And an even better place for living them. So, it became my quest to find this place, this place that my heart knew would be home.
Then one day, as I sat on the hearth of The Black Sheep, writing in my journal, a strange, calm attentiveness swept over me that I had not felt before. I raised my head to gaze out over the room, searching. It was at that moment that I realized something had changed. There was stillness in me that had not existed before. Peacefulness had replaced the restlessness. Suddenly my heart felt like it would burst with warmth, and my eyes welled up with tears as I realized I had arrived; there I was in my vision. It had become reality, and I knew I was home.
(A drunkard and a lunatic, mind you)
It’s amazing the lengths a chap might go in order to satisfy his burning desire for a decent imperial pint of bitter. Take me for example: there I was, huddled up in my small, cold and humble abode located twelve and a half miles south of The Black Sheep, in the middle of a dark and ominous forest. While gnawing at a piece of old carpet and sucking on the dishcloth I found myself struck by a brainstorm; with my recently acquired Christmas bonus from pater why not pop into town and share a laugh and a drink with those jovial fold at the pub “Where (I) Belong”? Without further ado I set about shoveling my way through the fifty-foot snowdrift that enveloped my faithful chariot, the MG. With the awaiting bevy in mind, fending off the bears was a mere trifle. The ensuing journey was an adventure by any intrepid explorer’s standards. The torrential blizzard accompanied by gale force winds would surely be enough to terminate your average booze bent Brit; nay, not I. The thought of that crew-cut smile handing over a glass of the amber nectar was enough to carry me through the hurricane down the hill to Highway 99. But the treachery didn’t end there. I found myself surrounded by a troop of very angry and vicious rabbits with flick knives and particularly sharp teeth. Forfeiting my last carrot I cunningly bypassed the dilemma only to discover that I had landed myself slap bang in the middle of a minefield. It was unhuman the way I successfully navigated through a maze of high explosives. Suffice to say that it was worth losing both arms in order to be welcomed into the cozy public house by a grinning goatee. However, this loss did prove a little tricky in the driving department as I discovered when I ploughed into on coming traffic. (They should know which is the proper side of the road to drive on, anyway.) With only one limb remaining, namely, my right leg, I hopped along on my merry route, hope against hope that I might squeeze another hug out of the ever beaming bar maid. It was loyalty to The Sheep that refused my temptation to slip into Omar’s or The Irish Pub on my weary route. After all, the bar brawls at those places are nothing compared to what the landlord at The Sheep can muster up after extended hours. Luckily it was a downhill gradient from the Mark Anthony, the approximate location where my right leg froze and consequently dropped off, and I was able, without too much trouble, to roll down Main Street with enough speed to bang on the door of T.B.S. At least then I could relax in front of the warm fire and lap at a bowl of Fullers. On hitting the door I lost most of my front teeth, broke my nose and fell into a state of subconsiousness.
Can you imagine my horror and disgust when I finally awoke, bleary eyed and wobbly confronted with the following notice: “To our loyal patrons & friends,” I considered myself a candidate under both categories and therefore read on. “Bugger off until January 16.” And you think you’re knackered? Take a look at me! After all I had been through I thought there could be nothing left to deflate my punctured soul anymore. But I was mistaken. I felt alone. Unwanted. Let down and defeated. There were no cheery faces, no loving companions, alas not even a beer stain to lick on. Everything went black.
Now, I should point out that this is not a letter seeking sympathy. I wouldn’t want you kind and gentle fold to become riddled with guilt over one of your regular debauchee’s losses due to a major overlook on your own behalf. To think that a commiserating phone call or apologetic letter regarding this tear wrenching news was too much effort for those employed a my favourite lounge. I consider myself to be a fair man. And to say that such an epic voyage is not worthy of a free pint is a massive understatement. To be perfectly honest, the only way to redemption that I can foresee would be some sort of job offer. (Part time, please.) And if I may add, with me at the helm, you wouldn’t have to rip the heart out of any other clientele any further as I could fill in for each of you while you took periodic holidays. Then we could all return to being one big happy family again.
Look forward to seeing all again soon and backward to the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.
By the way, Happy New Year.
Post Script: If the job thing doesn’t pull thorough will you at least consider the free pint?
I was destined to be a member of the Black Sheep clan. It was late winter in Ashland and I sensed a new arrival in town. I was working below the now infamous Black Sheep headquarters and I had spotted the culprits shortly after they purchased the fine, loft space.
Working away in my box one day I noticed the black van, tinted windows, speeding into the plaza and screeching to a stop across the street. “Those rebels,” I would think to myself, “they are parking in a loading zone.” I spotted a little firecracker of a woman who would magically appear from the van, black boots, tattoos, glasses, short cropped hair, two small girls and a devilishly fierce walk. She rarely wore a smile in the trek across the street. You could tell within those steps that this girl meant business. She had a great style that caught my eye, made me want to know her. Kind of punk rock girl, meets baby kitten/vixen/I’ll beat your ass if you look at me funny style. No one in Ashland dressed that way. Well not yet anyway. She must be from the big city, somewhere like New York or Chicago with that hard-core edge on fashion. All I knows is, they looked like they didn’t want to be bothered AT ALL!!!
I always tried to say hello, acknowledge her presence to somehow get a true glimpse of this mysterious damsel from behind her dark sunglasses. I also wanted to get the gossip on the newcomers to the valley. I became more intrigued with the project upstairs when I noticed her partner in crime. He moved quicker and more mysteriously than she. I overheard him talking on the street with a heavy accent and couldn’t make out a word. Banging, booming and tons of supplies constantly flowed up the stairs. What in the hell is going on up there? I would have to find a way into the building.
There was an advertisement in the paper for a new English Pub opening up, where? It was upstairs from my box job, finally all the mysteries would be answered. English food? Well I had heard of bangers and mash but what else would such an establishment offer? I decided to answer the advertisement. I had so much experience, of course needed the money and I would finally get to go up the stairs and see what was in the space I had become so intrigued about.
I put on my interview best and nervous as hell I opened the heavy red doors. I could hear loud music and pounding, sounded like violent hammering. After climbing the steep stairs I peered around the corner and didn’t see anyone. I wandered towards the windows in the rubble and metamorphosis stages of what The Sheep would look like in its finality.
It was there I saw the cyclone man atop of a ladder. “Hello,” I whispered. “I am here to apply for the positions advertised in the paper.” He sprung from the ladder like a leopard leaping down onto prey. Swooping up an application he handed me the papers. I don’t believe he spoke, which made him more intimidating still. I said, “Thanks” and descended the stairs with the construction noises vibrating the stairs with my departure.
I think the only reason I got an interview was because I answered all the English words section correctly. Plus, I didn’t say the bible was my favorite book, as it is not. I knew I wanted to work there when I read through the application. “This is the smartest application I have ever had to fill out for a serving job,” I said to my roommate at the time. I was hired on as a bartender after an interview with Susan. I finally got to meet the woman who I had secretly been watching for months. Confidence radiated from her girlish frame. This is a woman I would like to have on my good side, I thought to myself. I could tell from the interview that they knew how to run a restaurant and unlike owners without experience, I could tell Susan had waited tables before and well. Very well.
I was hired on as a bartender and was scared beyond all reasonableness the first night I came in. To my dismay I was not scheduled opening night, so I decided to drop in and witness the festivities. Madhouse is an understatement. Crazy busy place is more like it. I was scared and knew it may be trouble since it took me awhile to even fight through all the patrons to get a drink for myself.
Sure I had worked in busy climates but this, my God. The first summer was a gold mine. I knew I was working at the coolest new place in town. It was the only place, I had ever worked that allowed the workers to be a part of a hard-working team but also let them be respected as tough individuals.
We became a gang. No one and I mean no one messed with The Black Sheep crew. It was a multi-dimensional pack; Naomi the ice-princess, Susan the small package with a very big bite and Erica the cold-chain smoking bartender, to name a few. Most of them intimidated me a little. For the first few weeks it seemed they would just never warm to my presence. I tried to prove I was a table waiting, drink slinging diva and could kick ass too. Nothing worked. No smiles or kindness would penetrate the coldness of these bad cats. Maybe I need some tattoos? I could work there and not be friends with everyone.
Fronts were being held onto it seems. When I got to know Naomi, Susan, my handy dandy back waiter Toad, the kitchen crew and the dreaded cyclone, the Black Sheep became my home for two years. It is the fondest memories of any service industry job I have ever held. We became a family, a gang, great friends, VIP’s in Ashland and surrounding cities. I have been spotted in airports, streets, bars and bathrooms. “Your one of those Black Sheep girls aren’t you?”
I have much pride that I was chosen to be a part of the launching of the Good Pirate Ship Black Sheep, now 10 years ago. After searching for many years I finally found a flock where I belonged. We knew the Sheep was bound for greatness. It has brought great people together, great times and memories that will last a lifetime.. SHEEP ON!! BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA…