By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
No prepackaged holiday cheer for me tonight, though. I'm looking for a sign. Wondering if angels answer telegrams, I tap out a few choice selections: Frank Sinatra's "Someone to Watch Over Me" (1-8-6); Rosemary Clooney's "It Might as Well Be Spring" (1-2-4); Jo Stafford's "You Belong to Me" (1-3-6); and, just for good measure, Johnny Mathis's "Chances Are" (1-6-1).
All in all Fox's seems like an odd place to go looking for a guardian angel. Naked red light bulbs, alongside too few white ones, bathe the room in a velvety crimson glow. Wood-paneled walls rise up from behind the long wood bar, which snakes all the way from the front of the joint to the rear. The stools that line the bar and the five large half-moon-shape booths that fill the room are covered in blood-red vinyl.
For the holidays the establishment has hung wreaths on the walls and faux snow from the top shelf behind the bar. From the ceiling descend oversize reflective gold Christmas balls, topped with red ribbon. Festive. And, now, of course, there's the music of eternal longing and hope as New Jersey's favorite son, St. Francis of Hoboken, croons effortlessly over the din: "There's a somebody I'm longing to see/I hope that she turns out to be/ someone who'll watch over me."
The only trouble is the mob scene surrounding me at the bar. I don't mean to suggest the place is crowded. At the moment there are only a few of us here. No, I mean the script reads more like Martin Scorsese than Frank Capra. The two men and a woman next to me at the bar are telling Jersey jokes. "Hey, pal, are you from Jersey?" they ask me.
"Yeah, actually, I am." They think I'm putting them on, so they hit me with the punch line: "What exit?" Nobody expects an answer to the question.
Jeff, the designated driver, is sober enough, but his companions, Johnny and Cheryl, look as though they've had a few too many on top of a few too many. It's going to take me awhile to catch up, so I order whiskey on the rocks. Cheryl, a blonde in her thirties, drapes an exposed shapely leg over Johnny's lap. Johnny, wearing a dark suit, striped shirt, and red tie, divides his attention between Cheryl, what's left of his cigar, and his drink. Until he sees my notebook. "You're not a cop, are you?" he wants to know, pointing his pinky ring at me. "You got a cop haircut." I assure him I'm just a writer with a recent trim. Turns out Johnny owes Miami-Dade's finest a big favor. "We had to call them to come out one time when Cheryl lost the handcuff keys." Mostly to get even, I ask if Cheryl is a cop. "Naw" replies Johnny. "She's a dominatrix." No wings on Cheryl.
Sinatra, however, has given way to George Clooney's Aunt Rosie, and she's singing to me: "I'm starry-eyed and vaguely discontented/like a nightingale without a song." His own eyes twinkling, the owner, George Andrews, comes out of his office, which is behind the long wood bar. He's wearing a white T-shirt and coaxing the last puff out of a cigar stub. A large man with receding white hair and a white mustache, he could pass for a very tough Kris Kringle. I say hello and ask him what he has planned for the holidays. "Staying open extra-late on New Year's Eve," he volunteers. "Otherwise it'll be the same as every other night: all different kinds of people dropping in."
And George is right. Night in, night out, just about anybody might show. In the booth just behind me sits a spectral figure sucking on a menthol cigarette and trying not to cough up his good lung. With his pencil-thin mustache, starched white shirt, and studied detachment, he might just be William Faulkner. The bourbon he sips, like the prose he once wrote, is straight out of the South. From the way he talks to the waitress, I can tell he's a regular. In my whiskey haze, I imagine this is the great writer's purgatory: forced to drink alone, listening to the postmodern, postliterate ramblings of the University of Miami undergrads who have steadily poured into the bar for the past half hour. I raise a glass to the ghost of Joe Christmas Past.