WFOR – Monday, May 16, 2006
Shelly sat sweating, her heart thumping, picturing the career-ending act of fraud she was about to commit. She tried to distract herself by deciphering the young receptionist. The right side of her head was shaven almost up to the top, but then a giant shank of dark black hair flipped over to the opposite side, completely hiding her left eye, and ending in tips splotched with pink. She had a nose ring, a lip ring, globs of black eyeliner and mascara, and fire-alarm red lipstick.
“You can go in now,” she said. She had a stretch top with horizontal red and black stripes, a wide black patent leather belt and a blood-red very miniskirt. With black tights. And black elevator heels. With silver studs.
“Mrs. Griffin?” said Johnny, slouching towards her with a paunch and a ponytail and an outstretched hand.
“Ms. Miss. Shelly.” Her cheeks were on fire.
“Hi Shelly, pleased to meet you. What exactly is this document I need to sign? Leasing that property must have been, what, twenty years ago?”
Shelly swallowed. “Well, Mr. Walker, I have to confess that—“
“Johnny, please,” he said warmly.
“Johnny,” answered Shelly. She hadn’t met many celebrities before. Any, actually. “I’m here under false pretenses.”
He looked at her over his reading glasses.
“I do work for the Charles Griffin law firm, but there is no document for you to sign, I used that as an pretext to—“
“Brandi!” he called to the receptionist, his smile fading.
“The firm is dealing with the dissolution of an old family brewery, Bauer’s, down in Creston—“
“Brandi, would you please show this woman out.”
“—they make Creston Gold, and it’s a really heartbreaking story, and I heard that tribute you did for Barnaby, and I–“
He signaled to Brandi to wait for a moment.
The patter she had rehearsed now evaporated, she could feel her face quickly approaching tomato, but the words kept flowing out in a tumble.
“I think it’s unfair that a family business, that’s been in Northeast Ohio for over a hundred years, that’s a symbol of local pride, with one woman trying to keep it afloat against all kinds of odds and market trends, with a really tragic personal story, that this kind of business, with twenty-five employees, should just tank without anyone even noticing—“
She nodded as she pulled a tissue from her pocket and dabbed at the corner of her eye. “And I think this lady, and this family brewery, and all the people who work there, and all the people who have been drinking Creston Gold for so many years, they at least deserve to be noticed before they all just disappear.”
She stopped to breathe. He was listening.
“And I heard that beautiful tribute you gave Barnaby, about how much he meant to all of us who grew up on his TV show. And I think you should talk about this lady and her brewery on the radio. And tell Cleveland, and all of Northeast Ohio, that this local symbol is about to go under. And we should all at least pause for a minute and be sad.”
Remarkably, he was still listening. The receptionist cracked her gum.
“Because people listen to you. A lot of people. You have the power to do the right thing, to give this lady a respectful good-bye and thank you for all the pride her family has given us. She deserves that.”
“And I tried to get through to you by phone and stuff but I couldn’t, so I wrote that fake letter. I apologize. It’s very unprofessional.”
She sniffled again and dabbed her eyes. She didn’t even see Johnny’s annoyed scowl turning into a smile of sympathetic amusement.
Johnny gestured to Brandi that she wasn’t needed, but she ignored him.
“Come over here, have a seat,” he said, leading her to two low chairs in the corner of the room. “Shelly?”
“Creston Gold, you said?”
She nodded again. Her cheeks were no longer on fire, but her heart was still thumping.
“I used to drink Creston Gold in college,” he smiled nostalgically. ”Everyone did. Oberlin, class of ’59. I spent four years doing little other than drinking Creston Gold.”
““Same for me. OU, Class of ’85. Same for everyone,” she said. “And now it’s closing down.”
“Why is that?”
She recounted for him the economics of the beer industry as she had come to understand it over the previous few days, how the giant national breweries had swallowed up the smaller breweries, and the trendy craft breweries had crippled the few that were left. She told him about the Bauer clan and about Allie’s hard life and her courage. She confessed to him that her father’s firm made its living from the dubious task of closing down businesses.
“I was born and raised in Warren,” she said. “Did you know that in my lifetime the population there has dropped from sixty thousand to forty thousand? You know what’s going on around here economically. It’s not pretty.”
“No, it’s not,” he agreed.
“It seems to me,” said Shelly, looking Johnny directly in the eye, “that Northeast Ohio doesn’t have a very good self-image. There’s not much around here that people are proud of. But you, people listen to you. Creston Gold has been a symbol. For generations. The brewery shouldn’t just go gentle into that good night.”
Johnny looked at her steadily, stood up and gathered her into a wide, warm hug. She had no idea what was happening. His gray ponytail brushed her nose, and his paunch was substantial.
Finally, he broke the embrace, and at arm’s length looked her in the eye. “Shelly, I think that’s a wonderful, wonderful idea.”
“Oh!” she blurted. “The song!”
“I found a song on YouTube–“
“That’s part of the internet, right?” he asked Brandi, who rolled her eyes.
“Well, yes,” said Shelly.
“I’m not much of a computer person,” he explained.
“That’s okay, lots of our clients aren’t,” she smiled. “We have a, ah, mature clientele. Can I show you?”
“We can use my computer,” said Brandi with the raccoon eyes.
“Search for ‘Creston Gold,’” Shelly instructed her over one shoulder, Johnny squinting over the other.
“My father used to drink Creston Gold,” said Brandi, typing. “I never see it around anymore.”
Shelly and Johnny exchanged looks.
On Brandi’s screen, a picture began to emerge, pixel by pixel.
“See?” said Shelly, reading from the screen, “Creston Gold – Decapede, 31 views.”
“Who is this Decapede?” asked Johnny, as Brandi clicked on the picture of the band.
“That’s exactly the point!” said Shelly. “I have no idea. No one knows. There’s no other mention of them on the internet. Thirty-one views on YouTube. Almost all of them are mine.”
“What does that mean?” asked Johnny.
“That no one’s ever seen this,” Brandi answered him with just a hint of condescension.
They waited while the little sand timer loaded the file. Finally the song began to play.
“Turn it up a little,” Johnny told Brandi.
“The world out there don’t look so kind/But I don’t care, ‘cause love is blind/You’re the one thing on my mind/Pass me another Creston Gold.”
“That’s a good song,” said Johnny, staring at the screen.
Shelly felt her heart leap.
Brandi cracked her gum and pressed Replay.
The three of them huddled together studying the faded black and white photo on Brandi’s screen – the pretty boy with the black hair smiling right at the camera; the stylish black guy, impish and embarrassed; the barefooted monk gazing off into the sky; the scowling, intense one trying to escape the frame; the womanly girl holding him back.
”That’s the band?” said Johnny.
“Duh,” said Brandi.
“So what I thought was—” said Shelly, and hesitated.
Johnny and Brandi looked at her, waiting.
“What I thought was that maybe you could do some kind of search or competition or something, on your show, to try to find out where this song came from. Who this band was. Because obviously they’re local, ‘Creston Gold.’ And if that really is a picture of this Decapede, they’re pretty old. To ask if anyone recognizes the name or the song. Somebody might remember. And that would be like a way to talk about the brewery and—”
Johnny straightened up, and again enwrapped Shelly in his bear hug. Over his shoulder Shelly saw Brandi rolling her eyes.
In the elevator going down, Shelly looked at the woman in the mirror. “What just happened?” she asked her, but the woman had no idea.
Pedro’s Cantina – April 1970
Years later, hundreds of people would swear they’d been at Pedro’s Cantina the night Sam Miller and Aaron Woodwright first met. But the truth is that the taco and beer hangout could hold no more than a few dozen sweaty Steuben College students at a time, even on an Open Mic Wednesday.
“Hi, Aaron,” fluttered the three fresh-faced, eager coeds, sitting right in front of the little stage, regulars, a chubby blonde, a plain brunette and a freckled redhead with braces.
Aaron had his own circle of devotees. They told each other they loved his voice and his piano, and told their dates that Pedro’s had the best tacos in Steubenville. But it was Aaron they were coming to see, his well-tended shock of jet-black hair, his long eyelashes, and his only-for-you smile. He knew it, he cultivated it, and he used it.
At twenty-one, he already knew how to work the room. How to smile at a table of girls, how to pick the most amenable one, how to block out the room and sing to her and her alone. How to move closer to her song by song till she was blushing and embarrassed and proud in front of her girlfriends. All the regulars at Pedro’s knew there was a good chance the girl would be going home with him that night.
“What’s going on, ladies?” he asked, smiling at each one of them, even the chubby blonde.
“Oh, not much at all,” fluttered the plain brunette, wiping a line of beer foam from her upper lip with her little finger. One night during a break he had squeezed her in the storeroom—Janet? Janice?—but felt she wasn’t quite ripe for picking.
Aaron was the closest thing little Steubenville had to a star. And he loved it.
He loped through his first set with his usual efficiency. Aaron had a large repertoire of suitably familiar and crowd-pleasing pop songs presented with a facile piano, an agile tenor, and a smoothness bordering on slick. Several times during each set he would allow himself a more extended, improvised instrumental break, during which the audience would chat and order yet another pitcher of 3.2% beer. That was what Pedro hired him to do. This was a job—with benefits—and Aaron knew how to take advantage of it.
Tonight he was entranced by the new waitress, surveilling her hips as she navigated the tables in her very tight jeans and a light blue blouse with a scooped neck that said hello with a big smile when she bent down to serve a trayful of pitchers and mugs and greasy Mexican food. As he played, he watched her flitting from table to table, lining up the napkin dispenser, salt, pepper and hot sauce and giving each table an efficient swipe. She had strong shoulders, a jet-black pageboy, strikingly large gray eyes, and a crinkled smile.
She was a fine-looking waitress, and Aaron Woodwright was an avid fan of fine-looking waitresses in low-cut peasant blouses.
He was playing for her, following her as she glided and squeezed between the tables, carrying mugs and pitchers, seating the mix of date couples, small groups of frat and sorority drinkers, and recently a smattering of long-hairs, a new sight around Steuben College. He was eyeing her frequently, but she seemed focused on her work. The more she didn’t notice him, the more he aimed his singing at her.
“If you see me walking down the street, and I start to cry, each time we meet, walk on by—”
He was almost certain that a small smile snuck out once or twice, but she continued to not look at him.
He finished his first set to the ardent applause and glowing faces of the three girls and a few other appreciative fans. “Thank you, hey, thanks. Thanks for coming out.” The clapping faded. From behind the counter, Pedro waved a menu at him. “Don’t forget tonight’s special, Pedro’s tasty tamales and a pitcher of Creston Gold for only $2.50. Hey, and let’s give a big round of applause for our ne-e-ew waitress!”
She finally stopped her serving for a moment to lift her head and stare at him with a look of “Oh, brother, are you serious?” disdain. Undeterred, he asked into the mic “What’s your name, new waitress?”
“’New Waitress’ is just fine,” she snapped, to snickers from the audience, and continued laying out the mugs and plates.
“Okay, then!” he grinned. “We’re going to take a short break now and then we’ll be back with our open mic set,” he said, but the crowd was already talking among themselves.
“Hey, Pedro, can your star get a mug here?” asked Aaron. Pedro was running back and forth behind the counter, serving up the tamales and beer, enchiladas and beer, tacos and beer, and just plain beer.
“Ten minutos,” he warned Aaron, splashing down a mug on the bar in front of him and adjusting his sombrero.
For some misguided reason, Youngstown-born and bred Pedro believed that donning the cheesy garb and bogus accent of a B-movie stock Mexican brought a bit of exotic glamor to Rust Belt Steubenville. But he was a fair boss, even though he lived devoutly by his motto, “A peso is a peso.”
“Excuse me,” said the new waitress, pushing past Aaron.
“Excuse you??” he said, as she squeezed between him and the bar, finally looking directly into his face up close. “You’re my inspiration. My muse. I’m indebted to you from the bottom of my heart.”
“Gimme a break,” she rolled her eyes, pushing past him to put two pitchers under their taps, but he thought he caught a bit of a smile.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“You have till these pitchers fill.”
“I’m Aaron Woodwright.”
“That’s not a question,” she responded, her back to him, but he sensed her smiling.
“OK, New Waitress, what’s your name?”
“Don’t give my name to strangers,” she said.
“We’re work colleagues,” said Aaron, smiling right into her eyes.
“Kathleen,” said New Waitress.
“You’re a student at Steuben?”
“Maybe,” she answered, wiping and bustling.
“Do you sing? You look like a singer.”
“Hup,” she said, lifting the two pitchers in one hand and what looked like a dozen mugs in the other. “Gotta go!”
“Just tell me that!”
“I can carry a tu—“ and she disappeared between the tables.