Alo-o-o-oha From Anchorage !
Jeez. That has kinda' a nice ring to it, don't it?
Just wanted to let you good folks know I'm still a'kickin'. Been in God's Country almost the whole month and SOBER no less, as I am up against the deadline to finish Vol. III< The Tragedies if it's gonna' make a Thanksgiving release.
You peeps are my true loved one's outsidea' Moma CloudDancer o' course. So. You guys get a special preview.
It's SO special....I'm not even done writing it yet. but I will be tamale. Miss you guys. hope you still think about me ever now an' agin'.
It was September 20th 1980. Just a day short of the official beginning of autumn but not so's you could tell by walking outside. The gray waters of Kotzebue Sound slapped at regular intervals against the stony beach three or four feet below Front Street. Already they appeared cold and forbidding. The Arctic breeze gusted as usual from the northwest to close to 20 miles an hour, producing a windchill sufficient to make anyone stuff bare hands into a jacket pocket. It was almost 9 p.m. as the top half of the orange sun slid slowly below the western horizon.
I was already well into my fifteenth or twentieth (who knows?) Bacardi and Coke. I was parked on one of my two usual stools at the end of the bar in Kotzebue's one and only commercial property truly worthy of being called a hotel. The building boasted something over 60 rooms on two floors with a large dining room of a hundred or so seats and full restaurant service. More importantly, the Nu-luk-vik Hotel offered as well a fine, full- service, fairly civilized bar. It was the only alternative to the town's other two full-service watering holes, which might more accurately be described as honky-tonks. Not that I didn't have a regular "parking spaces" staked out at those bars as well..
It's just that one generally always began the evening's alcohol immersions at the more upscale hotel bar, which actually did qualify as having an "atmosphere". Along the west wall were large picture windows lined with tables for two. This location allowed for an unobstructed view of Kotzebue Sound and the western horizon. Patrons also were treated to a clear view of all the coming and goings on Front Street, be they on foot or four-wheeler facing the elements, or comfortably cocooned in a warm vehicle bouncing vigorously from one summer pothole to the next.
The length of the north wall, facing the backs of those seated at the bar, was lined with large horseshoe shaped booths that seated a comfortable five or a cozy six. The chairs, barstools and booths were constructed of deep, darkened oak. Seat cushions for all the furnishings were generous and comfortably firm. No question, a great room in which to enjoy a pre or post-dinner cocktail.
Patrons were generally more dignified and subdued there. Hours later, these same patrons (including me) having already consumed more than sufficient quantities of adult beverages, would then begin to appear at either the Golden Whale or the Ponderosa Bar.
Most of us certainly at that point needed no further alcohol intake at that point, it's just that....well....I mean, it was only midnight and the Whale and the Pondu were open until five a.m., you know? There was dancing yet to be done, and wimmens yet to be pursued.
But this night was destined to come to quite a different conclusion. For into the Nu-luk-vik Bar strode a very good friend of mine. It was in fact the owner of Kotzebue's two other bars.
He was about my age and well known throughout the town and most of Northwest Alaska for that matter. You're a pretty popular guy in Alaska when you own the majority of bars within 250 miles in any direction. For whatever reason, most likely my by now prodigious, seven-day-a-week capacity for rum and coke at four bucks a pop, he had taken an interest in me. We often caught breakfast or lunch together at the hotel. We enjoyed a shared passion for discussing business and flying. He owned half a dozen different businesses in town as well as a couple of airplanes, we never lacked material to discuss.
The small group of pilots and airport freight-tossing drinking buddies gathered at the end of the bar parted to admit the new arrival. He was one of the very few non-drinking Eskimos among my many friends; a cup of coffee appearing magically and almost instantly at his elbow without him uttering a word or even looking at the bartender.
And after a tight-lipped greeting and curt nod of the head he was silent as he eyed me, waiting for the conversation to resume. I announced that I was impressed he had deigned to travel all the way across town to visit with us, particularly in light of the fact that I had just tabbed out and was preparing to mount my trusty Yamaha 250 trail bike and head for the Ponderosa Bar, where he spent much of his time.
He announced in a slow drawl that he thought that I didn't need any more booze that night and I oughta' just go home. I assumed he was joking. It was barely 10 o'clock in the evening and he knew that I was "shopping" for a new girlfriend at the time. So I told him I still had some thirst quenching left to accomplish. Then out of nowhere he said that I drank too much and, if I wasn't careful, I was going to go down the drain eventually. Still not realizing he was serious, I told him that, regardless of his opinion, I was fully in control of my life and could and would quit drinking whenever I damn well pleased.
This brought a quit large guffaw from him and disparaging remarks from the rest of the group. Then with his eyes locked on mine and he offered a thousand dollar CASH bet that I was full of crap and further I couldn't give up booze for six months.
Laughing heartily I met his eyes and said that he must be feeling pretty gutsy to make that bet, especially since it his bars of a significant portion of their monthly gross receipts. When he responded that he was not worried about losing and that he never lost, well, hell. That tripped the trigger for me. And a thousand bucks was nothing to sneeze at either.
Being not only fairly intoxicated, but now also slightly irritated by someone whom I considered to be a close friend, and tempted by the dough, I allowed as how he had met his match at gambling. We reviewed the rules and shook hands. Another friend in the bunch, Jim Elam declared that this was serious enough that, ALL information should be written down and witnessed. He reached for a bar napkin on which to record the particulars.
With the bet now written down and "witnessed" by Jim and one of the other guys present, my old friend gives me a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin, as he folded and stuffed the napkin is a shirt pocket and turned to leave. I hollered for him to wait and asked if I could catch a warm ride in his truck. He responded that I didn't need a ride and could mount my Yamaha and go home! We had a bet.
I was flabbergastered. “You mean like tamale morning right?” I said. “You mean we start tomorrow right? You can't possibly mean toni....I mean right now! I am in the middle of a good drunk here!” I raised my glass to drain the remnants. He lunged toward me, grabbed my wrist and warned me this sip would cost me a thousand dollars. I looked at him in amazement as those around me laughed. I glared at them all. I slipped on my snowsuit while reciting a litany of all the cursewords I ever knew. A final glare and I turned and stomped out the back door of the hotel bar.