NIGHTHAWKS AND ROCK STARS

Non-Fiction Recollection for Rob, Mark, David and Doug.

There is a pounding. Is it inside my head or outside my head?  Both.  And that damn song. What is that?

“Mr. Ferguson?” Knock, knock, knock. Pound, pound pound.

I open my eyes. The sun, all-consuming and filling my entire window, is like a million ray guns shooting directly at my eyeballs.

Knock, knock, knock. “Mr. Ferguson?”

I realize I am in a hotel room, though I’m not certain, immediately, where. Perils of frequent travel. The music, more static than anything, is coming from the clock radio next to my bed and someone is knocking at the door.

“Yeah,” I wheeze. “Hold on.”

I wrap the bed sheet around me and stumble to the door. I remember I am in New York city at a “boutique” hotel on the east river next to the Roosevelt Island bridge, or, as I call it, “the bridge that was in that Sylvester Stallone Movie.” I cannot usually remember the name of the movie but as I open the door to find a man I recognize from the front desk standing in front of me, I think, “Nighthawks.”

“I’m sorry to disturb you Mr. Ferguson,” he says but does not mean, “but you did not answer your requested wakeup call and as a matter of hotel policy we must check on anyone who requests a wakeup call and then doesn’t answer their phone.”

He’s clearly annoyed but I can tell that just moments earlier he was genuinely concerned, not for me so much as for himself, concerned he might have to open the door and find a dead body…or worse.

“Thank you,” I whisper, weakly.  “I’m sorry to make you come up here.”

“It’s no trouble,” he says. “Have a nice day.” I swear he clicks his heels before spinning around and gliding off down the hall.”

And then the full measure of my circumstances arrives into my consciousness. First, I am good and properly hung-over like I have been perhaps only one other time in my life. It’s the mythical hangover of movie legend, the one where your entire body is in full revolt and taking its revenge while your brain, shriveled to the size of an old lemon, struggles to organize thought  and coherent perception of the world outside your eyeballs. Second, I was late. And I wasn’t late in any trivial sense. I was late to a board meeting where I was not a board member, I was staff. I was late to a board meeting where almost everyone in the room was a volunteer while I was being paid to be there.

(Compulsory vomiting scene deleted here)

I turn off the clock radio and the evil red numbers tell me I am, at that moment, nearly one and one half hours late for the meeting.  I check my cell phone and, of course, the alarm is set to go off at 7 PM, not AM. Shower or baseball cap?

This story, or my version of this story—there are others told here and about—begins with Brazil winning its fifth World Cup title back in June of 2002. This was the first and only World Cup to be hosted by two countries (Japan and Korea) and Brazil won the final against Germany, which is quite the match up if you’re a soccer fan. If you happen to be both Brazilian and Danish, Brazil winning over Germany is akin to winning the lottery on the same day all your enemies go bankrupt.

A man named Christian was a Danish-Brazilian. The man named Christian was a member of The Board. It was a two day board meeting and the Brazilian’s won on the first day.

It should be said that the man named Christian is a man about whom a dozen good and memorable stories could be told, but this is not one of them. He is an important part of this story, but not really one of the principal players.

Christian is important to this story because, on the first day of The Board meeting, he was distracted because Brazil was in the finals of The World Cup. He was on his phone at every break. When he learned that Brazil had won, he actually asked The Board’s forgiveness for his bright shinny happy face. He was so happy. He was so happy, he invited The Board to join him for a celebration cocktail after the meeting at a Brazilian restaurant. He called ahead and made arrangement. We were happy to help our friend Christian celebrate.

Following The Board meeting we all made our way to a restaurant with a Brazilian flag in the window. Needless to say, the place was already deep into celebrating.  Almost as soon as we sat down, the first round of Brazilian cocktails arrive, the great and dreaded Caipirinha.

In addition to being Brazil’s national cocktail, this drink is two things: sugar and lethal. It’s like drinking lime cool-aid. And the man named Christian made sure nobody’s glass was empty ever. Brazil had just won The World Cup, after all. Being naive in the ways of the Caipirinha, I drank away, as did everyone else.

Eventually we departed the Brazilian restaurant for dinner at some super-secret Chinese restaurant that only real New Yorkers know about, and as if to prove that this was true, former Mayor Ed Koch was there, shaking hands and nodding and pretending to be interested in what people were saying to him. That’s how I remember it, anyway.  And, of course there was beer and wine with dinner.

Following the meal, there was a mingling outside the restaurant. It was the kind of mingling commonly found following such gatherings of a variety of folk. People segregate. The morning runner’s say goodnight, as do the people traveling with family and the locals. The pure of heart hail cabs for their hotels. And thus, those remaining:

In addition to myself, there was a man named Rob, a man named Mark, a man named David, and a man named Doug. In our collective wisdom, we concluded the night was yet young and made haste to a hotel bar, the hotel being one where one or two of our number were staying, That’s how I remember it anyway

We found seats at the bar and proceeded to share wit and wisdom, I am sure, much like the participants of the Algonquin Round Table did in their time.

Normally,  when someone suggests that  shots of Jägermeister are appropriate, I not only protest vigorously, I ask them when they moved back in with their parents. But Brazil had just won The World Cup. Would it not be an insult to reject a drink in their honor?

I’m sorry to say I cannot recall how many shots of the demon drink we consumed.  I remember these things: At some point I went to rest my elbow on the bar and missed. For some reason, this caused my companions to erupt into near catastrophic fits of unending laughter.  For reasons I cannot, to this day, fathom, I decided to call my wife in California. She didn’t answer, so I left a 3 minute voice mail message, which she saved and played for dinner guests and visitors to our home for years. I wish I could tell you what I said and how I said it but I could only bring myself to listen to the first 15 seconds. I can say, with some awkward pride I suppose, that everyone who ever listened to that message laughed until they cried.

I also remember that the man named Doug, in mid-sentence, suddenly stood up and walked away, out of the bar and out of the hotel, never to return. We worried about him, to the extent that we were able.

Eventually, someone had the sense to call it a night. The man named David and I hailed a cab since we were staying at the same hotel. Again, for reasons I cannot fathom, I decided to sit in the front seat of the taxi. This caused the man named David to giggle uncontrollably. When I gave the taxi driver the address of our hotel, which I had quite cleverly written down on the back of a business card, the taxi driver said there was no such address in Manhattan. The man named David started laughing harder. I gave the address of our hotel to the taxi driver again and again he said there was no such address and again the man named David laughed. This time, he laughed so hard he was laying down on the back seat. This sequence of events was repeated a few times, until the man named David was laying on the floor of the taxi, doubled over in laughter.

The taxi driver and I began to argue and I was explaining to him that we were near the bridge. He asked which bridge and I said, “The Nighthawk Bridge.” The man named David was now choking on his own saliva.

We just sat there, the taxi driver and I staring at each other, until the man named David regained enough composure to tell me that I was giving the driver the address of our hotel in Boston, where we had just been attending meetings a few days earlier.

We were delivered with expediency to our New York hotel. Knowing that my capacity for waking was compromised, I called the front desk for a wake-up call, set my clock radio alarm, and my cell phone alarm. All three failed.

The next morning, the man named David and the man named Doug managed to make The Board Meeting more or less on time. The man named Mark and the man named Rob were a bit late. Although I wasn’t there, I am told that when the man named Mark and the man named Rob arrived at the building where The Board meeting was held, a building known as The Federation, they exited their cab, applied their sunglasses, and looked up at the top floor where the meeting was already underway. The man named Mark said, “We are total rock stars.”

When I finally arrived at the meeting, over two hours late, the man named Rob and the man named Doug were wearing sunglasses…sunglasses in the meeting which was inside. All of us made regular trips to the restroom to fill our coffee mugs with water. It was, perhaps, one of the most miserable days of my work life. My boss never said anything to me about being late.

Years later, at a cocktail reception, the man named Christian asked my boss if I had gotten in trouble for that day. My boss said that he thought he knew me pretty well and he didn’t think he could deliver any punishment greater than the punishment I delivered upon myself for being late for a board meeting. It was the first and last time I was ever late in 9 years of meeting four or five times a year.

Wacky Packages

When I was in 4th grade, I had this playground trick. If anyone was chasing me for any reason, and in 4th grade there are thousands of reasons, I would fall to the ground in a ball, covering my head with my hands, and the person chasing me would tumble over me and fall to the ground and a celebration would commence among all those involved in…well, whatever game it was. I was clever and tricky and brave all at once. Look out for that Ferguson fellow, they said. He might just drop and trip you.

It worked wonders when used on kids my own size and weight.

Then one day, walking home from school, I got into a disagreement with a 6th grader named Chris. He was a hefty 6th grader and, though I can now be fairly described as hefty myself, back then I was waify, and that is being generous.

The disagreement centered around the complicated trade agreements associated with “Wacky Packages.” Raise your hand if you remember. These were stickers that came with gum like baseball cards and parodied well known grocery store brands. Look it up.

I don’t remember the nature of my business disagreement with hefty 6th grader Chris, but it was serious enough that I decided to insult him by calling him “Chris piss.”

I know, genius emerges at an early age.

Hefty 6th grade Chris began to chase me, across a football field in fact, and when I thought the moment was right, I dropped to my knees and covered my head and sure enough, Chris went tumbling over me…except. Something happened that had never happened before. Intense pain. Sure, having someone tumble over you was never comfortable, but it had never resulted in very intense pain in my shoulder.

I cried out in pain and everyone, including Chris, could tell that something was wrong. I was helped to my feet and someone, I wish I could remember who, sprinted off to tell my mom. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I had broken my collarbone. The broken bit was pushing upwards against the skin on my shoulder so that everyone knew something was wrong. I kept walking toward home, though I was in pain and dizzy. Chris offered to give me the Wacky Package stickers that were in dispute, but in my pain and martyrdom, I turned him down, telling him this was all my fault, which, of course, it was for the most part.

My mom arrived and walked me the rest of the way home. Soon I was on my way to a very nearby hospital where a doctor told me I was going to get a shot that would feel only like a bee sting. I remember, very clearly, giving him a dirty look.

I spent the night in the hospital and in the morning they released me with a shoulder brace and instructions to stand with my hands on my hips with my elbows back, looking ever so much like my grandmother. I lied to my mother and told her I was pretending to play football, because I was ashamed of having called Chris, “Chris piss.” In fact, it took me several years to admit the truth to my mom, that I had, in large part, brought it upon myself.

Needless to say, Chris was forever in my debt, and I tried not to lord it over him too much. At school, I became that guy whose story changes, depending on the audience, to the extent that years later, when I saw Richard Dreyfuss in a movie where he related different stories about how he broke his arm depending on his audience, I was sure the idea had been stolen from me and my collarbone. I never painted Chris as a villain though, because, well, to call someone “piss” was beyond rational, and I had suffered the consequences.

When I reached 9th grade, Chris was in High School and was the number one pot dealer on that side of town. I often wondered if he still referred to his “product” as wacky packages.