The Tonga Hut

A friend of mine met me up after work this past Sunday. Just so you know, Sunday through Wednesdays are usually my lucky days.

My friend is a fellow adventurer. What I mean by that is someone beholden to no one or thing besides their own destiny. People like us, we’d decided early on in life we valued the dice and the fire and that elusive variety of purity, the truth of accepting whatever consequence follows the act. The act made entirely on how something felt at that exact moment, what we thought we knew was right and what right meant at that exact moment. We sat in the parked car outside a tiki bar in North Hollywood smoking and talking about the decisions that had led us to this place and some of the decisions that almost prevented us. We didn’t know each other well at all to tell you the truth. I just knew I could trust him with my life and that he could do the same with me and that there’d be no finer defender I could select.

Our conversation, as is the habit with the sort of men we are, turned to the exceptional women in our lives that were way too good for us. The bar was very dark. The counter wrapped around my waist like an old friend and pulled me close. We both had a whole lot riding on our relationships, both living with our significant others, both dependent on them even if we dare not admit, although here, in the sanctuary of darkness, we were able to be completely honest. We reminded ourselves, we were still wolves. In our minds, the road was always there. The call of the wild. The memory still crisp as morning mountain air, still an echo in our hearts. And because the memory was so close, it was an easy thing to use. As a weapon. As a way out. It was so easy we more than half believed ourselves capable of it. But neither of us were fortune tellers, and neither of us had been to talk to one in some time. My friend with the perfect mustache pulled out a very wrinkled sheet of paper and explained to me a challenge he’d set for himself eleven months ago.

“You have to drink every drink on this list. You have to drink them all within a year. Then you become a member.”

I took a look. It was a really long list, with a bunch of wild names that excited me. I knew some of them. Some of I didn’t yet but was eager to change that.

“A member of what?” I asked.

“The Loyal Brotherhood of the Drooling Bastard.”

He pointed over his shoulder. I turned around to observe a glowing shrine and before it an ancient statue with hollows for eyes. There were countless name tags on the wall. I didn’t read any of them. I didn’t have to. I knew I wanted to be there.

“How long do you have til?”

“I got one more month left. Sometimes I feel like it’s the only thing I’ve stuck around here for.”

I’m not a sheep and I never have been and I never will be. I just know I’m a man that can be inspired. And if I’m inspired, I’ll fight. I’ll fight for a lot of reasons, who am I kidding. But why not fight for the true reason?

“I will begin my quest today,” I told the bartender. The guy looked like an old zoot suit head. All the way tatted up, salt and pepper hair immaculate, and decades of cynicism stamped on his face.

“This ain’t Lord of the Rings, motherfucker.”

But that’s where you’re wrong. It’s all a fucking game. This bar was a game. Look at all of us. I never needed much incentive to drink before. Tiki bars, to me, are usually always full of nerds. That’s nothing against the nerds. I have more than enough to qualify myself as one in fact, but just like I know how to two step like a son of a bitch and sing along to Dwight Yoakum perfectly, I ain’t never gonna be a cowboy. So I’ve built this opinion based on my experiences. Everything is researched. Concoctions are invented with the same dedication as any serious scientific pursuit. But also, the most important thing to a nerd, always, is the game. Any fucking game. Just so long as they have a set of rules and a safe place and the solid chance to win. Not an easy chance, but a solid one. A quest.

The best bars are the best bars because they give their particular patrons the right things. Always. Here, the music was right, the ambience perfected, all this was researched and patented long before I was born to this earth. (In fact, this Tonga Hut was built back in the 50’s. It’s the oldest tiki bar in Los Angeles.) With the list, you were given incentive to drink. Or more incentive, I should say. That’s fun. Everything in this place had a thought behind it. And because the thoughts were so full of love, there was just enough soul to it. But this place had to remain safe. Any ripple and who knows the resulting outcome. These were a very sensitive people, and would forever be. So were my companion and I, just in different ways. Me, at that precise instant, leaning back in the plush barstool, I was on cloud nine. I’m still seated heavy in a love of any drink that resembles a Pina Colada. You and me, baby. In Puerto Rico, remember?

We got around to a Painkiller, right after we shot a Cinnamon Toast Crunch, except here they called them some type of Comet drink. But you know what it is: Irish Cream with the Fireball. Fuck it, it’s delicious, and it gave me another reason to miss New Orleans. I didn’t want to run out of reasons. I floated on the sugar and smiled like a moron and rolled my eyeballs over the rest of the patrons, listening to the pitch of their voices, their theories and ideas. See, what I meant was, the thing with a bar is you want it to, in some fashion, to whatever degree you are prepared for, mirror a fantasy. The fantasy that exists in your mind. And you see yourself sitting within it, incorporating what you need so that you can survive, and you become unafraid if you are successful. These places can become a realm within which you’ve never looked better before. It can be a bright shimmering room with a string quartet playing and a marble top counter, occupied by women who wear flowy dresses and speak impeccably. It can be a place with music blaring so loud it’s impossible to say anything, and thank God because the last thing you want is to reveal your anxieties. It can even be a place so dark and depressing and dismal, that it provides that shred of hope you’re so desperate for. There can only be up from here, right? What the fuck else can life throw at me?

Everyone here, at this tiki bar, they knew exactly what they wanted. Where they wanted to be. Maybe except the bartender. He was a real ornery son of a bitch. But how many years now, has he been giving everyone their fantasies? Was there anyone for him? There had to be. He knew exactly where it was too. It was written all over him.

Thanks for your wide reaching inspiration, Beachbum Berry. It ain’t always my bag, but I’ve never had a bad time either. They love you out here too, and I get it.

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