punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

From the Abyss to Amphora's to a Party to CoffeeCon 8

My good friend Neal called me Saturday morning. Since he's been my friend since were about 10, he incomprehensibly thought I would remember a poem I wrote when I was 12 about "The Phantom Flusher," when he should know I can barely remember what I wrote in my blog last week! Just kidding, I love Neal a lot. See, I wrote comedy even back then (Neal did, too, and he was also an accomplished cartoonist who did a great rendition of a guy with sunglasses in an inner tube), but while I barely remembered it, after a few lines, I sort of recall... sort of. I just barely recalled a cusp of a memory that maybe I once wrote a poem about some psychotic phantom who killed people while they sat on the toilet. But I was 12. I think Neal has far better memory than I do, and it's nigh time I started listening to those "Best of Grig" tapes again; tapes he made me years ago as a gift. See, just after sixth grade, Neal's family moved back to Texas, but for the next six years, we sent cassette tape letters back and forth, and that wonderful sonofabitch saved some of them! I listened to a few of them, but they brought back such painful memories, I kind of stopped, my ears burning with old scars and things I thought I had totally forgotten. But Neal, I think, in the end, will be my savior. I am thinking of doing a narrative on these tapes. More on this later on in the year.

But Neal also said something about this blog. he said it was like "peering into the abyss," which kind of made me go, "Hmmm..." I just want to let you readers know that my life isn't really all bad. It's just real bad right now. I thought this weekend would provide some good because we had a party, but then Christine got food poisoning! Man! This is the way it's been. No break. She's still sick as we speak, and I think it's time I said goodbye to the Amphora's.

[wayback machine grinds up again, screen gets wavy]

Back in 1982, I hung out with an... odd crowd ("You, Punkie? No!"). There was a spell where I met some people with a theater company I was working with where a lot of the older teens kind of thought I was a "tragic case," and "took me in." I was working on the Fairfax County Theater production of "Land of the Dragon." I was a bit part player. I played several people, actually, two of whom had speaking parts of a few lines. One of the girls playing the major lead took me aside one day, and gave me her phone number in case we wanted to "chat or something." Her name was Elise, and she was probably 16 or so. Elise had a friend Dawn who was my age, but they acted as equals. Elise kept bugging me over and over, "If you want to hang out, call us, and we'll come get you." One day, they did.

I recall it was a Friday night. My father was away, and my mother had just passed out from a drunken phase. I was watching SNL reruns on Channel 20, and it must have been about 11:15 or so, when suddenly, some big bangs knocked on our kitchen door. It was Elise, Dawn, and some friends I had never met. "Come on," she said, "we're taking you out to have fun!" Thus started a strange and twisted tale of my life I kept sealed for YEARS. Neal, it never got on the tapes because I was afraid my parents would find out. This may be the first you have ever heard of it.

Elise, Dawn, and friends were... late night party goers. They had cars, or friends with cars, and that night, we went out to Georgetown and they took me to see "Rocky Horror." I was pretty weirded out by the whole thing. My first Rocky Horror was near the back row, watching drunken people scream at the movie screen, shouting obscenities, and trowing rice and toilet paper. I think I made an assumption is was some art thing, but I stayed quiet while I watched Dawn and her boyfriend get in a staged argument with the front row over who had a syphilis. Afterwards, we ran around Georgetown. While this was the only Rocky Horror they took me to, for the next six months, through winter, I got "kidnapped" in this manner. I ended up at punk rock shows, late night mall runs, wandered around DC, and there were two places we ate: Hamburger Hamlet on M street in DC, and The Amphora's on Maple Avenue in Old Town, Vienna.

The Amphora Restaurant is... hard to describe. The best way to describe it is "an upscale Greek diner." But to us late night punks, it was open and had coffee at 3am. They never seemed to care that at 3am, there were punks with green hair sitting on the back of the diner booth benches, and all we ever ordered was coffee and cake, and paid in wadded-up bills and assorted coins. It had its own ambiance. It was sort of like a Greek rec room, with stone walls, with plaster, paneling, and low ceilings with thick beams and Greco-Roman and Mediterranean Decor. The funny thing was that it was very upscale during the day, and won 4-star awards from the Washington Post. They are still very successful, now with their own separate bakery and a larger diner which opened in Herndon in 1996 or so.

Amphora's was a pillar in a strange period in my life of actors and punks and other artistic dreamers of their teen world. And... I never fit in. I was a square peg, but they LIKED me for some incomprehensible reason. I was underage, probably the youngest in their group, but they always acted as if I was some person whom could settle an argument, like a favorite nephew or something. Even after "The Land of the Dragon" finished its run. Even though I wore geeky tees and rugby shirts. Then, just as quickly as it started, something very tragic happened, and it ended. The whole experience left me so brutally traumatized, I shut out that part of my life for almost ten years. It took my friend Suzi to coax most of it out of me. I won't go into why it ended, but let's just say it had to do with misplaced love, a jealous boyfriend, and someone who "meant well" who found out she was a patsy in some petty game (Dawn, I forgive you). Oh, and someone had a serious overdose on drugs and we all laid low for a while. That time in my life was like a hot star that burned brightly but burned out quickly, and I look back on it fondly while forgiving those who made for a bad end, because we were all teens and allowed to be forgiven for stupid crap. A lot of what happened to me in 1982 started seeds to who I am now. Some have a summer of 69, I had a winter of 82.

So... The Amphora Restaurant has always been a place I knew where some strong late night coffee and good cake could be had, but I didn't return until late 1987, when a friend of mine took me back there, and I pretended I never heard of the place. I pretended until the early 90's, when my good friend Brad started taking me there at like 1am, because it was open, and we were poor (I was actually unemployed, and he did weird retail record store hours). I also took a lot of friends there and we have had some odd experiences from time to time.

Brad and I had the most, because the waiters that are willing to work during the wee hours tend to be odd. There have been a few that were... scary. One guy was this Haitian gentleman who said, in a deep voice, "I *serve* you! I *serve* you well, yes?" He had an intense stare, and acted like he was on cocaine. We tipped him heavily because we were scared he'd kill us if we didn't. Then there was another guy, probably from the Mediterranean, who got so mad at us because we returned some food, that the manager got involved, and a shouting match in another language which ended with crashing in the kitchen. The manager said our meal was free if we left immediately because he was going to fire the waiter and was afraid he'd take it out on us if we were still there. We fled. Once I got metal shavings in an ice cream sundae, and another time, we got steak that was frozen in the center. But I always said, "We come here so much, we're bound to get more mistakes than most." Most of the time, the staff was completely nice and formal, I still came.

But in the last few years, the food has gotten... less unique, and more like chain restaurant food. And the prices have more than doubled in the past six years. The service is still good most of the time, and their bakery still has great cakes, and the coffee is still fabulous. But Friday night, while taking my wife on a date, she got sick from the food she ate. And she's still sick. I think it's time I closed that part of my life and said goodbye to the pillar that was Amphora's, although I do so with a tearful regret.

[Edited note 2/26: It wasn't food poisoning, it turned out to be the Norwalk Virus]

But now to the second part, totally changing gears. Although my wife was sick Saturday, she still wanted to have the party, which we had scheduled back in January. By the time she realized she was too sick to party, the party had started and I, Grig "Don't drink alcohol" Larson, had to host a drinking party. Christine is usually FAR better at this than I am, and so while the party went well, and lasted until Sunday evening, it was not as "hip and fun" and it should have been. At LEAST I didn't go to sleep at 11pm like the last few parties at my house. I was so bummed, it was around 11pm each time, my head just shut down. This time I managed to stay up until 2am, but by then, everyone else had fallen asleep. There was a muted tone because Christine was in bed, in pain, sleeping when she could, and being sick the rest of the time. Brad, Mark, Missy, Sean, Louann, Josh, Sara, Roberta, Chance, Scarlet, and Kieren (Sean, how do you spell that name?) managed to brave the cold slush that has been made from the pouring rain and fog on the deep snow from the previous weekend. We had a great time, and many stayed over until the next day. By Sunday evening, Sara, Missy, and Josh were the only ones left, and Christine actually made it out to be with them, but she was still very sick.

I just want to say, I love our friends. I really do. No buts about it. They rule.

People brought great stuff, and not just alcohol. We have a lot of food left over, though, because some other people we invited did not make it, either because of work or the weather. But I got to see more alcohol I had never seen before. They made "Lemon Drops," "Girl Scout Cookies," "Hurricanes," and tequila. No one drank enough to get sick, but some tipsiness was seen. Missy and Mark fell asleep on the couch together, and looked very content. Because of this, we're now calling it the "cuddle couch."

One drunken discussion Sean and I had (okay, neither one of us was drunk at the time, so I can't really blame that) was to run a con. As I have said before, people ask me to try that from time to time, and I go, "Ha! NEVER!" but Sean's angle was unique (as always). Run it as an intentional failure. So started discussions of "CoffeeCon 8," (why start with 1?) where we'll have terrible programming, rotten advertising, and we'll pick the hotel with the worst staff, and when the con is in ruins, the attendees want our heads, we make enemies of our staff, and the guests are on fire, we'll flee to Europe where I'll learn to say, "Sorry for my friend's boorish behavior..." in four different languages.

Look for it in 2005. I may also run an "Anti-CoffeeCon" bid party where we'll make like a WorldCon bid to "outsnob the snobs" to encourage total staff infighting and eventually bid dissolution while we run away with the money. I had this plan when I wanted to host a "SnobCon 2002: WorldCon in McLean, Virginia - The Con For Elite Fandom Who Hates Other Non-Elite Fandom."

"It'll be GREAT!" says Sean, enthusiastically, holding up two thumbs...

This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000054.html
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