Back in the Saddle

The bartender cracks open the shaker and reaches for a strainer, dumping crushed ice from the coupe and finestraining a pale frothy mix into the chilled glass. He dips a straw to pull a sample and nods. A paper thin lime wheel floating in the middle topped with a sprinkle of red serrano salt completes the garnish and he slides the drink across the bar.

Noir stir pour John Le.jpg

Are you new here? I haven't seen you before.

The bartender looks amused. Sort of. I'm RE-new here. Back after a long hiatus.


I left to go be a teacher at an arts-based middleschool in RPS.


The bartender guffaws. English. Art of the English Language I called it. wasn't meant to be.

What happened?


The sun was shining fiercely through the February chill as the faculty meeting ended and we drifted apart in threes and fours to various nearby restaurants or returned to classrooms to finish grading and posting the semester's marks.

Don't y'all forget to post comments for any Ds or Fs!

Thanks Mrs. H.

My grades were all in and done and doublechecked against the clunky system. The students wouldn't be back until the next day and we had the afternoon to use how we needed. I assembled my team and suggested we discuss our upcoming showcase project over lunch at the alehouse grill across the street.

And we can raise a glass to Bobby's birthday while we're there!

Everyone cheered and we rounded the sidewalk and into the restaurant. The waitress took our order and I went over our strategy and outlined everyone's role in putting together The Nonagon of Love, a life-size trivia boardgame connecting nine different types of love through the art of movement, touching on geometry and ecosystem biology and poetry and the Amendments along the way. With students who often struggled to read.

The drinks arrived and I held mine up.

To Bobby, I said as pints and waterglasses and iced teas rose around the table. The strongest among us. Teaching these rascals not only the truths of history but also that a blind teacher still has eyes in the back of his head.

He shifted in his seat and blinked fiercely behind cokebottle glasses and his beard twitched a smile. He rose hunching a bow and raised his own beer, rocking a little on his toes.

Um thank you. This semester has crazy I think is one word for it. But you all... He flapped a hand in the air as if beckoning for words. Knowing you all were with me made it possible. So again, he said clutching his beard and nodding, thank you. Thank you.

Our food arrived and we settled in. Each subject would write up a series of trivia questions on cards categorized Family Love or Love of Nature or Romantic Love. We'd use technicolored masking tape for the huge nine-pointed star on the floor of the gym. We'd have scorecards printed with our House's logo. There'd be prizes for winners. We were on schedule. Even some of the kids were excited—and exciting a middleschooler about school is no easy feat.

Another teacher pulled into the restaurant and joined us at the long high alehouse table lined with stools. My old lunch buddy, the band teacher who'd seen it all. An OG in the district, who'd attended one of the first desegregated high schools. She eyed our spread of fried pickles and mushrooms and burgers and glassware.

Mrs. N! Happy end of semester to you. There's a menu here somewhere...

She shook her head of golden ringlets. Y'all know you ain't supposed to be drinkin. If Miz R or somebody from central office sees you through that window you know you gonna get it.

Damn really? But we're not at work. No kids or anything.

Don't matter. It's a contract thing. I been here thirty years trust me I've seen people go down for less. Just be careful, I'm only sayin.

Thanks, I will. I slid my pint behind a napkin dispenser. Here, I'll hide it from the window.

She pursed her lips and raised an eyebrow at me and I shrank, chastened. I'd meant to break the tension, not seem flippant. We finished our meal and paid and headed back to school to see to our classrooms.


Next morning the principal came into my room during my planning period. She sat at a student desk near mine and took a deep breath and locked eyes, clutching a clipboard. Her face was troubled.

I raised an eyebrow. Is this about the beer?

She sighed, relieved. Yes. Unfortunately.

I told her the story, that we didn't realize and obviously would never...that Mrs. N had said something and I'd realized my error...that it was of course just the one beer and no I didn't remember who else at the table might've had a beer...and how sorry I was for my misstep and putting her in this position.

She thanked me for my honesty and left to continue the requisite investigation. 

Later she called me down to her office. The assistant principal was there too. Uh oh.

She tapped a pen on the manila file that now contained several pages. She cleared her throat.

Turns out someone filed an anonymous complaint direct with HR.


She nodded. 

The complaint alleged that some teachers from here were out drinking and acting belligerent. It listed me, Bobby, and another teacher who wasn't even at the lunch.


She shrugged. That's what it said.

So what does this mean?

Well it means I can't just handle it in house.



The next day as ordered I reported downtown to HR expecting an official reprimand or even a brief suspension without pay. After all, our first standardized test was just weeks away. They weighed so much importance to the district I was sure they wouldn't risk removing an English teacher so close to hell week.

I rode the elevator up the core of the orwellian city hall building and signed in at RPS-HR.

In a small conference room with a narrow view overlooking the projects near my house the director showed me the relevant parts of my contract and solemnly explained my violations and offered substance abuse referrals before sending me to the warehouse for a few days to think about what I'd done and then I was recommended for termination.

I was stunned. What about the showcase? What about their essay project? Hell what about their SOLs? Does no one around here have any sense of irony or context?

My students endured a chain of subs and my appeal dragged on for weeks before I sat down in a room and some lawyer Objected Irrelevant when I brought up my students' welfare and what was best for the school and the children. Zero tolerance, she reiterated. This is a contract case.

I regarded the sheaf of letters from teachers, students, and parents acclaiming my pedagogical prowess and my necessity to the kids and school, begging them to overturn my termination and let me teach. I tossed them on the heavy conference table and stood up.

"Well I guess that's it then. Thanks for your time."


The bartender swipes at a spill on the bartop. Across the room the AC hums to life. Sounds and smells from the kitchen, silverware on ceramic. Music from the speakers and voices murmuring over steaming plates and glasses clinking. He sips his icewater.



Tools - Shaker, jigger, ice, hawthorne strainer, fine strainer
Glass - Coupe
Ice - none
M.o.P - Shake and doublestrain
Garnish - Float limewheel + red serrano salt


So here I am. Back in the game. I knew I wouldn't stay away long—RPS just made it easy.

Well I'm glad you're back. That drink was tasty.

Me too. He collects the empty. So what's next for you?

Something classic? Original? Shaken? Stirred?



Derby Day

Dia de Zaragoza

1.5 oz Corralejo Reposado tequila
.75 oz Ancho Reyes Ancho Chile Liqueur
.5 oz powdered piloncillo sugar
1 dropper Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters 6 leaves sage

Tools - jigger, ice, barspoon
Glass - Julep
Ice - Pebbled/crushed
M.o.P - Build in cup, add ice, swizzle, top with ice
Garnish - Sage sprig

We were ready for anything.

Derby de Mayo, two quintessential American drinking holidays rolled in one. Chance of rain...but our competition was a rooftop party, so there was that. Plus we had tacos on the menu. Derby Day was our best party. Always had been. Here was our chance to jumpstart our game, remind people that we were open again, act of god averted.

Crushed ice filling both wells. Mint chilled and set in hot water to stay flush through the afternoon. Julep cups stacked behind us instead of coupes. Ten bottles of Elijah Craig and mint syrup in the keg charged and tested.

Ready to go.

The TV was secure atop the server cabinet, streaming pre-race babble. Tables pushed back against the brick wall, chairs and stools removed. Standing room only. Last year was so crowded the chairs became a problem.

Menus printed, POS programmed, empanadas tasted.

Goddamn, chef! So good.

Sell tacos. If you can sell out tacos...

How many you got? A hundred?


Heard, chef. Sell a hundred tacos. The rest are mine.


Jaunty music from the speakers, the boss perched at the end of the bar with his husband, nursing a julep.

The first guests trickled in wearing gaudy hats and bowties. 

Heyy! Welcome.

Draft juleps all around. Cups lined up, mint leaves added, tug tug tug the keg handle. A scoop of ice, plunge and roll the barspoon between palms spinning ice and liquor until the sides frost up, topped with fresh ice and a mint sprig slapped against the palm. Service!

I kept checking my watch. Still early yet. The race itself wasn't for another couple hours. But the room felt huge, with pockets of guests sipping juleps here and there taking selfies with each other. Subdued. Empty.

Was it paranoia? Was impatience getting the best of me?

Around five o'clock we cut the server and she left, not even sticking around for a few juleps and tacos. I understood how she felt. She'd traded a shift at her new job to come help. And for what? 

I cleared another set of plates and greeted another couple in the door. The skies were gloomy but the rain had pattered itself out by noon. This was it. No one else was coming.

I swizzled myself another tequila julep.


Cinco de Mayo celebrates the triumph of the underdog. Mexico was 40 years old when Zaragoza defeated the French at Puebla.

The Rogue Gentlemen was 4 years old when the pipe burst and plunged the restaurant into six weeks of lights out. That's usually fatal in this business.

Picture Dickensian snowfall under the streetlight, spectral figures drifting from Ubers to the door and looking through the glass on shadows within, shelves cleared and lined up on the bar, chairs and stools and tables stacked, paintcans and equipment strewn about the floor.

Closed? Are they closed for good? What's the website say?

Just a little longer. Please excuse our construction mess.

Well...let's go somewhere else then.

Weeks passed and snow fell and Richmond moved on.

But it's springtime now and rising from the icy ashes is Rogue. Streamlined. Stronger. With better chairs.

We're back. Come see us.