When Big Rob approaches to take our drink order, I’m immediately smitten. The last time I saw anyone sporting a kilt and a pair of topsiders with such panache was at a sorority party back in Charlottesville, Virginia, circa 1983. Of course, the coeds weren’t shirtless or model handsome like Big Rob. And I wasn’t the least bit tempted to sneak a peek beneath their tartans.
One of Rehoboth’s great summer pleasures is sipping a cocktail outside on the deck at Aqua Bar and Grill on Baltimore Avenue. I don’t know why, but a gin and tonic just tastes better when served by an attractive, half-dressed waiter. Tonight, the cocktail boys are in kilts. Last Sunday they wore wrestling singlets. Before that it was dog tags, aviator sunglasses, and towels – a Top Gun fantasy.
This is Big Rob’s first season serving drinks. During the day the tall Loyola University finance major is a lifeguard with the Rehoboth Beach Patrol. In fact, that’s how he found out about this gig. It’s no secret that lifeguards have often worked at Aqua throughout the years. The tips are good.
I ask if he gets a lot of propositions. Just once this entire summer, he says, laughing it off. Most of the patrons are very respectful when they find out he’s straight. He admits it took him awhile to get used to all the attention, but now he’s having a good time. He’s even comfortable rocking the deck clad only in a Speedo – his words, not mine.
The competition among the waiters on the deck is fierce, the free market in action. So, with a wink and a grin our perfect gentleman is off to attend to some other thirsty customers, moving through the crowd with the smooth efficiency of a freestyle swimmer. Did I mention he’s co-captain of his university swim team?
I’m admittedly a bit disappointed by the lack of shenanigans Big Rob has revealed tonight. But, I suppose that’s to be expected, given that all the Aqua cocktail boys are straight as an arrow this season. Bar owner Bill Shields also tends to run a tight ship.
‘Tis a far cry from the 70s in Atlantic City, laments one of my drinking companions, who just happened to work as a cocktail boy at the Hotel DeVille bar when he was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. Of course, that was back when Atlantic City was a major gay hotspot – more so than Rehoboth – before the gambling casinos came in and displaced all the gay bars and hotels.
Now we’re getting’ somewhere…
Unlike at Aqua, the cocktail boys in Atlantic City were full-fledged homos. Instead of lifeguarding, they frolicked on the beach in white speedos, slathering themselves with baby oil and iodine to get that perfect tan and to also hustle up tips at the bars where they worked at night in denim cut-offs and tank tops. Everyone had a moustache.
And they were most definitely propositioned. A lot. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon to receive roses or even a giant bottle of Paco Rabanne cologne in addition to hefty tips from a smitten admirer. The French Canadian men were particularly romantic.
Our Ivy Leaguer tells of being talked into posing for nude photos, one of which later ended up in After Dark magazine. The proposition he remembers most fondly, though, came from the bawdy talking puppet known as Madame, a creation and alter ego of entertainer Wayland Flowers who used to haul her around with him to gay clubs. Wayland and Madame appeared on a variety of television shows back in the 60s and 70s before hitting it big with a Las Vegas gig and then a late night television program of their own.
I’m about to learn how wide Madame’s jaw could unhinge when Big Rob returns with another round of drinks. Inspired by the stories of Atlantic City and emboldened by the gin, I ask if he’d mind answering a personal question, one I know is on the mind of every red-blooded man in the bar tonight.
“Go for it,” he says.
“How’d you get the white spot on your chest?”
“From a burn,” he explains. “A buddy laid a quarter on me while I was sleeping on the beach.”
Imperfection is beauty and I tell him so.
When Big Rob departs, one of my drinking companions punches me in the arm. It’s not the question he wanted answered, but, hey, I’ve got some integrity. And besides, I tell him, if you want to know the answer, simply shake his hand. And don’t forget to tip.
Author’s note. Last night was Rob’s last night at Aqua. He really liked the story and said the tips definitely improved after it ran in LETTERS. He’s definitely returning next year to lifeguard and to serve drinks.
As one who tries to keep up with consumer technology, I couldn’t wait to try the new Gillette Fusion ProGlide razor with FlexBall technology and five blades.
I began shaving with a classic double-edged safety razor, one not too different I imagine from the product invented in 1904 by King C. Gillette. That was the norm. Oh sure, razors, or something like them, existed for centuries before. The Oxford English Dictionary notes the year 1290 for the first use of a word specifically identified as a razor.
Anyone remember when the disposable razor entered the market? The first one I bought in the mid-70s was made of orange and white plastic by the French Company Bic – the disposable pen people. It was followed quickly by the blue colored Gillette disposable, which had two blades. These disposables tore me up; I was always going around with little pieces of toilet paper stuck to the nicks and cuts on my neck. Then sometime in the 80s the cartridge razor was invented and the floodgate opened for products featuring 3 blades, then 4 blades and marketing concepts like “Mach” and “Turbo.” I’ve tried them all in my search for a better shave.
The new FlexBall ProGlide, I must say, is a beautiful product with a high tech silver and black look and some orange and blue highlights – a color combo I have a particular affinity for. The tech breakthrough isn’t the blade, but the handle. It swivels, supposedly mimicking how your wrist works and therefore make shaving more effective. Some call the swivel a marketing gimmick. Okay, but so is the “virtual assistant” on my iPhone. And I’m certain I’ll be using the razor more than I do Miss Siri. Oh yes: I had a damn good inaugural shave.
So many people have sent me this fabulous photo, I felt obligated to post it, along with some commentary below.
These kinds of accidents happen every year and its big news. Why? Because the modern broiler industry developed in I wrote about its origins in my book The Discreet Charms of a Bourgeois Beach Town. Here how it began….
Back in 1923, a short, heavyset, farm wife with red hair and fiery temper named Cecile Steele raised a flock of laying chickens to help support her family. Each year she would order fifty new chicks to replace losses in her flock. In 1923, she was mistakenly sent five hundred. She sold the excess to a local chicken buyer who then shipped them to New York restaurants and hotels. It proved profitable and the next year she ordered a thousand chicks. Her husband quit his Coast Guard job, and they began building chicken houses and raising birds full-time. News of their success spread, and others in Sussex County began raising their own flocks solely for meat.
I should point out that in the 1920s, chickens were raised primarily for eggs. Chickens were more expensive than other meat, and Americans who did eat chickens consumed young male cockerels culled from laying flocks or tough old hens.
The pressing need for a new source of agricultural income helps explain why so many Sussex County farmers were willing to raise chickens. Fruits and vegetables were always at risk for freezes and blights. Some other factors helping spur the growth of the industry included Delaware’s relatively mild climate, cheap building costs, low labor costs, close proximity to major urban markets, a good system of public roads, and a willingness of banks to provide easy credit.
It was World War II, however, that led to dramatic growth. Chickens moved from birth to slaughterhouse much faster than cattle or pigs. Chickens fed the American army. Chickens fed hungry Europeans. So much money was being made raising chickens in Delaware that attorneys, politicians, and other white-collar types began raising birds.
Southern Delaware continues as a hot bed of chicken farming. Sussex County leads all the nation’s counties in broiler production.
Like most people who believe jury service is an important part of our American democracy, I try to avoid it. Burglaries and drug dealings just don’t interest me. And it seems I’m always called when I’m extraordinarily busy at work or just about to go on vacation.
I began to reconsider my position, however, when I received a letter from the Sussex County Superior Court summoning me for a two-week term of jury duty, beginning just after the fourth of July holiday. Seems there are so few potential jurors in southern Delaware they put you on call for two weeks. And what for? Chicken house arsons? Trailer park perversions? It was too quirky and way too tempting for a writer like me to pass up.
While there is much written about how to avoid jury service, there is very little information about how to get selected. Some experts say you should appear well groomed and well dressed, but not flashy. Others say it’s important to look interested. And, don’t be chatty. Lawyers eschew talkative jurors.
To raise my chances of getting picked, I decided to channel the late Dominick Dunne, the Vanity Fair writer who specialized in celebrity court cases. He actually came to Sussex County in 2005 to cover the lawsuit brought by Disney shareholders against Disney CEO Michael Eisner over the $140 million deal he signed off on to get rid of Disney’s number two executive Michael Orvitz after only fifteen months on the job.
On jury day, I did my best Dunne impersonation: horn rim glasses, purple checked shirt, and a pressed pair of chinos. From what I recall, the Delaware judges seemed to like Dominick, so I was certain this look would impress.
Per court order, I left my cell phone, electronic equipment, newspapers, and sharp instruments in the car. All I carried into the courthouse with me was a copy of Hillary Clinton’s new book “Hard Choices,” so the lawyers would see I was capable of making the tough choices required of a juror.
A couple of people besides me also brought books, but they were cheap paperbacks with metallic embossed titles. One woman lugged a plastic Igloo cooler. I’ve no idea how she got it through security, but I heard her tell the stern court official who wrestled it away that it contained “some ham samiches and a Dr. Pepper.” A very fat man in a pair of denim overalls showed up with a U-shaped airplane pillow wedged around his neck. A young hipster with Elvis-sized sideburns sported a sweat-stained “ill” Phillies fan shirt. An older black woman came with big pink curlers in her hair. These were my rivals.
Following a short informational video, the court clerk began calling names for the day’s prospective jury pool. My name was announced first. And while he claimed it was random selection, I wasn’t fooled. My careful preparations had clearly paid off, I thought to myself, as I strutted past rows of my peers.
We prospective jurors were next escorted downstairs and into a windowless holding room with a big flat screen television mounted to the wall. There was an air of excitement that soon deflated when the court clerk came in and turned on television game shows. Personally, I would have shown old re-runs of “LA Law” or “Perry Mason.”
As we waited the jury pool began to spread out and self-select around interest groups. Cooler lady joined the “talkers” on the right side of the room. “Watchers” moved in front of the television while “sleepers” went to the farthest corner of the room. I joined the few “readers” in the middle of the room, but soon tired of Hillary Clinton’s pontificating about the transatlantic rifts that opened up during the Bush administration, so I began to eavesdrop on the “talkers.”
Over the next two hours, I learned that goats were better than cows and sheep at pasture maintenance and that Aruba was best avoided as a vacation destination because “they’ll kill you.” I heard there would be a beer garden at the State Fair this year and that nobody believed the new reality show called “Married at First Sight” until Cooler lady claimed it happened to her. Seems she sobered up for the first time only on her wedding day.
When three burly policemen escorted two prisoners in handcuffs and jumpsuits right by the open door of our room, everyone got agitated. Was this it? The court clerk came in shortly thereafter and said we were excused for the rest of the day.
Seriously? I hadn’t sat through “Wheel of Fortune” and “The Price is Right” with a bunch of strangers just to be dismissed with the wave of a hand. I confronted the clerk. “Wasn’t there another trial I might be considered for?” “Call in later tonight,” the clerk advised me, eyeing me warily. “We might need you tomorrow.”
Spirits dampened, I headed over to the Georgetown Family Restaurant where Dominick Dunne had lunched every day while he followed the Disney trial. When I asked the waitress to please bring me what Dunne liked for lunch, she just stared at me, slack jawed and silent. I showed her a Los Angeles Times photo of Dunne eating soup in what appeared to be this very same restaurant. Still no response. Outside it began to rain.
I never did get selected for a trial during those two weeks. In hindsight, I’m thinking the Hillary Clinton book might have been a little over the top. So while I cannot report any further about downstate justice, I can recommend a good cup of homemade Lima bean soup if you’re interested.