It may not be as apparent through this blog as it is to anyone with whom I hold a conversation of longer duration than five minutes, but I'm extremely fond of my hometown. Since I don't harbor the same affection (or any affection at all, really) for my current city of residence, and it's only about thirty miles away from home, I usually spend weekends at my parents' house.
My parents live across the street from the center of our little Portuguese enclave, a social club that was built in 1923 and has served the Portuguese (mainly Azorean) community in southern California in more ways than I can begin to explain here.
Though not technically the centerpiece of the club--which has two large dining halls, four bars, a courtyard with a large gazebo for concerts, a chapel, and an arena--and certainly not its raison d'être, the most frequently used part of the Portuguese hall (as we locals call the club) is the sports bar. It's not hyperbolic to say that I grew up in this bar, although I would quickly add that the images of dysfunction and misery likely evoked by the statement "I grew up in a dive bar" don't apply. Perhaps some other time I'll go into detail, but for now suffice it to say that I'm a better person for having spent my childhood there. On weekdays, though the rest of the club is closed, the sports bar is open from early morning until about noon, then opens again in the evening. Mostly middle-aged and old men go there to play cards and dominoes, to have a few drinks (in the morning it's usually coffee, as the place has a killer espresso machine, but some guys throw back a brandy or two on their way to work), and to catch up on the latest news. They argue about soccer, they find out who's died locally or back in the old country, they sell candies for their grandkids' school fundraisers and sometimes buy fresh fish if someone happened to get out on a boat that morning. The bar is also the club's de facto center of business. If you owe money, if you need a note passed to the management, if you have a complaint or need to rent one of the halls, there are people in charge of that stuff but many people go through the bartender first.
This weekend I had business to take care of. I haven't paid my membership dues for 2010 yet, so before coming home I wrote a check to take to the hall when I got in. Over the course of the weekend, I forgot to take the check over, and come Monday morning I found myself preparing to head back to my apartment without having paid my annual fee. So around 8:30 am, knowing the bar would be open, I walked across the street to drop off the check.
On my way in I nodded to the usual suspects crowded around a square table slapping dominoes and yelling, the usual guys smoking in the bar's doorway, and the same men standing at the bar as usual--one with an espresso, the other with a glass of wine. Behind the bar there was a sign that read "Queijo de Cabra: $3." That is, "Goat cheese: $3." The sign was probably part of a dinner event that had been held over the weekend and hadn't been taken down. That such a thing would be advertised on a Monday morning, for some reason, struck me as amusing. When the bartender asked what I wanted, I joked in Portuguese that I wanted goat cheese. A funny older man with impressive mutton chops, he wryly answered, "Just one?"
"No, no, I guess you better make it two," I chuckled.
Before I could change the subject and reach for my check, the phone rang. The bartender held up a finger for me to hold my thought, and ran to the other side of the bar to answer the phone. A friend of mine walked in for his morning coffee and we started up a conversation, which was interrupted shortly thereafter by the bartender. "Is that all?" he asked, gently setting down a styrafoam plate covered with plastic wrap. Underneath the wrap were two six-inch wide, one inch-thick, white disks of wet, delicate goat cheese.
For a second I thought about telling him that I was just playing, but on second thought it really wasn't a funny joke and I had six dollars in cash on me. Besides, I love that cheese. So instead I paid, thanked him, dropped off my membership check, and took my two little delectable disks home.