The Uptown Lit

by Neil Haugerud

Long, sand-blonde hair framed her stoic Vanity Fair face. The hair, the face, the Victoria's Secret body projected a Cosmopolitan air of cool self-reliance. As if cruising an inch or two off the ground, she walked without a bounce in her step--much like a hovercraft.

"Bimbo," I said to myself, even though she was the Chief Executive Officer, C.E.O., and my new boss. More than likely bedroomed or divaned her way to the top. Even her name--Misty--had a street ring to it.

"We need to get acquainted," she said after gliding into my office. Her head was canted and she reminded me of a pigeon cooing in Central Park. "Meet me at my club at five," she added in a soft voice. I took it as more of a come on than an invitation. "

"Your Club?"

"The Uptown Lit, on eighth--816."

A total lack of neon or other signage made the Lit difficult to find. Finally, while looking through the reading lens on my bifocals and squinting my eyes at a silver nameplate the size of a playing card chest high in the middle of a huge battered brown door the size of a bank vault, I found it. 'The Uptown Lit', etched in 14-point type in the center of the little nameplate.

"Rather foreboding," I thought as I pushed on the door. It swung open easily. I anticipated a seductive, smoky dark to the place, but found it well lit and smoke free. Misty's long, bare legs were stretched beneath a corner table, looking as if they had come as a set with her black mini-skirt. She motioned me over. A tall reading lamp with a green plastic shade and a gold pull chain was centrally positioned on each table. The room had the look of a Mediterranean library-barroom. The walls were trimmed with rich stained Red Oak. Mahogany paneling complemented the full mirror behind the bar.

"Don't' just stand there. Sit down," Misty said.

I seated myself across from her in a blue cushioned chair--a ladder back, kitchen-like chair. Misty hadn't yet placed her order. The only waiter, a tall sharp-featured thin man with long arms and a cream Tom Wolfe suit, was taking orders at the next table. He held a white linen cloth across his arm like a fine wine steward. A snooty looking girl wearing a black suit and barn red lipstick ordered a J. D. Salinger. Her companion, a Tom Clancy type, ordered an Alice Munro. A grizzled old man with a white beard at the bar had a Leo Tolstoy with a side of Websters. Momentarily the dignified book-keep with the long arms arrived at our table and looked over the top of his half glasses at us.

"Madame, Monsieur," he said with a slow motion bow. "Your selection?"

"Hemingway--short," Misty said. The book-keep focused a pair of pencil point all-knowing eyes on the smile on Misty's face then nodding to me.

"A Marty Robins," I said. The book-keep gritted his teeth in disgust and shook his head. The sharp toe of Misty's shoe sent pain signals to my brain and put a dent in my shin.

"TOM Robbins," she said. My face flushed red and I looked away. The snooty girl at the next table threw down her Salinger like a red neck coon hunter with a Max Brand. A red-eyed woman in a paisley housedress who looked like she had been reading non-stop for a week stumbled toward the door with a 6-pac of Danielle Steel. Our waiter picked up our order at the bar, polished the jackets with his linen cloth, brought them to our table and turned on our lamp. A golden light bathed our table. I leafed through a couple pages of my Robbins for taste, then leaned over and sampled a page of Misty's Hemingway short. There was something about Michigan in it. She ran a long red nailed, forefinger across the type and whispered a few sentences.

"Maybe you'd like one of these better" she said. She glanced across the table, and as if I were an adolescent and patted my hand. "You're new at this aren't you?

"My first time at the club scene," I replied. "I've had a National Inquirer at the check out counter and an occasional Newsweek though." Before I could continue, a roguish looking man with a scruffy salt and pepper beard approached.

"Misty," he said plaintively.

"Hi Clark. How you been?" Misty asked.

"Do'n better. Just came from the meeting. I'm on the tenth step of the twelve-step program now. I just came in for a short one--strictly non-addictive stuff. One Tolstoy and I know I'd be at it again--probably hole up somewhere with enough type to keep me read'n and not eating for a week." His wool suit looked as though he had just plucked it off a black sheep and there was an offal smell to it. Clark fidgeted as if someone was spying on him and his nervous eyes scanned every shelf behind the bar. He licked his dry blistered lips as his eyes darted from a Fitzgerald to a Rand to a Vidal to a Rushdie, a Morrison, Updike, Proule and Mailer.

"Do you have a sponsor you can call, if things get bad?" Misty asked. I could tell she knew that Clark had fallen off the wagon big time.

"Yeah, Ed Dorgan."

"Isn't he the one that got thrown out of here for sneaking a Rush Limbaugh in here under his shirt?"

"I know. He' really hit bottom then, but he's been clean for awhile now." Clark's eyes began to twitch. He said a quick goodbye to Misty and headed towards the door. The book-keep slyly slipped him a Herman Wouk in paper sack as he left.

"Everything in moderation," Misty said. "You should try a Stienbeck, a Michener or a Leon Uris."

"And get hooked like that guy Clark?"

"Try a Haugerud," Misty said, and called the book-keep over.

"What's a Haugerud like?" I asked.

"Oh it's similar to equal parts of Herriot, Griffith and Keillor," the book-keep replied.

I said I'd take one to go.

"What's your hurry?" Misty asked and patted my hand again. I was feeling out of my league and needed to be out on the street or back in my office. I thanked Misty and began my exit.

"In the morning you will find an application on your desk from the Uptown Lit for seed money for franchising," Misty said. "Take a look at it and give me your recommendation by noon." I began wondering if there was a term for male Bimbo and where the glass ceiling was when I needed it. And the bigger question--was I up to the prepping and paradigm shifting needed to keep my job as Vice President of 'New Ventures' at Mid-Town Capital?

Copyright 2002 by Neil Haugerud. All rights reserved.