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The Barrio Grill - Revisited
A night on the town - Swede style

One of our fiction editors inherited a couple of tickets to the opera recently and, since he was hard pressed to envision any of the other staffers owning the appropriate evening wear to even get them through the doors, he tracked down some digits for the Swede and gave her a call to see if she might be interested in accompanying him. She agreed to the date, (or led him to believe she had at least) and, since she is currently residing at an undisclosed location, he arranged to meet her at the Barrio Grill downtown. He'd been eager to sample the fare at this particular eatery after reading the glowing review it received here in the Goliard and was aware also that it happens to be within easy walking distance to the Tucson Convention Center where the opera was to be performed. The fact that the physical space had been designed by one of his favorite local musicians, former Fanatiks lead singer Rob Paulus made the idea more appealing still. He reasoned further that, given that his companion for the evening was rumored to be most comfortable dabbling in niceties, it might be as good a time as any to give one of the trendy places in town a try. However, when his impressions of the dining experience at Barrio differed somewhat from those we had previously described, we agreed to let him weigh in with his observations on the establishment figuring a little diversification in the reviewing staff is never a bad thing. The fact that readers also seem to be interested in any exploits involving the Swede these days didn't hurt either so we encouraged him to use this space to spin the tale and effectively kill two journalistic birds with one stone. What follows is his account of an evening which he expected would be spent fine dining and hob nobbing, shoulder to shoulder with Tucson's upper ilk, but which ended up sounding more and more like just another typical staffer night on the town.

Fiction Editor

I arrived at The Barrio Grill and was making myself comfortable in their small lobby for what I figured would be a fashionably late, wait for my date, type situation when I noticed said date, a young woman known in these pages as the Swede, peering out at me from the bar area. Although I had been prompt to the agreed upon time, it appeared that she had beaten me to the spot by more than a little as she seemed heavily entrenched in an animated discussion with a group of those downtown hipsters with multiple piercings and funky clothing that seem to be flocking to the area these days. As she took her time disengaging from the conversation, I couldn't help but notice that she didn't appear to be dressed for the opera at all but rather was wearing jeans, heavy wooden clogs, and some sort of white tunic. Since I have always known her by reputation to be almost comically overdressed, (one of the facts on which I had based my decision to extend the invite), I was somewhat taken aback by her appearance and may have appeared so when she finally came blousing across the room to greet me. My surprise certainly didn't diminish any when she planted a lipsticky, sloppy smooch right on my mouth, which still hung somewhat agape with wonderment. As astute readers are aware, the only prior history between us has involved polite conversation around the staff offices and another somewhat murky nocturnal encounter which has been oft disputed by other staffers and certainly never discussed between us. Other writers for our publication had also dined with her recently and described her as haughty, distracted and cantankerous. Given all this, I was, quite literally, gobsmacked by the Swede before the evening even got very far off the ground.

Along with being somewhat thrown by the exuberance of her greeting, I also noticed as we were exchanging further pleasantries, that her very essence was a bit aromatically overwhelming and I thought at first that she was drenched in some sort of pine scented cologne. It wasn't long however, before I ascertained that she more likely reeked of gin. As she fastened herself to my left arm while I inquired of the hostess if our table was yet available, I found myself using the other hand to slip the opera tickets from the breast pocket of my top coat down into a front pocket of my slacks. Whatever the evening had in store for us, it was starting to seem unlikely to me that Sweeney Todd would be involved.

As the help looked into the seating situation, the Swede tossed her head in the direction of an illuminated board hanging behind the hostess stand which featured drink specials and it was clear that her eye was drawn to some sort of rum concoction described there called an Eclipse. I had already noticed that they were advertising Blue Paddle on the same board which is one of the better lager style beers currently on draught around town and made a mental note to order one before dinner even though it appeared I had some catching up to do and probably would be better advised to select something that packed a little more of a punch. The Swede was tugging my arm at this point and indicating that our best move in her opinion would be to head into the bar and order a couple Eclipses straight from the bartender while we waited. Fortunately the hostess reappeared just then and led us through the crowded room to a table by the window. We were seated looking out onto South Sixth and the Swede immediately took the initiative and swung her chair around so we'd be side by side to enjoy the view of passers by heading to and fro from the clubs and other goings on as we waited to be served and a downtown Saturday night got into full swing.

The grill was busy and noisy that night, brimming with all types of patrons, most of whom appeared over coifed and in a rush to gobble down some grub before heading out to one event or another. A washed out looking waitress eventually arrived and began hoarsely reciting food specials, most of the specifics of which were lost in the cacophony. She was an odd bird, seeming hectored and harried and yet serenely calm in that uncomfortable sort of way like someone who has slipped into a state of shock. She became additionally dazed and confused when the Swede requested "that rum drink special thingy" in response to her offer to take a cocktail order. When she reported that there weren't any drink specials that she knew of, I patiently waited out the brief argument that ensued as the Swede described just what she wanted if the special wasn't available (basically the presumed ingredients of an Eclipse with double shots of Appleton Estates and Mount Gay flash blended with crushed ice in a big glass). Once that deal was negotiated, I was able to interject an order for the anticipated Blue Paddle

"A blue what?" asked the waitress leaning in. The room did seem incredibly loud for it's size but it turned out she may have heard me just fine but simply was unfamiliar with the request.

"We don't have anything called a Blue Paddle," she said making no effort to hide her exasperation once I had repeated myself.

"Actually sweetheart you do," pointed out the Swede. "You do too have it. Otherwise why would it be advertised right on your specials board? If you'll just take the time to look, you'll see it sure enough just under the rum drink thingy I was telling you about before."

"Well I'll go see about that then," our server said, swishing off in a manner that gave you the feeling that this wasn't the first time she had found herself to be unaware of events happening around her. I was appreciating the surreal start to the evening when the Swede chucked me roughly on the shoulder.

"I'm sooo glad you called the other night," she said, tucking her knees up under her rump and darting in with another saponaceous smack, this one directed at my ear. "I was supposed to go to the opera with this other Egbert who's been hounding me recently. I'd much rather go to a hockey game with you though."

She leaned her head on my shoulder at this point and I continued to stare directly out the window hoping she wouldn't catch my stunned expression in our reflection as I attempted to process the additional twist of information involving winter sports not to mention the affectionate reception I had been getting. It occurred to me briefly that maybe she was under the impression that I was someone else all together. 

"So," she continued, picking something off my collar as she spoke, "when you left the message about the hockey thing I just blew him off making like I had a previous commitment I had forgotten about. It worked out perfectly. Plus, unless things have changed from a few nights ago, you can't order beers at the opera."

"So who is this Egbert guy?" I finally said, wondering if perhaps I wasn't dealing with an insane or at least habitually inebriated person. Perhaps I would find out later that it was I who, in fact, was this Egbert character of which she spoke.

"Oh his name's not really Egbert. That's merely the class of guy he is. Really just this harmless kid who thought he could impress a girl by producing a couple opera tickets. I guess he couldn't have known that I've probably seen Sweeney Todd fifteen times but on top of that, I'm over spending my time with guys like him anyway. Seriously I am. I've realized lately that they don't really actually appreciate the things we do but just go along and pretend so they can be seen with me. What do I get out of that? And I'm ready for a real night out. Hey, lets split the Barrio tostada for an appetizer! Doesn't that sound good? Where is that ditzy waitress?"

The Barrio Tostada, it turned out, was grilled chicken, tomato concasse and white cheddar cheese on a whole wheat tortilla, which arrived awhile later and was excellent in sort of a fancy mini pizza kind of way. Following the recommendations of this publication, I had selected the pork chop as my main dish since it had been reported to be almost a life altering experience by whichever staffer it was that wrote the prior review. The Swede had selected a pasta entree with chicken, dried papaya and mango in a chipotle Chardonnay cream over linguine and was working on a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc currently. My little bottle of Blue Paddle seemed inadequate and overly brown on the table so I had it taken away and allowed her to slosh some wine into my glass as well.

"Isn't it funny," said the Swede, "how restaurants always go to the trouble to put two kinds of wine glasses at every place setting on every single night when it doesn't seem like all that many people even order wine. Then the servers have to take them away time after time and the bussers have to polish them up and reset them so then you have all these people carrying glasses back and forth around the room when food is taking forever in the meantime and real service is suffering. It seems like it would be so much easier to just bring the glasses at that time when somebody actually orders some vino. Especially since it comes in a whole new glass from the bar half the time anyway. I actually just meant to order one glass of this blanc here but that Mensa chick must have thought I pointed to the whole bottle. Oh well, Skal! Za vashe zdorovye! Or Salud if you prefer." 

I didn't believe it had been a mistake at all actually but was too busy trying to figure out how I was going to parley two tickets in row EE at the Arizona Opera's performance of Sweeney Todd for two tickets inside the blue line to see the Arizona Icecats play ASU in the final home game of the season. I had no idea how the Swede's wires had gotten crossed and guessed I didn't particularly care since the opera tickets had been given to me anyway. My accompaniment for the evening seemed like she would probably enjoy herself regardless of what event we attended. The hockey game and the opera started at about the same time, I seemed to recall, and were in adjacent buildings as well so maybe I'd be able to grab some tickets to the game while my heavily imbibing companion took an inevitable trip to the restroom. I felt her looking up at the side of my face just then and realized some sort of response must be expected.

"Probably because the mark up on alcohol is one of the main ways that restaurants turn a profit," I offered. "I'm pretty sure you can buy a six pack of Blue Paddle for what they are charging us for this one 12 ounce bottle which isn't what I wanted by the way since it's much better on tap. I would bet also that you could get something comparable to this Sav Blanc at Trader Joe's for about one tenth of what it'll end up showing up for on the bill."

"It is good though isn't it." The Swede swished her wine around and held it up to watch the legs run down the side of the glass.

"Yes, it's quite nice. However, I think I'll switch to a Cabernet or something with my pork chop. I like a beverage with a little more robustness when I attack a cut of pig."

"What do you suppose I should do," asked the Swede, her brow furrowing. She had scooted her chair back around to the far side of the table now and apparently kicked off her clogs since her bare feet had showed up in my lap. "I can't really drink a Sauvignon Blanc to accompany a dish made with a Chardonnay cream can I?"

"You're right," I agreed. "That probably does defy some rule or other. We could split a Shiraz or something I suppose. Probably not what the sommelier would recommend to accompany a white linguini but I'm not sure they have a sommelier here anyway. Our waitress certainly doesn't qualify." I had put a hand on the Swede's cool feet under the table and could feel some sort of toe ring on the littlest digit on her right foot which I spun in my fingers. 

"New metatarsal jewelry? I inquired nonchalantly, searching her face for any significance that the interaction with her toes might be registering but she shook her head comfortably without betraying anything and instead looked interestedly out the window at another leather clad couple walking past.
"I say! Have your sommelier deliver us your finest Shibotz," the Swede announced with sudden burst of dramatic gesticulation as the food runner arrived with our meals. When she was given a blank look by this person, who wasn't our waitress, the undaunted Swede hopped to her feet and padded over to the bar where she appeared to make some arrangement with the publican before disappearing in the direction of the restroom. I used the time wisely, wielding my cell phone to secure a couple of Icecats tickets which I had them leave at will call. Eventually a plump woman in a inappropriately wrapped skirt, who was working the floor in some capacity, returned with a bottle of Petite Syrah and a couple new glasses. I noticed the Swede hovering nearby until the woman was done with the wine production. She then swooped in looking freshly scrubbed and sporting a rosy glow.

"Was that the sommelier? I can only hope she's pregnant otherwise she has no excuse for going out of the house in that wrap thing." The Swede surveyed the room. "Everybody has such weird bodies here. Look at that 200 pound, bottle blonde porker over there! She's obviously in from some little farm town and keeps howling with laughter at everything her friend says when you just know it's not funny in the slightest. And why would she dress like she's a normal weight with half her boobs hanging out when her stomach roll is twice the size." She scanned the room some more. "And our waitress is another one. She's got to be some sort of like, rock climbing chick. It doesn't seem like she's having a very good night now that she's down here off the mountain either. An athletic looking girl I guess." The Swede flexed a muscle and had me feel. "I think I could take her though, don't you?"

"Indubitably," I said.

I was trying to envision how that contest would go down as I addressed the pork chop, which was seared in some sort of glaze, and was far from "plump and succulent" which is how I remembered the other reviewer describing it. It was rather tough actually, and hard to cut into with the provided steak knife, let alone to chew. It wasn't bad tasting necessarily but seemed instead like any other pork chop somebody's mom would make for you when you got invited to a friend's house for dinner. The accompanying mashed potatoes were quite good, along with the vegetable medley and the juicy surrounding broth was fine as well but hardly, in themselves, worth the price of a full dinner. The Swede nibbled daintily at her pasta for a few moments before declaring it "scrumptious" and pushing most of it away. She settled back in her chair holding the glass of petite in both hands. Her feet found their way into my lap again.

"So," I said, after a bout of extended chewing on a piece of the chop. "I'm not sure it would ever have occurred to me that you'd be such a hockey fan. It was sort of a shot in the dark when I asked you to go." This was a lie of course but I was hoping to jog her memory and maybe shed some light on the opera/hockey mix up.

"In Sweden," she said, "we just love hockey. As a matter of fact I followed the team around at the Four Nation's Cup in Skövde, Skara, and Tibro last November. You know, the big women's tournament. I'm friends with a few of the girls on the National team. Well, I say friends. I know them to say Hi to in the bars is what I mean."

"This is big women's ice hockey you say?"

"Not big women. A big tournament for women," she said, her eyes flashing at me briefly before glazing back over with their former mirthful playfulness. "And, as a matter of fact, definitely a cut above the level of skating we can expect to see from your boys tonight. That is if we actually even end up going."

"And why wouldn't we be going?" I asked, wondering what she was up to now.

"Well, I don't know. Take a gander at your watch for one thing." I glanced down to see that time had flown by somehow and it was already well after eight. No chance of scalping the Sweeney Todd's now. Not that I'd intended to make much of an effort to sell them anyway. People don't typically head down to the opera without having previously arranged for tickets but I maybe could have at least bequeathed them to someone waiting in the queue at the box office.

"We can probably still see the puck drop for the second period," the Swede said, as her eyes followed a couple of totally spent, trashy gals with spiked Mohawks passing outside the window. "If you want to hurry on over to the arena that is." She took an extended guzzle of wine while observing me coyly over the rim of her glass and tugging at my tucked in shirt with her toes. "Or we might be able to find something else to do."

"What did you have in mind," I said, adjusting in my chair and taking a drink myself. A second bottle of Petite Syrah had nearly been disposed of and a feeling of pleasant plumpness and logy had begun to wash over me. Despite the din in the restaurant, I was suddenly picturing a snifter, a crackling fire, and an increasingly friendly Swede. Just as I allowed myself to hope that the evening might be headed in that direction however, the surprising Scandinavian threw me yet another curve.

"What do you know about X?" she said suddenly with a new mischievous gleam in her eye.

"X" I repeated, my heart sinking. "I hope you're not talking about some drug."

"No silly. The band. Have you heard of them?"

"Of course I've heard of them," I recovered, searching my memory for one of their songs that I could reference to prove it but drawing a blank. "They were like the original punkers weren't they? John Doe right? A couple of Goliard folk still listen to their tapes at the office sometimes. They're not bad I guess. A little raw but not bad. Why are you asking about them all of a sudden?" We both watched as another leather clad couple, grappling in each other's clutches, lurched by.

"Oh just that they're playing the Rialto tonight," said the Swede, draining the rest of her syrah. She got to her feet slowly carrying her clogs in one hand and came around behind my chair to drape herself over my shoulders. "What say we blow this tired joint and join this freaky parade heading over to the Rialto. We've got some time yet before they come on. Maybe we can stop at this little underground bar I know about?" She whispered all this huskily from just behind my left ear. "It's dark and quiet in there and more conducive to getting better acquainted. And then we can head up to Rialto and slam dance the night away. Just wait til you see this Exene chick. You're gonna love her."

The waitress returned and the Swede went off somewhere while I settled the check without being asked if we cared for dessert or coffee which was a good thing because apparently we didn't. A bus boy had taken it upon himself to box up the remainder of the Swede's pasta dish and delivered the container in a large brown shopping bag. It confused me to have him cross the room and thrust some bag at me out of nowhere but I slung it over my wrist like a purse and headed for the door intending to wait for the Swede in the cool of the evening outside. A chef stood opening and closing doors for people and bid me a pleasant good night just as the Swede reappeared. She had her shoes back on and immediately shimmied her shoulders as the cool night air engulfed her and thrust one arm inside my jacket around the back and snaked the other hand between two buttons in the front of my shirt where I felt her cold palm against my stomach. As we walked unsteadily towards downtown, falling in with the cavalcade of leather and spikes, I felt as overdressed as I did exhilarated. This Swede, I had to admit, was proving to be another thing all together.

"Do you mind if I ask you something?" I eventually said, throwing the arm not left holding the bag around her shoulders and pulling her close against the night chill. "I'll warn you first though, it's the same something people are always asking me. And I never really know how to answer."

"Shoot," she said.

"So.... Like, what is it that you do?"

"Do?" she said, pulling up so that we teetered to a stop. She appeared to consider the question some before shaking it off and tugging me down by the back of the neck to where she could engage me in a juicy embrace which went on awhile until we seemed like we might topple over. Stable again, she cupped my ears and slurped lightly on the end of my nose before peering up with her gray blue eyes and finally saying, "I guess what I, like do, is what I'm, like doing, right now. Just hanging out with certain people." She kissed me again, very quickly on the mouth this time. "And you always seemed like someone I might like to hang out with." She held me back at arm's length before almost throwing a shoe and sitting down in the process. "So when you called with those concert tickets, well, here I am."

"And you could tell this even though we've never really hung out before," I said, watching her eyes closely.

"Right, I totally could." She then suddenly grabbed my hands and began pulling us away from the street lights and down a dark, redolent alley. "It does all seem sort of familiar though doesn't it?" she said, once she had stopped and forced me against the side of a dumpster where she placed a knee between my legs and stood teetering on one clog in front of me. "Don't you feel that too?" Grabbing my belt loops to steady herself, she pulled herself up against me. "That's what I've always thought about you. Familiar. Since the first time we talked in the offices that day. I felt like I was back in....." 

"FRAAAGHACH SHITAXX HUFF HUFF FUGGA PIGS!" A loud male voice choked up, all gruff and phlegmy, from within the dumpster just behind us and continued to cough out a string of expletive sounding ruminations which brought the Swede's thoughts on our supposed compatibility up short. As I spun and moved away slowly, the Swede stumbled clutching around behind me, until she was almost completely lost under my long coat.

"Jesus Christ," she said.

"Yes," answered the hoarse, sputumy voice. A bearded, nappy head slowly appeared, peering over the dumpster's side, looking all ghastly and blood soaked in the wavering light.

"Here you go friend," I heard myself say. "Have some Chardonnay linguini." I tossed the bag into the bin as I felt myself being guided from behind by the pants back towards the avenue. Like some stumbling donkey, we came barging into the lights of the sidewalk, a lurching rumpled mess with a head and four legs sticking out of a coat that startled a group of librarian looking women that were passing by deep in conversation.

"Jesus Christ," one of them said throwing up a hand and grabbing her bun.

"He's right back there," the Swede informed them, disengaging herself as the ass end of our creature and pointing back down the alley. She grabbed my hand and breathlessly begin pulling me again. "Up ahead," she panted as we picked up momentum again, "just at the end of this lane is that bar I was talking about. We're going to need to get a shot of red eye in a dirty glass or something before the show starts? X is the type of band that requires it."

"Jesus Christ is right," I thought to myself as I let the Swede tug me across the street and push me into an alcove and down some darkened steps towards a burnt red door from which a smoky saxophone riffs emanated. "More fun in the new world - the missing years," I thought. 

"Hey Swede," I said pulling her up short and leaning her against the wall at the bottom of the cement stair. "Don't you think we should run over and maybe make sure we can get some concert tickets before we go and get all distracted again." I began waving my arms suddenly.  "Tickets! I need more tickets. I won't be comfortable until I have secured us tickets to every last event going on in this town tonight!"

The Swede, who had fallen against me, laughed out loud and put her hands down in my pant's pockets against the cold. She pulled one of them back out quickly producing the small envelope with Arizona Opera Company written on it. She held it up to inspect in the light.

"Calm down we'll go get some more tickets in a minute," she said. "But we might as well head into this place and have a drink since we're here." She raised an eyebrow once she had extracted the duckets from the paper sleeve and saw the writing on them. "So what if we get distracted anyway. And hey would you look at this? Someone has gone and put opera tickets in your pocket. What else do you have down in there Eggy?" She tried to fish around some more but I caught her arms as a figure in a long cloak came down the stairs. "You know?" she said after he had passed. "I bet we can use these to get into the X show." She waved the Sweeney Todds under my nose like a fan. "The door guy over there probably wouldn't even know the difference. And won't it be fun to try?"

"Five dollar cover" a bouncer said, emerging in the door from out of the gloam within. "Band night."

"Here take these," said the Swede shoving the Todd tickets into the bald, hulking man's palm as she pressed past him. "This gentleman and I have some important things to discuss and we're going to need a couple of drinks to do it. And a dark corner. Straight whiskey ought to do. And have the band play some more Etta James." 

The bouncer turned to watch the Swede pass, shaking his head slowly as she moved off across the dance floor past a lone couple who swayed to the saxophone and the bluesy lyrics. "Lord have mercy baby. Love's been rough on me."

"Aren't you the lucky guy tonight?" I heard the bouncer say, as he glanced down at the Todd tickets briefly before wadding them up and tossing them into the small, sand filled bucket that was propping open the door.

"How's that?" I said.

He stepped aside and waved off the money I held out to him. "Go ahead and keep it pal." He said. "You're going to need it before I do is my guess." As I moved to get by him, his gaze returned towards the back of the room where the Swede had slid into a vinyl corner booth. She was giving one of us the come hither finger.

"And hey, buddy," he said, catching me gently by the elbow. "Do me a favor and be careful. She's been in here before you know?"


today you're gonna be so sick so sick 
you'll prop your forehead on the sink 
say oh christ oh jesus christ my head's gonna crack 
like a bank tonight 

you'll fall asleep in clothes-so late 
like a candy bar wrapped up 
for lunch that's all you get to taste 
poverty and spit 
poverty and spit 

bloody red eyes go to nausea 
bloody red eyes go to nausea 
bloody red eyes go to sleep 

you're talking out of harmony 
you can't remember what you said 
cut it out you feel retarded 
take the sissors 
saw the head

bloody red eyes go to nausea 
bloody red eyes go to nausea 
bloody red eyes go to sleep 

                                                              Exene Cervenka and John Doe

Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved.