Occasionally, visitors report having strange experiences at the Cobalt Club.
I don’t find that surprising, but not because the club claims any supernatural associations. It is, however, very much a place of the mind, and when creative people drop in, the atmosphere and their already-active imaginations often combine to produce situations that simply wouldn’t develop elsewhere.
That seems to be what happened when Billie Dupree, a new talent in the Birmingham art scene, visited recently. I wasn’t there that night, but here’s her account of her unusual experience as she shared it with me later.
The bartender was stacking martini glasses and nodded as I walked in. I could hear the clinking of the glasses as he slowly placed each one on top of the other. Other than that, I wasn’t hearing any other sounds. It was too quiet. We made our introductions, and his name was Baxter. He and I had the place to ourselves.
I decided to keep him company at the bar. Maybe I wanted him to keep me company. It didn’t matter. Baxter headed to the stockroom to bring in more liquor. I wondered who he was expecting. Spann had predicted a wintry weather mix around dusk, so most folks headed out early from work before the traffic chaos. Except for the ones like me who weren’t ready to go home yet. I needed a drink. The Cobalt Club seemed like a good place to go. For my first visit, it was Baxter had seen that my needs were met before he ventured to the back. Before me was a Washington Apple. The Crown, Sour Apple Pucker and cranberry was like an iced cider. Nice and cold going down but warming my wintry weather woes.
I’m not sure how much time had passed, but my glass was now empty. Where was Baxter? I was ready for my second. The napkin under the glass was damp from the condensation, and I didn’t think Baxter would appreciate it if I started making little spitballs from the wet paper. So I controlled my compulsion and just sat and waited.
Time was not my friend. I didn’t have a watch, and the old Grandfather’s clock on the far wall seemed stuck on 6:20 p.m. I waited a few more minutes and glanced back. No way, it still said 6:20 p.m. The pendulum was swinging left to right, right to left, and suddenly I could hear the ticking across the room. How long had the loud ticking been going on? I did not hear it when I arrived.
“Hello, Billie Merle.” The soft voice whispered to me from behind the bar. Where is Baxter? The old man in the white apron obviously knew me, but who was he? He called me by my traditional two-part Southern name, Billie Merle, so he knows my past. Only ancient relatives and grammar school friends call me that. I figured I would give him the once over and see if there was something familiar I would recognize. I glanced down to his hands, and on his right hand there were only three fingers and a thumb.
I was afraid to look up at his face. I didn’t understand why he is behind the bar. Fear had me locked down. You see, the man I recognized was dead. Passed away on my birthday, seven years ago, December 12, 2004. Finally I held my head up, looked at him and said, “Hey Daddy.”
He smiled. That grand old smile and the laughing eyes I had come to love so dearly. Then he spoke again. “I figured you needed a little company, so I thought I would drop in for a bit. I know you don’t understand what you are seeing, and rightly I can’t say that I do either. But here I am!”
I still couldn’t speak. My mind was racing, but my mouth felt like hardened Super Glue. I never imagined my Daddy behind the bar at The Cobalt Club, and all this was just too much to process. “You don’t have to speak, just listen as I talk,” he told me. As he began to speak, he picked up the martini glass that Baxter had stacked earlier and began to polish it. I guess now the well of bartender wisdom through my Daddy was about to be thrust upon me. Which was fine by me. My father was the most fair and most well liked man by his peers, colleagues, friends and family. He had that knack for always knowing what to say at the right time. He was a man to be respected, revered and loved. I’m proud he was my father.
“Billie Merle, I know there are things you don’t understand and question why they happen. They just do, with no rhyme or reason. It’s how you handle them that determines the person you are. Always remember that.” I thought about that for a moment, and then Baxter walked in.
“Hello, Baxter,” my dad said to the bartender.
Now wait a minute. “Baxter, you know my father?” I asked.
“Sure,” said Baxter.
Okay, this is just too weird-o-rama. I started laughing. What was in my drink? What time is it? I glanced back at the Grandfather’s clock, and now it said 6:52 p.m. Thirty-two minutes had passed. The ticking had stopped. All was quiet again. I looked back to the bar, and Daddy was gone.
I asked where Dad went. Baxter looked at me and said, “Who?”
Baxter looked at me as if I was nuts. I know I heard and saw Baxter speak and acknowledge him, but there was no way Baxter was going to ‘fess up now.
Okay, I give up. Yes, I did get a little nugget of inspiration earlier. Whether I made it up, or it really happened, well, who’s to say? I figured it was time for me to head home. As I got up, I noticed the spitballs on the bar.
I must have lost to the compulsion during those 32 minutes.
He simply smiled and nodded at me again.