West Side Rain

Jello Shots for Uncle Sam

I like a good noir rain. Short of a downpour, angrier than a drizzle.

A tomcat is pissing on a hot tin roof, however, when I pull into the Woodlake Pub (9600 Westheimer, 713-787-0099). Tucked in back of a shopping center near Westheimer and Gessner, the Woodlake is a true neighborhood bar, where a familiar after-work crowd eventually yields to a slightly younger set of thirtysomethings who plan on staying in the same seat all night. It's a destination, not somewhere you just end up.

Fortunately, a decent number of folks have either beaten or braved the rain, as I have to mill around for ten minutes before a seat at the bar opens up.

"There," points Nightfly's copilot, John. A tattered paper sign taped to the mirror behind the bar promises "Jello Shots $1 each! Or 6 for $5!"

"Is that necessary?" I ask.

After a quick glance around the bar, I decide no one looks the least bit interested in Jello shots. A few couples shoot pool, a group of folks plies the dartboard, some sailors play shuffleboard. Mostly, the full house of regular types works at drinking; they're old enough to know better.

To me, Jello shots are the charter member of the saccharine family of drinks sneaky hacks use to infiltrate the pants of women not sexy enough to drink tequila. "I've been here before," John tells me. "You have to eat about nine of them, then keep supplementing with your over-proofed bourbon. It'll work."

"Fine. We'll order a round after I finish my drink."

"No," he says, "You'll want to use that to wash down the goo."

The band, Tyranny of Round, finishes "Pipeline" and is scratching the intro of Warren Zevon's "Lawyers, Guns and Money" when bartender Kim returns with our six plastic cups. John and I eat our liquor, begin looking for a waitress. The way I always do.

I see Kim instead.

"This doesn't seem like a Jello-shot crowd to me."

"Oh, they love 'em,"

"Haven't seen anyone else buy them."

"I've sold at least three rounds tonight." She leaves to pour a cocktail.

"No way," blurts John. "She's totally saying that just to make us feel better."

I've barely cleared the taste from my mouth when a young woman, Leslie, taps me on the shoulder. She's holding a pint glass and a marker.

"We've got a guy over here being deployed in Iraq. Would you like to sign the glass for him?"

I happily oblige, pass the glass to John and then ask Leslie if she'd mind introducing me to the war-bound soldier. She gathers a few more signatures from our end of the bar, then directs me to the tallest of the sailors.

A mountainous, enthusiastic gentleman greets me with a firm handshake and a smile, then asks that his name not be used.

He hands me a card, which I start to stick in my coat. Then I take another glance.

"You're a SEAL?"

He smiles, nods.

"That's pretty righteous," I say, then start some left-field confession about how I grew up wanting to be a military man, an urge that faded fast at the end of my teenage years. I'm very careful to point out that I'm not trying to start a political discussion.

"Not at all. I understand. That's why we do this. So you can vote for whoever you want, so other people can come out and watch baseball, and listen to rock and roll or whatever. And so that girls can wear low-cut tops if they want."

"Well, sir," I say, placing my whiskey atop the jukebox, extending my hand, "I'd like to personally thank you. Especially for those last two, which happen to be a couple of my favorite freedoms."

He laughs. "You're welcome."

"How would you guys feel about doing some Jello shots with me?"

"Absolutely!"

After a quick head count, I leave for the bar, returning with John and a pile of plastic cups. Doling out the shots, I'm introduced to the rest of the group.

Once everyone is situated, we stand back and a toast is proposed. I nod at the SEAL.

"All right," he says, raising his cup. "For the sacrifices made, and all the young men laying down what they have for their country."

He pushes his shot into the middle of the table. The rest of us follow suit, touching cups.

"Many good men have gone and died, so that many good people can live."

With a whoop and a wave, we suck down our shots. The crushed cups clatter onto the table.

Never again will I do a Jello shot for anything less. Godspeed, sailor.

 
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