If it hadn't been for getting a grape scratch and sniff Valentine showing purple pterodactyls, I'd never have laid eyes on the 20-year old bottle of Chivas Regal found crusted with dust.
"Where you been?" was scrawled on the back of the card atop the official Valentine message ("Flying by with a Valentine Hi!"), but what caused me to pick up the landline was that it had arrived in the mail uncharacteristically a day late.
Every year since I've known Holmes, he's bought a package of kiddie Valentine cards and mailed them to friends like me and family, where they arrived punctually on Valentine's Day, occasionally the day before. Not this year.
Procrastination delayed Cupid's delivery, I was told, but as long as he was questioning my whereabouts the past two months, I was offering myself up. Tonight. Not that he'd missed me, but why didn't I join him and Beloved for dinner at Peter Chang? Tonight.
It was a rhetorical question that landed us at the bar catching up over three kinds of soup, shrimp dumplings, multiple orders of sesame noodles and bamboo flounder to the accompaniment of a bottle of Rose in just over an hour, allowing ample time to retire to his man cave to listen to vinyl.
Which we did, beginning with Joni Mitchell's 1974 masterpiece "Court and Spark," which everyone was enjoying when Holmes eased back in his bar stool and and asked inscrutably, "You know how I used to listen to this album?"
Without missing a beat, Beloved causally asked, "Stoned on LSD?" which may or may not have been the case, but turned out to be merely a stepping stone to the tale of his successive stereo closets, a saga full of arcane detail no man should recall after 40 years.
Seems that when he and his young bride bought their first house, the closet in the front room had already been modified to house some serious audio geek hi-fi equipment. It was the '70s, after all.
Shelves were hung for components, holes had been drilled for wire and cords and, on either side of the wall above the door were sizable hooks, the better to hold sizable speakers, which were further fortified by two chains to hold each speaker.
Naturally, the speakers were angled toward the couch, not hung exactly straight out. Naturally.
But because the layout was typical Richmond - long and narrow - speaker wire had also been run throughout the house so you could hear what was playing when you were in the bedroom or, even more important, on the rear sun porch.
And that, boys and girls, was how Holmes had listened to "Court and Spark" back in the day.
But, alas, eventually the wife wanted an entire house and not just a duplex, meaning the hep cat hi-fi set-up was left behind. Ah, but at the new digs, he had a basement with the potential to be a true man cave with a bar, shelves for VHS movies and a small room for his extensive comic book collection.
He tried putting the turntable on the Formica bar, but flailing drinkers and good times soon proved that to be a disaster-in-the-making.
But, wait! The stairs to the basement ran above the bar, leaving a wedge of space that someone handy (Holmes hired a carpenter) could easily turn into another stereo construct. The only difference was that his massive speakers now sat on the floor of the rec room, angled in toward the bar, under which were shelves holding hundreds of albums and a ridiculous amount of booze.
"It's kind of sketchy down there," Holmes tells me tonight, gesturing at the below-bar area, explaining that he'd dropped the brush to his Disc-Washer (for what it's worth, I didn't date a single guy in high school or college who didn't own a Disc Washer) down there recently and when he began rummaging around, he'd unearthed the dust-crusted bottle of Chivas Regal.
Best guessing and carbon dating led him to estimate its age at 20 to 25 years old.
Ever thrifty and resourceful, he'd removed the layers of dust and debris, found a silver tin for the bottle to live in and added Chivas into his brown sipping rotation. It's hard to argue with that kind of logic.
Next came one of Beloved's estate sale record finds, Tony Mottola's "Mr. Big" from 1959, a late Eisenhower-era lounge vibe that made it sound like an automatic beatnik party: four guitars, bongos and congas. Wild, man.
The cover art was superb: a black bowler hat with "Mr. Big" in white letters sitting on a red stripe. Graphically, it was distinctive enough that I scanned the album notes to learn the artist's name (Irwin Rosenhouse), but also some history (he was a Merchant Marine), only to be brought up short by the equivalent of a business card.
In addition to painting, Rosenhouse does designing and illustrating on a freelance basis.
Somebody had some serious marketing chops there. So much so I'm thinking of putting something similar on a t-shirt I'll wear on my daily walks: In addition to walking, I do writing and editing on a freelance basis.
Then when someone asks, "Where you been?" I can say out drumming up business. Cue the bongos.