I don't mean the coke heads and the drunks; they'll always find a way to go broke. Or guys who run around after women. Those aren't the sort of chaps you want to hang out with, anyway, are they?
I'm talking about serious, sober, mature peo-ple. Like the gentlemen who gather at Wollensky's Grill on East 49th Street to discuss, over a libation, affairs of the day. Wall Streeters, agency people, editors, an engineer, a contractor, a former film star turned travel agent, and so on, a varied group.
On a recent Tuesday we were as usual assembled when master barman Patrick Ford gaveled the group to attention, read the minutes of the last meeting and turned the floor over to Peter the Portfolio Manager. When I first encountered Peter, he was doing OK. Had a Manhattan apartment and a place on the Connecticut shore. Two boats, a big sailboat and a smaller stinkpot. Did a little shooting, owned some nice guns. Was great pals with some white hunters and visited South Africa to photograph game.
In recent years, with the stock market boom, Peter has expanded somewhat. First of all, he bought some hunting dogs and sent them off to be trained (Peter is not much for the minutiae of life). Bought a bigger place, a dozen acres or so. Started growing varietal grapes, pressing and bottling his own wine. Got some beehives and has been raising bees and making honey. Most recently he visited Chile and got into alpacas. Bought a male we christened Osvaldo and five females. We're working on their names. But, there are problems. As LaRuffa the Contractor pointed out the other day.
"Peter, where are the alpacas? We've been waiting a year . . ."
"The cartel," Peter mumbled sourly, "there's an alpaca cartel . . ."
Ivor Mellish, having just returned from an assignment in Las Vegas, was in no mood to hear about alpacas. "If you knew anything about cartels . . ." he began. We ordered another round.
LaRuffa told Peter he'd enjoyed his honey. "But there was no paraffin inside the jars. Shouldn't you have paraffin in there? Is there a bee cartel, too?"
Mellish wanted no more of this. "If you knew anything about paraffin . . ."
Peter tugged out a catalog from the beekeeping association and we all admired the beekeeper suit he'd bought, size XXL. "Why don't you wear that suit here some night, Peter?" LaRuffa the Contractor inquired. Jerry the ad agent thought the suit looked Darth Vader-ish. We all took another look and, by God! it did.
"When are we going to taste some of your wine, Peter?" Pat Ford asked.
Peter said something about bringing down the tannin count first.
"If you knew anything about decent wine . . ." Mellish declared.
Ingo the Engineer was off to Pakistan to build a railroad or something. "If it's anywhere up near the Khyber Pass," LaRuffa the Contractor said, "watch out for those bastards up there . . ."
"If you knew anything about building railroads," Mellish interjected, "they're using concrete ties these days . . ."
"All I know is," said LaRuffa, "watch out for those bastards in the Khyber Pass." We all had another refreshment.
Mellish was reminded of his recent trip to Australia, where he visited giant worm farms (they grow to 30 feet, apparently) and photographed wombats. "Are those the bastards that if they bite you, you're dead?" LaRuffa inquired. Mellish exploded, "No, you moron! Those are the three-inch crustacens if you step on, on the beach, there's no known antidote. You die swift and miserably."
"I'd rather be up in the Khyber Pass with Ingo," LaRuffa allowed.
Claude the movie star complained he hadn't gotten any of Peter's honey. Peter looked glum. "I lost 40,000 bees this winter."
"What happened, the cartel get them?" I inquired. Peter looked hurt.
"No, there was this cold spell with the wind blowing right at the hives and one night it was so bad I took some plywood and nailed it over the opening they fly out of. A day or two later, they were all dead."
I could see Peter in his bee suit hammering at midnight.
The problem was, he said, that bees are fastidious, almost prissy, and won't ever defecate in the hive. So when he nailed them in against the cold, he was unknowingly and in all innocence, sentencing 40,000 bees to die of constipation.
LaRuffa shook his head. "And I thought the alpaca cartel was bad. And those bastards in the Khyber Pass . . ."