Old Peculier—a strong, dark, high-alcoholic beer
first brewed in 1875 by Thomas Theakston in Paradise Field, Masham, England.
Noted for its initial sweetness— roasted and suggesting bananas—
but more famous, perhaps, for its subtle and bitter finish,
Old Peculier is definitely an acquired taste.
I’d been sneaking peeks at her all through post production. She had that high-energy walk God gives to dancers, a wondrously-expressive physicality still, at thirty-five, and when she had the chance she’d drop by the cutting room just to watch, standing, one foot casually en pointe, one strong and gold-flecked forearm, innocent, kept at the small of her back.
From time to time she’d ask questions, good ones, about the process. She’d move forward, forehead furrowed, sexy tendrils of flaxen hair aflutter, amazed, basically, that it was true—films are made in the editing room.
So, it can be argued, are friendships.
With those looks and that brain, Gale made me glad the divorce was coming through, but this was at the beginning of that year when nothing was meant to be. It was ironic that not only would our two ships pass ingloriously in the night, but, alas, they’d founder on similarly adjacent fateful shoals.
His name was Tom and he was one of those guys: a sailor; adventurous, physical, self-reliant, pretty-much a drunk.
But he was the kind of drunk you always wanted to be around, the life-of-the-party, guarantor-of-exotic-brews and unforgettable tales. He had a habit of appearing unannounced at your door with an ice chest stocked with beers you’d never heard of, and indeed, simply, Tom was one of life’s beautiful things.
I’d know him for ten years, and in all that time I’d never seen him mishandle a sheet or run a stop sign. He was almost ten years older than the rest of my friends, and he functioned on a totally different level than we did, self-assured, supremely competent, creative, good-natured, and better-lubricated than the horizontal stabilizers of most well-maintained Boeing 737’s.
Introducing Gale to Tom should not have been a mistake.
I was living in Tarzana, right down the hill from Edgar Rice Burroughs’s old estate, a mountainous reach from the west side of Los Angeles and the sea. It was a tribute to our friendship that Tom would even consider navigating from Marina del Rey on a Friday night with a trunkload of beer, fighting freeway traffic that—in a generous mood—you could only call insane.
I had suggested it might be worth his while to make the trip, because Gale was bringing a friend.
It all began when Gale’s friend couldn’t make it. I had managed to insinuate that the party might just whittle itself down to Gale and me a deux when Tom finally showed, late as always, stacked to the gunwales with beer, smelling also of the Pacific and points west.
His particular especiality that night, for which I shall nonetheless always be grateful, was a case of Old Peculier, in bottles, yes, but, in spite of that, the most unusual brew I’d ever consumed. At 5.6% Alcohol by Volume, I attribute the three or four bottles I downed immediately as the reason I somehow lost sight of the sailor and my stormy little dancer.
I know there was a story about William the Conqueror. How he gave one of his captains, Nigel de Albini, the estate of Mashamshire as a reward for services rendered. There was a segue into a tale of Albini’s son, Sir Roger de Mowbray, imprisoned for ransom by Saladin during the Crusades, and then some typically-Brit folderol (which Tom, being English, could track) regarding customs and claims and clerics and laws which all resulted in the establishment of the independent Peculier Court of Masham, to deal with your usual vagabonds, thieves, drunks, and women of less purity than the ale that was famously brewed there.
The word peculier is old Norman French, and it means particular rather than, say, odd. But I guess what I’m really trying to say is that somewhere through that first cooler of Theakston’s finest, Gale jumped ship. She chose to dally beneath the skull and crossboned-standard of my good friend Tom, a man ten years her senior. That night and for many, many more.
God, they were a perfect couple. They lived aboard his forty-foot ketch, la novia, crowded, perhaps, but a man could stand a LOT of bumping hips and shoulders with delectable little Gale.
We were all surprised that it lasted. She rounded off his sharp edges; he emboldened her natural shyness. He taught her to scuba-dive and tie a sheepshank, and she gave him the gift of music and—no doubt—athletic sex.
We spent a lot of time on the boat together, me with my small parade of Auditioning Significant Others, and always I was amazed: Tom and Gale were born for each other. They were both so goddamned lucky.
Significantly, it was over a raft of Old Peculier, moored off Catalina, that they dropped the bomb: they were giving up the straight life—long before the age of retirement, mind—and had decided to cruise the world together. Forever. Or at least so long as they could stand it and the beer didn’t give out.
The cruising lifestyle is not something a man and a woman take idly on, particularly when they both have high-paying high-profile jobs to leave. The planning and provisioning—not to mention disengagement—that encompass such a decision are large-scale. As I recall, it took over a year for things to come together. I went off and did two location films back-to-back, and in the course of that time I had very little contact with either of them.
I recall a day-sail after getting back from Mexico. The little ketch was like a new ship, a serious blue-water cruiser now, first-class fittings, new lines and sails, fully-provisioned. I remember feeling particularly jealous as I watched Gale con the boat as though she’d been doing it all her life, her body hard and strong, sensitized to ship, sea, and sky. My girl friend was seasick, and I was drowning in the irony. I guess you could say I was feeling sorry for myself, always a bad thing.
I noticed, as he came from below, how gray Tom had gotten in the year we’d been apart. He seemed, too, to have grown quieter. The jokes were not so fast nor furious. His steps fell heavier on the immaculate teak deck.
We ate abalone that night, taken illegally from a bed that Tom had guarded closely for over twenty years. The steaks were huge. They might have been as old as the man who’d brought them aboard, free-diving from a depth of forty or fifty feet. Gale asked us if we wanted to spend the night, and I guess I might have, but for the now-drunk as well as green-behind-the-gills girlfriend I just wanted to dump in a lump on shore.
I went about my business for a couple of weeks, tending to artificiality packaged and sold as the truth the way I do. One day started to feel way too much like the next, the way movies always feel when you get down to the end of them, the way life on a ship feels when you’re in between continents without the wind.
And then late one afternoon I got a phone call. It was Gale. What she told me was so preposterous that I had trouble even hearing the words: Tom had sailed without her. Sometime after breakfast, while she was picking up some last minute items in a little health food store in Beverly Hills and meeting a friend for lunch.
I flew airplanes, too, in those days. We chartered a 152 and launched, 180 out of Santa Monica with the sun low in the sky. Working the maritime frequencies all the way, we caught up with la novia just south of Catalina.
Tom’s radios were off, or maybe he just wasn’t listening, but as I buzzed that boat, again and again and again, the saddest sight I may have ever seen was my confused and broken-hearted dancer, waving to the love of her life, who sailed resignedly into the sunset and was never seen again.
I’ll always think of Tom Concannon as the Original Old Peculiar.