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THE MERLIN OF MISCHIEF
Glen Rock Council member Jon Cole and his friend and "partner in crime" Stephen Kennelly were GRHS Class of 1970 and 1969 graduates. Kennel, as Jon called him, passed away on January 9, 2015, at the age of 63.
While I was living with Kennel in the 70s, we were dirt poor, and it was probably the happiest time of my life. When I tell you that we were poor I mean that we once bought a box of Cheerios and split it four ways for dinner: him, me, and Amos and Jenny our two dogs.
I was teaching English, Drama, and Public Speaking in a public school and Kennel was working for the park authority. We rented a farm house in northern Virginia on two hundred acres: Firefly Farm, he named it because of all the fireflies that were lit up the night that he rented it.
Kennel was a magician; the Merlin of mischief. He could make fun appear right out of nothing. And he decided one night that he was going to use that skill to earn us some money while we had fun. So he placed an ad in the local newspaper of the next county over. Fauquier. The wealthiest of the wealthy lived there… or perhaps I should say they had horse farms there. I’m not being allegorical when I tell you there's a town named Upperville.
The ad: "The Loudoun Fauquier County Bartenders’ Association — for all your party needs."
There was no such association.
Not long after Kennel placed the ad, he received a call. The Dupont family was throwing a $5,000 a plate fundraiser for the National Arthritis Foundation. They wanted to know how many bartenders we could provide.
“Gee," Kennel responded quicker than a blink, “We're all booked up that night. We've only got two guys left.” The representative for the DuPont's quickly booked the two of us and continued making calls to find others.
That weekend we drove into DC to a used clothing store run by AMVETS and bought two used tuxedos since the event was black tie. The pants to my tux were a size 54 waist at a time when my waist was barely 30. When I used a safety pin in the back to make them appear to fit in the front, the two rear pockets were overlapping but the jacket covered it.
We were careful to arrive early the night of the event so that we could get the lay of the land. And that proved fortuitous. Circus tents had been set up in the back, and various bars, located around the grounds. As soon as I learned that there was a separate champagne bar, I grabbed that position. Ladies would drink champagne and giggle; men would drink scotch and curse.
The party was like nothing I'd ever seen. The guests were people like Senator Warner and Elizabeth Taylor and Jack Kent Cook. The music sounded like the soundtrack to a Frank Sinatra movie. One tent had a special wooden floor installed in it for dancing, and the Lester Lanin Orchestra was performing. One guy’s job was to periodically talc the floor slightly so that people’s shoes would glide smoothly across the wood. It was a tougher job than you'd think because god knows what would've happened to him if he got powder on anybody's clothing.
My bar was stocked with an endless supply of Dom Perignon. The first bottle that I opened was not quite cold enough. I was halfheartedly concerned that the cork would shoot off, so I turned the bottle away from the party when I popped it. Sure enough, it shot off into the darkness. I thought I heard a little noise but it didn't sound significant, so I ignored it.
A moment later one of the full-time staff of the house came running over to me. The maid looked me straight in the eye and told me that the cork had hit a stained-glass window imported from Europe that was hundreds of years old. Luckily for me it wasn't damaged, but she told me that if I broke the glass they would not make me pay for it, they would kill me. The look on her face made clear that she was not threatening me, she was simply stating a fact. I white-knuckle-held every cork for the rest of the night, slowly letting the gas escape.
Periodically I lifted my head and looked in the direction of the bar where Kennel had started out working. No sign of him anywhere, but he was 5'7" at best right after being stretched on the rack, so not being able to spot him in a crowd wasn't always unusual.
On my way back from grabbing another case of champagne to put on ice I happened to glance at the dance floor, and who do you think I saw? It hadn't taken Kennel two seconds to realize that everybody looked the same; black tie is black tie. So he abandoned the bar and was dancing with a debutante to Lester Lanin.
The night passed quickly for him; his dance card was full. Me, I worked my ass off, but I never stopped smiling as I watched the leprechaun dance with a string of wealthy beauties, none of whom suspected that his coach would turn back into a pumpkin at the end of the night. 🍾