Monday, October 31, 2016

Wild Night This Morning: The Last Days of The Naughty Pine - 4

Halloween 2003

It’s all Russian to me . . .

Tuesday, 10/31/06. Warm night—summer warm. DJ and I see “The Coast of Utopia: Voyage at Lincoln Center. Blah blah blah Kant, blah blah blah Hegel. Best part of the play, and I never thought I'd ever live to say this: Billy Crudup as Belinksy. But overall, even though it plays ten times better than it reads, it's like a collection of footnotes to a series of exciting dramatic moments, every last one of which happens offstage. Gives you a lot to think about and nothing to care about. Me it left thinking: "Why can't I get my plays done when stuff like this gets produced? Oh—that's right—my last name isn’t Stoppard."

It’s still warm out when we leave the theatre around 11. We walk from 66th Street to 57th Street, and judging by people I see, the entire city has been taken over by half-naked girls looking for cabs. The ones who aren’t tugging their micro-miniskirts down over their asses are pulling their micro-mini-shorts out of their ass cracks, and they all look just barely old enough to take algebra.

On the R train back to Brooklyn, I think about not getting off at 14th Street, but then I remember I promised Sunday I would see her on Halloween, so even though I was a bad boy Monday night, and bad boys need their beauty rest, I decide to stay ugly, and open the front door of the Pine just as Sunday is coming out to check the tires. She’s wearing tight jeans, a man’s long-sleeved white shirt, and a light bulb on top of her head that turns on and glows once every two minutes.

ME: So you’re, what, a brilliant idea?
SUNDAY: Somebody’s, hopefully. Who the hell are you dressed up as?
ME: The man of your dreams.
SUNDAY: I KNEW there was a reason I don’t remember my dreams.

We head around the corner, walk four doors down, and plant ourselves on the front steps of The Garage, which is what the staff has nicknamed this particular apartment building. Sunday pulls out a glass hash pipe, fills it with some bambalacha, and we light up. When I mention that she doesn’t usually do this, Sunday replies that her mother is coming into town on Friday for the weekend. “You’re lucky I’m not shooting heroin,” she says. “Hey, it’s only Tuesday,” I say. That gets a whack on my shoulder. She asks me how the play was. I tell her that if this is what gets produced these days as a history play, then it’s no wonder nobody is writing history plays. And I start to describe the play to her, and she asks alternately silly and smart questions, and in the middle somewhere, don’t ask me how, we’re suddenly talking about relationships. I think it began when I described a scene from the play and she said “I used to know a guy like that,” and we suddenly shifted from Russia in the 1840’s to Sunday’s teenage social life in the 90’s. And then she asks me the question I always get asked at some point, and I give her the honest answer.

SUNDAY: So how come you’re not married?
ME: The perfect combination of good luck and bad timing.
SUNDAY: Just haven’t met the wrong woman yet?
ME: God no, I’ve met the wrong woman dozens of times. She’s usually either a Pullman trunk, a wounded sparrow, a lobster, a porcupine, or a big fish.
SUNDAY: I love the way you refuse to pigeonhole people. So what are Pullman trunks?
ME: Pullman trunks are the ones who walk into your life with enough emotional baggage to fill Grand Central Station, all of which they load onto you before they go off with someone else on that express train to Intercourse, PA. Wounded sparrows? A lost cause. You cradle their helpless, hurting souls in your caring hands, and you mother them and you father them until they're healthy enough to think of you as a brother. Lobsters are so hard-shelled on the outside that you just know it's a front to protect an inner vulnerability that actually doesn’t exist. And porcupines? You can't get close to them without getting hurt. And when that happens, you always say it's her fault. But it isn't. It's yours. When you impale yourself on a porcupine, you can't blame the quills.
SUNDAY: You sound like Woody Allen.
ME: (I despise you.) Thanks.

“And what’s a big fish?” Sunday asks. “That’s the one that got away.” “Sounds like they all get away. Or do you just throw them all back because you’re only interested in catching them, not keeping them?” Ouch, I think. “And when they’re all off the table,” she asks, “what does that leave you?”  “Teenagers and married women,” I say. “God,” says Sunday, “you really are Woody Allen. So what do you call a wounded sparrow who drinks too much?” I think for a second.  “A wild turkey..” Sunday barks out a laugh. “Hah! That's my mother—when she isn't sucking off Jim Beam, she's going down on Johnny Walker. So what do you think I am?” “You? You're not on that list at all.” “Oh yes I am. I’m part porcupine, part lobster.” “That would make you a porkster,” I say immediately.

“Ah,” Sunday cries, “thick-skinned and painful to be close to.” “You’re being way too hard on myself. You’re a prize, Dominica.” Her eyes flash for a moment, and I wonder how many people call her by her real name and not its English translation. “I’m a prize,” Sunday says, “because I always attract the real winners. Guys who look at me like my clothes are grass and their eyes are the lawnmower. I tell them what books I’ve been reading, and they tell me what porn movies they want to re-enact in bed. I might as well not have a brain in my head.” “Oh please,” I say, “you are the textbook definition of not just a pretty face. You put the bella in cerebellum. You put the yum in cranium.” Sunday snorts. “Do you serve crackers with that cheese?” “Hey—that was GREAT cheese!” “Even great cheese, is just cheese, dream boy.”

Halloween 2002 (Yup--that's me.)

                                 Bar Talk Bingo

We finish the pipe and sail back into the Pine. Liz is behind the bar dressed as Barbara Eden playing Jeannie, except that you can see Liz’s navel; Leland is dressed up in an Air Force uniform (?) and Rebeca is dressed up as Wonder Woman. (Oh—okay, I get it now—Leland is Steve Trevor.) The bar area is packed three deep with regulars and randoms dressed up as much more daring and dangerous versions of themselves, because the rules of the night give them permission to break all the rules, with no consequences. I think of the concept of Twelfth Night, where the lows get to lord it over the highs, no questions asked; I think of New Year’s Eve, where everybody parties like they have a Get Out of Jail Free card; and I think of alcohol, and how it gives you that same permission to break the rules, except that there ARE consequences. And I frantically scribble all that into my notebook as we wend our way through two centuries of costumed regulars to the back of the first floor.

And then I stop and look around, stop and let it all soak in. This is the last Halloween at the Naughty Pine, and Halloween here is something beyond special. This is the night when regulars and lovers of New York City dress up as the people who used to call this bar their home. It’s the history of the city come to life. Mock Duck is sitting at Table 107 with Bruce Lee. Tom Waits is necking with Louise Brooks at Table 104. The Sidesaddle Booth has about twenty female aviators crammed into it, everyone from Amelia Earhart to Pancho Barnes. Eliza Gilbert, alias Lola Montez, is doing Irish car bombs with Marilyn Monroe and Lily Langtry. The Mohican Round Table is applauding as Little Egypt dances with Adele Astaire. Bob Dylan and Stephen Foster are writing a song together. Mina Loy and Myrna Loy are watching Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven tie Harry Houdini into a straitjacket. Joe Kennedy and Big Joe Little are cutting a deal to get JFK into the White House. Evelyn Nesbit is hanging on Nikolai Tesla’s shoulder while Romany Marie is nibbling Thomas Edison’s right ear. Alexander Hamilton is trying to seduce Rickie Lee Jones. Aaron Burr has Veronica Lake in his lap. Marcel Duchamp is sketching Jack Kerouac’s profile. Harry Longbaugh (aka The Sundance Kid) and Etta Place are playing poker with PT Barnum. JB Hatfield is dealing faro to Bugsy Siegel and Bill The Butcher. And Samantha Seaton is sashaying from table to table with Errol Flynn on one arm and Sean Flynn on the other (she slept with them both, after all). God, I’m going to fucking miss this place.

Given the play I’ve seen tonight, there’s only one place I want to sit, and luckily there’s room for the two of us next to Leon Trotsky and Margaret Sanger. This is Table 116, where—on March 26, 1917—John Reed, Louise Bryant, Emma Goldman, and Sanger (to whom Reed had just sold his Cape Cod cottage) took Trotsky out to dinner before he sailed back to Russia the next morning. Trotsky had been living in the Bronx for the last three months, having been deported from France to Spain because of his revolutionary activities, and then from Spain to the United States because, as the Professor likes to say, “Spain was like the Staten Island of its day, getting all the human garbage the rest of Europe didn’t want.” Reed and Bryant followed Trotsky to Russia in August; Goldman was charged with conspiracy to induce people not to register for the draft in June, and sentenced to two years in prison; and Sanger was stuck with the bill.

“So who was the worst of the wrong women?” Sunday asks as Sarah (dressed up in full gamin black as Audrey Hepburn) brings us a pint of Guinness and a Stoly rocks. “The Girl We Don’t Mention,” I reply. I don’t even have to think about it. “Second worst?” she asks. I spread my arms. “All the rest. The Girl We Don’t Mention leads the pack by so much, she makes the rest of the field look like they’re standing still. She wins going away. She is the Secretariat of lousy relationships.” 

While we talk, Sunday unbuttons the bottom of her shirt, ties it into a knot, and hitches it up to expose her waist, and the brightly colored tattoo of a palomino racing across her midriff. “Hi ho Trigger,” she says. “Did you know,” I say, “that Trigger makes one of his first appearances on film in The Adventures of Robin Hood?” “No way,” she says. I nod my head. “He’s the horse Maid Marian rides when the Sheriff and Guy of Gisborne are captured in Sherwood Forest. His name at the time was Golden Cloud.”

And with that, we’re off to the races. We go from Errol Flynn movies to Rafael Sabatini novels to the delightful fact that the opening words of Sabatini’s Scaramouche (“He was born with the gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad”) were carved onto Yale’s Hall of Graduate Studies alongside quotations from Dante and Shakespeare by architect John Donald Tuttle. When the Yale administration discovered that the words were from (shudder) a popular novelist and not a Great Man of Literature, they immediately planted ivy over the quote so that it would be invisible. From Yale we went to Harvard, where I worked as a grant accountant during the 70’s—and when, out of nowhere, Sunday asks me about Kent State, I know we have officially gone down the bar-talk rabbit hole. From Trigger to Kent State in (counting on his fingers) six moves—that, and seeing all this living history? What a night.

Alcohol: Guinness (1)
Other Substances: Marijuana (half a bowl)

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Wild Night This Morning: The Last Days of The Naughty Pine - 3

    Every other day of the week is fine, yeah

The man. The legend.

Monday, 10/30/06. After the usual crappy Monday at work, and the usual pass-out nap between 4:30 and 6:30, I get to the Pine around 7:30. It’s just me and Marita at the upstairs bar (Ketel Mike is outside smoking a cigarette) and Eric waiting tables, and Kenny tells me that the closing is even more official. The last day has been set—it’s going to be the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We immediately speculate as to why that Saturday. Why not the end of the month? Why not the end of the year? Do they need to start tearing the place apart before 12/1 for some legal reason? And on another level: why stay open past Thanksgiving at all? Why not close the day before?

KENNY: And what sucks is, the holidays are like the gravy train of the year for this place. The holidays are why you put up with the summer. It’s like your reward. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the place is packed. It’s like, what does that say about how they feel about us?

Eric mentions that there’s going to be a party Sunday afternoon for the staff and regulars. He doesn’t know when exactly, but evidently the staff will get to invite one or two people each, and regulars will get invited by the day and night managers.

As I pull out my notebook, a cute blonde in a little black dress sidles up to the bar from the center table, which has a half-dozen pretty young’ns sitting at it, asks Kenny’s name, and introduces herself as Ginger.

GINGER: You’re cute.
KENNY: Oh. Oh. Oh. I passed the last exit to cute about ten years ago. What’ll it be?
GINGER: I’ll have a gin martini. Dry. And when I say dry, I mean Sahara. Open up the vermouth, take a Polaroid of the bottle, and wave it over the vodka till it develops. How much?
KENNY: You’re from the table over there? I’ll put it on your tab.
GINGER: Can’t I just pay for it here?
KENNY: I’ll have your server bring it over.
GINGER: I’d rather buy it from you.
KENNY: If you’re sitting at a table, you have wait service.
GINGER: But I don’t like to wait.
KENNY: And I don’t like to take Polaroids.
GINGER: So you can’t make me a drink?
KENNY: Oh I can make it for you, I just have to put it on your table tab. House rules.
GINGER: And you never make exceptions?
KENNY: Haven’t made one yet.
GINGER: The night is young.

She sashays back to the table with a flirty over-the-shoulder look. Kenny waits till she turns away and then sashays over to the gin to make her drink. I start writing while Kenny and Marita chat, and the moment I put pen to paper, Ketel Mike is looking over my shoulder and asking me what I’m working on. When I tell him, he gives me about a thirty second head start before asking “So what happened to that other play you were working on?” In-between interruptions, I manage to get the basic idea down, but it’s a struggle.

                   From The Notebook
RED QUEEN’S RACE: Margaret Sanger and the birth control issue.

Epigraph: "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!" – The Red Queen, Through The Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll

Starts in 1915, ends in 1966. Nothing changes. The same conversations; the same slurs and slights; the same battles have to be fought and re-fought and re-fought. The same woman in all 3 or 4 time periods. In 1915, Margaret Sanger is advising woman A and gets arrested. In 1940, Sanger is advising B, the 25-year-old daughter of A. In 1966, Sanger is advising C, the 26-year-old daughter of B. (All played by the same actress.) Men go from arresting her to heckling her (played by same actor).

Opening frame scene: present day:

Margaret Sanger would be rolling over in her grave.
Margaret Sanger.
Are you on the pill?
I’m sorry?
Are you on the pill? Because if you’re on the pill, or if you use any birth control device at all, the fact that you don’t know who Margaret Sanger is would be like a baseball player not knowing who Curt Flood is.
Curt Flood. The reason why baseball players get to be free agents.
Margaret Sanger made women free agents?
In a way, yes. Except . . .
Except what?

The question is answered in the opening line of the next scene, when Sanger says: They’ll never let us BE free; we have to fight for it.

Thematic echoes: You have to keep fighting for it. If you stop, they win. They’ll take it away from you. / The world doesn’t stay changed. Unless you make it change day, by day, by day. / So we’ve done it? No—we have to KEEP doing it. / Men won’t let it stand. If you ask for equal pay, they’ll make it so you’ll have to work twice as hard for half as much. / It will never BE equal. You always have to MAKE it equal. Always. / Equal rights is like tennis. Men can afford to lose a game. Men can afford to lose a set. You can’t afford to lose a single point. Because then you lose the match.

                       It’s not who I am,
           it’s what you think of me that counts

While I’m writing, Ginger comes back two more times for another drink. The first time, I’m convinced that she’s doing this as a gag.

GINGER: Dry Martini. And when I say dry, I mean drought. I mean boil the vermouth until it turns into a gas, use the gas to fill a balloon, and tie the balloon to the stem of the glass.

The second time, I’m convinced she’s a stand-up comic or a writer. Nobody orders drinks this elaborately unless they’re trying out material.

GINGER: Dry martini. And when I say dry, I mean dust. I mean pour the vermouth over an ice cube, put the ice cube in your mouth, and give the glass an air kiss.

After my third Guinness, I stop writing and take stock. It’s a typically slow Monday night. The corral is empty, the bar has one regular at it (me), two women in skirtsuits who are talking office politics, and a sullen middle-aged guy with very little hair who is watching the Patriots game and groaning whenever they make a good play. There are three booths and one table with diners, and Eric is being good about doing whiskey shots with Kenny only after every other food order. Thirty minutes later that all changes, as a horde of loud Bowl-Morons take over the corral and the lounge, a couple of them leaning on the bar right next to me, when they have the whole rest of the bar to lean against—like people at the shore who put their towel right next to yours when they have the whole beach to choose from. Is there anything more aggravating?

The tables eventually empty. The Bowl-Morons hang around till the bitter end, as do I. In-between cursing yuppies and their drinks of choice, Kenny talks about how, when Richie got the news that the Pine was closing on the 25th, he almost started to cry.

KENNY: He was messed up, man. I really thought he was going to lose it.

And I think of Richie’s cat. It’s like a double death, except that he can see this one coming. This one, he knows exactly when the vet is going to put down the thing he loves.

And then, writer that I am, I think: wait a fucking minute. What if Richie was LYING about his cat? What if he told me that whole cat saga because he didn’t want me to think he was the kind of guy who could actually lose his shit over a bar closing? So he was saying something like, “I want you to think of me as the kind of guy who loses his shit over a CAT!”

Oh come on, I think. Why would he do something like that? But I know the answer. Simple. Because it’s a better story.

Alcohol: Guinness (4) Jameson (1)

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Wild Night This Morning: The Last Days of The Naughty Pine - 2

The old Von Steuben Hotel bar

               The Naughty Pine: A Brief History

The Knotty Pine was established at 69 Pine Street in 1784 by Amos Vanderlynn, on the site of his father’s bar, which was called The Dutch Courage. The Vanderlynn family retained ownership of the bar and the building until 1898, when Charity Vanderlynn’s husband Michael John Whitehead bought up the building and both adjacent lots, with the intention of constructing an office building on the site. The demolition of 69 Pine Street was only prevented when Charity’s cousin, Civil War veteran Adrian Vander, hired a team of Irish laborers and on Christmas Day, 1899, dismantled the building completely, loaded it up onto twelve carts, and delivered it to the back yard of 309 Bleecker Street, on the site of Tom Paine’s old living quarters, where it was reconstructed exactly as it had been at Pine Street, booth by booth and table by table, and reopened on January 5, 1900. For the next eight years, the only way to get to the bar was by way of a small three-foot-wide passage between 309 Bleecker and 311 Bleecker. When 311 Bleecker was demolished and rebuilt over this passageway in 1908, Jonathan Vander had a special buzzer marked “Apt 3A” installed in the 309 lobby, a buzzer which automatically opened the building door. From there, patrons could walk through the lobby to the back door of the building, which opened up directly into the Knotty Pine’s bar. This was especially convenient during Prohibition, when Bat Masterson first called the place by the name it’s known today, The Naughty Pine.

The bar moved to its current location during the evening of November 5th, 1933, when between midnight and dawn the entire building was lifted onto a load truck, customers, staff and all, and deposited across the street from the Von Steuben Hotel, which was scheduled for demolition at the end of the year. Samuel Vander’s last act as owner, before he turned the bar over to his son Solomon, was to purchase the hand-carved Von Steuben bar for $5,000 and install it against the north wall of the Naughty Pine. Since then, the outer structure of the original Pine Street building has undergone three separate renovations, the latest of which was in 1954, when the famous upstairs bar, with its landmark skylight designed by Mies van der Rohe, was added to the structure. This renovation was totally financed by Jackson Pollock and Jack Kerouac, who put up the money on one condition—that they would never once be banned from the Naughty Pine the way they had been continually banned from the Cedar Tavern. Solomon Vander, the owner at the time, agreed in principle, as long as Kerouac, Pollack and their crew didn’t do any of the things that the Cedar banished them for, such as kicking down the men’s room door (Pollack) and peeing in an ashtray (Kerouac).

And since the truth is always less streamlined than the story, like an ugly oily engine beneath a sleek shiny chassis, it should be pointed out that when I say the skylight was “designed” by Mies van der Rohe, I mean “scribbled on a napkin while he was three sheets, two pillows and a comforter to the wind.” “This fucking box needs a skylight!” van der Rohe cried one night while he and Kerouac and Neal Cassady were arguing about Melville with a visiting Charles Olson in the upstairs Pine. The architect pulled out a pencil, slashed at his napkin like he was Jack The Ripper and it was Mary Jane Kelly, and handed it to Kerouac with the words “Forge it!” It took a woodworker and a glassmaker six months to transfer van der Rohe’s jagged drawing into a filigreed half-globe with a distinct bulge in the middle, like wooden struts preventing a glass balloon from rising up from the roof. “It’s the Earth!” van der Rohe is said to have explained. “It bulges in the middle, so the skylight has to bulge in the middle.” It also appears to have a different shape depending on where you look up at it. One night in 1963, comic book artist Steve Ditko got falling down drunk at the upstairs Pine—literally; he fell flat on the floor—and when he looked up at the skylight and its curving wooden ribs and its oddly-shaped glass panels, he perceived a design which he later used as the window of Stephen Strange’s Bleecker Street sanctum sanctorum.

Pretend you're looking up at it from the floor.

                       P.S. My cat is dead.

Sunday, 10/29/06. And sure enough, I’m wide awake at 7:30 and out the door before 9. I do a little coffee shop writing, and then see Clint Eastwood’s Spielberg war movie, Flags of Our Fathers (eh: Spielberg has a lot to answer for—every WWII movie these days looks like Saving Private Ryan). I take a nap and head into town around 5. I don’t usually go into the Pine on Sundays; I did it off and on when Bernie and Mike Wells were behind the bar, but since I have to be in work at 6:30 every morning, and Monday is without question the busiest morning of the week, I tend to keep myself sober and go to bed early, just to get the week off right. Not this week. I come in around 6ish. The Jets are playing the Browns. Dominic is behind the bar, and serves me like I'm a health inspector until he's sneaked his third shot of Jamie, after which he serves me like his long-lost brother. The Professor is explaining the Lincoln County War to a pretty strawberry blonde who looks a little like Allison the artist. (But then all strawberry blondes look a little like Allison the artist.) And Richie is closing out his day receipts, because he’s not the night manager any more—Sarah is—and the difference in atmosphere is like the difference between sticking your hand in an electric socket and sticking your hand in a bag of Dove Dark Chocolates. And I like Richie; I’ve always gotten along with him. (But then again, as my friend Ava says, “Wells, you could get along with a school of piranha.”) But I’ve also been a manager in my day, and because I tried to be everybody’s friend, I got no respect. Richie swings in the opposite direction. I can’t say whether or not he wants anyone who works here to like him, or even if he cares. What I can say is that his manager persona cares about the job first, and everything else takes second place, in much the same way that my manager persona treated co-workers as people first and subordinates second. To my mind, that makes Richie the better manager.

And Sarah? Her management persona is a cross between Randi’s and Richie’s. Randi, like all stunning-looking people, uses her looks to get over; it’s an automatic reflex with her, as it is with all natural beauties male and female. If Life is an exclusive after-hours club, the breathtaking only have to show up to get waved in by the bouncer, and led to an exclusive banquette with free bottle service, where they will vehemently deny that they received anything approaching a special privilege. Which makes them all fatales, whether they’re femme or homme. Sarah could get past the same bouncer, but she’d do it with her warmth and her eyes, which are an arresting ice-blue, like frozen glacier water. It’s that combination of thaw and chill which creates her style—she projects both conviviality and poise; she can make you think she’s fooling and say “Death to fools!” at the same time. Which makes her the kind of manager with whom the staff can kid around without taking advantage of her, and obey without feeling like they’re being given marching orders by a martinet.

She’s also this kind of manager: because Alexandra is incredibly hung over from last night’s weird Cola/Wine drink, Sarah is helping her wait tables, and is not very happy about it.

(Flashback to last night, Sarah behind the bar:)
SARAH: She’s so nice. Don’t you just hate her?
(Slam cut to tonight, Sarah bussing food to the three packed tables who have Alexandra as their waitress:)
SARAH: She’s so hung over.
ME: Don’t you just hate her?

Richie meanwhile is obviously depressed, and says so.

RICHIE: I’m really depressed right now.
ME: No wonder.
RICHIE: No, not this place. Not that. I’m fine with that. I’ve seen this coming for a long time. I had to put one of my cats to sleep this weekend.

He gives me the story. It’s not a happy one. The cat was old, she had been suffering lately, and like he always did when she got this way, Richie took her to the vet for a check-up, this time because she had been listless and hadn’t eaten anything in the last two days. “I walked in there telling her and telling myself that everything would be all right,” Richie says, “and then the vet took one look at her and shook his head and said, ‘There’s nothing I can do.’” Richie’s face as he says those words winces with an I’ve Just Been Kicked In The Teeth look that is so naked, I’m embarrassed to see it. I can only imagine that it was ten times more devastating in the doctor’s office, where something ongoing and everyday turned into something final and irrevocable, and a man who fully expected to bring his sick cat home suddenly found himself saying goodbye to her.

RICHIE: It’s like a sudden death. But worse. If she’d been failing, instead of just ill, I would have had an inkling, you know? And now I wonder, did I miss something? Was it something I didn’t do? I’m feeling guilty about that, and I’m feeling guilty that I didn’t have enough time to spend with her at the end, to make her comfortable. Now there’s this big empty space in my life, you know?

“I’m so sorry,” I say. But what I really want to say is, “I know,” because it’s not just his cat that’s going to leave this big empty space.

              Billy The Kid meets Margaret Sanger:
               An American International Release

By the time I’m on my final Guinness of the night, Sarah has replaced Dominic, who is off to meet Randi for dinner; Alexandra has been joined by Jynah—“joined” being the polite synonym for “passive-aggressively put in her place,” which is what happens when Jynah is in a good mood; and the Professor and his pretty companion have adjourned to Table 107, where the Prof is following up his epic explanation of the Lincoln County War by talking about Billy The Kid. Why? Because in 1873, 14-year-old Henry McCarty (also known as Henry Antrim, William Antrim, Kid Antrim, Billy The Kid, and William H. Bonney) got into an argument at Table 107 with an old barfly named Septimus Kane, during which he stuck a knife in Kane’s neck, killing him instantly.  This murder has long been cited as the reason why he and his mother packed up and moved all the way to Silver City, New Mexico, rather than, say, Bushwick, three days after the killing. The strawberry blonde’s eyes are wide as she runs a hand over the graffiti-etched wood of the table. I can tell what she’s thinking. She’s thinking: Is that a W, an H and a B that she can feel with her fingertips? And I’m thinking: It fucking better be; Keith Moon and Oliver Reed spent two hours digging them into the wood one night in March of 1976.

I catch the Professor’s eye. He gives me a tight little grin; he knows that Keith Moon story too, and whenever he tells it, he usually says he was sitting one table over watching them do it. Which is entirely possible; he’s about five years older than I am, so he would have been almost 30 in ’76. But the Prof has a tendency to always put himself into whatever story he’s telling, which results in hilarious anachronisms whenever he talks about things like the Great Frank O’Hara Imitation Contest of 1960, or the Wall Street Bombing of 1920. 

I’m tempted to walk over there with my Guinness and try to charm the Prof’s date away from him with another piece of Table 107 history. I run through the details in my mind, because I’m at that point where the stout is weighing heavily against the doors of my memory. On October 26, 1916 (1917?) (No, 1916.) (I think.), Margaret Sanger was eating beef stew and drinking a cup of tea at Booth 107 when she was arrested for obscenity by the New York police. Ten days before, she had opened a birth control clinic in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, which was raided by the police on October 25th. Sanger served 30 days in jail, and the first thing she did when she was released was return to the Knotty Pine to finish her interrupted meal. For the rest of her life (she died in 1966) her dinner checks were picked up by the management. There's an apocryphal story that, the year before her death, Sanger was taken to lunch at 107 by the 22-year-old Billie Jean King, but King has always denied it. The kicker is that, right above the Professor’s head is a picture of Sanger in her youth, which was put in the booth after Sanger died. Most everybody thinks it’s a portrait of the current owner’s grandmother. Including, alas, a lot of women under 30.

I review the Sanger story in my head—this is going to be SO COOL!—jotting down the dates in my notebook, because if I write it down, then I remember it. I turn the bar chair towards the professor’s table, ease off it, and as my feet hit the floor, a little voice inside me says “Do NOT!” like Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia. Because, really, going over there to fuck with the Professor and his current cutie is a dick move. So I ease myself back into the chair, stare at the sign over the bar that reads WE ARE POISONSTICK WITH SCOTCH, order a Talisker, and start making notes for a play about Margaret Sanger in my notebook. Thinking to myself, SINBAD. See? I’m not being a dick. 

Alcohol: Guinness (4) Talisker (1)

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells

Day 3

Friday, October 28, 2016

Wild Night This Morning: The Last Days of The Naughty Pine - 1

                 “Wells. Matt Wells.”

Saturday, 10/28/06. Dave calls me in the afternoon, just as I’m about to pick up my tuxedo for Stacy’s wedding. “It’s official—they’re closing the Naughty Pine the week of Thanksgiving. No definite date yet.” Dave then goes on to deliver a speech which I will hear at least a dozen times in the next week, the gist of which is, “They couldn’t wait till New Year’s?!?” Well, considering they’ve been waiting since the 4th of July (the original tentative close-by date), evidently not. Because this is it: after failing to get a bank loan in the summer, the Vander kids have gone to another bank and obtained the loan they need to turn their two-story inheritance into a seven-story apartment building. And The Naughty Pine, a bar that was 3 years old when the Constitution was debated, will be no more as of the end of November.

The news leaves me unaffected, and I can’t figure out if it’s because (a) I’ve been expecting it since July, (b) this kind of thing is just so New York City that I don't fucking care any more or, (c) I’m so numb to any emotion these days that it would blunt a diamond drill to get through my defenses. Take Stacy’s wedding for instance. I’ve known her since she was 19; she was one of the first people I met when I moved here 25 years ago, and now (after loving her dearly but never quite falling in love with her) she’s getting married tonight in the Rainbow Room, and I am totally dispassionate about everything except the fear that, in my tuxedo, I look like the love child of Ernest Hemingway and Santa Claus.

Or is it Hemingway and Richard Dreyfuss?

I get to the wedding a little before six, and I’m one of the last to leave at midnight, after making the usual spectacle of myself on the dance floor. I can now do one of two things. I can go to the Naughty Pine, and show off my duds, or I can go to Emma Lee’s Halloween party on the Upper West Side. Which is really no choice at all, so off I go to the Naughty Pine.

By the time I get there, the upstairs is closed, which means I don’t get my wiseass fix from Randi the up-manager, so I sit at the downstairs bar. I’ve told some people in advance that I’ll be wearing a tuxedo, and a couple of them are there: Esma from the Strip House, and Sarah, who’s down-managing. Alexandra the waitress is sitting in the catbird corner drinking something called Gramma’s Wine, which is a wine and cola concoction she fell in love with when she was in Spain. All she needs is cream cheese to be as toasted as a bagel when I sit down next to her. “You clean up purty,” she says. Alexandra, a dancer who just signed a contract with a new company in the city, is  the latest in a long line of Naughty Pine waitresses who are such total sweethearts that they could melt the ice on Saturn’s moons. (Like Julia, for instance. All you have to do is say her name out loud and a room full of regulars will go “Awwwww—Julia—whatever happened to Julia?” It will be the same when Alexandra leaves. Or it would be, if she wasn’t leaving because they’re closing the God damn bar.)  She’s sitting at the bar because she was cut early, and she’s drinking because it’s the end of her first week in her new dance company, and she needs a little pick-me-up. Over the course of the next three hours, she’ll average about 1.5 pints of wine to every pint of Guinness I make disappear. And eat a hummus plate, and have a couple of shots of Jameson’s. My kind of pick-me-up.

SARAH: She’s so nice. Don’t you just hate her?

Did I mention she’s a dancer?

John and Sunday are behind the bar tonight. Sunday comes over and says, “What’ll it be, Mister Bond?” I try to think of a non-suggestive Bond Girl name to call her in reply, and fail miserably. “Well, Molly Warmflash,” I begin, and Sunday does a spit take. “Where the Fleming fuck is THAT one from?” she asks, and I reply: “The World Is Not Enough. But a fresh drink will be. Let’s see. At the wedding tonight I had red wine, white wine, three Bellini’s, a couple of vodka cranberries, a Johnny Walker on the rocks, and two glasses of champagne. So I think it’s time for a beer.” I end up having three. And spend most of the night trying not to stare at Table 102, where Mel Brooks is having drinks with one of his sons, who’s describing this zombie book he’s just gotten published.

                    Sidebar: Table 102

On June 20, 1790, after dinner with Thomas Jefferson at his Maiden Lane house, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison joined Jefferson, Luther Martin, and Aaron Burr at Booth 102 for a long night of drinking, during which the four men changed the course of American history. In return for designating a swampy stretch of Virginia land as the capital city of the newly Constitutionalized United States, Jefferson and Madison agreed that the Federal Government would assume all state-held debt from the Revolutionary War up to and including the years of the Articles of Confederation. Which is why we have (a) Federal currency with Hamilton's picture on a ten-dollar bill instead of state scrip with a picture of George Clinton, and (b) the District of Columbia. It's also (c) why Hamilton lived to be killed by Aaron Burr fourteen years later, because when Hamilton made a drunken pass at a waitress Madison was sweet on, Madison challenged him to a duel then and there, and only the combined efforts of Burr and Jefferson prevented them from adjourning to the back yard with a pair of Luther Martin's pistols. At this same table, less than seventy years later, John Brown met with English mercenary Hugh Forbes, whom Brown hired to drill and train the men he was recruiting for his raid on Harper’s Ferry. And in 1938, after the tavern had moved to Bleecker Street, Robert Johnson stopped off for a drink at Table 102 and scribbled a postcard to his friend LeRoy “Bonebucket” Jones. Less than a year later, Johnson had been poisoned by a jealous husband and Jones had moved to New York from Memphis and could be found sitting at the same table, with a plate of ribs on one side and a bucket of bones on the other, singing for his supper three nights a week from dusk till closing. During that time, Jones composed his most famous blues number, “If I Were You, We’d Both Be Miserable,” which was rewritten by Arthur Freed as “If I Were You” and sung by Gene Kelly in the MGM musical Blythe and Bonnie; and later covered by the Rolling Stones (and attributed to “Traditional”) as “Misery Blues.”

                              Sidebar To The Sidebar 

The first non-white to ever be served at the Knotty Pine was Jack Johnson, when he sailed into the bar with his future wife Etta Duryea on his arm in 1910. When several outraged patrons protested at the black fighter's presence in their midst, bartender and owner Jedediah Vander said: “You want to tell him no? You go right ahead.”

                            Groucho Meets SINBAD

About twenty minutes into my first Guinness, a guy dressed completely in orange—orange pants, orange jacket, orange bowler—staggers into the bar with a guy in jeans, cowboy boots, a guinea-T and a Stetson. If Alexandra is toasted, these guys are microwaved. They park themselves next to me the way a fat guy parks himself next to you on a crowded bus, and they hug the rail like a couple of tourists on a tugboat, leaning back and forth against the rolling tide that is solid ground when you are drunk as a skunk. Over the next thirty minutes—during which they order shots, shitty American beer, more shots, and even shittier American beer—their conversation consists of alternately yelling “WHOOOOOOOOOO!” and “YEA-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-AH!” at the top of their lungs. Forty-five minutes later there’s a pool of spilled beer at their feet, and some Rorschach-worthy slosh stains on my notebook. It occurs to me that these yahoos are so drunk they probably think they’re in Off The Wagon, where they would fit in like a skinhead in a prison yard. It also occurs to me that, when the Naughty Pine closes, I’m going to be the one who’s out of place, because almost every other bar in this city is packed with goons like these guys.

They’re also making the dumbest kind of tequila-fueled passes at Sunday, who handles them with her usual grace and style by telling them in flawless gutter French how tiny their dicks are. “That sounds beautiful, what does it mean?” Orange Julius asks. “It means your manliness is obvious to everyone,” Sunday replies sweetly. “Your beautiful womanliness is what’s fucking obvious,” Orange Julius replies, and his Brokeback boyfriend says something that sounds like “Sure is.” At which point Sunday tilts her head to me and rolls her eyes, which is my cue to say, “Guys, if you’re going to talk to my daughter like that, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t do it around me.” And oh, the look on their faces. It’s all Sunday can do not to crack up as they apologize, tell me they hope I’m not offended, apologize again, apologize a third time, buy Sunday and me a shot, hug me like family, apologize a fourth time, and stagger out into the loud October night while Sunday calls out cheerily, “Baisez moi en levrette!” and I do a spit take because I know what it means.

Then Sunday buys me a Jamie shot and has one herself. “Here’s to Emma Lee,” she says, “whose party you didn’t go to, so you could be here to do that.” “Thank you, my child,” I reply. “So why didn’t you go?” Sunday asks, and I tell her the truth. “I didn’t go because one of two things would have happened—either Emma Lee would have made a drunken pass at me, or she would have made a pass at me while she was sober.” “What’s the matter—don’t want to be a pass receiver?” “No. Sorry. When it comes to Emma Lee, I’m a running back.” “I think you’re dropping the ball there, Wells,” Sunday says, “I mean, she’s even age appropriate. What are you, fifty?” “I’ll admit to fifty,” I say generously, “but only because alcohol is a preservative.” “You should go for it,” Sunday says.

I shrug and say, “It’s the Curse of Matthew, which says that Matthew is only attracted to women who feel nothing for him, and the only women who are attracted to Matthew are the ones he feels nothing for. And that’s how it is with Emma Lee. I can work myself up into fits of neurotic passion for the lousiest females on earth; but show me a woman who thinks I’m the bee’s knees and it leaves me colder than a debt collector’s heart. Or maybe it’s just Groucho Syndrome.”

GROUCHO: I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.

“You should learn to itch where you can scratch,” Sunday says, which is the wisest thing anybody’s said to me in ages, and therefore also the most annoying. “You should talk,” I say, “I mean that last guy you had the hots for, you threw him back the minute you landed him.” Sunday gets all huffy. “That’s because he lied,” she snaps, “and I hate liars. He said he was older than me, and he was actually my age, and I do not date boys my age.” “Well why not?” “Because they’re boys. Do you date girls your age?” “Hell no.” “Well why not?” “Because they’re grandmothers.” “Turn around so I can spit in your Guinness,” Sunday says. “You know what you are, Wells? You’re a SINBAD.” “I love it!” I cry. “An adventurer, a story-teller, a clever hero. Thank you, Sunday, that’s very sweet.” “Dude, I didn’t mean that seven voyages crap, I meant SINBAD, as in Single Income, No Babe, Always Defeatist.”

“And the Defeatist is why you’re still single,” says a raspy voice behind my left shoulder. I turn around and there’s Randi with Dominic behind her, and all I can think of is, “Oh crap, they’re back together again, will this hell never end?” Randi looks me up and down and then does a contemporary translation of the opening lines of The Seagull:

RANDI: Who died?
ME: I did. An ex-girlfriend got married tonight.
RANDI: Wait—you mean Stacy? I thought you never went out with her.
ME: I never did.
RANDI: So why are you saying she’s your ex-girlfriend?
ME: Because it’s a better story.

Randi looks me up and down. “Writers,” she drawls, like she’s describing pond scum with low self-esteem. I glance at Dominic as he shoulders past Randi without a look in my direction. Dominic does not like me unless he's drunk, at which point I'm his long-lost brother. “Women,” I say, cocking a thumb at Dominic’s back. “They walk into a room full of eligible men and cry ‘Where are all the eligible men?’ And then they drop their knickers for chumps who beat cheerleaders black and blue.” “I don’t wear knickers,” Randi snaps back, and glances at Sunday. “Spit in his stout for me,” she says, and sails out after Dominic like she’s leading the way instead of following him like his pet.

Sunday and I share a “here we go again” look. She builds me one final pint as we rake over the Randi and Dominic coals. “He puts the ick in Dominic,” Sunday says, and I immediately scribble it into my notebook. She tells me the story of when he started mauling her in the back room; I tell her the story of when we almost got into a fist fight over the way he was saying “You” to Randi, like he was ordering around a servant. The final pint goes down way too speedily, as all final pints do, and then I find myself saying, “What do I owe you?” and Sunday is shaking her head. “It’s on me for saving my lack of virtue from those two assholes,” she says, and pauses perfectly before adding: “Dad.” “Sunday?” “Yes, Mr. Bond?” We go back and forth like that for thirty seconds, and then I throw a couple of 20’s on the bar, saying, “That’s for not spitting in my beer.” Sunday says the words, “I can think of three better places to put spit,” she says, and then she slides a 20 back to me. “Buy me a drink on my birthday,” she says and I whine, “Your birthday? I could be dead by March! And God knows this place will be!” Sunday’s eyelids flutter like a couple of gobsmacked butterflies. “How did you know it was March?” “I know all things but myself,” I recite with an enigmatic smile. “François Villon,” she says immediately. “Who are you and how the fuck do you know that?” I say. “I am your worst nightmare,” Sunday replies. “I’m a woman who reads just as much as you do.” “That’s not my worst nightmare,” I reply, sliding the 20 back to her. “See you—when’s your next shift?” “Halloween.” “Halloween then.” “Sleep well, Sinbad.”

And I have to admit, I’m doing pretty good as I get up off my bar chair and head for the men’s room before I leave. I can see straight, I can walk straight, and my hearing is just good enough to catch the tone of wonder in Sunday’s voice as she turns to Sarah and Alexandra and says, “He remembered my birthday!” and the laughter in Sarah’s voice when she replies, “That means he wrote it down; he never remembers it unless he writes it down.”

It’s the Sunday tone, and not Sarah’s laughter, that rings in my ears all the way home (I take the train instead of a cab) and when I finally get back to my place at 4:30, I triumphantly turn the clock back to 3:30. Look at that— an extra hour to sleep it off. And I’ll still wake up at 7:30, because when I’m this smashed, I never get more than four hours sleep.

Just before passing out, I think of another meaning for SINBAD: Say I’m Not Being A Dick. And as I think it, I picture myself saying it to Emma Lee.

Alcohol (wedding): Pinot Noir (2 glasses), Chardonnay (1 glass), Beliini (3) Vodka Cranberry (2), Champagne (2 glasses), Johnny Walker Red (1; rocks).
Alcohol (bar): Guinness (3), Petron shot (1) Jameson shot (1)

Copyright 2016 Mathew J Wells

Day 2

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Wild Night This Morning: The Last Days Of The Naughty Pine - Prologue

“So how’s the old gang?” asked Ned Shay last night. He and Nancy had come up from Trowe Hill to file an absentee ballot; given where they live, they use my address for all their mundane civic requirements. “The old gang is older,” I said, “unlike you two.” They had the decency to blush. 

I started ticking off all the Naughty Pinecones I was still in touch with. “Let’s see. Ally and Matt have a little Lambertini, Mauri is married, Dominic's in LA, Maddie’s daughter just started first grade, and Jynah is an office manager for Be My Guest.” “Remind me not to eat at any of their restaurants,” said Ned. “Who else? Ketel Mike is still yelling at his mother, Lara’s teaching yoga, Joey’s at Barcade, Bernie’s married in Florida, Doug got married again—” (“Doug was married?” Nancy cried) “—Kenny just quit Toad Hall, Dave’s at the Knickerbocker, Steve’s at the Knickerbocker, Elijah’s got a band, Marita’s still not married as far as I know, but Sarah is—” (Sarah’s married?” said Ned) “—plus she’s been sober for the last five years—” (“Shut up,” said Nancy) “—Aaron has a son—” (“Shut. UP!” screamed Nancy) “—and Glynnis is an InPurse.” “InPurse?” they asked in unison. “Internet personality.”

Nancy put a hand on my shoulder. “What about Sunday?” “Lives in Austin. Dating a musician.” “And Emma Lee?” asked Ned. Emma Lee; now there’s a name I haven’t heard in years. “I haven’t kept in touch with her,” I said. “And you swore you would,” said Nancy. I nodded. “I swore I would. But I knew I wouldn’t. It was the smart move, at the time. Now, I’m not so sure.” Nancy made a “Pffft!” noise. “Who is it who said smart moves always look dumb ten years later?” she asked. “You just did,” I said.  “And Randi?” asked Ned. Nancy gave him an elbow. “Wha-at?” he said. I laughed and shook my head. “Randi is Randi,” I drawled, and when Ned said, “Randier than the horniest drunk on both floors,” it was like no time at all had passed since the bar closed.

And then, “Ten years,” said Nancy—and all the years before that rushed back like a runaway train, with moments whizzing by like empty stations along the way—nights with DJ, nights with Georgia—long talks with all the randoms, tall tales with Ned and Fingersbirthday parties back when friends who are now married to other people were all happy couples—the night Dominic fell through the skylight, the Professor talking about when he drank Auden and Isherwood under the table, the night Salma Hayek was such a bitch that every server spat in her drinks before they made it to her table. So many nights; so much history. For the next two hours we killed three bottles of wine trading Naughty Pine stories, and the laughter made me feel as young as Ned and Nancy looked. “Jesus, the days that we have seen,” Ned said, raising his glass. I clinked it with mine. “We have checked the tires with Angelina,” I replied, which is the Naughty Pine version of Falstaff’s chimes at midnight.  

“And that last month,” Nancy said, “that last month was Looney Tunes. The moment the closing was official, it was like reverse Halloween—like everybody who worked there and drank there had been dressing up as someone else for all those years, but now—with the place closing?—now they could be themselves.” “Too bad nobody documented it,” Ned said casually. Nancy shot him a look. “You mean somebody documented it?” she asked. “No, I said I wish somebody had.” “So somebody did?” “I didn’t say that.” “Yes you did,” Nancy insisted. “No I didn’t,” Ned said defensively, “I just made a comment.” “And I know those comments,” Nancy shot back. “So who documented it?” I raised my hand. “Me,” I said.

Ned smiled. Nancy looked at me like I had just betrayed one of her secrets. (One of the big ones; she has a ton of them, and I know them all.) “You wrote everything down?” she asked, in a tone of voice that said she was praying I would say something like “Hell no!” or “Not a single word.”  I nodded. “Everything?” she asked, with a tinge of fear in her voice. I nodded again. “And what are you going to do with it?” “Funny you should ask,” I said. “I’m planning to post it online. Entry by entry, day by day.” “Good for you,” Ned said. “I hope it goes virile.” “It’s viral,” said Nancy, and the two of us cracked up while Ned gave us his best “What did I say?” look, which he’s been practicing since the Fillmore Administration. [Note to self: make a comic graphic for a book entitled: “Fillmore: The Man, The Music Venue.”]  “And you’re really going to tell it exactly the way it happened?” Nancy asked. I nodded and said, “I am. It’s history. It needs to be preserved. That bar took a two centuries of history with it when it closed. Not just my history, or yours—the city’s history. Two hundred plus years of Manhattan. Replaced by a tanning parlor.” “This is why we don’t come out that often,” said Nancy, “it’s not the same any more.” “But that’s the point about sameness,” Ned said, “it never stays still, it always changes—sometimes fast, sometimes slow—but always different, even though it may not look that way. Sameness is an illusion. Change is reality. Everything changes. Even the past. I should know.” No argument there, I thought.  “And me,” I said, “I want to change the future. I want people to remember the Naughty Pine—people who’ve never been there, people who never knew about it. I want to make somebody who never walked through that door ache for it like a phantom limb.” “Phantom bar syndrome,” said Nancy, and we all laughed, because we all suffer from it. “A reverse exorcism,” I said, “one where you GET possessed.” “An in-sorcism?” Ned suggested, and Nancy elbowed him again. “So do you have a copy of this epic?” she asked.  “Sure do,” I said, “wanna read it?”

Nancy looked at me as if I had just spit on the floor. (She hates guys who spit; it’s why she has two ex-husbands.) “No, we don’t want to READ it—we want YOU to read it.” “Tell you what,” I said. “I’ll read you the introduction.”


Back in the 1920’s, there was a Greenwich Village version of the Algonquin Round Table called the Mohican Round Table. It held regular meetings at a local bar, and it had only one membership requirement: writers and artists who wouldn’t be caught dead above 14th Street. One of the founding members, Hamilton “Millie” Burr, who told everyone that she was a direct descendant of both Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, was the Mohican’s answer to Dorothy Parker. After an exceptionally sodden night in her cups, Millie Burr woke up to find this verse in her notebook, with no memory of ever having written it:

Wine reveals God’s hidden plan.
Beer brings out the hockey fan.
Whiskey says you’re always right.
Tequila makes you pick a fight.
Vodka makes you dance and yell.
Gin will get you sick as hell.
Absinthe goes straight to your crotch.
They’re all evil. Stick with Scotch.

This is the story of the bar where Millie Burr wrote that poem—a tavern that began its life on Pine Street as The Knotty Pine, spent the majority of its years on Bleecker Street, became The Naughty Pine during Prohibition, and ended its days on University Place in 2006.

It is not the story of one man’s battle with demon alcohol, or one woman’s voyage from shitfaced to shinola-souled, or the cautionary talk of how Jack and Jill went up the marriage hill drunk and tumbled down sober, divorced, and better off. It is the story of people who like to drink and one of the places that served them—strangers and regulars who agree with the poet Vera Främling that

 . . . the three most beautiful words in the English language are: “What’ll it be?” Admit it—the moment you read those words, you knew exactly where you were—a bar, maybe your favorite bar; or a party, maybe with a friend playing bartender. Either way, it’s a place where someone is not just offering you a drink, but a choice. A haven where someone is pointing to a row of doors. One of them says The Usual; the rest of them are blank. You can walk through any one of them; you can even walk through them all, one at a time. And behind every one of those doors is a mirror, which will show you a side of yourself that will only be revealed when you answer that question honestly. What’ll it be? Love it or hate it, it will always be you. Love it or hate it, alcohol is a lie in liquid form. Sometimes it’s a great lie, sometimes it’s a sad lie; but a lie forever and always. And like Cyrano says: “Call it a lie, if you like; but a lie is a kind of a myth,  and a myth is a piece of the truth.” Which is why alcohol is also the truth in liquid form. Drink reveals the soul, as a mirror reveals the features. It is a window, and sometimes the person who jumps through is someone we don’t recognize, or don’t want to recognize. And who is not secretly afraid of seeing that?

Främling, a member of the New York School and an upstairs Naughty Pine regular, is regularly trotted out as both an advocate for and an activist against drinking, because she always made sure that, in her prose and poetry, she gave equal weight to both sides of the argument. But the scales get tipped when you remember that her most famous quote (“I’m someone who prefers to sleep with hard questions rather than marry an easy answer.”) was delivered two days before she died of liver failure at the age of 39.

One of her other quotes (“If it happens to me, it’s fair game.”) has been my mantra over the years whenever I write about myself. I’ve said it so often that, during my (good Lord) two decades of writing at the upstairs bar of the Naughty Pine, every waitress without exception has turned to me at one point or another and said, in exactly the same tone of voice: “You better not be writing about ME in that notebook.”  And I would always say, “Don’t worry. I don’t do that.” And I never did. Until that last month, when I took down everything.

So here it is. The last days of The Naughty Pine. The final twenty-nine windows—broken, frosted, boarded up, open—in a house that saw two centuries of traffic before its family was kicked out onto the street. Twenty-nine bottles up on the shelf, and me behind the bar for once.

What’ll it be?

A story about New York, and the non-blood family that our lives and passions marry us into. The story of a bar that no longer exists, and some of the people who called it home when they worked and drank there. A story whose introduction ends with the second most beautiful three-word phrase in the English language.

It’s on me.

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells