Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Woman at the Bar

                        for AG

The woman at the bar has warm brown eyes.
   I stare at them with my two ancient blues.
Hers look for someone who can sympathize;
   Mine see the caution and the hidden bruise.
Mine say: “It’s safe;” and that is why she leans
   Into me for a hug that I return—
That lets her shatter into smithereens
   With clutching fingers, sobs, and tears that burn.
And we’ll leave separately and never meet
   Again, because this momentary sharing
Is not about some passion and its heat
   But love’s warm reassuring touch of caring.
      And though my ego wants more and feels miffed,
      It’s not about me—it’s about my gift.

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells

Saturday, November 26, 2016

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

The Closing Party: Sunday 11/26/06

I sleep in, which usually means I get up around 9, but today it means I wake up at 11 with last night’s clothes marking a trail from the door to my bed, and a lot of scribbled notes on my desk that I can’t read. I call Sarah at noon. She’s barely human. “Text me,” she says in a voice so rough you can scratch a match off it, “text me when you’re on your way to Martin’s.”

On the way into Manhattan I’m reading Selected Poetry of WH Auden. I’m thinking about how things change, even when you don’t want them to—especially when you don’t want them to, like a desire not to see things change is actually a trigger for change. I think about how everyone is now required to have an internet connection. About how you have to move with the times, even when moving means a smaller apartment with more stuff and higher rent. I’m thinking of the way that Randi looked at Patrick last night. I’m thinking the words: “I’m getting too old for this shit.” I’m thinking about when and how the whole youth thing started in our culture, and how the Beatles were despised by the Sinatra crowd, and about how Johnny Mathis made a huge fortune for Capitol Records, and one day in 1965 when he called to talk to his producer, the receptionist answered the phone by saying: “Capitol Records, home of the Beatles,” and it broke his heart. I’m thinking of the way that Patrick looked at Randi last night. I’m thinking about Rosemary. (I’m thinking about the law.) I’m thinking about an imaginary conversation with Allyson in LA:

ALLYSON: Whoa—where’d you get those bruises?
ME: I got kicked around by Life.
ALLYSON: Wow! That must have been some ass-whupping!
ME: No—she only kicked me once.
ALLYSON: Then how’d you get all those bruises?
ME: Those? Oh, y’know—whenever Life kicks me once, I end up kicking myself for the next week.

And I’m thinking about the thing and the stuff—it’s the thing that’s important, not the stuff around the thing. So what’s the important thing here? And why do I have to keep wading through so much stupid stuff to get to it?

I browse Barnes & Noble before I go to Martin’s, and text Sarah from there. I get to Martin’s at 3:30. JP and Jeff are there, and in quick succession Matt Lambert comes in, then Bernie, then Tammi and James her boyfriend, Glynnis, Amanda, Kenny and Eric, and finally Sarah. And everybody—everybody!—turns to me at some point in the next ninety minutes and says: “You were on fire last night!” “You were so goddamn funny last night!” “Oh man—you had EVERYBODY laughing! Even RICHIE was laughing!” “I have never laughed so hard in my entire life!” “I will never forget that as long as I live!” And all I want to say is: “Good for you, now could you repeat a couple of jokes for me, because I have NO MEMORY OF ANYTHING AFTER 11:30.” But I don’t. I do my best Humble Matt, and hope I didn’t do or say anything incredibly stupid while I was being so entertaining. And Jesus, didn’t anybody write some of it down? Am I the only guy who takes notes in this bar?

We all have a couple of drinks while reminiscences and stories fill the room, stories told in shorthand, reminiscences which have become snapshots, conversations which have become a single line. For me, it’s like listening to a room full of professional comics trade punch lines; none of them need to tell the jokes because they all know the build-up. But it’s also like being at a high school reunion of someone else’s class, where everyone knows the cool stuff except me.

Kerry Anne calls me at 4:10 and after telling me how hilarious I was last night (and I don’t even remember her being there), she wants to know what I’m doing. I tell her I’m at a friend’s place and heading over at 5. But when Kenny asks me who called, I say “It’s DJ; she’s there and wants to know when I’m coming over.” And as I say it, I’m thinking, “What is this—do I not want anyone to know that it was Kerry Anne who called me? What, were you afraid everyone in he room was going to go: ‘Ooooooooohhh—Matt and Kerry Anne, sitting in a tree, D-R-N-K-I-N-G?’” (As it turns out, DJ is still ill, and never makes the party. And Kenny, being no fool, spends the rest of the night looking at me and stroking his chin and saying, “So if DJ never showed up, then who was it who called you?” And I spend the rest of the night grinning at him and saying nothing, because—wow—I’m the subject of gossip, for once. Cool.)

At 4:49 I get a text from Allyson. How’s the party? I text her back: We’re @ Martin’s getting ready 2 head over. Then, ten minutes later, I call her from the street as I head east on 14th. But her phone goes to voicemail, so I leave a message telling her I’ll call her from the Pine.

I see Kerry Anne and Dave in front of the Cedar. “Matt Wells,” Dave says, “I have to tell you—I have never laughed so hard as I did last night. Thank you, brother.” “You are very welcome,” I say, and then add the password (“Sweet marjoram.”) and Dave lets us enter. With me thinking to myself: I am now a Naughty Pine legend. And I have no memory of it. Is there a word for that? What are we calling that? Bar-nesia? Whatever. I'd love to be that guy full time, but obviously I need to drink crippling amounts of whiskey so I can get there, and once I do, the recording part of my brain totally shuts down.

I see Elijah on the regular side of the bar. “Man, it was so great hanging out with you last night,” he says, and Dan echoes him. I pretty much get the same thing from everybody for the rest of the night, but of them all, Sunday has the best line. “Now I know you’re a writer,” she says, and when I give her a quizzical look, she explains: “The way you made everybody go home happy. Like it was a play, and you saved all your best stuff for the final scene.” Leave it to me to finally find someone who gets me, and she’s the age-inappropriate daughter of The Girl We Don’t Mention.

I see a lot of familiar faces, but for every one of them, there are five I don’t know, and I’m guessing (correctly) they’re all downstairs regulars. I introduce Kerry Anne to everyone she doesn’t know. We see Marita, and Kerry Anne just kvells as we get a drink from John B. “I’m with the only two other people I know at this bar!” she cries. Then somebody whirls me around and gives me a huge hug. It’s Fingers! God, I haven’t seen her in ages. “I was supposed to be working upstairs,” she says, “but at the last minute, Richie decided to have the party just down here. Easier to control. Richie in a nutshell.” I ask her how she’s been, and she fills me in. She’s still doing her cabaret act from a couple of years ago, but she’s started working on a new one (“Let me know if you need any help,” I say and she says “You bet!”); she’s been auditioning for tours, but hasn’t had any luck lately; and she’s currently bartending at The Last Straw on Ludlow on weekends. “I will come down,” I say.

When she heads to the Ladies, Kerry Anne asks me who she is. “THAT,” I say, “is a legend in the service industry. Back in 1986, an asshole sitting at Table 105 tried to get her attention by snapping his fingers at her. She stood there, hands on hips, and said to him, ‘Honey? It takes a lot more than two fingers to get me to come.’ Fired on the spot. And became an instant hero. She’s been Fingers ever since. Won’t even answer to her real name any more.” “So what’s her real name?” “Pinky,” I say, and then “OW!” as Kerry Anne punches me in the shoulder.

I see Sarah and rush over to give her a hug. She’s got a sour face. “I left Martin’s two minutes after everybody else did, and none of them are here yet! Where is everybody?” “They’re probably flirting with Amanda,” I say, and Sarah goes “Yeah,” she goes, “who the fuck is Amanda? What is her fucking story anyway?” So I explain. I explain it to Kerry Anne too, who blinks about fifty times in the space of ten seconds. “She’s only 23? My God, she looks 10 years older.”

For the next hour I walk around toasting everybody I know, including the Vander kids, who are holed up at the Sidesaddle Table. “You’re the writer guy,” Amy Vander says, “the one who writes at the upstairs bar.” “That’s me,” I say, clinking glasses with her, and knowing full well that, since she’s never once set foot in the upstairs bar while I’ve been there, somebody in the staff is feeding her gossip. (Cough) Jynah. (Cough.)

I keep mingling, and trying to be casual about it, but there’s a franticness underneath this celebration. It’s all happening too quickly. A month ago, this day was an eternity away. Now it’s going to be over in less than six hours, and there’s no way we can stop it, which means those six hours are going to go by like a Hennessey Venom GT being chased by a traffic cop. I try to think of what this party is celebrating, exactly. It’s like a family reunion where everyone knows that there won’t be one tomorrow, never mind next year—a party where the family is going to stop being a family and all its members will go their separate ways. It’s like the last day of active duty for a troop of soldiers who fought a war together—and wherever or whenever we meet again, it won’t be here, and it won’t be all of us. A party where every one of us will find ourselves going through the old routine of coming here, getting off at that subway stop, walking down this street, letting the auto-pilot take over and walk us to a door that doesn’t exist any more, like filling a dish for a pet who isn’t alive any more because that’s what we always did at that time. Only there isn’t an always any more. And there will be no here. There will be no now, from now on. Like all deaths, there is only Then, not When.

Ally calls me about five minutes later. The good news is that I can hear her perfectly over the noise. The bad news is that the reason I can hear her perfectly over the noise is because I’m in the Men’s Room. I barely get a “Hey, who do you want to talk to?” out of my mouth before somebody flushes a urinal, and Ally is yelling at me in her best AllyVoice: “You answered the PHONE in the MEN’S Room?” I try to explain as I head out, only to have the door whack me in the forehead as Eric enters at a gallop. I head outside because I can’t hear a thing, and when she asks me if Glynnis is there, I go back in and hand the phone to Glynnis, who goes outside for five minutes and then comes back and hands me the phone saying “I can’ t hear a thing she’s saying.” I take the phone and say “Allyson?” and I hear her say “Was that Glynnis? She kept saying ‘I can’t hear a thing you’re saying.’” I go back outside and hand the phone to Dave. “Here; say hello.” He hands it back after barely saying five words. “She sounds too gorgeous,” he says to me, which makes no sense at all.

The next five hours go by like thirty minutes. And everything that happens feels as anticlimactic as the rest of the evening. Emma Lee comes in. I buy her a drink. We talk. I get into a five-minute conversation with Jenn and Benjy's mom. When I return, Emma Lee says: “Where have YOU been?” in that tone of voice that says “Friend, schmiend--you owe me an explanation. And I'm like, really? Really? I don't owe you a damn thing. And I'm just cranky enough to say, yeah, I told you to talk to me about this is you have a problem, but talking to me doesn't include implying that, when you're around, I don't get to talk to anyone else. Then, when she leaves, Randi comes up and asks me about Patrick. I tell her to ask Patrick about Patrick, because I am tired of being Matty In the Middle. “Sorry, Wells,” she says, and I can think of at least three things she's apologizing for at the same time, one of them being what Sunday took pride in: bad timing. Am I sorry? My defenses are all up, so I can't tell. If I am, I will feel it later. Right now I feel nothing but a wistfulness that has an echo of sadness to it, like wine mulled with regret. And when and if I so feel sorry? Then it’s not a part of me that doesn’t know how to deal with disappointment. Hell, it doesn't know how to deal with anything else. “I'm sorry too, Landis,” I say, letting her read whatever she wants into that. And I clink her glass of wine and walk away.

I see a number of celebrities. F Murray Abraham is there; we do a recognition head-nod as he sits down with Chris Lutkin, who is filming brief interviews with everyone. “You’re next,” he says, and after interviewing Abraham, Chris asks me about what I’ve written here, about what it’s like to write in a bar, and asks me how much I’m going to miss this place. I am just drunk enough not to slur my words, and just sober enough to think and speak in what, on reflection, sounds like papal nuncios, but will probably sound like crap on the video. I’m glad he’s documenting it, though. Good for him.

I find out that I missed some fun while I was upstairs. Martin got poured into a cab by Mauri and Maddie, and Sarah got taken outside where she’s getting walked around the block by Kerry Anne, and Marita was so smashed that she almost put the lit end of her cigarette in her mouth, and total strangers are coming up to me and saying “I heard you were fucking HILARIOUS last night.” And before we know it, 9 becomes 11, and people are saying goodbye as if it isn’t goodbye forever, and the staff and the diehard regulars are all heading to Reservoir for a nightcap. Where the craziness gets even batshit crazier, because with little provocation at all, Amanda and Ainslee get up on the bar there and start having fully-clothed upright simulated sex to Bon Jovi. Which is I guess a Reservoir thing. All I know is, it reminds me of that old joke about Baptists.

Q: Why don’t Baptists fuck standing up?
A: Because they’re terrified that God will think they’re dancing.

Kerry Anne hangs out for one more drink and leaves. Marita keeps looking for her jacket; it takes her two drinks to find it, and when she does, she puts it on inside out and staggers the half-block to her apartment building. I don’t remember saying goodbye to Mauri or  Glynnis, but Maddie is still around. And at midnight, when Bernie is getting ready to leave, I go up to Richie and tell him “It’s time,” and with perfect Richie efficiency, he takes less than two minutes to gather everybody together who is part of my surprise. Everybody except Sarah, who seems to have disappeared. Shit, I think, as Richie leads us all back to the place we just came from.

It is the second-to-last time I will set foot in the Naughty Pine.

The last time is an hour later. I’m leaving the Reservoir and looking for a cab. Sarah has just texted me Thank God that’s all over. Dave and Kenny are still inside, and Amanda and Ainslee are still fending them off. The streets are empty. I walk north, and when I get to the Pine, I look inside the window. Richie is wiping down the bar. Nobody is there to tell him to do it, nobody even cares that he IS doing it, but he’s doing it anyway. Damn. So I knock on the door, and when he comes to open it up, I just shake my head and say “Richie, you’re incredible.” “C’mere,” he says, and we walk back to the Tesla Table, where the last of Tesla’s teleforce light bulbs is still shining just as brightly as it was when he installed it almost seventy years ago. There’s a hammer on the table. Richie picks it up. “This,” he says, “is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.” And he smashes the bulb with the hammer. And every light in the Naughty Pine goes out, leaving a bar-sized hole in New York City’s history—and a New York City-sized hole in me.

I will remember that moment till the day I die. But the second-to-last time I was in the Naughty Pine? I will take that moment with me beyond the grave.

It’s an hour earlier. Richie, on my behalf, has gathered together everyone whose name is on a list I gave him earlier tonight, and after he leads us all back into the Pine, he tells everyone to sit down. When they do, I go behind the bar, and almost trip over Sarah, who is passed out by the service area. “Jesus, McCall!” I cry out. “What,” she says, “what? I’m fine—I’m fine!” And everyone at the bar cracks up. “Just get over there and sit down,” I say. And when she does, I stand at the center, behind the taps, and I look out at everyone who has ever served me a drink at this bar, from Bernie to Elijah, from Joey to Steve, from Maddie to Dave, from Randi to Sunday to Kenny. Only three people are missing—Doug, who’s out in Seattle; Riley, who’s God knows where; and Dominic, but who cares about him?

Richie starts laying out glasses for everyone. I reach down behind the taps and pull out a bottle of Patron, a bottle of Jameson, a bottle of Pinot Noir, a chilled bottle of champagne, and the last of the Johnny Blue. And then I look out at all these people, these friends of mine, these great bar friends of mine, meeting their eyes one by one, and I say the three most beautiful words in the English language.

“What’ll it be?”


Alcohol: I haven’t the faintest fucking clue

Song of the night - 1

Song of the night - 2

Bonus Track

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells

Friday, November 25, 2016

Wild Night This Morning: The Last Days of The Naughty Pine - 29, Part 2

CLOSING NIGHT: Saturday, November 25

So my blonde ex-girlfriend has just pulled a Georgia and awakened her husband at 2 in the morning because there’s something crucial she needs to get off her chest. “What is it now?” says the husband groggily. “I’m sorry, I still love Matthew. I’ll be leaving in the morning.” And I should be happy, right? I should be delirious, right? I mean, this is the woman who when I touch her skin makes me feel like a kid eating chocolate for the first time –- all I want to do is hang on to her and never let go. So I’m ecstatic, right?

ME: (Wrong!) Oh God, does that mean she’s going to move in with me now? She can’t move in with me, I’m living in a bedroom the size of a postage stamp, for Chrissakes. She better not expect to stay here. And she needs ten hours of sleep a night, which means I’m not going to get any writing time at all if we’re sleeping together. What do you mean “if”, Matthew. It’s a done deal. She’s leaving the guy. And he’s one of my best friends, so now HE’S never gonna speak to me again. I can’t believe she’s doing this to me!

And that’s when I wake up from my post-lunch nap and think to myself, dude? You have no business even thinking about a social life with crap like that rattling around your subconscious. And if Gayle (the blonde ex-girlfriend) ever hears about this, she is going to do the biggest spit-take laugh in the history of laughter.

So with that picture in my head, and that dream wagging its finger at me like Mrs. MacDonald (my first grade teacher), I shower, put on jeans and a light blue shirt (to highlight my eyes), throw on a spring jacket (because the temperature is, like me, stuck in the fifties when it should be 35), and head into town for my last night ever at the historic Naughty Pine.

Dave is at the door with Sarah, catching up on all the downstairs fun he missed, while Sarah looks like she ran a 5K race trying and failing to catch up with some sleep.

SARAH: I was such a mess. I had to tell Richie I was too tired to do the books last night.

Excerpt from

Too tired to do the books, euphemism. 1. I was so smashed I couldn’t count to two. 2. I was so totaled they had to pour me onto the floor, mop me up with a sponge, staple my address to it and hand it off to a cab driver. 3. Sarah isn’t here, Mrs. Torrance.

At the downstairs bar, Jeff and JP have decided to dress like a couple of sailors in a Jean Genet novel. This blatant act of Tweedledummery does not sit well with Richie, who wants everyone to show respect tonight, as if the last night of the Pine is a cross between an Italian family getting together for Easter and a coma patient on life support. He’s probably afraid that everyone is going to give away the store before last call, which means that there will be no store left to give away at tomorrow’s closing party. And like every Saturday night, he’s probably also expecting a mob of people who are always going to be showing up in the next twenty minutes, but who never do because they’re trolling through Alphabet City or the Lower East Side, which is where they’ve been hanging out since the smoking ban.

             86 Farita

When I get upstairs, Kenny’s wife Farita is sitting at the corner with their daughter Farah and another guy who I’ve seen countless times up here since the christening and cannot remember his name or his relationship to Kenny. (Brother? Cousin? Friend?) I say hello and slide onto a stool and I feel that tension weight that tells me I’ve just walked in on a couple who were arguing thirty seconds ago and are now pretending that everything is Just Fine because you don’t argue in front of strangers, especially ones who drink and write in notebooks a lot. Having grown up in a household where anger tainted the air like the smell from a grease fire, it doesn’t take more then five seconds before my emotional nose is twitching faster than Samantha’s on Bewitched. (I wonder if little Farah can sense this.) (Stupid question. Little kids can always sense it. They may not have the words, and they may not know the language, but a knot in the stomach is still a knot in the stomach, no matter how you tie it.)

I order the rib eye, which is one of the specials. It comes up when I’m barely denting my salad; not as thick as the shell steak but done perfectly. I scarf it down with my first Guinness and a glass of water, and by the time I’m done there are two guys and a girl who’s either French or Spanish on my left talking about a gallery show, and Farita has decided all of a sudden to leave.

FARITA: Let’s go.
KENNY: (WTF?) You’re going?
FARITA: We’re going. Say goodbye to Daddy.

Kenny’s (friend/cousin/brother) walks them out and comes back five minutes later.

KENNY’S FRIEND/COUSIN/BROTHER: She’s like on the verge, y’know.

Her place is taken by two cute girls who get very dray-matic when Kenny tells them this is the last night ever.

TWO CUTE GIRLS: Oh no! This place is so popular!
KENNY: (to me) Then how come this is the first I’ve ever seen you up here in, oh, four years of Saturdays? (Laughs maniacally.)

I start making notes for the play, the last set of notes I will ever write in the upstairs bar. I had been hoping to write a Pine-related play up here in the last couple of months, but I wound up getting four separate ideas for Pine-related plays and one fantastic idea for a Pine-related novel, so I tabled all of them and started working on a sure-fire romantic comedy idea. Which, because it involves love, is almost impossible for me to write.

MATTHEW’S THERAPIST: And why would that be, Matthew?
MATTHEW: Shut up, he explained.

At 7:06, DJ calls. She’s home and not feeling well; “Gastrointestinal problems,” she says, which is a euphemism for something I probably don’t want to hear described in detail. She apologizes to me, to Kenny and to Dave, but she will not be coming in tonight. “But I’ll be there tomorrow,” she says with assurance.

I hang up with her just as Kenny gets a call from Sarah complaining of leakage spilling from the upstairs taps into the downstairs bar area. 

KENNY: (I hate doing this) I love doing this.

Kenny lifts up a trap door to reveal the crawlspace which is just behind the taps, and clambers down into it. Out of respect, I don’t take a picture. Elijah steps behind the bar to cover while Kenny checks for tap leaks. “Where’s the sour mix?” he asks as he starts making a margarita, and I point to a bottle on the rack by the bar. “They should pay you,” he says. They already do; it’s called free beer.

           86 that crowd Richie was expecting

It’s war-movie quiet up here tonight.

                 SCENE: Two soldiers in a foxhole

FIRST PRIVATE: It’s quiet.
KENNY: You guys want another round?

There’s a hushed, dismaying vibe in the air, like whatever expectations we all have for a blow-out party (like, say, the last night before the smoking ban took effect, which was a total bash) are all going to be denied. It reminds me of one of those ancient Greek participles that you insert in a sentence because you expect a negative answer, the Attic equivalent of saying “So it’s not going to be an incredible party night up here, is it?” Maybe it’s me, but the knowledge that this is the Pine’s last night is like knowing that Prairie Home Companion ended up being Altman’s last film. It gives even the most casual remark a spooky resonance.

         And speaking of ghosts . . .

8 PM. Donna and Tom are up at the bar, and while they’re talking to Kenny (“We thought you weren’t coming to the closing party tomorrow. The only reason we’re here is because we thought you weren’t coming tomorrow.”), a dark-haired guy comes up from downstairs, sidles up to the bar with a coffee mug, gives us all a look like we just stiffed him on a $300 check, and then goes back downstairs again. He looks vaguely familiar, but I don’t place him until Kenny says “They let him back in here?” It’s the infamous asshole Paul. Elijah: “He came in yesterday, I served him one and he left.” When I go downstairs a little later to say hello to the staff, he’s sitting at the bar staring at everyone with Rasputin eyes.

PAUL: Who will be my next victim?
POTENTIAL VICTIM: Tell you what -- meet me here next Wednesday.
PAUL: (oblivious) It’s a date.

As I write about Paul’s appearance in my notebook, Donna looks over and smiles. “I love that you write everything by hand first. Do you ever just type?” “No, I type after I write it.” “And you write cursive, too. I love cursive. I have an old-fashioned mind. An eight-track mind.” “Me too.” “Ka-chunk. It’s the ka-chunk when it switches over. I always hear that ka-chunk.” And don’t ask me how, but from talking about eight-tracks we start talking about socialized medicine.

DONNA: What do people in Cuba do when they have a stomach pain?
ME: I don’t know—see a Castro-enterologist?

This is when a howling mob of pun-hating peasants brandishing rakes and pitchforks and torches drives me downstairs, where I’m just in time to see Alexandra enter with her family from the show she did tonight. She introduces me to her folks and her siblings, and then heads upstairs. JP pours me a Guinness on the house and I mingle with the downstairs staff for a few sips.  Glynnis gives me the latest regular gossip.

GLYNNIS: Hampton and his wife are moving to Nashville tomorrow.
ME: Whoa.
GLYNNIS: For good.
ME: WHOA. Say, does she have an actual name?
GLYNNIS: Not that I know of.
ME: I get it—like Honey in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
GLYNNIS: Wait—Honey’s a nickname, not a name?
ME: Yeah, didn’t you know that?

                86 brain cells

I head back upstairs around 8:15, just ahead of Sarah and Rob.

SARAH: I need some peanuts. I’m hoping to grow back some brain cells.
ME: They grow back just fine.
SARAH: Great!
KENNY: Uh, Matt? No they don’t.
ME: I know, I figure if she believes it, she’s a goner.

Kenny brings a “coffee” down to Dave at the door, with more than just caffeine in it, because Kenny is a Good Bartender. There’s really no need for a doorman tonight; Richie has once again over-estimated the crowd, which means that Dave is getting paid to take a night-long cigarette break while drinking whatever mixes well with coffee. He’ll bitch about it later, but when the Pine closes and he gets another bar/restaurant job? You know he’ll be repeating the words “I never knew how good I had it.”

            86 Tom

8:54. My tally so far: four pints, one tequila, 2 Jamesons. I have no idea what Tom’s total is, but it’s got to be more than mine, because he is so out-of-it smashed that he is actually lighting a cigarette in the bar.

KENNY: (laughing as he speaks) Ma-a-a-an! What do you think you’re doing?
(Universal laughter as Tom sheepishly stubs out his cigarette.)
KENNY: (still laughing) Man, at least wait until we’re closed up here. Which oughtta be in about 30 minutes.
ME: Not with Richie downstairs.
KENNY: You got that right. (Laughs)

Donna heads downstairs, and Tom follows her a minute later, or at least he tries to. He’s leaning forward at such an angle to the vertical that he looks like Buster Keaton leaning against that tornado in Steamboat Bill Jr. Then he sways and leans backwards at exactly the same impossible angle, and I flash on all the doomed passengers of the Titanic trying to keep their balance as the liner starts tilting upright.

ME: You all right, Tom?
TOM: I’m mad.

He bounces off the server area, caroms off me, and does a straight bank-shot stumble through the door and downstairs. I wait for the crash which means he’s lost his balance, but it never comes, so either he’s fallen very very quietly, or he can do stairs drunk a lot better than I can. Or the Professor, rest his soul, is making sure that what happened to him never happens to anyone else. The Professor. I ask Kenny to share a shot with me, and we toast the Prof. Then we have another one and toast Tom.

KENNY: I can’t believe he’s still standing.
ME: He’s so drunk that if he fell on his face, it would take two days for the pain to wade through the alcohol and register in his nervous system.

               86 The Upstairs Naughty Pine

9:15. Sarah comes up and breaks Kenny. “I need food,” she says, “what shall I eat?” “Call for that ribeye, girl,” is my reply. She does, and wolfs it down. She talks about how chilly it is up here tonight, and not thirty seconds later, Ainslee from Reservoir raises the temperature of the joint twenty degrees by walking through the door. She has Samantha Seaton's luck with cameras. Every picture I take of her makes her look twenty pounds heavier than she is in real life, because digital cameras are not flattering to real-world curves. In real life she's like a walking pillow. In pictures she looks like the Pillsbury Dough Girl. I buy her a drink, and she starts talking about her dog, and how this vet she's been taking him to for stomach problems keeps prescribing medication for him that makes him sicker. And to top it all off, he’s in Long Island, so she has to take the LIRR out there, with him in a cage.

AINSLEE: And I’ll tell ya—the conductors on the incoming trains are assholes, but the one on the outgoing train was great.
ME: Wow! This is the first story you've ever told that doesn't include violent sex!
AINSLEE: So yeah, I'm done with that vet. Basically I want to fuck him up the ass with a red-hot crowbar.
ME: Never mind.

Patrick shows up just as Kenny is coming back behind the bar. I introduce him to everyone, and he orders the rib-eye and a Sam Adams. “It's my first time here,” he says. “And your last,” Kenny replies. “Yeah,” I say, “it’s like somebody air-dropping you onto the Titanic twenty minutes before it hits the iceberg. We are all going down with the ship.”

We do a couple of shots and when Patrick’s eating, I head downstairs to see who's here. Randi waves to me from the back. British Mike is sitting at the bar near the door, looking lonely. I go over, clap him on the shoulder, and buy him his next round. "It's been a pleasure, sir," he says, and there's a finality to that which we both recognize, because we know that we will never see each other again again past tomorrow's closing party. The downstairs is full of people like that, a human trail mix of regulars and randoms. I work the room, saying hi to the people I know and giving the staff hugs. The words “End of an era” are repeated over and over again so much that for the rest of the night, I toast everyone by saying “Ear of an endah.” None of the comic book crew are here. None of the smokers. None of the Weekly Haiku Contest players. None of the Last Chance Saloon Gang. They have all moved on. Or they don't know. I envision parallel lines of movement suddenly branching off at right angles, like lifeboats racing away from a crippled ocean liner. And where am I? In the grand ballroom, with the party people.

As of 10:30, the upstairs is closing at 11. I have two shots in ten minutes, and sit with Alexandra and her brother Sam and her sister Emily while Patrick is trading sex stories with Ainslee. They'd make a great couple, I think, as they both laugh lewdly at something Ainslee just said. Or maybe not. They're too much alike. Too much alike gets you double the weight, instead of balance. Similarities always tip the scale over; what you need are differences to keep the scales balanced. Like the emotional version of a healthy diet.

The friends that Alexandra called all show up at 10:45, and take over the corral. There are eight of them, five male, three female, though it takes me a good ninety seconds to count them accurately, because (1) they are all moving around so fast I can't keep up with them and because (b) whiskey and tequila.

At 10:50 the stereo shorts out with an ear-shattering RORP just as The Clash starts playing. Kenny apologizes to the thinning crowd and tells them that if they want music, they can go downstairs and listen to the jukebox before it gets unplugged for the night.

KENNY: I’d like to thank y’all for coming out on this slow-ass Saturday night. London IS calling.

At 10:55, Dan comes up, and he and Elijah go upstairs to the roof for a smoke. I come up with them. The last time I was here was with Randi, less than a month ago. It seems like years. It's certainly been that long in drinking time; I've put away about six months worth of alcohol in less than five weeks. They ask me where I'm going to go. I say, “Probably to hell.”

           86 Matthew

When I get back down, Krish is sitting with Amanda, because their shifts from the Knickerbocker are over, but their shift here is just starting. I introduce them to Patrick, and Amanda shows her age by getting all girly and dewy when he kisses her cheek. I explain to Patrick how I know Krish (fellow actor in staged readings) and Krish how I know Patrick (old day job co-worker), and while Amanda monopolizes Patrick, Krish and I talk theatre and movies. Which is the most sensible thing going on at this bar tonight, because out of the corner of my eyes, I can see Ainslee hurling herself up against every male in the place and licking them from neck to forehead. I start taking incredibly embarrassing pictures (which I will do for the rest of the night), and then I feel a tap on my shoulder and turn around. It’s Randi; she’s done for the night and is now a free agent. I introduce her to Patrick.

PATRICK: My friends call me Trick.
RANDI: My friends call me collect.
PATRICK: Patrick Becket.
RANDI: (extending a hand) Randi Beth Landis.
PATRICK: Nice assonance.

One of the hallmarks of the UFO experience is time dilation—time slowing down to a water-dripping crawl—which (since time and space are conjoined twins) means that whatever powers a flying saucer manipulates gravity, because that’s what slows down time—immense forces of gravity. The same effect takes place in the UEO experience (Unidentified Emotional Object). When two people meet who have destiny or chemistry on their side, time slows down for them as the gravity of their encounter, the weight of what they will experience, stops them cold—and yes, it’s all future weight, but because Time is relative, there’s no such thing as past or future except as we experience it. As it experiences us? It can go either way. Or either weigh. But it all centers on that moment of meeting. There may be shadows to come, but they will be defined by this brightness; there may be pain to come, but it will always be measured against this pleasure; there may be loss to come, but it will never equal the gain of this gift; there may be betrayal to come, but it will always take second place to this promise.

And that's what I see happening between Randi and Patrick. Between one moment and the next. I hear the door slam downstairs, officially closing the Upstairs Naughty Pine for the last time ever. And I know that the sound I have just heard is also the door to Chapel Perilous closing behind me, cutting me off from Randi and leaving her behind with Patrick, who has just echoed the words that Dominic said to her five years ago when she first walked into this bar. And I think, aha. That’s why I had that dream this afternoon—the dream about not being able to cope with an actual girlfriend. And then I think, aHA! I’m not the Emperor. Patrick is. And then I think, "I need to stop fucking thinking."

As the two of them talk, I see the Devil behind the bar. He motions me over. 

THE DEVIL: Let's go.
ME: Why not?

I lean over the bar. He smells of sulfur and penny candy. I look him in the eye, which is bloodshot and piercing, and with my next words, I fulfill a lifelong dream. "Shot of Jameson," I say. "And leave the bottle."

He does, and though I will not leave the Naughty Pine till after 4AM, that's the last thing I remember all night long.

Alcohol: Guinness (8 + ?) Jameson (7 + 1 bottle + ?) Patron (4 + ?)

Song of the night - 1

Song of the night - 2

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells


Wild Night This Morning: The Last Days of The Naughty Pine - 29, part 1


Saturday Afternoon, 11/25/06.

In a feeble attempt to prove that I am not a vampire, I brave 50-degree temperatures and bright sunshine to have lunch in the dim, wood-tone-hued cavern that is the downstairs Pine.  Visually it’s like a Bizarro version of a Las Vegas casino: instead of bright lights 24/7, the lighting is totally 2 AM, which means that any time you glance outside at the sunlight-dappled street, you end up searing your retinas.  After buying books at both Strands (downtown and uptown), I lug my incredibly-packed shoulderbag down University and am greeted with a sign on the front door which announces that the Pine will not be serving food till 12:30.  Evidently the kitchen staff didn’t get in until long past their start time, stranding those early morning pub-crawlers who might have wanted fries with their 9 AM stout.  I park myself at the bar; Elijah is tending, and Jynah is gamely running around trying to set everything up, so it looks like none of the wait staff showed up early either.  Well, it’s the last day, and based on what I saw when I left last night at 2ish, I’m guessing that everyone probably got home about 90 minutes ago.

I’m not on a stool more than thirty seconds when Richie comes down from upstairs and does a quadruple take when he sees me.  I can tell exactly what’s going through his mind.

            What’s going through Richie’s mind

A.    Matthew is sitting at the downstairs bar.
B.    Matthew is never sitting at the downstairs bar unless it’s after midnight.
C.    Therefore, it’s after midnight.
       (Dies of a heart attack.)

After getting resuscitated, Richie reveals that he was upstairs printing out tonight’s closing menu, which is pretty damn funny.  Richie is also working on setting up the Closing Party tomorrow night, current plans for which call for an upstairs bartender as well as a series of downstairs ‘tenders to handle the incredible amount of people who will be flooding the place.  He’s also expecting a huge amount of people tonight, which is why he has scheduled Dave to work the door.  I remind myself to bring in a couple of comic books and a flashlight for poor Dave, because Richie has been predicting massive Saturday night crowds since the Smoking Ban went into effect, and (probably just to piss Richie off) everybody’s been staying south of 9th Street and east of Avenue A.

Some follow-up from last night:

ELIJAH:  So did Dave leave with Oh THAT Amanda?  They were necking like crazy up there.
ME:  No, she left with Ethan.
ELIJAH:  You’re kidding.
ME:  Nope.  They were going to some trendy place and wanted me to tag along, but I’m sorry, my fifth wheel days are over.
ELIJAH:  So Dave?
ME:  -- left with Trish.
ELIJAH:  I still can’t believe what he said to me last night.
ME:  I can’t either, but I bet he apologies profusely for it tonight.

I order some chicken tenders and start making notes for the play.  As usual, every time I start adding to my notes, I end up writing down ideas which are funny, clever, and have nothing to do with this play.  It makes me want to go into business as the guy you go to when you have writer’s block.  (“Do you keep staring at a blank piece of paper and wondering when something is going to write itself?  Call Matthew and he’ll hand you fifteen different ideas in two hours.”  “Need a sure-fire premise?  Call Matthew –- he’s got two filing cabinets chock-full of ideas he’ll never get to if he lives to be 300.”) 

I’m in the middle of trying to figure out whether a really fun three-character scene should go into Black Coffee In Bed (the just friends play), Band of Gold (the “Once you’ve got a wedding ring, you get hit on ten times more often than when you were single” play), or Temptation Eyes (the adultery play), when Elijah’s cellphone rings and he flips it to me.  It’s Benjy in North Carolina.

BENJY:  (I can’t believe it)  So.  Tonight’s the last night.
ME:  (I can’t believe it either)  Yeah.
BENJY:  The end of the Wild Bunch.
ME:  Four guys saunter up to the bar and say “Let’s go.”  “Why not?”
BENJY:  Big smiles on their faces.
ME:  Yup.  Kill and be killed.  There’ll be a lot of dead soldiers tonight.


At about one o-clock, as I’m dying of starvation, I check on my order of tenders, only to find out from a very apologetic Elijah that chicken tenders have been 86’d since like last night at 8. So I quickly order a burger, and devour it in like three gulps when it shows up in front of me.  Fifteen minutes later, I’m gamely wiping the grease off my fingers when Benjy’s Mom comes in, sits at the bar three stools down from me, turns my way and with the forlorn look of a waif who has watched everyone else in the orphanage get adopted except her, says to me: “Where are we going to go?”

“Where are we going to go?”  I’ve been asked that question over and over again in the last three weeks.  “Where can we go?”  “Where are we going?”  And the inevitable “Where are you going?”  And the answer, for me at least, is not so much a decision that I consciously made as it is a decision that slowly made me. Sort of like when a play uses you to get itself written, which is what usually happens to me when the writing is going well.  When it isn’t going well?  It’s like trying to drag a three-year-old away from a petting zoo. 

And the decision? I’m not going anywhere.  I’m done with the local pub thing.  Yeah, I’ll go out for drinks now and then, but I don’t expect to ever again hang out at a bar as much as I’ve hung out at the Pine.  And if I’m being totally honest with myself, I’m partially annoyed that the place took so long to shut down.  I was totally ready for the Pine to close this summer, because I was ready to move on.  Life was telling me something very specific.   

LIFE:  Okay, you’ve done this, it’s over, and now you can do one of two things: you can trade across, and transfer everything you feel for this place onto some other place –
MATTHEW:  You mean like hopping from girlfriend to girlfriend not because you’re in love but because you don’t want to be alone?
LIFE:  I see you’re familiar with the concept.
MATTHEW:  Instinct, nor experience.
LIFE:  (I’m going to do you a favor and forget you said that)  Right.  Or.  You can clean yourself out and go do something different.  Because we both know there’s a bad-habit aspect to this barfly thing which would make it very hard for you to quit.  So I’m doing you a favor.  I’m firing you.
LIFE:  So get a new job.  As it were. 
MATTHEW:  So, um, you’re trying to tell me something here?
LIFE:  Here’s what I’m not telling you.  I’m not telling you: "Hey Matthew--run out and find another bar you can hang out in three or four nights a week."
MATTHEW:  Okay. So what are you saying exactly?
LIFE:  Jesus.

I listen to Life babbling on around me while I stare at the downstairs bar. The first time I saw this bar was back in the 80's, when Lisanne Clapp took me in here for an afternoon drink one Saturday. I can't remember where we were coming from--an art gallery maybe; I always associate Lisanne with book readings and art galleries--and I can't remember our conversation, but after twenty years I can still see exactly where I was sitting--one stool east from where I am now--and the way that bar looked, like if you opened the right cabinet, a piece of New York history would drop into your lap. With a shot of whiskey as old as the country. And I can still remember what I thought: that if eyeballs left fingerprints, there would be a layer two feet thick on top of this bar, which you could dig through like dirt in an archaeological expedition to find evidence of lost and forgotten lives, with their hopes given wing and their fears drowned out by drink, with their stories told and then forgotten, with their dreams unspoken but seen by those same eyes that looked on their reflection in the glass of this bar, face after face after face until tomorrow night, when it will be covered with blankets and packed in sawdust and put away in a warehouse somewhere, or sold to another bar for far beyond its original price and far below its current worth. If this bar was a camera, it would be its own museum.

When the mailman comes in, a thin old guy with gray hair and a sack over his shoulder, Elijah buys him a whiskey, pours himself one, and they toast. Of course--this will be the last mail delivery ever to this place. Lord. So many final things. You never think about it, but there's always a final time for everything. Usually you don't realize it until after the fact. That's something I've learned to grasp or the years. But when it comes to knowing what it means while I'm watching it happen, well, that's something I'm grasping at with baby fingers, fingers that don't know how to clench the right way to hold it. Last mail delivery? Can't grasp that; it just fell to the floor. And that's the last time it will do that.

"How about a beer that's not my last?" I say to Elijah, and he pours me another one. "God willing anyway," I add, because I could get hit by a meteor before the pint builds, right?

While it builds, I get a text from my friend Patrick, who's in town from DC. He wants to know what I'm doing tonight, and I invite him to the bar for a drink. "It's CLOSING?" he texts, and then adds twenty-five question marks and twenty-five exclamation points. Patrick is very low key. I tell him it sure is, and he promises to be there early and hang all night.  Part of me is thrilled and saddened by this at the same time, because it’s another finality and at the same time a first: Patrick has always promised to meet me for a drink here, and never has, in the ten plus years we’ve known each other. Is there nothing that won’t be bittersweet about the next 48 hours?

Alexandra and Sunday come in at 1:45 to help out.  As Allie gets ready, Sunday sits next to me and Elijah serves her up a coffee with enough Irish in it to bring Finnegan back from the dead. “So who are they?” Sunday asks.

The ghosts. I take a deep breath. “They’re Jack Vander and a waitress named Molly something—Molly Evans? Molly Sanders? I can't remember. They eloped in 1945 after Jack got back from the war. He was at Omaha Beach, he won the Silver Star, and the story is that Molly promised to wait for him, and then got involved with Alec, Jack's brother, who wanted to enlist but was not allowed to by their father Septimus. He had to stay and run the family business, even though he hated it. But he started liking it more and more when he fell in love with Molly, who was one of the waitresses there. And who had been secretly engaged to Jack just before he shipped out. Which they kept secret because Septimus hated her, she was way too low class for him, he wanted Jack to marry into society, so he could be more than a saloonkeeper. Which is why Septimus totally approved of  Alec falling in love with Molly, because (a) nothing Alec did ever satisfied him, so it confirmed his opinion of the poor guy when he fell for a waitress, and (b) Alec coupling up with Molly would take her off the board when Jack returned from the war. Only he didn't count on Molly's persistence--she refused every Proposal Alec made--and he really didn;t count on Alec's patience--Alec took each refusal in stride, using each as an incentive to be even more affectionate and caring. By the time Jack did return from Europe, Alec was the Mayor of Crazytown when it came to Molly. And then they eloped to California and Jack changed his last name. It just about killed Septimus, and it turned Alec into the crotchety old misanthrope he is today. He married the next girl who caught his fancy, a mousey little secretary who worked for a publishing company, fathered a son with her (Jason) and then barely spoke two words to her for the rest of her mercifully brief life, and now lords it over Jason and his wife Anna. And their three crazy-ass kids.”

“Except,” says Sunday. “Except if they ARE the ghosts, then they didn't elope to California at all, did they?” “Nope.” “And how did anybody know they eloped to California in the first place, or that Jack changed his last name?” “Very good, Watson! Because,” I say, “because in 1969, a 24-year-old woman calling herself Melody Vander showed up at the Naughty Pine with Jack's Silver Star. She claimed to be Jack and Molly's daughter, born when they moved to Venice Beach, and lived under the name of Anderson. When they both died in a car crash in 1968, Melody found evidence of  the Vander connection in their papers. Along with the Silver Star. All of which was good enough for Septimus, who was still alive and still grieving. He took Melody into the family, pissing Alec off all over again, and she spent the next two years becoming Septimus' favorite grandchild before the old guy died of a heart attack. And when his will was read, Alec almost died the same way, because half of Septimus'  estate was left to Melody, and the rest to Alec's son. Not Alec. He's still pissed off about that, from all accounts, and that was almost 35 years ago.”

“So if they eloped to Cali, how come their ghosts are haunting the Keg Switch?” “Because this is where they were killed,” I say, and watch Sunday’s face as she takes this in. She stares at me. “You have that look in your eye,” she says. “That story look. What? Tell me. What's the story where it makes sense?”

“Hypothetical,” say, “purely hypothetical. Let's say you loved your brother’s girlfriend. And when your brother took her away from you, you murdered them both. Let's say you know exactly where the bodies are buried. Let's say you also know where your brother’s Silver Star is. And then, years later, here's this woman who shows up with a Silver Star that she CLAIMS is your brother’s, and you KNOW it's a fake, but you can't tell anybody WHY you know it's a fake, because if you do, then you are admitting to murder. So you keep your mouth shut, and you wonder how much this person knows about what you did, and you wonder IF this person knows what you did, or if she's just a clever grifter. Because the one thing you know for sure is that she is NOT the daughter of your brother, because you killed him before he had any kids. So who is she? That's the real mystery. Who is Melody Vander?  And what does she know?”

“I have no idea,” says Sunday. And I say I don’t either. “And neither does Alec—and he’s been living with this since 1969. Because if he knew, he would have done something to get rid of her. And she’s still up there in Newport, living in the Vander mansion.” “You’ve got that look again.” “Yeah. I have no idea who Melody is, but I will put her on the back burner, and see what gets served up when things start cooking. It may take a while, but if there's one thing I do well, it's stories.” “Everyone's except your own,” says Sunday, and I’m just honest enough to say out loud what I’ve been thinking all month. “Crap. Why aren't you twenty years older? And with a different mother?” Sunday grins and says: “Thank you.” “?” I say with my face. “That means I'm in the bad timing part of your life, not the good luck part.” “You are indeed,” I say. “If I’m still around when you’re sixty, give me a call.”

I throw down some twenties for Elijah and start to leave, when Richie comes up to me, a shocked look on his face. “See you later?” he asks, and I nod fiercely. “God yes—I’m going home to take a nap and rest up.  And can I ask you a favor?” “You can ask.” I want to do something special on Saturday night.” “What?” When I tell him what it is, he laughs. “I love it,” he says. “Yes. No problem.” And home I head.

Alcohol:  Guinness (3) Jameson (1)

Copyright Matthew J Wells

Day 29 Part 2