What’s truly important
Saturday 11/11/06. In my dream (as it often happens with me) Wonder Woman is two people at one and the same time, both of them Carters—Lynda and Christina. (This makes my version of Diana the perfect Amazon princess.) She’s holding a press conference about an affair she’s supposedly having with Superman, and as she’s fielding question after question, Steve Trevor (that’s me!) is standing at attention in full dress uniform behind her and to her left (audience right) in the universally recognized position of Supportive Mate. I keep my face an expressionless blank, and the more questions Diana gets asked, the more everyone looks my way to see how I feel about all this Superman stuff. And the questions start coming my way, which pisses Diana off. “Do you feel inadequate?” “Of course I do—he’s Superman,” I say, “but I think I still measure up.” And there’s just enough of a smirk on my face that a female reporter asks, “Is there anything you’d like to say to Superman about this?” And I look at Wonder Woman and I think, screw it, and I say, “Sure. I’d like to say this. I’d like to say, sorry, Supes—Diana likes to save her men, which is why she always comes home to me.” And I grin just as a newscaster interrupts the press conference to give the time and weather, which is my radio alarm going off, and I wake up and hit the snooze twice before I finally rise, feeling a little weary, but congestion free.
Work is mind-numbing but bearable. When I get to the Pine, I notice what looks like spilled red paint on the floor near the downstairs bar, but I think nothing of it. Two minutes after I settle onto an upstairs bar stool, Sarah comes up from downstairs to give Kenny a cigarette break. According to her, Richie is totally losing his shit about the closing. John B had put in to be out Thanksgiving weekend ages ago—he and Marita will be in Pennsylvania—so now there are day shifts that need to be picked up, because John won’t be back till Sunday. When Sarah reminds Richie of this, Richie’s response is: “But I have to plan the party on Sunday!” He then goes bazoo, and Sarah stands there visualizing her trip to Provincetown with her new boyfriend while Richie imitates Mount Saint Helens for the next 20 minutes. Until finally she says:
SARAH: You know what? This conversation is totally unimportant.
RICHIE: Excuse me?
SARAH: I’m sorry; I have work to do now.
As she tells me the story, Marita flits up, all energy, even though she was drinking last night till about 4 this morning.
SARAH: I don’t know how she does it.
ME: I don’t either
SARAH: And let us take a moment to ponder the miracle that is John and Marita.
ME: Let us observe a moment of silence as we change the keg of worship.
(Five seconds later:)
SARAH: That’s long enough. Bottoms up!
Sarah then fills me in on everything I missed last night, with a special focus on the Dominic drayma. She says that the night she did the books for him, “he was such a mess. I should have left when you did. He kept TALKING to me while I was adding up his numbers. Do you know how hard it is to concentrate on addition when you’ve got as cokehead who can’t stop talking?” I tell her I think there’s a chapter in Euclid about that, and she squirts me with the Stella tap.
When Kenny comes back up, he’s obviously been checking the tires, and with good stuff too. Sarah tells him that Joey isn’t working the Friday after Thanksgiving, and Kenny’s mind, which is already blown, is now boggled. “That’s a $300 night!” Kenny cries. “Look—I’ll work it upstairs if Dave is working downstairs.” Sarah shakes her head. “Dave will want upstairs; work downstairs with me.” “Deal,” Kenny says. “Seal it with a scotch,” says Sarah, and Kenny pours us all a Talisker.
Kenny on the virtues of Talisker
KENNY: Scotch tastes like peat moss. I wonder why? Oh yeah—because it’s made from PEAT MOSS.
It’s who I am, it’s what I do
It’s a night full of writing. I start plotting out Nobody Dies In Disneyland. I’m setting it in the 50’s, around the time of Khrushchev’s proposed visit. In this version, he really did visit there, and dead bodies start popping up. Or maybe just one. A woman. And they get her out of the Park and into the Hotel by doing one of their themed parades. Yes! They do a Snow White parade, where they dress up the dead body as Snow White, put her in a glass case, and walk her out of the park with seven guys dressed up as dwarves like it’s part of the daily entertainment. (What do they do if it’s a man? Hmm. Maybe dress him up as an Abraham Lincoln audio-animatronic robot, and carry him out for repairs?) Anyway—the parade gets hijacked along the way because once this women gets out, the story’s over, so maybe she’s not dead, maybe she’s paralyzed, or unconscious, or has an extreme medical condition. Which means she’s actually being kidnapped, because she knows something or has something. Evidence of the plot against Khrushchev? Evidence of a plot to kill Nixon? Evidence of one that turns into evidence of the other? (Yes, that.) So our hero rescues her, and they spend the rest of the novel fighting their way out of the park—specifically fighting people dressed up as Donald and Mickey and Goofy. Oh hell—let’s have a huge donnybrook where cartoon characters are kicking the shit out of each other, Disney princesses are carrying silenced revolvers, and all cartoon hell breaks loose. I’d read that. Especially if it was written in this hard-boiled Mickey Spillane style. Juxtaposing that with Mickey Mouse? “Hey, Pluto!” “Eat lead, rodent.” Oh God yes!
And I am merrily scribbling away like that for a good hour until my bar ears prick up and I become aware of an argument between two women to my left, about some guy that the blonde is seeing and the brunette next to her is calling the blonde every profane name in the book for not dumping him, and every time she does, the blonde wails even louder, and you can tell (if you apply Matthew’s First Law of Friendship) that the poor woman just wants sympathy, not emotional antibiotics. But the brunette is having none of it, so after calling her friend an idiot who thinks with her rhymes-with-punt, she stalks out the door and stomps really loudly down the 22 steps (and one landing) to the street, because she wants her friend to get the message that I AM LEAVING NOW AND I AM NOT COMING BACK SO HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT YOU STUPID LOSER?
The blonde is weeping like she’s at a funeral. I pull a wad of Kleenex out of my shoulderbag and hand it to her. She thanks me. I say “I’d ask you if you were okay, but that’s a really stupid question, so is it all right if I ask you a slightly less stupid question?” She gives me a resigned why-is-he-bothering-me look and nods, because she’s a woman and she knows that the quickest way to get rid of a guy is to let him say what he has to say and then bolt. I say, “Where did you get your heels? Costume Nationals, right?” “I got them at the Tootsi Plohound on Prince Street,” she says immediately, and then gives me a furrowed-brow look which says: “Wait a minute—I’m getting a straight guy vibe from you; how come you know women’s shoes?” But it’s broken the ice enough for me to have Kenny move our drinks to what I now think of as Ava’s Corner by the jukebox, and because the world reads SAFE no matter what I write about myself, I throw a five in the box, play The Best of Squeeze, and get her life story for the next thirty minutes. And yeah, about five minutes in, she comes up for air and says, “I don’t know why I’m telling you all this; why am I telling you all this?” like they all do; and then she dives back down and continues unloading, and I do nothing except nod and make analogies, usually humorous ones so it lightens the mood, and provide the sympathy her friend couldn’t give her. It’s a familiar story. She’s stuck on a guy who treats her like shit when he has her, and promises to change when she leaves him. In other words, she’s Randi talking about Dominic. And I so want to give this woman the advice I would give Randi, but I don’t, because she doesn’t want advice—she wants an ear. So that’s what I give her. We do not trade names. We do not pretend that there is anything remotely potential about this. It’s all about the now, and the now for her is getting the release of telling this story tonight to anybody who will listen to her. And in situations like this, Anybody is my middle name.
By the time her friend comes stomping back, the blonde is feeling a little better about herself, and apologizing profusely for unloading on me. “No apology necessary,” I said, and her brunette friend goes, “Why are you apologizing to this old guy, and what are you talking to him for?” Sarah, God love her, says, “He’s not old.” (But I am; I’m more than twice this woman’s age.) “C’mon,” says the brunette, “let’s get out of here and go somewhere we can talk.” “I’m going home,” says the blonde. “Oh for Chrissakes,” says the brunette, “home to HIM?” The blonde looks at me, as if she’s afraid that I too will condemn her for going back to the guy she’s been complaining about for the last thirty minutes. “Just remember what I said,” I tell her, and she smiles, and kisses me on the cheek, and heads downstairs. The brunette flashes me a nasty look and follows her.
When they’re gone, Marita and Dan and Kenny and Sarah crowd around me the way Doc Boone’s fellow passengers crowd around him after he delivers Little Coyote in Stagecoach—patting my back, shaking my hand, offering me whiskey. “What did you tell her?” Marita asks. “What was it that you told her?”
ME: Something Barbara Stanwyck once said. She was listening to an actress bitch about her boyfriend at a Hollywood country club back in the Thirties, and after hearing her complain for a solid hour, Stanwyck finally said, “Look, honey. There’s only one question that matters in a situation like this. Is the fucking you’re getting worth the fucking you’re getting?”
Turkey Day Blues
Maddie and Glynnis come up around 10:40. Glynnis is toasted. She points to a table in the lounge where a young bearded guy is sitting with an older couple.
GLYNNIS: Is that Sarah’s boyfriend?
ME: That’s him; his name’s Matt.
GLYNNIS: I like the name.
ME: So do I.
GLYNNIS: I want to go over and say hello but he’s with his parents. (A conspiratorial whisper:) I’ve been drinking, Matt. (Sadly:) I can’t do go over there. Not when he’s with his parents. Not like this. I just can’t. (She walks over there.) Hi, I’m Glynnis!
Maddie and I catch up.
MADDIE: I never get to see you any more; I just get to read your comments on my blog.
ME: I miss you too. (We hug.) You riding your bike home tonight?
MADDIE: God no.I’m taking the subway.
ME: Not a cab?
MADDIE: Not when the gravy train is pulling out of town.
ME: Maddie, that gravy train is crashing off a bridge.
We end up talking about Thanksgiving Dinner. Maddie is Very Passionate about Thanksgiving Dinner. Talking to her about Turkey Day is like talking to Germans about theology.
MADDIE: Every day it's a new crisis. I get like five calls a day from people. Can I bring my husband? Look, I don’t know your husband, for the last three years you've barely mentioned your husband; but I do know you, so yes, you can bring him. Can I bring my boyfriend? Since when do you have a boyfriend? Okay, fine, bring him. And then Elijah told me his girlfriend has to work, so he has nowhere to go. So now my party of six is up to 13, maybe 16, depending. What are you doing?
MADDIE: I have an old girlfriend in town; we're going to be doing it with her kid.
ME: (shrewdly) And is her kid your kid?
MADDIE: God no. I'm just Uncle Matt.
MADDIE: You should come to my place for dessert. There'll be a ton of pies--apple, pecan, pumpkin. I'm going to glaze some nuts, and Glynnis is making cupcakes. Which means I have to run in the park.
ME: It's supposed to be raining.
MADDIE: Then I'll have to run in the rain. I have to do that every Sunday now. And if we're having cupcakes? Running. Running twice as far.
This year’s epic production is thematic: everyone has to come as a peasant.
MADDIE: And there’s no silverware. No utensils at all.
ME: So who’s going to cut the turkey or the pies?
MADDIE: That’s a good question.
ME: I think since you’re the cook, you get to be the Feudal Lord. Which means you’re the one with the knife and the fork.
MADDIE: I like that—Feudal Lord. I like that.
She tells me that one of the downstairs regulars brought in a box of chocolates, which Glynnis put at the staff table, and Maddie went to get a piece and the next thing she knew, it was twenty minutes later and a customer at one of the window tables is yelling “Where's our waitress? We’ve been waiting twenty minutes for our drinks!” And all eyes turn to Maddie, and there she is, with her chocolate-stained lips, giving them a “Whoops!” grin.
Our own personal lost continent
When Sarah closes the upstairs at midnight, I head downstairs and see Esma at the bar. “It’s the hugger!” she cries, as I give her a big hug. Not for the first time, I wonder just what everyone who works here and comes here thinks of me. And what do they say about me when I’m not around? I’m tempted to leave my notebook open to an empty page and have people write in it, like some barfly version of a high school yearbook. (“Good luck finding another place that gives you so many buybacks! Keep in touch! Richie.”)
After a drink with Esma, I get another Guinness and do the rounds, clinking pints with the downstairs staff who have been cut, and sitting in all the empty booths I can find for a couple of sips at a time, soaking up the history as I get myself soaked. I finish my beer at Table 109, the Mohican Round Table, the only oval table in the bar. It used to sit in William “Bill the Butcher” Poole’s Christopher Street living room, but after his death in 1855 it was bequeathed to Isaiah Vanderlynn, who was, like Poole, one of the leaders of the Know Nothing party. The table sat in Vanderlynn’s study until the Draft Riots of 1863, during which the original table in Booth 109 was shattered in a fight between the Bowery Boys and the Dead Rabbits, and Vanderlynn used the Poole Table to replace it. The legend that John Morrissey, Poole’s arch-enemy, broke into Poole’s house in 1854 and nearly killed Poole by beating his head forty times against the table has never been documented, but that doesn’t stop servers from telling customers that the large discoloration in the center of the table is the bloodstain from that attack. In fact, the bloodstain didn’t appear until 2001, when Daniel Day-Lewis, researching his role as Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, paid 500 dollars to sit in Booth 109 and bang his own head 40 times against the table just to see what it felt like.
It’s about 2 when I leave, and who is sitting outside with her boyfriend but Sarah. “So,” she says. “So,” I say. And then it’s her turn to tell me a why-am-I-telling-you-this story.
SARAH: I lucked out. Two weeks after I moved here? I landed this job. And I don’t want to think about what I’d be doing in this city right now if I didn’t have this job. Because the friend I moved here with from Norfolk? She didn’t luck out. She left after six months. And I’m still here. All the friends I have, all the friends I’ve made, have been through this place. Through the people in this place. It’s fuckin’ weird, Matt. I’m going to really miss it. And I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like for people like you.
ME: It happens all the time in this city
SARAH: See, you get that.
ME: (A shrug) I’ve had so many places, and people, that I’ve said goodbye to since I moved here.
SARAH: Yeah, but this place.
ME: Yeah. This place. This place is special. It’s the atmosphere. A combination of the people who work here and the people who come here. There’s no other place like it. And once it’s gone, there’ll be nothing but the memory, and then the myth.
SARAH: Like Atlantis.
ME: Like our own personal Atlantis.
We share a charged little moment in which you can hear a coupe of souls chime like a single bell. Then Sarah says “G’night sweet pea,” and I say, “Night to you too. You guys have a great time in P-Town.” And home I go. I love Sarah to death and beyond. But I also know her, and if she's still in New York this time next year, I'll vote Republican for the rest of my life.
Alcohol: Guinness (7) Jameson (4)
Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells