And I danced with
11-year-old Brooke Shields
Monday 11/13/06. Pouring rain, temperature in the mid-60’s. Kenny is eating the steak and spinach salad, except that it’s not spinach, it’s mesclun. The bar hasn’t had spinach since the E coli scare a few months back. “Spinach me!” Kenny cries, in the immortal vein of Homer Simpson yelling “Fugu me!” Instead of playing CD’s, Kenny is listening to JACK FM, the sound of the 80’s, which is currently playing Bananarama. Kenny, Marita, Ketel Mike and I all reminisce about hobbit-sized British girl groups, while Marita does today’s Times crossword puzzle.
MARITA: Kenny, you’ll know this. Blank Yang Twins, hip hop.
KENNY: Ying Yang Twins. God, give me something hard.
ME: Like Fu-Schnickens?
KENNY: Oh my God! Oh my God! You know them?!? I haven’t heard those guys in years!
ME: I have their CD somewhere. Probably next to MC 900 Foot Jesus.
KENNY: Oh my God! Oh my God!
JACK FM is now playing Donna Summer, and Ketel Mike is complaining. He redoubles his complaints when “I Feel Love” segues into “Disco Inferno.” Kenny asks, “How can you not like Disco Inferno?” And Ketel Mike replies with the immortal words: “I was at the opening night of Studio 54.” Like that’s an answer. Or like this gives him the right to, well, do and say anything he wants. Or, as Kenny says under his breath, “And no one was talking to you THEN either.” The line becomes the running joke of the night. “Where’s my drink?” “I’m sorry, I was at the opening night of Studio 54.” “Why is my meal cold?” “I was at the opening night of Studio 54.” “There’s lipstick on this glass.” “I was at the opening night—” “No, really,” says Marita, “I hate to be a bother, but there’s lipstick on this glass.” “It’s not yours?” Kenny asks. “I don’t wear lipstick,” Marita says. ‘Maybe it’s Anita’s,” I say, “it looks like her color.” “No, it’s way too red,” Kenny says.
And then the penny drops and Kenny and I look at each other and we say “Oh shit” at exactly the same time. “What day of the month is it again?” “It's the 13th.” “Oh shit.” “Did anybody go downstairs last night?” “No,” says Kenny, “because DOMINIC was in charge of it.” “Oh man.” And then Sarah has dashed through the door. “Try your taps,” she says, “the ones downstairs are all flat.” Marita holds up the lipstick-stained glass. “Fucking Dominic,” says Kenny. “Randi’s heading downstairs,” Sarah says, and I say, “I’ll go help—I’ve done it before with Dominic, and you need a guy doing it or it won’t work.” I don’t get an argument, because we all remember the hell night when Randi tried to do it alone. Whatever haunts the basement, it really has it in for women. “The Guinness is still good,” says Kenny, having tried all his taps, and Sarah snorts, “Of course it’s still good—they’re leprechauns.” And down she and I go to the Keg Switch.
The Keg Switch
Back in the late 90’s, a guy named Bobby Abraham started dating the crazy Vander daughter (Amy), and because he fancied himself as a musical impresario, he parleyed that relationship into permission to use the upper basement of the Naughty Pine, where all the kegs were switched out, as a kind of grungy punk rock music venue on weekends and Monday nights. Called The Keg Switch, it only lasted for about 15 months, until Giuliani’s Civility Campaign killed it—that, and the threat of an astronomical noise violation fine. During those 15 months, Abraham started up a record label called JD Records, for Juvenile Delinquent, and recorded a number of the concerts live for potential CD release. He also rented out studio space and recorded over 60 different versions of the song “I Fought The Law (And The Law Won)” for a compilation CD. All of which was going to be paid by Amy Vander, because even though he picked up tabs for dinner and dressed like a man who had cash to burn, Abraham was a perennially-broke smooth-talker who figured that Amy (being the crazy Vander) would not only front him the money he needed, but bail him out when his bills came due. What he didn’t know was that Amy was only crazy until it came to money, at which point she turned into an incredibly attractive cross between a forensic accountant and a rabid coyote. She took Abraham for everything he had, including the record company; then broke off their relationship and filed a restraining order against him. The words is, Abraham is currently out in Hollywood trying to make it as a film producer. And as everyone knows, Amy Vander is still just as crazy when it comes to guys, but at least nowadays she has them vetted financially after the first date. And the Keg Switch? It’s still there, but the kegs that used to line the walls have been moved to the west end of the upper basement. Because if they’re anywhere else, then they go flat. Because of the ghosts.
A-haunting we will go
The current theory breaks two ways—there are either two ghosts, one benevolent and one angry, or one ghost who flips back and forth between the two like a three-year-old kid on a sugar high. As for the identity of our spectral regular (I’m in the one ghost/two moods camp), there are as many theories as there are people who know about it. There are a number of people who have died in the Naughty Pine, but except for the blonde who keeps shedding her ectoplasmic hair in Booth 113, none of them have stuck around to fiddle with the taps or screw with the beer around the 13th of every month. And even these visits have been recent, comparatively speaking; they started up a little over two years ago. Ned Shay’s theory is the one that makes sense to me: if ghosts and poltergeists are basically a combination of spiritual force and electrical energy, then somebody walked into the bar one night whose personal energy signature was like an extension cord, and the previously dormant and powerless ghost plugged itself into him or her, and now—even though that person is gone—the connection remains, jump-starting itself around the same phase of the moon every month. Unless a certain ritual is performed, said ritual being a step-by-step replication of what Dominic did the first time this happened.
So down to the Keg Switch Sarah and I go, where Randi is waiting, and we do it by the numbers. Step 1: unhook the taps from the current kegs which have all gone flat. Step 2: spill beer from the flat Hoegarden keg along the west wall of the upper basement, soaking both the floorboards and the bricks. Step 3: line up the flat kegs in a pyramid shape along the south wall (4-3-2-1). Step 4: connect fresh kegs to the taps in a specific order, which is written down on a piece of paper taped to one of the ceiling beams. It takes a good ten minutes, even with three people doing it, but when we’ve finished, the ghost should be appeased for another four weeks.
When we get back to the street, Randi hangs outside and has a cigarette and I keep her company while she smokes it. She tells me about firing Dominic, and talking to Sunday. Evidently Dominic was also fooling around with Jynah (duh), who told Randi that Dominic and Sunday had been snogging at the Ace Of Clubs and I had not only seen them, but talked to them as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Which was why Randi had confronted me a few nights back. (Which already seems like a month ago.) It was only when Randi and Sunday “got real with each other on the roof,” as Randi says, that she learned the truth. “I should also learn to stop trusting certain people,” Randi says. I’m assuming she means Jynah, but she could also be talking about Dominic. Or herself.
The hero takes the fall
When we go back in, Sarah gives us a thumbs-up: the taps are working fine. I head upstairs, where Kenny has poured me a fresh pint. Fifteen minutes later, when Ketel Mike leaves, Kenny says, “Hmm—I wonder if he used to leave Studio 54 at 8:30?” The next 90 minutes are pure torture, as Kenny is dying to get this place closed by 10, and is totally pushing Eric to drop checks everywhere at about 9 PM. But people keep coming upstairs because the downstairs is mobbed. This is the other thing about the upstairs bar. We are kind of the trash bag for the downstairs bar. If they don’t want to handle it, they send it up to us (and yes, I say “us” because I feel like I have a vested ownership interest in this place). Since the Pine has no hostess station, the second floor is at the mercy of whoever is serving the window tables near the door, and whoever is stationed at the east end of the bar. If Jynah doesn't want to work, and Sunday is fed up with assholes, then everybody gets waved upstairs. And the irony of all this is that Kenny continues to bitch about the Vanders closing the place before the holiday season kicks in. “They decided to go Grinch on all of us,” he cries. “Who does that? Who the hell does that? Hey—Merry Chrstmas, suckers, good luck looking for a job!” So he's complaining about not having money coming in, but he’s also complaining about people with money in their pockets coming upstairs to spend it in his bar when he wants to go home. It’s just so wonderfully human.
During this rush, the Professor comes up, just as Sarah calls on Line 1 to tell Kenny that the Prof has been cut off downstairs. This has happened before, and Kenny usually allows the Professor to have one drink and then leave, but for some reason, he’s not doing that tonight. Maybe it’s Kenny’s annoyance at not being able to close early; maybe it’s a premonition. For whatever reason, he hands the Professor a water when he asks for a scotch. And the Prof does not like that at all.
While they’re going at it, Marita is getting ready to head out herself.
MARITA: Don’t tell John, but I may be going to Reservoir.
MARITA: Just don’t tell John.
ME: Like we talk all the time.
MARITA: You know what I mean.
ME: No, really -- I mean we talk all the time. It’s always the same thing -- thirty seconds after you leave, he’s up here grilling me. “Okay, where’s she going tonight? I know she told you not to tell me, so tell me. It’s Reservoir, isn’t it.”
Marita laughs. And then we hear THAT SOUND—you only have to hear it once and you never forget it—the sound of someone falling down the 22 steps (and one landing) from the upstairs bar to the downstairs floor, followed by the deep THUMP of a body hitting the closed door.
People who don't believe in teleportation have never moved during an emergency. There is no passage of time or sense of space. One moment you're sitting and drinking; the next, you're fifteen feet away—with no memory of moving, with no sense of the passage of time—one moment here, one moment there, like a jump cut in a movie, like life threw a switch and you went from There to Here in the time it takes to blink. One moment, Marita and I are sitting on our stools, Kenny is pouring a Sam Adams Octoberfest, and Eric is taking an order; the next, the four of us are at the top of the stairs, looking down at the bottom of the stairs, where the body of the Professor is crumpled against the closed door.
For one eternal moment we’re all thinking the same thing: he’s dead. He broke his neck and he’s dead. And then we hear a laugh coming up from that crumpled heap, and the Professor’s arms and legs stretch out, the arms shoving up against the floor, the legs bending to take his weight, and he’s standing there without even a bruise on him, waving up at us and saying in a peevish teacher tone of voice: “That’s what you get for giving me water!” Then he turns, sways a little—will he topple against the wall? No—and staggers out to the street.
There’s another time jump, and the four of us are on the outside deck looking down onto the street as the Professor is weaving his way south towards Washington Mews, where he lives. I think I’m the one who starts it, but we all end up laughing hysterically and shaking our heads. “God smiles on fools and drunks,” I say. Words which will come back to haunt me twelve hours later.
Alcohol: Guinness (4) Jameson (1)
Ghost ritual: 1
All the bands I saw at The Keg Switch: The Necco Wafers -- Knock Knock Who’s There -- No Soap Radio -- They Came From Cordura -- Emoticon -- The Box Jumpers -- Everything That Uncle John Needs -- The Band That Time Forgot -- John Dillinger and the Public Enemies -- But Wait There’s More -- The Britney Spears Meltdown -- James Brown’s Body -- Xtra Olive and the Dirty Martinis -- The New Black -- ESAD -- Umgowa -- Bend Sinister -- Birth School Work Death -- The Faceless Suits -- The Palmer Method -- Mt St Helens -- John Company -- Lucky Lindy -- Your Brain On Drugs -- Nolan Ryan and the No-Hitters -- Short Back and Sides -- The Quarterback Controversy -- The Powder Monkeys -- The Missouri Compromise -- This Fresh Hell -- The Educated Fleas -- Repeat And Fade -- Sonic Whores -- The Little Foxes -- Edna St. Vincent Van Gogh -- Gut-Wrenching Loss -- Walk Into This -- The Humarock Bonfires -- The Doohickeys -- The Juicyfruits -- The Four Flashcubes -- Humbert Humbert and the Underage Girlfriends
Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells