Friday, November 18, 2016

Wild Night This Morning: The Last Days of The Naughty Pine - 22


Saturday 11/18/06.

1:35AM.  Sunday asks me what I’m doing Sunday; I say “The usual, writing something that will take over the world. She asks me to brunch and I agree. “Later rather than sooner,” I say, so I can get some writing in and take a nap. She says she'll give me a call and finalize it. and leaves me alone with Randi, who wastes no time at all in cutting to the chase.

RANDI: Why are you pissed at me? Is it Dominic?
ME: It's the way you're handling the Professor's death.
RANDI: What way?
ME: I get the feeling that you care more about what happens to the bar than what happened to him.
RANDI: And where did you get that feeling from?
ME: Your e-mails. Your conversation.
RANDI: You read into things a lot.
ME: I do.
RANDI: And do you always see the worst case scenario?
ME: I do. I'm a fatalist.
RANDI: So every time you begin something, you do it knowing it will end, so why bother?
ME: No. I know it will end, because everything ends. Life, love, friendship, it all fades and dies. Or if it doesn’t, then it lasts until one or the other involved dies. Which ends it.
RANDI: Well, I'm a realist. When a man's dead, there's nothing I can do to help him. The only thing I can worry about now is what that death means.
ME: “Who's Joe?”
RANDI: Exactly. I will eat his steak. Because it was ordered, and because life goes on. As a fatalist you should know that. But like most fatalists, you see the end as final. It's only final for one person or one thing. The rest of us cope in our own way.

I think of how rare it is to talk to someone who gets my movie references. (“Who's Joe?” is from Only Angels Have Wings). I think of the Professor and the individual universe talk we had. (I looked it up at work the next day; there are two Greek terms for this—the idios kosmos and the koinos kosmos, the individual universe and the shared one.) My beer brain is trying to form a coherent defense to what Randi has just said, because my beer heart has taken her last words as an insult, if not an attack, but before I can think of anything, Randi is leaning forward at me and hissing: “I am SO PISSED at you for being pissed at me, and I cannot tell you how pissed off I am that it’s pissing me off.” By the time I comprehend the first half of what she’s said, the second half has dribbled through my mental fingers like verbal mercury. All I can manage in reply is: “So why exactly am I pissing you off so much?” 

Randi stares across at me. “I ask myself that every day,” she says, and then stands up. “Dominic is waiting,” she announces, and I don’t know if she wants me to stop her from going home or to go home with her.

The words “Let him fucking wait,” come out of my mouth.

“Is that the guy or the Guinness talking?” Randi asks, dead serious.

I look at her and say “Who do you want it to be?” and the moment the words are out of my mouth, we both know that I have crossed a line that cannot be uncrossed.

“Like it matters what I want,” Randi says wearily, and leaves.

              En Garde

This morning I sleep in, getting up at 8 and heading into Manhattan for the 10 AM Casino Royale showing at the Ziegfeld. After coffee and a muffin, I hit the Men’s Room and I’m standing on line in front of twelve people and behind six others. “It’s a sausage party,” says one of the guys ahead of me. No joke—the audience for this flick is 90% Y chromosome, which is why, when the movie is over, the six or seven women in the audience are greeted with the unforgettable sight of a twenty-person-long line to get into the Men’s Room, and no line at all at the Ladies. “It’s like Christmas!” says one woman and she sails into the Ladies, and the woman behind her flashes a “Now you know how we feel” smile at us as we hop back and forth from one foot to the other, try not to think of Niagara Falls, and wonder what all the hold-up is. As for the movie? Well, as one reviewer said, this is a 007 who can kill cancer. Now if he could only kill half the guys on this bathroom line. Like it matters what I want, I think. And then push the thought of Randi out of my head. I will deal with that tomorrow, says the Scarlett O'Hara in me.

             The Memorial Service

At 4PM, I’m ruining the age curve on a long line of NYU students waiting to get into the Professor’s Memorial Service, which is not really a service so much as a gathering of friends and family in his Washington Mews apartment. I was expecting speeches, and remembrances, and all that’s being offered today is a guest book to sign for the family, a meet-and-greet with the Professor’s ex-wife and his daughter, who thankfully looks more like her mother than her father, and a lot of awkward milling around while friends of the family stare at me and whisper “That’s one of his drinking buddies.” There are a few Pine folk there—Mike Wells, Glynnis, Martin, Jynah—and we glom onto each other, for protection if nothing else, until Glynnis sees an opening to do an Irish goodbye and takes it, the rest of us following her as smoothly and as respectfully as we can. Which respect lasts all of five seconds once we get outside, because that’s when we start ragging on and on about how that “service” was so unlike the man we remember. “I think it’s up to us to give him the wake he deserves,” I say, mostly because it’s the kind of wake I think I deserve, and we go to Reservoir for some loud frat boy drinking before Mike, Glynnis, Martin and Jynah have to work, and I have to begin my working day of drinking.

My companions leave to start their shifts, and I make some notes over a final drink at the Rez before I walk into the Pine around 6:30, bumping into Sarah coming downstairs as I’m starting to go up. As usual, our conversation resembles nothing so much as an Olympic fencing match:

ME: [Attaque] Hello gorgeous
SARAH: [Attaque en fer] You smell nice.
ME: [Invite] You feel nice.
SARAH: [Esquive] So what’re you doing?
ME: [Enveloppement] Hugging you, silly.
SARAH: [Dérobement] Cold out there.
ME: [Coup plaqué] Warm in here.
SARAH: [Dégagement] I saw Borat. Oh my God. That hotel scene. I was SCREAMING.
ME: [Touché!] Wasn’t it fantastic?

           Even your best friends won’t tell you

About five minutes after I sit down, Elizabeth comes in, followed closely by Donna and her boyfriend Tom. Elizabeth is, and here I have to plead a certain amount of ignorance, because I’m not sure whether she’s Ketel Mike’s actual girlfriend or just a female friend who is more interested in Mike than he is in her. Hard to tell. They don’t come together, but a lot of times they leave together, so you can make your own assumptions. As a heterosexual male who often leaves a bar in the company of women with whom he is not sleeping, I will not make assumptions, except to say that there’s something between the two of them, which could be more than friendship. Or not. (Can you tell I was educated by Jesuits?) Donna and Tom are a different story. Donna is a downstairs regular; I used to see her a lot with Bruce in days gone by, but those days have changed, and Tom is the reason. From all reports, Donna’s friends are evenly divided between those who think she’s stupid for going out with him and those who will stick by her no matter who she goes out with, which is not exactly an endorsement for Tom. There’s a disparity in their appearance as well. Donna looks like a former cover girl who deliberately passed up the botox and the nip and tuck because she wanted to age naturally and gracefully. Tom looks like the slightly less filthy clone of David Thewlis in Mike Leigh’s Naked: a good old boy who’s drug-addict thin with dry leathery skin and a scraggly moustache, the kind of guy you want on your side in a knife fight, but only if he hasn’t had that one too many. And if tonight is any indication, Tom often has one to many. By ten o’clock, he has picked a fight with Ketel Mike for no reason at all,  brushed off Donna’s every attempt to hug him, and is sitting on his stool in a sodden funk, with the air of a man who knows he’s behaving badly, resents the fact that everyone else knows it, and because everyone expects him to behave badly is going to damn well show us just how badly he can behave so fuck. You. (Y’know -- like a teenage son saying “Oh yeah?  I’ll show you what a rotten kid is!” after his father’s said something like “You are nothing but a rotten kid.”  Not like I’m speaking from experience or anything.) When he finally leaves, Donna having preceded him, he stands up, sways a little, leans forward, bounces off the counter by the server area, caroms off my back, and drops into the doorway downstairs like a tipsy billiard ball. As I watch him, one part of my mind is clinically cataloguing the way his balance constantly shifts with each move forward, just in case I ever have to play a drunk. Another part of my mind is reflecting on the nature of the universe: if it’s true that everyone we meet in our lives is here to teach us something about ourselves, in Tom I am definitely seeing what I could turn into someday when and if too much alcohol washes away everything but the deep well of my thirst and the black hole of my resentment. And a third part of my mind is wondering why Tom couldn't have fallen down that flight of stairs to his death instead of the Professor. Because if my life's puzzle is going to lose a piece, I should get to choose which one it is.

              Eau de Mathieu

Elijah is at one of the back tables with some friends; I don’t even notice him until he hugs me from behind. He’s with Jenn, who doesn’t recognize me at all until the second time she walks by me. (I have one of those faces that seems to change drastically whenever I cut my hair or grow a beard, and since I’m growing my hair out—what there is of it—and grew a beard for Stacy’s wedding, I look completely different from the last time Jenn saw me.)

JENN: I walked by you twice and I didn’t recognize you because of the beard. [She gives me a hug.] But I definitely would have recognized you if I’d gotten close enough to smell you.

I get this a lot (cf. the stairwell conversation with Sarah earlier) and I have my mother to thank. She used to put a different cologne into our stockings every Christmas, and one year when I was in my late teens she gave me a bottle of Stetson, which I fell in love with, and became my signature cologne. Amazingly enough, in this day and age when the old reliable constantly gives way to the new and improved, it’s still around (unlike the other colognes she gave me, like Aramis and Hai Karate). (Yes I’m not just old, I’m fucking old.)

            Matthew's Law of the Upstairs Pine

Ever since the smoking ban, a night at the Upstairs Pine can be broken down into three sections: (1) Where the fuck is everyone? (2) Where are all these fucking people coming from? And (3) Just get the fuck out of here! Tonight Stage One lasts until about 9, when Stage Two begins with a vengeance. In the space of about seven minutes, 25 people come upstairs, more than half of them with drinks in their hands, which means they bought them downstairs, couldn’t find a place to stand at the bar, and are going to occupy valuable table space up here without ordering food or leaving any tips for the wait staff. This continues for a good 90 minutes, during which time (at approximately 10 PM) the well vodka runs out, which means every vodka drink from now on is going to have to be made with top shelf labels like Ketel One and Stoli. Because the place is mobbed and the kitchen is slow, Kenny has the downstairs door closed, but does that stop people from coming up? Hell to the no. If anything it’s like a dare; twice as many people come up in the ten minutes after the door is closed than in the previous thirty minutes when it was open. And they all have that air of privilege which excuses them from reading signs or waiting to be seated, which is like a pound of itching powder on Kenny’s soul. “Why don’t you all get the fuck out of here?” Kenny cries at 10:30, officially beginning Stage Three. Because it’s so noisy, nobody hears him but me. And because it’s that kind of night, the words are barely out of his mouth before Melissa calls out an order for seven lemon drops. “86 Lemon Drops!” Kenny yells, and as he starts to make them he adds a heartfelt “Jersey go home!” Which is when a guy from Trenton comes up to the bar and orders five SoCo limes. Instead of butting heads, Kenny (who’s from Jersey) and Trenton Guy start reminiscing about neighborhoods they both know. Only in The Pine, I think. If this was the Reservoir or—God forbid—El Cantinero, there would be a repeated string of “Oh Yeah?” “Yeah!” that would end in a “Fuck you!” and fisticuffs.

             Wild night this morning

Around 11 or so, Ainslee, the incredibly cute blonde bartender from the Reservoir, parks herself on a stool in the corner. She is here without her boyfriend, who is working on opening a bar in Key West for a couple of months. “And working on the waitresses,” says Kenny under his breath. I’ve seen the guy up here before with Ainslee, but the only thing that comes to mind when I try to picture him is this hulking form with an arm perpetually around Ainslee’s shoulder. So I’m not at all surprised when Kenny reveals that the guy is a total hound. “I’ve seen him pick up girls here when she’s not around.” No surprise that he’s very possessive of Ainslee. It’s the ones who do the crime who keep you under lock and key.

KENNY: (on Ainslee) I don’t want to say, if I was single, but if I was single?

Well, duh. Ainslee is not only incredibly cute, she is incredibly carnal -- she can out-curse a sailor and thinks that the subject of every conversation is sex. You talk about missile proliferation, she tells you how she went out with a guy once whose dick was like an ICBM. You talk about subatomic physics, she tells you about this guy she used to go out with who came faster than the speed of light. You talk about the size of the upcoming taxi cab fare increase, she tells you about this guy she went out with whose dick was the size of her little finger. After about five minutes of this, you wonder what the hell her deal is, or at least I do, because it’s impossible to have a normal conversation with her without hearing the words “dick” and “pussy”. And I try. After the upstairs closes and we all descend to the downstairs, I see her at the end of the bar, so I go over and clink her glass and say “Still here huh?” And for five seconds, either because I’m looking for it or because she’s so drunk that she’s transparent, I see the wheels turning behind her eyes as she tries to think of something raunchy to say in reply. And this little voice inside my head says, “Hmm, I wonder if she’s doing this as a defense mechanism. Because if I was as cute as her, and had to assume that any guy who said hello to me was trying to pick me up, showing that I was as raunchy as a floor of frat boys would be just the way to, well, deflect that kind of attention. Or maybe it’s because she likes sex.” Or maybe it’s just the Guinness talking. Because at this point of the night, I am as smashed as a wine glass at a Jewish wedding.

The rest of the night is a blur. When I head downstairs, I notice that the Vanders have started removing the treasures fro the first floor—Houdini's straitjacket, which was hanging from the wall by the Men's Room entrance, is gone. So are the von Freytag Loringhoven plasters. And the autographed photo of Mock Duck by the kitchen. And the two Harrison chairs, which were made out of a giant log that stood at the corner of Prince and Broadway during the 1840 election. The treasures are leaving the Titanic. And there are people who still don’t realize the boat is sinking

GLYNNIS: At least one person per night comes in and says wait, this place is closing? But we love this place! And we look at each other and go, do you recognize them? Nope. Me neither. So I guess when you're always here, it's never when there’s a waitress or a bartender!

Because I’m mood sensitive, I’m picking up on this weird air of finality and continuation, like the last days of high school, when nobody was doing any studying, and everyone was going through the motions. Just like then, there are a few teachers who make you do the work (Randi, Richie) but for the most part, everyone in authority knows that not only are your days numbered, but theirs are too, which creates a communal sense of loss and remembrance. “Loss and remembrance,” I write in my notebook, and hit the men's room before I leave, because my bladder is getting punished on a nightly basis. When I get back, someone has written “There's no such thing as losing as long as we remember. Winning is remembering. Remembering is winning.

Which makes me tonight’s biggest loser, because twenty-four hours later, when I download the pictures in my camera, I see about 75 that I do not remember taking, 75 pictures that were taken between 1:30 AM and 4:45 AM, when I left the bar. I can’t tell you how much I drank—normally I can put away a pint every 45 minutes, so figure another four on top of the six I had upstairs. Plus one shot for every beer. I think. I remember this: a pansexual-looking guy whom Esma and I called Boy George. Talking to Alexandra—it’s her last official shift. Talking to Alex. Drinking with another pair of Reservoir bartenders who come in around 4. Hanging at the bar after everyone has left. Having a final drink as Joey does the books. Walking to the Citibank with Joey (and who else? No idea) to make the cash deposit. By now the sun is rising, and the starlings are chirping. Getting into a cab with the Brooklyn folks (there are four of us). Walking up the steps of my apartment building as people are getting up and going out to church. And standing there, at the door, thinking, I will always treasure the fact that everybody here treats me like family. I will never forget that. But damn—I so totally forgot everything else. 

My only other clear memory? Singing along to Van Morrison at the top of my lungs, and everyone laughing because I’m getting the lyrics wrong. You know how you mis-hear song lyrics when you’re young?  Like hearing Hendrix sing “’Scuse me while I kiss this guy?”  Well this is mine.  Up until, oh, only a couple of years ago, I always thought that Van Morrison was singing “Wild night this morning” instead of “Wild night is calling.”  I still think my mis-heard lyric is better than his original one. And tonight I make sure the world agrees with me.

Alcohol: Guinness (10? 11?) Jameson (5? 8?)

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells

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