Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Wild Night This Morning: The Last Days of The Naughty Pine - 6

                                “86 Dominic!”

Thursday, 11/2/06. After work I hit a showing of Infamous at the Village East. The main difference between the two In Cold Blood films is that Capote is the Masterpiece Theatre version, while Infamous is the Vanity Fair version. Capote: serious to the point of somber, a lot of muted colors, essentially straight. Infamous: light, bright, and essentially gay. It bounces back and forth between Kansas and Capote's female society circle, all of whom are wonderfully portrayed, and provides a view into a facet of Capote's character that the first movie didn't, or did only briefly: the shallowness of his passionate desire to be the court fool of High Society. How much of an actor he was. The opening scene is the entire film in miniature: Gwyneth Paltrow as Peggy Lee Kitty Dean in a Stork-like night club singing Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love?” and literally breaking down in the middle of it. The music stops, she can barely get through the words, it's obvious she's reliving some traumatic break-up through the song, everyone watching her in the scene is riveted because she looks like she's going to break down in front of their eyes, everyone in the theatre is riveted for exactly the same reason—and then she snaps her fingers twice, the band comes in, and you realize that it was all part of the sell, all part of the way she was delivering the song. That's what this Capote film is about: performing, acting, selling a song (and dance), and the price you pay for doing it. Overall? I liked this version more than the first. The back and forth between New York and Kansas, the Oscar Wilde lightness of the comedy, make the serious moments stand out even more. Plus Daniel Craig makes such a great Perry Smith that you want someone to greenlight a movie about Neal Cassady with Craig in the title role. Plus plus, just as in Capote,the moral center of the film is Harper Lee, and Sandra Bullock is really really good in the part. Even though I couldn't help looking at her and thinking, "God, girl, when did you get all that work on your face?"

So I sit down at the upstairs bar, secure in the knowledge that the movie I’ve just seen is the entertainment of the evening. Silly me. Dominic is the entertainment of the evening. Thursday is his Friday, and this Thursday is his Friday the 13th.

The festivities start out innocently enough, but then they always do. Inga, one of Dominic’s bar girls, is with a group of corporate clubsterettes to my immediate right. Dominic is paying total attention to her at the expense of everyone else at the bar, especially the men. (In the immortal observation of Kate the waitress: “You always get perfect service from Dominic, unless there’s a vagina at the bar.”) In the space of fifteen minutes, he’s moved the corner people at the west end of the bar over to the east end, where I’m sitting, so that Inga and her shrieking flock of lovelies can spill over into the lounge. At which point, Dominic buys Inga and her girls a tequila shot, pours me one, and has one himself.

The time is 8:04. This is not a good sign. According to Matthew’s Eighth Law of the Naughty Pine, the earlier Dominic starts pouring shots for pretty girls, the uglier it gets. And tonight is no exception—tonight is uglier than the rosy butt of a chacma baboon.  Kate the waitress has already proclaimed the theme for the next three weeks: “No bottle left behind.” Dominic, being the public-spirited sort he is, is pitching in by personally taking care of all those pesky bottles of Patron. And the fact that he’s spreading it around is not making it any easier for me to (a) stop picturing him groping Sunday, a vision that I’m going to need as ton of mental floss to erase from my mind; and (b) hold myself back from calling him on it. Each additional drink is like somebody pushing me closer and closer to the edge of that cliff where my restraint will say “Fuck it!” and my tongue will say “You stupid fucking asshole!”  

Plus—as if careening towards disaster wasn’t enough of an incentive to throw moral caution to the wind—Tripod is suddenly standing at the service bar. I glance at Mauri as she shoulders past Tripod to give Dominic a table drink order, and the look on her face is pure “If there’s a God, will he just please strike this guy down with a lightning bolt already?” But there is no God; there is only Tripod, giving Mauri a leering hug that she only permits because she doesn’t want to get sued for clocking a customer.

Who is Tripod? He’s a guy named Arnold who went up to Maddie one night and said: “You want to come out to my Dad’s place in the Hamptons for the weekend? You’ll love it; my dick is as long as my leg.” And Maddie, who does a level of deadpan that stand-up comics envy, stood there with her one hand on her hip, looked the man full in the face, and said: “I don’t date tripods.” He has been Tripod ever since. And he is also Dominic’s cocaine connection.

When they go outside to “have a cigarette,” Sarah swings behind the bar, and suddenly there is good service again. “Want me to close you out before the fit hits the shan?” she asks, but I say no, I’ll stick around, and she sighs. “Can this night get any worse?” she asks, and the devil in me says: “It sure can—do you know that Dominic is fooling around with Sunday while he’s seeing Randi?” But what I say is, “Well, if you want something good to come out of the evening, call Randi in. Bet she takes one look at Dominic and breaks it off again.” “You don’t know the half of it,” Sarah says, and fills me in on the reason why the two of them got back together after the last time they broke up. It’s a doozy: Dominic started going to AA meetings. Swore he was cleaning up his act. Didn’t touch a drop, snort a flake, or inhale a leaf. Until Randi came back to him, after which every shift he worked became St. Patrick’s Day. “And the only reason he cleaned himself out like that was because Randi turned her back on him,” Sarah concludes, which makes perfect sense, because that kind of behavior is hard-wired into the Y chromosome. “It is a truth universally acknowledged by single females everywhere,” I begin—

ME:  It is a truth universally acknowledged by single females everywhere that, when a man is immediately and deeply interested in a woman, the moment she returns his advances in kind, he will run like hell in the opposite direction; and the moment she turns her back on him and walks away, he will wrap himself around her like a quilt of squids.

I immediately write it down while Sarah laughs and says “Where’s that from?” and I reply, “My new play that I just thought of,” I say, scribbling away. “Pride and Prejudice and Assholes.”

While Dominic is gone, Maddie comes up for a shift drink and talks about how traumatic it was to hit a deer while she was driving up to see her mom last weekend. She looks around.

MADDIE: No Ketel Mike?
ME: NOW you’ve done it!

Because she’s right—Ketel Mike has not been here at all tonight; but I’m just as right, because mentioning Ketel Mike’s name is usually his cue to appear at the door, like Lenny and Squiggy. I quickly throw salt over my shoulder, spit in the floor, stamp on it, and turn widdershins three times while humming Tchaikovsky’s Sabre Dance, which is also what you do so you won’t be cursed because you mentioned The Scottish Play, and Ketel Mike never appears.

Five minutes later, Dominic comes back upstairs (alone, thankfully) and disappears into the bathroom for (Sarah counts the seconds) two full minutes. He emerges with eyes like headlights and enough manic energy to fuel a Tokyo bullet train. But he’s not totally over the edge, at least not yet—he has the presence of mind to wait until Sarah goes downstairs before pouring another round of shots for everyone. But that’s the last sensible thing he does all night. He ignores table drink orders while he flirts with Inga. He calls out “Sorry—we have a no-suit dress code!” when a party of thirty-five suited men pour into the bar from downstairs. He disappears into the men’s room once every fifteen minutes, and comes out feeling like he’s God and looking as pale, translucent, and close to death as David Bowie did in his Thin White Duke days.

Meanwhile, my radar for pretty young women with father fixations is pinging like crazy when I notice  a really cute brunette with a considerably older man at the corner of the bar. They came upstairs with drinks already, which is usually the kiss of death as far as Dominic is concerned—I mean this is a man who has no compunction about yelling insults at the top of his lungs whenever investment banktards come up with their brimming pints and (ignoring the “Please Wait To Be Seated” sign) proceed to seat themselves wherever they please because they think they run the world. But as I said, the brunette is really cute, so Dominic cuts her a ton of slack because, like all men, he is subject to my friend Buddy’s First Law Of Male Behavior: “Penis trumps brain.”

And I’m right there with him, because she is actually talking about evolution at my bar. How cool is that? She’s aiming her comments at an Office Worker couple to my left, as well as a blonde in the far corner who talks about her students, so I’m assuming she’s a teacher. Evolution Girl is making the case that we’ve evolved past the point where Nature’s influence on our species is relevant. But she can’t complete a thought because Office Guy is interrupting her with snarky comments designed to prove that he’s smarter than she is. The older guy with her says nothing; he just sits there sipping his drink with a bored, entitled look that says: “Go ahead—fight over her—but she’s coming home with me.” The banter between Office Guy and Evolution Girl starts getting a little testy—I can see that she’s one more wiseass comment away from kicking him in the balls, if she can actually find them—so I pick a brief moment of silence and announce to the rest of the bar: “Human beings are, of course, the only species in history which can carry its own environment with it wherever it goes.” She points at me triumphantly. We make eye contact. (Hers are green.)

EVOLUTION GIRL: Yes! And because of that we’re a total menace –-
OFFICE GUY: A menace to each other mostly.
EVOLUTION GIRL: A total menace to the natural environment, because our artificial environment --
OFFICE GUY: And the natural environment is sure getting its revenge, right? How warm was it today?
OFFICE GIRL: In the high sixties.
OFFICE GUY: I remember the high sixties. Or was I just high in the Sixties?
ME: (to Evolution Girl) Go ahead -- I’m listening. Because our artificial environment?
EVOLUTION GIRL: Is lawless. We’re transcended the boundaries which constricted our ancestors. Thanks to our brains, we’ve short-circuited evolution.
ME: (God you’re cute) Uh-huh.
EVOLUTION GIRL: We’ve evolved into creatures who can’t survive in the wild, so when civilization falls apart? Because civilization always falls apart? We’re doomed.
ME: (Just tell me you think I’m cute, okay?) Exactly.
DOMINIC: My question is, have we evolved past tequila?
OFFICE GUY: Hell no.
DOMINIC: (arms wide) Shots for everyone!

Less than two minutes later Evolution Girl and her older guy friend are out the door. She swats me with a magazine as she passes my stool.

EVOLUTION GIRL: You understood what I was talking about, right?
ME: I totally understood it. And I’d like to hear more of it. Can we meet in an artificial environment sometime in the next week?

I hold out my notebook and pen; she writes her phone number and e-mail address, and then her name, Freddie Lang. “For Frédérique,” she says. And then she and the older guy—who has still not said a single word out loud—head for the stairs, her chattering away, him nodding and making sure that everyone sees him put his arm around her shoulder before they drop out of sight.

The rest of the evening is a whiskey and tequila blur. By 1 AM, I’m feeling like a whitewall that needs to be re-treaded. I’ve had at least five shots, we’ve been invaded by not only Bowl-Morlocks but a party of 25 snooty suits with their 25 stuck-up girlfriends, and Dominic is a sloshy, manic-depressive mess. He’s been chasing the dragon since midnight, and it shows. One minute he’s up, the next minute he’s down. He’s happy, he’s sad, and he’s talking faster than Glenn Close in The Big Chill. By the time Sarah comes up to help him do the books, he’s a frigging mess. “Sarah, I woke up crying, I’ll never get a job like this again, they’re closing my bar!” As he always does when he gets like this, Dominic veers between sentimentality and anger, and the anger is directed at me. “You think you’re so fucking smart.” “I swore I’d never let a regular into my life, and look at me. I used to be a great bartender and look at me.” The implication is, it’s all your fault, Hollow Leg Wells. About two months ago on a night only slightly less mortifying than this one, he lit into me for asking if he needed help doing the books—he tore me a new asshole in front of Bill Kennedy, and then twenty minutes later, he had me check the glu, because every time he added two and two together, he got blue.  Just imagine the five worst moments you’ve ever had of alcohol- or cocaine-fueled bitterness and sentimentality, and then imagine those moments happening over and over again one right after the other for two solid hours, raging and weeping, raging and weeping, raging and weeping like a skip in a record you can’t stop playing, and you’ll get an idea of what the last two hours of Dominic’s shift looked like. Just an idea, mind you.

“Get out. Get out now,” Sarah says, when Dominic dribbles off to the Men’s Room. I feel bad about it, but I bolt. And I barely remember getting into a cab. My only clear recollection is waking up with my head out the window like an Irish Setter as the cab turns sharply onto Union Street about twenty minutes later. 86 Matthew.

Alcohol: Guinness (5) Patron shots (4) Jameson shots (3)

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells

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