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
Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells