A chip the size of the Ritz
Friday, 11/3/06. I get to bed around 2:30 in the morning, and three hours later I’m up, showered, and waiting for the train into work. I’ve got that cactus-spine-in-my-head feeling I always get when I have too much whiskey, but otherwise (thanks to water and Advil) I’m fully day-job-functional, which today (Thank God) entails little more than concentration, basic motor skills, and endless patience with corporate a-holes. I get out of work at 4, I throw myself onto my bed when I get home at 4:30, and sleep for the next three hours. There are only four more Fridays left, counting this one; but I intend to spend this one eating take-out Chinese and watching Randolph Scott westerns. Because there’s nothing that says “Recovering from too much alcohol” more than watching middle-aged cowboys hook up with actresses with big hair and torpedo bras.
I’m in the middle of Ride Lonesome when I get two texts from Randi:
RANDI: My bar is full of assholes!
Since Dominic is supposed to be working tonight, I can only conclude that all tequila hell has broken loose, so I text Randi back that I’m on my way, bid Ben Brigade goodbye, shrug off my sweats, put on some dark clothes that won’t show spill marks, grab a book for the train ride (The Face In The Frost by John Bellairs), and head for the train. Because I’m a regular, and this is what regulars do.
Nice euphony, if we’re being polite
So who’s Randi, really? In the immortal words of Glynnis: “When you take Randi out on a date, you have to make a reservation for three-one for her, one for you, and one for the chip on her shoulder.” (Glynnis is never wrong about people.) But Randi didn’t always have that chip. Five years ago she came to New York for a week-long visit with her current boyfriend and three other couples. By the end of the week, she and the boyfriend were on the outs (because you never really know someone until you travel with them), and on their last night in the city, the eight of them wound up at the upstairs Naughty Pine, where Randi sat at the bar and the other seven (including her boyfriend) sat at Table 201. Who was behind the bar? Dominic. The first words they spoke to each other:
DOMINIC: So who are you, who were you, and who do you hope to be?
RANDI: (extending a hand) Miranda Beth Landis.
DOMINIC: Nice assonance.
At 1 AM, Randi and her friends left for their hotel, to pack up and take a dawn flight home. At 2 AM, while Dominic was closing up, Randi returned with her suitcase. Dominic didn’t bat an eye.
DOMINIC: What’ll it be?
RANDI: A change. I need a change.
DOMINIC: Coming right up.
They’ve been together ever since, bouncing off each other like a couple of charged particles in the Large Hadron Collider. And Randi went from waitress to bartender to manager, at which point that chip on her shoulder became so large you could see it from space, like the Great Wall of China.
When I walk into the Pine, it is indeed a shitshow downstairs, with Dominic nowhere to be seen and Steve and Jon facing off against a three-deep bar of drinkers like a couple of expendable extras guarding the gates of Rome against Hannibal’s inebriated elephants. I don’t see Randi, so I head upstairs to check in with Dave, who has his own packed bar to deal with and a freshly poured pint of Guinness waiting for me when I walk through the door. Evidently Randi told him she’d texted me, and when he asked her exactly what time she’d done it, he factored in the time it took me to get out of my apartment, and the time it took the R train to show up and get me to 14th Street, and started building the Guinness about three minutes before I walked in the door. Because he is a bartender, and this is what bartenders do. He tells me Randi is up on the roof, having a cigarette. So that’s where I head.
That sinking feeling
If it’s an alcoholic shitshow downstairs, it’s an emotional shitshow on the roof. Randi and Dominic are Off Again thanks to last night, when the two of them had a fight after Dominic crawled into bed with Randi while he was coked to the eyeballs. Then he called out because Randi would have been managing him tonight. Can you say three-year-old? “Why do I keep doing this to myself?” Randi says, and I attempt to give her some good advice. As always, the reason I know it’s good advice is because, if someone gave the same advice to me, I wouldn’t take it.
ME: Repeat after me.
RANDI: Repeat after me.
ME: Men who don't want you are a waste of time.
RANDI: Men who don't want me are a challenge.
ME: Chasing a loser makes you a loser.
RANDI: Chasing a loser is better than being alone.
ME: Beating your head against the wall gives you a concussion.
RANDI: Beating my head against the wall is foreplay.
ME: (throwing his hands in the air) I give up.
She offers me a cigarette. I haven’t had one since April 9, 2002, and I’m not about to start now. “You’ve changed, then,” Randi says. “That’s unique, Wells. We never change. We never learn. None of us. We're all programming. We just repeat the old mistakes and achieve the same old victories and we think we're dumb or we think we're smart and it has nothing to do with intelligence. It's just the way our brains are wired. It's just what we can't stop doing.” “That's pretty depressing, Randi,” I say, and she shrugs. “Nah, it's just how I'm programmed to see the world.” “And how do you see it tonight?” “Tonight?” she says. “Well, tonight, I’m trying to figure out if I’m on the Titanic or the Poseidon.”
This leads to a very interesting analogy about the Naughty Pine. Is it the Poseidon, where the passengers (the staff and the regulars) are going to help each other survive once the disaster hits? Or is it the Titanic, where nobody thinks the ship will sink until it does, and everyone who’s not in a lifeboat freezes to death in the icy Arctic waters of a Naughty-Pine-less world? “But the good thing about it being the Titanic,” Randi says, “is that it’s the absolute end of something. It’s like the reverse of You Can’t Fire Me—I Quit—it’s I Don’t Have To Lift A Finger—This Disaster Will Do It For Me.” “Which means,” I point out, “that you don’t have to change.” “Of course I'll change,” Randi says, “the bar will be gone in a month.” “That’s not changing,” I say, “that’s dealing. If you’re waiting for your job to end before you actually break up with Dominic,” I begin, but that’s as far as I get, because on the word “Dominic,” Randi takes the chip off her shoulder and swats me in the jaw with it. “That is NOT what I said,” she declares in an Exorcist voice that’s all gruff and demonic. I give her a look and calmly repeat and continue my thought. “If you’re waiting for your job to end before you actually break up with Dominic, because you think that it will be easier for you to do it once you no longer work with each other, it’s like The Professor saying he’s going to go on the wagon once the Naughty Pine closes. When we all know,” I say, hand raised as she starts to interrupt, “when we all know that it’s not the place that sells the liquor that’s the problem, but the thirst. Which will find another bar where it can be quenched—just like you will find another Dominic. Unless you give it up like I gave up smoking,” I want to add, but once again, on the word “Dominic,” Randi gets all huffy. “So I’m an alcoholic now?” she asks, and I nod my head. “When it comes to Dominic? Yeah. He’s your scotch. You think the rest are poison, but he’ll kill you just as surely as they do. Only he’ll do it slowly, and he’ll make you think it’s your fault. And it will feel like a pleasure.”
She starts to say something, and I can tell it’s going to be some excuse that gets her off the hook, so I jump in before she can speak. “He’s the Titanic,” I say. “Not the Pine. Him. And he’ll take you down with him. Unless you jump overboard. Grab a lifeboat, and jump overboard. He’s the Poseidon. Everything is upside down. Nothing makes sense. But you have to get to the bottom of it, which is the only way out. Because if you stay, you die.” I can tell I’m reaching her, and I almost—almost—say “And besides, the son of a bitch is fooling around with Sunday.” But I don’t. Instead I say something that sounds kind of brilliant, and immediately write it down afterwards.
ME: The only people who go down with the ship, are the ones who need the ship to live.
Alcohol: Guinness (1)