Saturday, 11/4/06 – 12:05 AM. Randi and I part when we get back to the downstairs bar, her to do her alleged job and me to get waved over to the Tesla Table by the Professor.
The Tesla Table
In 1937, Nikolai Tesla asked permission to light the Naughty Pine as part of his ongoing experimentation with charged particle beam weapons and what he called the “teleforce.” He was given six booths on the north side of the bar, and in each one he put a slightly different version of what he called an “aetheric aero-electric lighting system,” a bulb with an astrapium-based filament unconnected to any wiring or power source which nevertheless stayed lit 24 hours a day because it got all its power from the aether (which, according to modern physics, doesn’t exist). Of those six, two were stolen by employees of General Electric, which tried (and failed) to find out how they worked. One was broken by Normal Mailer in a bar fight. One simply stopped working (no one knows why) on January 7, 1943. And one was short-circuited when Billie Holiday licked her thumb with her tongue, touched the bulb, and made a hissing noise. The bulb winked out, never to shine again. The sole remaining bulb, which has been shining non-stop for almost 70 years, has become perceptibly brighter since the mid-90’s, which supports a theory that says the increase in ambient electrical energy since the 1980’s, due to computers and cellphones, has increased the capacity of the bulb, which is drawing its power from the available electrical energy in the aether. Which doesn’t exist. Or does it?
I get a Guinness from John B behind the bar, and sidle into the Tesla Table with Esma and Rob from the Strip House, and the Professor and a cute blonde with short hair. But not before I lick my thumb, press it up against the bulb, and make a hissing sound, which is a ritual among the staff and regulars. I’m sitting next to Esma; as usual, the scent of whatever shampoo she uses when she washes her hair permeates the air—it’s lush and flowery and makes me want to lean my head on her shoulder for the next two hours, if not ask her, “So do you really wash your hair right after your shift ends, or does it always smell like this?” The Professor points out that he hasn’t seen me in the upstairs bar for a while; I explain that I’ve been either writing or napping instead of coming in right after work, “So by the time I get in, I’ve missed your class,” which gets a nice round of laughter from everyone, including the blonde. Rob talks about the bands he’s performing with, and how juggling their schedule plus his work schedule is a complete and total bitch and a half.
In the course of the next two hours, I have two more stouts. I have taken to throwing down twenties to everyone no matter what they charge me, and leaving them on the bar. Tonight is no different. I also buy a round for the table, because my corporate day job salary has to be good for something. Rob talks about the reaction to Dominic’s coke-fueled escapades last night.
ROB: Man, was Steve angry. You should have seen him. Bitching Dom out to everyone. “If he can’t do his books, he doesn’t deserve to be here.” It’s a wonder Dominic still has a job.
ME: They won’t fire him. They’ll keep him here until the place goes under. Because it’s the Titanic now.
I give them a brief synopsis of Randi’s Titanic Versus Poseidon theory. And then the Professor talks about how his grandmother was one of the survivors, which is just barely possible chronologically, and while the blonde looks over at him with adoring eyes, Rob and Esma and I try to figure out where we’re going to be drinking in a month. “Reservoir?” “Not unless the clientele changes. They’re all so young and stupid there.” “The whole city’s turning into young and stupid.” “Yeah, why is that?” “Because they’re the ones with the money.” “Fuck.” “You said it.” And that’s the note on which I leave. Where are we going to be drinking in 2007? And “Not here” isn’t an acceptable answer.
Mene, Mene, Freddie Upharsin
I sleep in, as I usually do on a Saturday, getting up at 8 AM and heading over to Ozzie’s on 4th Avenue for coffee, a blueberry muffin, and some writing. I deliberate seeing the Borat movie at 11, but I end up writing till 11:30, at which point I head into town and browse Tower Records at 66th Street before my lunch date with Evolution Girl. The Music section is still pretty full, but the DVD’s have been totally denuded of everything except season sets of Golden Girls. I make a mental note to come in about once a week and check out the discounts on imports; Tower has the best import section in the city, and it is the latest in a long line of things I will be missing come New Year’s.
I walk up to Jackson Hole. Freddie is already there—dressed in expensive casual, as opposed to my cheap casual—and because of that, I can tell right off that this is not going to go anywhere. Randoms you meet at bars are almost never the same when you see them in the sunlight. They’re paler, quieter, and (yes) duller versions of the people who attracted you with a mixed drink in front of them. They’re hesitant; they’re not as fluid. They may have accepted you by bar light, but when they measure you by sunlight standards, you’re the one who looks smaller than the sum of your parts.
I can tell right from the moment we trade career information that Freddie has weighed me in the balance of her day-job life and found me wanting. She works for a law firm; the older guy she was with at the Pine the other night is her mentor. “There’s nothing transactional in it,” she says of their relationship. When I tell her I work at Morgan Stanley, her eyes gleam; when I say that it’s in the Multimedia department, and that I write plays, her eyes go dull like a pair of old blue marbles, and while she asks me a few polite questions about my writing, they are all politeness and no interest. It’s not a bad date—the burgers were great—but I know, when we part with a mutually-distant air kiss, that we will never see each other again, and neither one of us will regret it.
Putting the phony in euphony
After going back to Brooklyn, typing up the last couple of night’s Naughty Pine notes, and eating an early dinner, I head back into the city for an 8 PM CMJ show at Irving Plaza. Matt Mays and El Torpedo, a Canadian group on my friend Abe’s record label, are opening the evening. When I get there at 7:40, Abe is there with Nicole and the lovely Lisa, who works at Sanctuary. Lisa is cute as hell, has a mane of curly brown hair, and a sharp sense of humor. We watch Matt Mays from the front of the stage, where one of the guards tells me I can’t take flash pictures (sheesh) so I take a bunch of low light 400 shots, some of which are pretty cool. But not as cool, if you know what I mean. Bruce the photographer is also there, roaming the aisle between the audience and the stage. After the show, Lisa mans the souvenir booth until the bass player can relieve her.
At 10:15 I’m saying goodbye to Lisa outside Irving Plaza. Do I ask her to come out with a drink with me? No, because I know there’s nothing there, not even a neurotic attraction that will go nowhere. At 10:30 I’m upstairs at the Pine. The bar is full, but the far corner is empty, so I stand there for a few minutes until I can steal a seat from the table full of Hoboken frat boys behind me. Almost the first words out of Kenny’s mouth when I get there are the words: “Why don’t you go back to JERSEY?” Kenny is not having a fun time. If they’re from Jersey, he’s probably been making lemon drop shots and Long Island iced teas all night.
Kenny tells me I just missed Marita. Evidently she came in without her bank card, and got incredibly apologetic the way only Maria can get incredibly apologetic.
MARITA: Oh Kenny I am so sorry. [Ten seconds later:] Kenny, I am SO sorry about the bank card. [Fifteen seconds later:] Please don’t hate me about the bank card.
KENNY: Marita: You live a block away. You’re engaged to one of our managers. You’re good for it, okay?
Kenny then fills me in on the latest news of the proposed closing party, which is going to be held on Sunday the 26th. Richie is running it, and rumor has it that it’ll be from 3 to 10 PM, for regulars and staff. It’ll be a drink the kegs dry party, with food. God alone knows how many bottles will be left, especially if the place never re-orders anything.
I spend most of the night working on The Play, which attracts the attention of a young’n named Kacie, who asks to read what I’m working on so diligently. I show her a page of notes and she adds a comment and signs it. I tell her if I use her note, I’ll credit her when and if the play ever gets done. It’s a good note, too—the kind of “keep it honest by remembering to give the opposing point of view” note that I usually only give myself during a second or third draft.
I end up downstairs at 1 AM with Esma and Rob again. At the Tesla Table. It’s like we never really went home. Rob mentions how Saturday night’s vibe has totally changed now that Sarah is manager instead of Richie. And he’s right—the downstairs bar is a lot less tense. There’s a timeless quality to the fun—and not just because the massive clock on the east wall broke last week when somebody tried to change it to Standard Time, and they took it down. There is a big bare circular patch on the wall about the windows tonight, so now this decades-old reflex I have, of glancing over my shoulder to check the time, is totally frustrating. It’s an obvious metaphor for the whole closing thing: for the next three weeks, time has stopped in this bar; and after that, Time will have stopped the bar itself.
Alcohol: Guinness (3—11/3 after midnight), Sam Adams Octoberfest (1—Jackson Hole), Heineken (2—Irving Plaza), Guinness (5—11/4)
Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells