“Would you feel any pity if one of those
dots stopped moving forever?”
Tuesday 11/14/06. At 3 AM, one of the Professor's Final Girls uses her spare set of keys to get into his apartment in the Mews. She will say later that she had a premonition, but there's no sense of dread as she walks into his rooms—she's there because she's pissed that he swore he was going to meet her at 2 at Reservoir and never showed up. She is loaded for bear when she walks in, calling out: “Stewart? Are you in here? And if you are, you better not be with anybody else, because if I find even one stray piece of clothing—” And that's when she sees what looks like a mannequin at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the bedroom—a life-sized dress model in a bathrobe that someone has tossed aside, with arms and legs akimbo, in the kind of angles it hurts to look at because if they were twisted like that in a person made of flesh and blood and not wood, then he would be screaming in pain. “The visual was so loud,” she says later. “So fucking loud. But there was total silence.” For a long heartbeat she can feel the blood pump out of her chest, down to her toes, and back into her chest again. Then she has that Recognition Shiver, and the universe shifts under her feet, and when it snaps back into place, the Professor's broken body is lying in front of her, one slipper on the steps above him, the other still on his left foot, with his head in a clotted pool of blood that reflects the wainscoting of the hallway.
I get the news at work. By 10AM, Dave has called me, Sunday has texted me, and Randi has e-mailed me to let me know that, because I saw Kenny give the Professor a water instead of a drink, I might be called in for questioning or to give a statement. Evidently (and obviously) there are legal ramifications to consider if and when the autopsy discovers that alcohol had anything to do with the Professor’s “accident,” as Randi calls it, complete with quotation marks. For the rest of the day, we trade emails back and forth about what happened when last night. She knows who gave him his last drink downstairs, but she won’t tell me who, and I totally get that. Whoever did give him that last drink is going to be wondering for a very long time whether or not that drink was the reason the Professor died. But this kind of guilt is based on a logical fallacy that I call the Final Score Rule. If you’re playing a football game and it’s tied 21-21 in the 4th quarter, and one team gets a field goal that wins the game, everybody thinks that those three points are the most important ones in the game, when actually the 21 points that were scored to create the tie in the first place are much more important, because without, say, one of them, the field goal would have resulted in a 21-17 loss. It’s a cumulative total, not a particularized one. But we don’t think that way, and it’s the same with drinking. That last drink may have put him over the top, but the five he had before that were the ones that GOT him to the top in the first place. And Randi gets all this, or at least she says she does, but then she writes something that makes my stomach flip.
The best case scenario is that he got served a drink at another bar after he left the Pine and before he went home. We’ll see.
“The best case scenario.” Wow.
I do not reply to that e-mail, and she doesn’t send me another one.
The Metaphysics of Playwright-Hating
I don’t remember much about the rest of the day. I do recall looking up the bar’s precinct (the 6th, which is the West Village), and wondering if it’s going to be the police or the Chief Medical Examiner’s people who talk to everyone at the Pine. If I was still in touch with Diane, the CME woman I dated after 9/11, I could ask her. But I’m part of a life and a time she doesn’t want to revisit, for good reason, so that’s out. But I do look up procedures for inquiring about old missing persons cases or open murder investigations, because the Keg Switch ghost isn’t going anywhere, and it’s something positive I can do while my brain is attacked by visions of the Professor and I having late-night whiskey-fueled conversations with a text crawl underneath that reads THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN. And the one that keeps coming back every five minutes, like today's top story on New York 1? The Saturday a couple of years back when the two of us saw The Third Man at Film Forum, and the look of joy on the Professor's face during the Ferris wheel scene as he watched Orson Welles steal the entire movie away from everybody else in the cast in under ten minutes.
After work, I browse the Strand, and pick up the Norton Critical Edition of The Confidence-Man by Melville, because I have this idea of turning it into a play, or a theatre piece, for me. I read the introduction as I walk over to the Pine, looking up whenever I hit a cross street, and trusting my peripheral vision to steer me away from oncoming pedestrians. I do this a lot in the city—walk with a book in front of me, usually close to the right-hand side of the sidewalk, or behind someone who’s walking at the same speed as I am, like a car trailing a snow plow during a blizzard. Only very rarely do I get so involved in what I’m reading that I lose any awareness of my surroundings. When that happens, I always rely on the kindness of pedestrians, who will usually move out of my way. Only a certain segment of the population never does, and that segment (male) will always—always walk straight up to me and just stand there, so that I either wind up bumping into them as they glare at me, or I have to swerve quickly out of their way, at which point they always—always—make sure their shoulder whacks into mine as we pass.
None of which happens as I walk to the Pine tonight, thank you God Of Pedestrians. I’m reading as I push open the door, so I don’t look up and see who’s behind the bar tonight; I’m reading as I walk upstairs and take a stool in front of the taps while Dave builds me a Guinness; and I’m reading when British Mike and Ketel Mike ask me if I’ve heard about the Professor. Because I want to hear what the gossip is, I say no, and get two completely different stories. In Ketel Mike’s, the Final Girl is in the Prof’s bedroom when he gets up to go to the bathroom, and then she hears the sound of the fall. In British Mike’s story, there’s an intruder who whacks the Prof over the head as they struggle. “That’s horrible,” I say to each of them, and then I go back to my book.
It’s a night with no sports, so Dave turns to AMC and we see the end of Jaws with closed-captioning. (Everyone in the bar is delivering the dialogue before it shows up on the caption; is there any other movie that inspires this kind of communal feeling?) After Jaws is over, Butch Cassidy starts, and I'm gearing myself up for Samantha Seaton's blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo, but then the captioning disappears, which delights Ketel Mike no end because now he has something to complain about all night. The moment he opens his mouth with the first of two dozen variations on “Where’s the closed caption?” I can tell that I have no patience with him tonight. I have no patience with anyone. Including British Mike, who is sitting to my right, and who—when Dave says “Would you like to see a menu, Mister Wells?” —raises his eyes to the skylight.
BRITISH MIKE: Wells. I used to know a man named Wells, he was my editor at the Winnipeg Star, Jack Wells, very smart, a good writer and editor, but his brother Eric? –- now there was a brilliant man.
I’m rescued from the rest of the Wells family tree by Jessie, who is sitting with her brother Jonah at the other end of the bar. She drags me over for a hug, and I ask her, “So when’s your next world travel adventure?” “Good call,” says her brother, and Jessie replies that she’s heading for New Orleans for a few days, then home for the holiday. “So I’m going to miss the Irish wake.” She asks me how I am. “I’m feeling really distant right now,” I say, which is at least close to the truth. The truth is, tonight is one of those nights when I am so withdrawn that you can’t even see me with the Hubble telescope.
Dinner is a double order of wings. I eat and read, but because the universe is built on a balancing act of opposing energies, Dave is matching my withdrawal by being annoyingly perky. It always happens this way, but I’m in no mood to appreciate it (never mind suffer it for the next three hours) so I don’t stay long. I can’t stop thinking about the Professor-sized hole in my puzzle, and wondering if somehow he knew that our conversation the other night was going to be our last. And the sense of loss is making me incredibly aware of what’s missing from my life, and the people around me are having far too much fun, and I feel like a sad sack who has to ingest alcohol in order to (a) be creative and (b) feel accepted, so I tell Dave I’m going home to type up the notes I’ve been writing for the last hour, but that’s a total lie, since the sum total of what I’ve been writing for the last hour amounts to three pages of “All work and no play make Matt a dull boy.” Which is why, when I do get home, I lie down on the couch and think of all the ways I don’t matter to the world, and all the times I reached for something that mattered and got rejected, and holes. Holes in my life. Gaping holes. One of which just appeared. One of which, in less than two weeks, will be the Naughty Pine. He-e-e-e-e-e-e-ere’s Matthew!
Alcohol: Guinness (3)
Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells