“I am not a number; I am a free man.”Sunday, 11/5/06. I dream that I am Patrick McGoohan, and Number 2 is The Girl We Don’t Mention. Every time I try to escape The Village, she smiles at me and I swoon. I come up with one Byzantine plot after another, and she foils them all with a kiss. “You think you’re so clever,” she says. “Cleverer than you,” I say in my best McGoohan growl, with my head at an angle to the rest of my body and the fingers of one hand twitching as if they miss the feel of a gun. Number 2 smiles and paraphrases AA Milne: “Oh yes, you’re 6, you’re clever as clever. But you will stay 6 forever and ever.” And my face rushes up to the camera and just as it’s about to hurl itself free, the bars of a cell clang together, trapping me inside your television set, and I wake up to the clanging sound of street construction on Union. It’s eight o’clock. I drag myself out of bed, and head into Manhattan for coffee and cinnamon rolls at the Au Bon Pain near J&R, and then walk down to the corner of Wall and Broadway, where I take a Naughty Pine-related picture.
At noon on September 16, 1920, a horse-drawn wagon containing 100 pounds of dynamite and 500 pounds of metal slugs exploded in front of 23 Wall Street, killing 38 people, injuring over 400, and causing over $2,000,000 (in 1920 dollars) worth of property damage. The scars from the explosion can still be seen in the stone of 23 Wall Street. Today we’d probably call it an act of domestic terrorism, except that there’s no such thing in this country, terrorism is always incited from abroad, so if it happened now we would probably label it as Italian terrorism, because it was an act of violent retaliation by supporters of Sacco and Vanzetti, who had just been indicted for murder in Massachusetts. The mastermind behind the bombing was an anarchist named Mario Buda, but the actual driver of the wagon is believed be Giuseppe Budino, who went by the name of Joe Boda when he was the Naughty Pine’s head chef from 1917 to 1929. Although he was never arrested—and in fact no arrests were ever made in the case—there is enough circumstantial evidence to make Budino the prime suspect in the bombing: he had been heard railing against the government after Sacco and Vanzetti’s arrest, he had taken the morning of the bombing off, and he had a cousin who worked at a scrap metal dump in Brooklyn. Budino died in a hit-and-run accident in 1940; coincidentally (heh), the FBI closed the Wall Street Bombing case two weeks later.
Gone are the three gas lamps that fronted the original building (dubbed Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos by Edgar Allan Poe); gone are the four marble steps leading up to the door; gone is the courtyard behind the bar except for this picture, circa 1888:
That courtyard was the site of many a shivaree, as well as two famous duellos. On May 9, 1849, two days after the infamous Astor Place riots, British actor William Charles Macready challenged American actor Edwin Forrest to a duel. As the challenged party, Forrest chose walking sticks as their weapons, and after a congenial dinner the two men and their seconds adjourned to the Pine Courtyard and proceeded to whale away at each other with their hickory sticks until each man was half-dead and covered with bruises. They then returned to the bar and drank till dawn. In 1873, after a performance of Scouts of the Plains at the Astor Theatre, Buffalo Bill Cody, Texas Jack Omohundro, and Wild Bill Hickock got “violently lickered up,” as Omohundro later wrote, and went out into the courtyard to see who was the best shot among the three of them. The challenge was to come as close as possible to hitting each other, a contest that each failed on the twelfth go-round when Cody nicked Hickock’s ear, Hickock winged Cody’s shoulder, and Omohundro shot off the little toe of his left foot.
I head up to Times Square to catch an 11AM show of Borat (which is very very funny). After Borat, I head down to the Pine for a late lunch. Randi is managing, Sunday is bartending, and F Murray Abraham is sitting at the bar watching the Giants playing Houston. So I sit next to him and we talk football. This is what I love most about New York—treating everybody like a neighbor, no matter how unknown or how famous they are. It's the first rule of New York City etiquette. The only time I've ever seen Sam Shepard in this city was in the Naughty Pine. It was also on a Sunday. I think Mike Wells was behind the bar; I can't remember. I do remember that golf was on the TV, and classical music was playing, so we're talking back in the Bernie Days. So I'm sitting there writing and sipping my Guinness and I happen to glance to my right, and who is sitting two stools down from me but Sam Shepard, writing in a notebook and sipping a beer that is not a Guinness, but I'm not going to hold that against him. I just motioned (Mike? Bernie?) over and said "His next one's on me," and when it got delivered, the author of True West raised his pint and leaned in towards me and I raised mine and leaned towards him, and we both clinked glasses and said "Cheers" and went back to our writing. And if we hadn't both been writing, I don't think I would have done it; it was about the shared creativity, not the fact that we were sharing the same bar—not the recognition of a fan to a star, but one toiler to another, which was accepted on its own terms from one scribbler to the other.
Which is why I don't buy F Murray Abraham a drink. That would be the act of an admirer to someone above him, and we're just two guys watching the game here, I mean the moment I buy him a drink he becomes an Oscar-winning actor and I become a fan, and he gets that all the time. When does he get to just be a regular? Today, by God, because if somebody's going to ask this guy for an autograph, it ain't gonna be me. So I get steak and rice and drink a couple of stouts, and he drinks Stella, and not a word passes between us about movies, or plays, or the arts. We're just two guys at our local, watching a football game. The only time anything but football enters into the conversation is when I say "Gonna miss this place when it's gone," and Abraham says "It will leave a very large hole."
Something going wrong around hee-yur
After the game is over and my bar companion exits, I have one for the road, because I do NOT need another late Sunday night. I’m only super-human, after all. But I have decided what I’m going to do about the whole Sunday-fooling-around-with-Dominic thing: I just didn’t expect Randi to be here while I was doing it. Which will make it tricky. But I am six; I’m clever as clever.
So I take my yellow legal pad out of my man bag, as opposed to my notebook, because permanent things go in the notebook and disposable things go on the legal pad; I tear out a sheet; I write Dominic’s name at the top of the page;and then I start to list the names of all the staff members who have worked at the Naughty Pine since I’ve been coming here. The first fifteen names come very quickly; and then I start to make a big deal about not being able to think of something, which is usually a red flag when it comes to Sunday asking me what the problem is. But she doesn’t take the bait, for whatever reason, so I finally say, “Randi? What was the name of that redheaded waitress upstairs, God, the singer, about three years ago, she had a band?” “You mean the one Dominic slept with?” Randi says acidly and I go “Yup,” and Randi says “Maureen” like Dominic is still sleeping with her, and God knows he could be. “Thanks,” I say, and write Maureen’s name at the end of the list.
“What are you doing?” Sunday asks, and while I’m thinking “Finally!” I say, “I’m making a list of everyone I can remember who ever worked here.” Randi glances at the list as she heads out for a cigarette. “There are two Jennys,” she says. “Right, right,” I say, “I keep forgetting—little Jenny and curly-haired Jenny. And who was the bartender upstairs before Maddie? I can't for the life of me remember her name.” “Joey would know. Ask Joey.” She heads out, calling back, “And don’t forget Julia. And Kadie. And Fingers.” And then she’s gone, and I can get down to business.
I look at the list and start laughing. “What,” says Sunday, “what are you laughing at?” “Well,” I say, “if I take off all but a couple of the guys’ names? This could be a list of everyone that Dominic’s slept with since he started working here.” Sunday glances at the names. “Jynah? Really?” “Oh God yes,” I reply. “Hasn’t she ever talked about it? I mean it’s almost impossible to get her to STOP talking about it. Now who am I missing? Wait—I know.” And I write SUNDAY in capital letters at the end of the list. And Sunday looks at me for a second, and then she laughs and says, “I’m not part of that list,” and for a moment I actually believe her. But only for a moment. I figure I have two minutes to say my peace before Randi comes back in, but as it turns out, it only takes seven lines.
ME: So what did you think of Matt Mays? Pretty great, huh?
SUNDAY: Pretty great. (So casual I could cry:) I didn't see you there.
ME: Well, you had your eyes on something else. And your hands. And your right knee, from where I was standing.
SUNDAY: I was a little drunk.
ME: Isn't that the excuse your mother uses all the time?
SUNDAY: (all huffy) So is this where you tell me I’m better than that?
ME: I never tell people what they already know.
Which is the biggest lie of the six-year-old century, but I can live with it, as I throw down three twenties and leave.
Alcohol: Guinness (3)
Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells