That’s just sick
Friday 11/10/06. The Beer Cure has totally failed, so I do the Sick Day Cure, spending the day drinking tea, slurping soup, and watching all 26 episodes of Justice League Unlimited Series 1.
And what do I miss at the Naughty Pine?
At 5 PM, when Dominic comes in for his upstairs bar shift, he almost gets fired. The only reason he doesn’t is because the bar has only sixteen days to live. At 7PM, five minutes after Tripod goes upstairs and he and Dominic disappear into the men’s room, Dominic gets fired by Randi, because “Fuck this shit.” Which becomes the motto for the evening. Appropriately enough, Randi fires Dominic downstairs in Booth 113, which is usually referred to as the Break-Up Booth. This is where Uma Thurman walked out on Ethan Hawke, Martha Gellhorn threw a drink in Ernest Hemingway’s face, Julie Christie told Warren Beatty to go fuck himself, Bob Dylan stood up Joan Baez, Stan Lee told Jack Kirby to fuck off, Jane Jacobs slapped Robert Moses, Faye Dunaway told Warren Beatty to go fuck himself, Dean Martin flicked a cigarette at Jerry Lewis’ eyeball, Rickie Lee Jones and Tom Waits broke up four times in one night, Madonna told Warren Beatty to go fuck himself, Lauren Bacall and Jason Robards Jr. nearly killed each other (4 stitches for her, 25 for him), and Diane Keaton told Warren Beatty to go fuck himself after making her do over 200 takes of a wordless ten-second scene in Reds where she starts typing something and then pulls the paper out, balls it up, throws it away, inserts another one, and starts typing again. Table 113 also has more comped meals than any other booth or table in the Naughty Pine--in this booth, the beer goes flat, the wine tastes sour, plates drop and shatter as food is delivered, and perfectly-served appetizers suddenly have long strands of hair in them. It’s the hair that make everyone think the booth is haunted-- the strands are always at least nine inches long and blonde, and they’ve been showing up since an unidentified woman was found dead of arsenic poisoning in Booth 113 on October 31, 1935. The identity of the dead woman remains a mystery, but Luc Sante, among others, believes that she was the mysterious “other woman” who appeared in letters and pictures found after Dutch Schultz was killed at the Palace Chophouse on October 23, 1935. Whether her death was murder or suicide is still unknown; autopsy results confirmed that she had enough arsenic in her to kill five people, as well as remarking on the natural color of her slightly-curled nine-inch-long blonde hair.
As Randi is letting Dominic go, and Dominic is pleading for another chance, which would put his “another chance” total into the low three figures, Sarah calls Dave in and covers the upstairs bar until he gets there. She’s behind the bar when Randi and Sunday go up to the roof to have a cigarette, but Dave is behind the bar 30 minutes later when the two of them come back down, hugging each other and laughing. Neither Dave nor Sarah get the significance of this. I like to think I would have, had I been there. But I also like to think that Sunday and Randi would have asked me to accompany them while they had their little talk. Because how can you have that kind of talk without me there? I mean, really?
A reporter from the Village Voice comes upstairs and talks about the bar’s history with Dave, but rubs him the wrong way, so Dave starts feeding him urban legends instead of real stories. He tells the reporter that Big Joe Little was dining with Samantha Seaton when he was shot in the head in 1964 (it was Linda Darnell). He swears that Richard Burton came upstairs during the run of Hamlet and recited excerpts from Richard Francis Burton’s version of the Khasida (which happened at the White Horse, not here). He reveals that the TV actress Cheri L’Estienne, who was an upstairs regular during the 70’s, is really Cheryl Lee Stein of Staten Island, and blew a featured part in Pulp Fiction because over dinner with Quentin Tarantino at Table 207, she called Uma Thurman a “no-talent man-pleaser with pontoons for feet.” And then tops it off by swearing the guy to secrecy and then telling him that Terence Stamp and Julie Christie had regular sex in the men's room, as if Christie would be caught dead doing anything that plebian, and besides it was Stamp and Jean Shrimpton, and it was in the downstairs men's room because everybody knows the stalls there are wider. The guy from the Voice walks out deliriously happy; Dave buys shots for the bar because the dumb son of a bitch bought everything Dave sold him.
Downstairs around 9, there’s an impromptu Dada Cabaret at Table 118. This is the Mona Lisa Booth which got its name as a result of one the great art thefts of modern times. After stealing the Mona Lisa from the Louvre on August 21, 1911, Vincenzo Perugia painted several copies of da Vinci’s masterpiece and sold them to help finance a round-the-world voyage. In December of 1911, he arrived in New York, made the acquaintance of some Italian-Americans who took him out to dinner at the Knotty Pine, and got so drunk that he passed out. When he awoke, he found himself sitting at Table 118 with his money and watch stolen, and the bill due. Having nothing but the clothes on his back and his painting portfolio to his name, Perugia gave the bartender one of his Mona Lisas as payment. Unfortunately, he was still so inebriated that he handed over the original instead of a copy. It is doubtful whether Perugia ever realized this; certainly he never mentioned it when he was arrested in 1913 for trying to sell what he thought was the original to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, for $100,000. But even if he had mentioned it, it is doubtful whether the Italian or even the French authorities would have made the admission public. In any case, it is da Vinci’s original which now sits in a battered frame on the wall in Table 118. It was only put under glass in 1915, after Marcel Duchamp drew a moustache on it.
As part of the Cabaret, the Professor dresses up as Tristan Tzara, stands in the doorway with a bucket of red paint and a cane, dips the cane into the paint, signs the floor, steps back, frames the view like a painter framing his subject, and declares: “I think I'll call it 'The Naughty Pine!'” Then five people costumed as The Avant Guardians (Stark, Montagu, Pozzi, Jemima Franklin and The Lady Aoi—the European vigilante group that supposedly saved the world a dozen times over between the two wars) perform Oskar Kokoschka’s Murderer—Hope Of Women, after which Ned Shay dresses up in black and ad-libs a song called “The Talking French Blues” that has everybody in hysterics. Here are the only two stanzas that Sarah remembers to write down because she’s laughing so hard:
My tabac is out of Gauloise,
And the sou chef burned the flan.
My tabac is out of Gauloise,
And the sou chef burned the flan.
My mistress she just left me,
For another married man.
I drink red wine for breakfast,
And my wardrobe’s, que’est-ce que c’est, black.
I drink red wine for breakfast,
And my wardrobe’s, how you say, black.
If I had a missile system,
I could sell it to Iraq.
After being shut off by Steve downstairs, the Professor staggers upstairs with five women and sits at Table 202. The young’ns leave one by one over the course of the next two hours as the Prof verbally cuts each one of them down to the size of a shot glass. It’s like watching a horror movie as all the happy campers get killed off by a very efficient monster who knows exactly where to put the knife, leaving him alone with the Last Girl, who is by definition the one woman at the table who is immune to his lack of charm. He makes his play, she turns the tables on him and escapes, and the Prof passes out in his chair for twenty minutes before Dave moves him to Table 212, and lets him sprawl out on the seat.
My old friend El shows up, specifically to see me, and when Dave says I haven’t come in, she says “Just tell him El was here,” and she leaves. El and I were scheduled to move to Brooklyn with a third roommate on September 15, 2001. We ended up not moving till the end of the month, for obvious reasons, and I spent the intervening weeks on her couch on 9th Street. When traffic was shut down below 14th Street on September 12th, the Naughty Pine (like a lot of other establishments) stayed closed. Until either Friday the 14th or Saturday the 15th, when it reopened. I can’t remember which night it was, but what I do remember is walking upstairs with El and having my entire body scaled by a noise level that went from 8 out of 10 at the bottom step to 20 out of 10 at the door. The place was packed tighter than Times Square on New Year’s Eve and the energy level was off the charts. Everything had been closed for so long, it was like the first warm day after a February cold wave, when all the stir-crazy shut-ins go out and howl at the moon. People weren’t talking, they were screaming so loud it’s a wonder the glassware didn’t shatter. It’s embarrassing as hell to admit it, but all I could do was look around with a stupid grin in my face and say “How cool is this?” El saud “What?” I yelled: “HOW COOL IS THIS?” El yelled “WHAT?!?” I just shrugged. Nobody but God heard me. But those are the things God needs to hear more often.
Nobody sees her come in, but at 10PM somebody notices that Winona Ryder is in the corral with her drinking minder, a forlorn and annoyed little guy with dark hair who complains all night about having to make sure his charge hits him instead of the pavement when she falls over, and gets home in one piece to her apartment on 14th Street. He’s even more annoyed that he has to keep drinking seltzer all night, while Winona is throwing down enough vodka tonics to put out a live volcano with no apparent effect at all. When Ketel Mike starts making jokes about Winona shoplifting toilet paper from the Ladies Room, Dave cuts him off and sends him downstairs. For the rest of the night, various table patrons of all ages come up to Ms Ryder and tell her how much they loved her in Beetlejuice, which is the equivalent of someone walking up to you when you’re 35 and saying how much they loved the way you spent your junior year in high school.
The Professor wakes up at midnight, asks for coffee, and starts talking about fractals, in which the smallest piece always contains the pattern of the larger design. When someone mentions that this is like “that Chapel Perilous thing Guinness Matt keeps talking about,” the Professor starts calling for me. But I’m not there. I’m dreaming about Wonder Woman.
Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells