Friday, November 25, 2016

Wild Night This Morning: The Last Days of The Naughty Pine - 29, Part 2

CLOSING NIGHT: Saturday, November 25

So my blonde ex-girlfriend has just pulled a Georgia and awakened her husband at 2 in the morning because there’s something crucial she needs to get off her chest. “What is it now?” says the husband groggily. “I’m sorry, I still love Matthew. I’ll be leaving in the morning.” And I should be happy, right? I should be delirious, right? I mean, this is the woman who when I touch her skin makes me feel like a kid eating chocolate for the first time –- all I want to do is hang on to her and never let go. So I’m ecstatic, right?

ME: (Wrong!) Oh God, does that mean she’s going to move in with me now? She can’t move in with me, I’m living in a bedroom the size of a postage stamp, for Chrissakes. She better not expect to stay here. And she needs ten hours of sleep a night, which means I’m not going to get any writing time at all if we’re sleeping together. What do you mean “if”, Matthew. It’s a done deal. She’s leaving the guy. And he’s one of my best friends, so now HE’S never gonna speak to me again. I can’t believe she’s doing this to me!

And that’s when I wake up from my post-lunch nap and think to myself, dude? You have no business even thinking about a social life with crap like that rattling around your subconscious. And if Gayle (the blonde ex-girlfriend) ever hears about this, she is going to do the biggest spit-take laugh in the history of laughter.

So with that picture in my head, and that dream wagging its finger at me like Mrs. MacDonald (my first grade teacher), I shower, put on jeans and a light blue shirt (to highlight my eyes), throw on a spring jacket (because the temperature is, like me, stuck in the fifties when it should be 35), and head into town for my last night ever at the historic Naughty Pine.

Dave is at the door with Sarah, catching up on all the downstairs fun he missed, while Sarah looks like she ran a 5K race trying and failing to catch up with some sleep.

SARAH: I was such a mess. I had to tell Richie I was too tired to do the books last night.

Excerpt from

Too tired to do the books, euphemism. 1. I was so smashed I couldn’t count to two. 2. I was so totaled they had to pour me onto the floor, mop me up with a sponge, staple my address to it and hand it off to a cab driver. 3. Sarah isn’t here, Mrs. Torrance.

At the downstairs bar, Jeff and JP have decided to dress like a couple of sailors in a Jean Genet novel. This blatant act of Tweedledummery does not sit well with Richie, who wants everyone to show respect tonight, as if the last night of the Pine is a cross between an Italian family getting together for Easter and a coma patient on life support. He’s probably afraid that everyone is going to give away the store before last call, which means that there will be no store left to give away at tomorrow’s closing party. And like every Saturday night, he’s probably also expecting a mob of people who are always going to be showing up in the next twenty minutes, but who never do because they’re trolling through Alphabet City or the Lower East Side, which is where they’ve been hanging out since the smoking ban.

             86 Farita

When I get upstairs, Kenny’s wife Farita is sitting at the corner with their daughter Farah and another guy who I’ve seen countless times up here since the christening and cannot remember his name or his relationship to Kenny. (Brother? Cousin? Friend?) I say hello and slide onto a stool and I feel that tension weight that tells me I’ve just walked in on a couple who were arguing thirty seconds ago and are now pretending that everything is Just Fine because you don’t argue in front of strangers, especially ones who drink and write in notebooks a lot. Having grown up in a household where anger tainted the air like the smell from a grease fire, it doesn’t take more then five seconds before my emotional nose is twitching faster than Samantha’s on Bewitched. (I wonder if little Farah can sense this.) (Stupid question. Little kids can always sense it. They may not have the words, and they may not know the language, but a knot in the stomach is still a knot in the stomach, no matter how you tie it.)

I order the rib eye, which is one of the specials. It comes up when I’m barely denting my salad; not as thick as the shell steak but done perfectly. I scarf it down with my first Guinness and a glass of water, and by the time I’m done there are two guys and a girl who’s either French or Spanish on my left talking about a gallery show, and Farita has decided all of a sudden to leave.

FARITA: Let’s go.
KENNY: (WTF?) You’re going?
FARITA: We’re going. Say goodbye to Daddy.

Kenny’s (friend/cousin/brother) walks them out and comes back five minutes later.

KENNY’S FRIEND/COUSIN/BROTHER: She’s like on the verge, y’know.

Her place is taken by two cute girls who get very dray-matic when Kenny tells them this is the last night ever.

TWO CUTE GIRLS: Oh no! This place is so popular!
KENNY: (to me) Then how come this is the first I’ve ever seen you up here in, oh, four years of Saturdays? (Laughs maniacally.)

I start making notes for the play, the last set of notes I will ever write in the upstairs bar. I had been hoping to write a Pine-related play up here in the last couple of months, but I wound up getting four separate ideas for Pine-related plays and one fantastic idea for a Pine-related novel, so I tabled all of them and started working on a sure-fire romantic comedy idea. Which, because it involves love, is almost impossible for me to write.

MATTHEW’S THERAPIST: And why would that be, Matthew?
MATTHEW: Shut up, he explained.

At 7:06, DJ calls. She’s home and not feeling well; “Gastrointestinal problems,” she says, which is a euphemism for something I probably don’t want to hear described in detail. She apologizes to me, to Kenny and to Dave, but she will not be coming in tonight. “But I’ll be there tomorrow,” she says with assurance.

I hang up with her just as Kenny gets a call from Sarah complaining of leakage spilling from the upstairs taps into the downstairs bar area. 

KENNY: (I hate doing this) I love doing this.

Kenny lifts up a trap door to reveal the crawlspace which is just behind the taps, and clambers down into it. Out of respect, I don’t take a picture. Elijah steps behind the bar to cover while Kenny checks for tap leaks. “Where’s the sour mix?” he asks as he starts making a margarita, and I point to a bottle on the rack by the bar. “They should pay you,” he says. They already do; it’s called free beer.

           86 that crowd Richie was expecting

It’s war-movie quiet up here tonight.

                 SCENE: Two soldiers in a foxhole

FIRST PRIVATE: It’s quiet.
KENNY: You guys want another round?

There’s a hushed, dismaying vibe in the air, like whatever expectations we all have for a blow-out party (like, say, the last night before the smoking ban took effect, which was a total bash) are all going to be denied. It reminds me of one of those ancient Greek participles that you insert in a sentence because you expect a negative answer, the Attic equivalent of saying “So it’s not going to be an incredible party night up here, is it?” Maybe it’s me, but the knowledge that this is the Pine’s last night is like knowing that Prairie Home Companion ended up being Altman’s last film. It gives even the most casual remark a spooky resonance.

         And speaking of ghosts . . .

8 PM. Donna and Tom are up at the bar, and while they’re talking to Kenny (“We thought you weren’t coming to the closing party tomorrow. The only reason we’re here is because we thought you weren’t coming tomorrow.”), a dark-haired guy comes up from downstairs, sidles up to the bar with a coffee mug, gives us all a look like we just stiffed him on a $300 check, and then goes back downstairs again. He looks vaguely familiar, but I don’t place him until Kenny says “They let him back in here?” It’s the infamous asshole Paul. Elijah: “He came in yesterday, I served him one and he left.” When I go downstairs a little later to say hello to the staff, he’s sitting at the bar staring at everyone with Rasputin eyes.

PAUL: Who will be my next victim?
POTENTIAL VICTIM: Tell you what -- meet me here next Wednesday.
PAUL: (oblivious) It’s a date.

As I write about Paul’s appearance in my notebook, Donna looks over and smiles. “I love that you write everything by hand first. Do you ever just type?” “No, I type after I write it.” “And you write cursive, too. I love cursive. I have an old-fashioned mind. An eight-track mind.” “Me too.” “Ka-chunk. It’s the ka-chunk when it switches over. I always hear that ka-chunk.” And don’t ask me how, but from talking about eight-tracks we start talking about socialized medicine.

DONNA: What do people in Cuba do when they have a stomach pain?
ME: I don’t know—see a Castro-enterologist?

This is when a howling mob of pun-hating peasants brandishing rakes and pitchforks and torches drives me downstairs, where I’m just in time to see Alexandra enter with her family from the show she did tonight. She introduces me to her folks and her siblings, and then heads upstairs. JP pours me a Guinness on the house and I mingle with the downstairs staff for a few sips.  Glynnis gives me the latest regular gossip.

GLYNNIS: Hampton and his wife are moving to Nashville tomorrow.
ME: Whoa.
GLYNNIS: For good.
ME: WHOA. Say, does she have an actual name?
GLYNNIS: Not that I know of.
ME: I get it—like Honey in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
GLYNNIS: Wait—Honey’s a nickname, not a name?
ME: Yeah, didn’t you know that?

                86 brain cells

I head back upstairs around 8:15, just ahead of Sarah and Rob.

SARAH: I need some peanuts. I’m hoping to grow back some brain cells.
ME: They grow back just fine.
SARAH: Great!
KENNY: Uh, Matt? No they don’t.
ME: I know, I figure if she believes it, she’s a goner.

Kenny brings a “coffee” down to Dave at the door, with more than just caffeine in it, because Kenny is a Good Bartender. There’s really no need for a doorman tonight; Richie has once again over-estimated the crowd, which means that Dave is getting paid to take a night-long cigarette break while drinking whatever mixes well with coffee. He’ll bitch about it later, but when the Pine closes and he gets another bar/restaurant job? You know he’ll be repeating the words “I never knew how good I had it.”

            86 Tom

8:54. My tally so far: four pints, one tequila, 2 Jamesons. I have no idea what Tom’s total is, but it’s got to be more than mine, because he is so out-of-it smashed that he is actually lighting a cigarette in the bar.

KENNY: (laughing as he speaks) Ma-a-a-an! What do you think you’re doing?
(Universal laughter as Tom sheepishly stubs out his cigarette.)
KENNY: (still laughing) Man, at least wait until we’re closed up here. Which oughtta be in about 30 minutes.
ME: Not with Richie downstairs.
KENNY: You got that right. (Laughs)

Donna heads downstairs, and Tom follows her a minute later, or at least he tries to. He’s leaning forward at such an angle to the vertical that he looks like Buster Keaton leaning against that tornado in Steamboat Bill Jr. Then he sways and leans backwards at exactly the same impossible angle, and I flash on all the doomed passengers of the Titanic trying to keep their balance as the liner starts tilting upright.

ME: You all right, Tom?
TOM: I’m mad.

He bounces off the server area, caroms off me, and does a straight bank-shot stumble through the door and downstairs. I wait for the crash which means he’s lost his balance, but it never comes, so either he’s fallen very very quietly, or he can do stairs drunk a lot better than I can. Or the Professor, rest his soul, is making sure that what happened to him never happens to anyone else. The Professor. I ask Kenny to share a shot with me, and we toast the Prof. Then we have another one and toast Tom.

KENNY: I can’t believe he’s still standing.
ME: He’s so drunk that if he fell on his face, it would take two days for the pain to wade through the alcohol and register in his nervous system.

               86 The Upstairs Naughty Pine

9:15. Sarah comes up and breaks Kenny. “I need food,” she says, “what shall I eat?” “Call for that ribeye, girl,” is my reply. She does, and wolfs it down. She talks about how chilly it is up here tonight, and not thirty seconds later, Ainslee from Reservoir raises the temperature of the joint twenty degrees by walking through the door. She has Samantha Seaton's luck with cameras. Every picture I take of her makes her look twenty pounds heavier than she is in real life, because digital cameras are not flattering to real-world curves. In real life she's like a walking pillow. In pictures she looks like the Pillsbury Dough Girl. I buy her a drink, and she starts talking about her dog, and how this vet she's been taking him to for stomach problems keeps prescribing medication for him that makes him sicker. And to top it all off, he’s in Long Island, so she has to take the LIRR out there, with him in a cage.

AINSLEE: And I’ll tell ya—the conductors on the incoming trains are assholes, but the one on the outgoing train was great.
ME: Wow! This is the first story you've ever told that doesn't include violent sex!
AINSLEE: So yeah, I'm done with that vet. Basically I want to fuck him up the ass with a red-hot crowbar.
ME: Never mind.

Patrick shows up just as Kenny is coming back behind the bar. I introduce him to everyone, and he orders the rib-eye and a Sam Adams. “It's my first time here,” he says. “And your last,” Kenny replies. “Yeah,” I say, “it’s like somebody air-dropping you onto the Titanic twenty minutes before it hits the iceberg. We are all going down with the ship.”

We do a couple of shots and when Patrick’s eating, I head downstairs to see who's here. Randi waves to me from the back. British Mike is sitting at the bar near the door, looking lonely. I go over, clap him on the shoulder, and buy him his next round. "It's been a pleasure, sir," he says, and there's a finality to that which we both recognize, because we know that we will never see each other again again past tomorrow's closing party. The downstairs is full of people like that, a human trail mix of regulars and randoms. I work the room, saying hi to the people I know and giving the staff hugs. The words “End of an era” are repeated over and over again so much that for the rest of the night, I toast everyone by saying “Ear of an endah.” None of the comic book crew are here. None of the smokers. None of the Weekly Haiku Contest players. None of the Last Chance Saloon Gang. They have all moved on. Or they don't know. I envision parallel lines of movement suddenly branching off at right angles, like lifeboats racing away from a crippled ocean liner. And where am I? In the grand ballroom, with the party people.

As of 10:30, the upstairs is closing at 11. I have two shots in ten minutes, and sit with Alexandra and her brother Sam and her sister Emily while Patrick is trading sex stories with Ainslee. They'd make a great couple, I think, as they both laugh lewdly at something Ainslee just said. Or maybe not. They're too much alike. Too much alike gets you double the weight, instead of balance. Similarities always tip the scale over; what you need are differences to keep the scales balanced. Like the emotional version of a healthy diet.

The friends that Alexandra called all show up at 10:45, and take over the corral. There are eight of them, five male, three female, though it takes me a good ninety seconds to count them accurately, because (1) they are all moving around so fast I can't keep up with them and because (b) whiskey and tequila.

At 10:50 the stereo shorts out with an ear-shattering RORP just as The Clash starts playing. Kenny apologizes to the thinning crowd and tells them that if they want music, they can go downstairs and listen to the jukebox before it gets unplugged for the night.

KENNY: I’d like to thank y’all for coming out on this slow-ass Saturday night. London IS calling.

At 10:55, Dan comes up, and he and Elijah go upstairs to the roof for a smoke. I come up with them. The last time I was here was with Randi, less than a month ago. It seems like years. It's certainly been that long in drinking time; I've put away about six months worth of alcohol in less than five weeks. They ask me where I'm going to go. I say, “Probably to hell.”

           86 Matthew

When I get back down, Krish is sitting with Amanda, because their shifts from the Knickerbocker are over, but their shift here is just starting. I introduce them to Patrick, and Amanda shows her age by getting all girly and dewy when he kisses her cheek. I explain to Patrick how I know Krish (fellow actor in staged readings) and Krish how I know Patrick (old day job co-worker), and while Amanda monopolizes Patrick, Krish and I talk theatre and movies. Which is the most sensible thing going on at this bar tonight, because out of the corner of my eyes, I can see Ainslee hurling herself up against every male in the place and licking them from neck to forehead. I start taking incredibly embarrassing pictures (which I will do for the rest of the night), and then I feel a tap on my shoulder and turn around. It’s Randi; she’s done for the night and is now a free agent. I introduce her to Patrick.

PATRICK: My friends call me Trick.
RANDI: My friends call me collect.
PATRICK: Patrick Becket.
RANDI: (extending a hand) Randi Beth Landis.
PATRICK: Nice assonance.

One of the hallmarks of the UFO experience is time dilation—time slowing down to a water-dripping crawl—which (since time and space are conjoined twins) means that whatever powers a flying saucer manipulates gravity, because that’s what slows down time—immense forces of gravity. The same effect takes place in the UEO experience (Unidentified Emotional Object). When two people meet who have destiny or chemistry on their side, time slows down for them as the gravity of their encounter, the weight of what they will experience, stops them cold—and yes, it’s all future weight, but because Time is relative, there’s no such thing as past or future except as we experience it. As it experiences us? It can go either way. Or either weigh. But it all centers on that moment of meeting. There may be shadows to come, but they will be defined by this brightness; there may be pain to come, but it will always be measured against this pleasure; there may be loss to come, but it will never equal the gain of this gift; there may be betrayal to come, but it will always take second place to this promise.

And that's what I see happening between Randi and Patrick. Between one moment and the next. I hear the door slam downstairs, officially closing the Upstairs Naughty Pine for the last time ever. And I know that the sound I have just heard is also the door to Chapel Perilous closing behind me, cutting me off from Randi and leaving her behind with Patrick, who has just echoed the words that Dominic said to her five years ago when she first walked into this bar. And I think, aha. That’s why I had that dream this afternoon—the dream about not being able to cope with an actual girlfriend. And then I think, aHA! I’m not the Emperor. Patrick is. And then I think, "I need to stop fucking thinking."

As the two of them talk, I see the Devil behind the bar. He motions me over. 

THE DEVIL: Let's go.
ME: Why not?

I lean over the bar. He smells of sulfur and penny candy. I look him in the eye, which is bloodshot and piercing, and with my next words, I fulfill a lifelong dream. "Shot of Jameson," I say. "And leave the bottle."

He does, and though I will not leave the Naughty Pine till after 4AM, that's the last thing I remember all night long.

Alcohol: Guinness (8 + ?) Jameson (7 + 1 bottle + ?) Patron (4 + ?)

Song of the night - 1

Song of the night - 2

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells


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