The Final Friday: 11/24/06.
There are nights when the gods look down on you and decree that tonight will go by like an express train. You will turn around twice and the door will be closed and everyone upstairs will be smoking. Ideas will pour out of your pen so thick and fast that your hand will cramp up. Every time you drain your pint it will be filled to the brim when you pick it up again. And you will feel that you can do everything right and always have and always will. Then there are nights when the gods look down on you and laugh, and decree that tonight nothing that you want to happen will happen quite the way you want. You will say brilliant things that no one will remember in the morning, including you. You will ride the conversation like a wave and never wipe out until you make that one remark too many, and people start asking for their checks. You will write brilliant things in your notebook that are laughably stupid when you look at them in the morning. And then there are nights when the gods look down on you and decree that tonight will crawl by like an arthritic snail. You will look at your watch, write for an hour, and when you look at your watch again it will be five minutes later. Every pint you drink will put a mile between you and everyone else at the bar, until by the end of the night only somebody looking through a telescope can see you. Every couple at the bar is there to remind you of how lonely you are; every word you write reminds you of all the plays you’ve written that no one wants to produce, and all the plays you haven’t written yet which will also never be produced, if you ever live long enough to write them all in the first place, so why bother? Every conversation will remind you of how stupid people get when they drink too much, and how smart you are to be out drinking with them. Not. Every look you get from everyone will have a footnote that says “God, when will this lonely old fart ever just act his fucking age and stop pretending to be 30?” And you will feel like you can do nothing right, and never did, and never will. Dave’s last shift as the upstairs bartender? For me, it was all of those nights wrapped up into one.
The temperature is in the high fifties as I walk into the Pine around ten to six. Kenny and Sarah are manning the downstairs bar; Sarah lets me go upstairs early, and as Dave hears the door open he yells down “Who’s coming UP?” After Wednesday night, the only response I can give is “Hollow Leg!”
Upstairs, Jynah, Melissa and Eric are waiting tables, and Trish is already at the bar with Elijah and Norm, one of the downstairs regulars. Norm is asking Trish her age. When she tells him, he shakes his head.
NORM: You’re so young.
TRISH: No I’m not.
DAVE: Yes she is.
ME: She’s so young you can’t date her—you can only adopt her.
Dave serves me the first shot of the night at 6:15, just before my steak dinner arrives. I’m going to miss these steaks almost as much as I’m going to miss the people; and I suppose one day I’ll even miss Ketel Mike leaning over and saying “Ordering something different, I see,” every time I dig into one. And since anything is possible, I figure this will probably be the same day my play about 9/11 wins the Tony.
As I scarf down the red meat, British Mike comes in and sits next to Trish, and Elijah tells downstairs regular stories.
ELIJAH: You ever meet Artie? Artie’s a trip. He comes in with his wife, but some mornings what he does is, while she’s getting herself ready, he’ll come in a half an hour ahead of her and have a drink on his own. Then he’ll leave and come back ten minutes later with his wife on his arm, and you have to act like you’re seeing him for the first time.
British Mike leaves at 7:30 to the second verse of “Discovering Japan,” after delivering the first of three word-for-word Thanksgiving apologies which I will hear before Monday: “I apologize for leaving so early yesterday, but I’m sorry, I simply could not sit through three football games in a row. Two was bad enough.” I don’t have the heart to tell him that he could have stayed, since the third game was on the new NFL channel, which isn’t carried by Time Warner, and all Dave did for the rest of the night was channel surf looking for something interesting.
Dave’s Social Life
ME: So how’s Meghan?
DAVE: We had the talk last night.
ME: “The talk.”
DAVE: We’re taking a break at my urging.
Dave’s been seeing Meghan off and on (mostly on) since New Year’s Eve of 04/05, when he worked up stairs and the only customers he had were me, Meghan, and a small group of downstairs regulars who were Bruce and Hampton’s closest friends. Meghan had been chasing Dave for months, I had been bugging him to call her, and he had yet to pick up the phone, so the poor girl was forced to take matters in her own hands on New Year’s Eve, and at the stroke of midnight she planted a kiss on him that would have raised the dead. And that was it for the next two years. He’d never say she was his girlfriend, because she wanted more out of the relationship than he did, and saying “girlfriend” might actually be admitting that he was giving her some of what she wanted. And when he started pulling away, she stuck it out, hoping as women always do that the guy she sees in him will win out over the guy he acts like. But how many times does that ever happen? And don’t we all become emotional suicide bombers when someone believes the best of us? It’s like living up to someone’s good opinion of you is a pair of handcuffs, and the only way to get free is to break them. Because sometimes the only way you can declare yourself in total control of your life is to mess it up every now and then. Or as an old friend of mine used to say, “Sometimes I have to do something incredibly stupid just so I can look at myself in the mirror.” So I guess I’ll never see Meghan again, which is a shame, because she’s smart, committed and passionate, and souls like that are few and far between.
At 7:45 there are 5 people at the bar and seven tables full.
Not the crowd I was expecting for Dave’s last night. But then a lot of people don’t know it’s Dave’s last night. A lot of people don’t even know the place is closing, so in many ways tonight is the usual slow aggravating Friday night which has been the upstairs norm ever since the smoking ban went into effect. Don’t ever let anybody tell someone in the saloon industry that the smoking ban was a good thing. Most of the pre-ban regulars dropped off the face of the earth when that hit, and they haven’t been seen since.
MISSING POST-SMOKING-BAN REGULARS
FRED: He got into it with Ketel Mike over the Mets 3 weeks ago and hasn’t been in since.
MANJARI: Hasn’t been in since I poured her into a cab on Valentine’s Day.
CORA LEE: Either out dodging the cops on her bicycle or out dodging the cops at an anti-war rally.
DJ: Sick at home with gastrointestinal crap.
At 8 PM on the dot, Dave has cut Jynah and sent her home. Jynah is pissed because she thinks that Dave doesn’t like her. The truth is, no one likes her. The kitchen staff refer to her as Jurassic Park, the wait staff can’t stand her, and the bartenders agree that she’s the worst waitress ever. She doesn’t help her case by asking for a staff shot at 7 on the dot. “I’ll give you a staff shot at 10 PM and not before,” Dave says. But by then she’s long gone.
All conversation stops as the lionesses stop stalking and one of them starts attacking, chasing down her prey, jumping on his back, and sinking his teeth into his butt.
DAVE: What is she doing?
TRISH: It looks like she’s eating his ass.
ME: Actually she’s trying to snap his spine. If she can break his back, she’ll paralyze his hind legs and when that happens, when he’s immobilized, that’s when the rest of them will attack him.
TRISH: [Beat.] So, Robert Altman died, huh?
Then there are nights when people you haven’t seen in ages show up, and it’s like picking up the thread of an old conversation. This is one of those nights: Samara, who used to work at The Strip House, and her actress friend Oh THAT Amanda come in at 8:08 and park themselves in the far corner. Sixty seconds later Dave has poured shots for them and the rest of the bar.
SAMARA: We were somewhere else first, we decided spur of the moment to come here.
ME: Oh, so we’re getting sloppy seconds.
OH THAT AMANDA: Who says you’re getting anything?
ME: I think I’m in love.
SAMARA: I knew I should have worn my cleavage top.
Neither one of them have any idea that the place is closing, which just bears out my theory that the Pine is going to go out, not with a bang, but a whimper.
SAMARA: I’m going to miss this place. Poor Richie. I started out thinking that Richie was a prick, and then two years later I fell in love with him. You know, I spent six 21st birthdays here, they kept throwing me parties until I really turned 21, and when I did, on my real 21st birthday? They let me drink for free. They said, this year, it’s all on us.
Then Samara, who is now a schoolteacher, talks about her job, talks about how much she loves her kids, and talks about how much she likes Oh THAT Amanda, who is a Yale Theatre Grad: “She’s an actress, so you have to take her with a grain of salt, because sometimes when she’s out, all she does is play a part. She treats it like rehearsal. Playing a particular role. Sometimes I catch her doing it with me, and I call her on it every single time. Then she’s herself again. I think I’m the only person she’s herself with.”
At 8:20 Ethan and his friend Al sit down, and Ethan and Dave reminisce about the first night Ethan was up here, when he and Princess (aka Kylie) were breaking up. They were sitting in the corner just where OT Amanda and Samara are now, and we watched it all go down. Kylie hasn’t been back much over the last two years, but Ethan comes in whenever he can.
Around 9:15, Samara and Oh THAT Amanda leave for cigarettes, and don’t come back for about half an hour. This is the perfect opportunity to fill Trish in on who they are, and what they’re famous for.
THINGS SAMARA IS FAMOUS FOR
1. Sucking face with boy toys in the upstairs corral.
2. Being your best friend on Tuesday night.
3. Cutting you dead on Wednesday.
4. Being your best friend on Thursday.
5. Wearing cleavage tops.
THINGS OH THAT AMANDA IS FAMOUS FOR
1. Hooking up with guys too drunk to know better.
2. Hooking up with guys who just happen to be there.
3. Saying “I don’t even know him” when her hook-up is arrested by the cops for possession.
4. Swearing on her mother’s grave that she’s genuine and honest.
5. Yalien, which means she gets theatre jobs because of her college connections, not her talent.
TRISH: So they’re both a little wild?
ME: Honey? “A little wild” calls them up for crazy lessons.
At five of ten, I go out for a candy run. When Kenny and Sarah see me heading for the door with my coat on, their jaws drop so far they get splinters in their chins. “You’re leaving?” Kenny cries. I shake my head. “I’m making a candy run.” I’m at the corner of University and 13th when I realize I should have said “I’m checking the tires,” just for old time’s sake. Ten minutes later I’m back with a bag of Dove milk chocolate for the downstairs and a Dove dark chocolate for the upstairs. When I drop off the downstairs bag, Aaron looks at me like I’m psychotic and points to Glynnis. “She made you get that?” Glynnis shakes her head: “He got this on his own. Matt’s the best.” And because it’s one of those nights, I’m thinking to myself: “The best old guy at the upstairs bar? The best non-famous writer who drinks too much? The best regular with the same last name as an ex-bartender?”
Samara and Oh THAT Amanda are back when I get upstairs, and OT Amanda is all over Ethan because they have a Yale connection. I start to take notes on their conversation but they’re both so obviously playing each other that I can’t bring myself to record their deathless prose for posterity. And besides, I’m so smashed I can’t even read my own handwriting. So I put the top back on my pen, close the notebook, and start eating candy, which is something else I’m the best at. And I keep eating for the next 20 minutes, while Dave gives Elijah shit about being a bad bartender. I immediately open my pen and notebook and take down the first sentence of what turns into an incredibly long and embarrassing monologue.
DAVE: They didn’t do right by you. If I had trained you, one of the first things I would have done is blah blah blah I’m all drunk and reaming you a new one blah blah blah because I am taking out my anger at the closing on you and I can’t stop talking blah blah blah and I know everything.
And even though Elijah knows that Dave is totally tequila-fucked right now, you can see that Dave’s tirade is hitting him hard. His last night upstairs with his favorite bartender, and what is that favorite bartender doing? Chewing his ass like a lioness trying to take down a wildebeest. I lean in and say the magic words (“It's the Patron talking, not the poltroon.”) but it doesn’t help. All Elijah can think is: “This is the guy who has never gotten a regular downstairs bartender shift in five years, and he’s giving ME advice?”
The upstairs finally closes at midnight, and it totally feels like 2 AM. James is up, promising to return tomorrow for the final night (but he never shows). Everyone who’s addicted is smoking cigarettes, and I go downstairs and park myself in a stool by the service area. Bernie is there, and after a few minutes Samara comes down and sits next to Esma. Two pints later, Ethan comes down with Oh THAT Amanda. They’re going somewhere else for drinks and invite me along. I decline politely because (a) I am sick to death of being the singleton and (b) this is a marathon, not a sprint. I bid them goodbye and glace at Sarah, who is trying to do the books but every time she starts in on them someone slides next to her and starts talking or tickling her or sticking his tongue in her ear.
Somehow I pry myself away from the endless round of people preventing Sarah from getting out of here before like noon tomorrow, and head back upstairs one last time before I leave. It’s quiet. Almost all the lights are off. Dave is done with the books. He’s just sitting there, looking around.
DAVE: I’m glad you’re up here with me.
ME: You owned this bar, Dave.
DAVE: From you it’s good to hear. Kenny said the same thing about an hour ago.
ME: Yeah . . .
DAVE: You were a big part of this bar too, y’know. I can’t tell you how many times people would ask me, Is Matt coming in? Where’s Matt tonight?
ME: Well, tonight? Matt’s here.
Then the two of us stand in front of the bar, and look up at the wooden face of Pan, and listen to the perfect song as we thank him and bid him farewell.
Alcohol” Guinness (8) Jameson (6) Patron (6)
Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells