I went out with the pub crawl/train crew yesterday. I met them at the second stop in the heart of Downtown Gotham at a dive Irish bar that is famous for Obama having his photo taken in front of their mural. So I am told. I've never seen it or heard of that before. But that was the story going around as we lined up in some sloppy formation for our own immortal photo. From the get go, I was sure I would get Covid. A downtown dive full of those people? Yea, I felt the floor fall from under my feet. I was resigned.
But it wasn't certain, so I ordered fish and chips and a Black and Tan. We were crowded into two tables and a booth, everyone's spittle flying in every direction as we yelled our various witticisms. People leaned in close to your face to make sure you could hear. Jesus, I thought, what am I doing?
I was going to skip the third bar and meet them at the fourth, but that would not be heard of. As a matter of fact, one of the gals had picked up a crazy looking black woman I was supposed to give a ride to the next bar. She was going to join us. As we walked to the parking garage, she was rattling off all kinds of crazy shit.
"You look just like Cobra Kai," she kept telling me. I had no idea what that was, but I was pretty sure it would not please me if I did. When we got to the car, I had to move about twenty pieces of photo gear before they could get in. It took a while, and when I everything arranged, I looked at the woman and said in strange voice, "Don't worry. We're not like the others. We're your friend."
She looked in the car for a minute, then turned around and said she wasn't going. Well, now, there was that, but I was still obliged to give my friend a ride to the next bar. I was stuck.
"She seemed a bit off," said my friend.
"A bit! She was a fucking total lunatic. What were you thinking?"
"Well, she seemed nice enough."
"Sure," I said. "I admired the shape of her skull.
I think my Fear and Loathing quotes were lost on both of them.
The next bar is at the exact location I got clocked on my Vespa. The bar has been around forever and is a REAL dive. I have never once been tempted to go there. The crowd is about as dirty ugly as a crowd can get. Everyone thought I didn't want to go because I had PTSD, but they were wrong. My dead ex-friend Brando used to like to go there from time to time, but I never joined him. The place always, in the parlance of a 70s kid, grossed me out.
There I was, standing next to the pool table. Before I got cracked, I would at least have figured I could handle myself in a bar fight, but not so much now. There was a machine that sold the weirdest packaged things I'd ever encountered. I can't even explain it. Here is an example, though. My friend bought one. It had a fuckable pink flamingo in it. Right? I'm telling you. . . this was not my type of bar.
As I stood there, the agony must have been obvious. People kept trying to talk me into the crowd, the mood, but as the old poem goes, I could not unfrown myself. Eventually one of my friends said I should go to the next bar and get us a table. The next stop was one of my favorite places just blocks from my house. Yes, I said, I will do that.
But I went home. I had a delivery I wanted to get off the porch and I needed to feed the feral cat. I poured a Campari and put cat food out and sat on the deck and called my mother.
"It will be a miracle if I don't get Covid. They've all had Covid twice now. They say the second time is not as bad."
But I couldn't stay long. I headed to the next stop. They were already there.
"You had one job and you failed. You were supposed to get us that table."
She pointed to one of two long tables in the middle of the room. It was happy hour on a Friday night, though. There was no way I would have been able to hold down that many seats until they arrived.
I slid into a chairless spot at the bar to order a drink. I needed whiskey. The bartender was one who has been there for years and always remembered Ili and I and what we drank. But I haven't been in the bar since the beginning of Covid. As a matter of fact, the last time I was there was with this group on my birthday two and a half years ago.
"Hey man. . . good to see you again," smiled the barkeep. Holy cow, I was flattered. He poured me a good whiskey. I was feeling better.
"I don't like dive bars," I told my friends. "I feel better in fancy bars with high prices."
"No you don't," they said. "You love a dive bar."
"Nope. No I don't. I like this."
Everyone was ordering food. The place is nationally known and recognized for its southern cuisine. One of the fellows who is always overly generous was ordering plates and sending them around to everyone--oysters on the half shell (I took a chance), rock shrimp tacos, southern bbq chicken. . . . When I went over to talk to him, he was sheets to the wind. He is well known by every barkeep in town, and he called this one over.
"What's the most expensive scotch you have?" he asked.
"I'll just have a Glenn Fiddich with a splash" I said.
"Put it in my tab," my friend said.
"Jesus, man, everything already is."
And it was true. He'd picked up everybody's bill at the Irish pub, and he paid for everything everybody had here. I paid for nothing all day. Nor did anyone else. I'm going to have to get him a very expensive bottle of wine.
Now here comes the strange part of the story. There were women in the bar who talked to me, women too pretty to be talking to me. It was the first time I've been anywhere in years, but it felt for an instant that some old, shy charm had maybe been resurrected. I'm a sweet boy, not aggressive at all. It drives my buddies crazy.
One of the girls with us, the baby of the group, asked, "Do you like her?"
I pondered that for a minute before I spoke. "That is really not the question. The question is, does she like me?"
"She's young enough," my friend opined. It is not a secret, of course. My good friend on the other side of me recalled to the group, "When I had my 30th birthday, he gave me a card. I kept it in my office until I left. I have it in my new office still. On it he wrote, 'You are now officially too old for me to date!'"
My friends laughed knowingly.
"I love you, C.S."
Yes, these are in some strange way my people.
I turned to the baby woman who had queried me about the girl in the bar and said, "I'm kind of an emo. I don't look at her and think I want to have sex with her. I look and want her to be Uber-intrigued by me. I just want her to love me. After that. . . ."
My friend looked at me and laughed.
"You'll never know if you don't talk to her."
"What makes you think she wants to talk to me?"
"What makes you think she doesn't?"
"I can't imagine why she would. I can never imagine."
I just spread my arms about me in an open gesture. The answer seemed clear as water to me.
One of our friends sitting across the table which we had now managed to mostly commandeer leaned across and gestured to the man sitting next to her. She introduce him as the Mayor of England, at least that is what I heard.
"There is no such thing as Mayor of England," I said.
"Not England. . . ." She named the city that bordered our own. I shook hands with him and his friend who was also some kind of government official.
"Don't you go to the Y?" he asked me. I answered in the affirmative. "I thought so."
"Oh. . . everybody knows him," said my friends. "He's famous."
"No," I said, "I'm just the only hippie who goes to that Y." Indeed, it is a conservative republican place where I kind of stand out.
"God knows what they say about me."
The bar was crowded and we were making friends. But the train runs on schedule, and soon, it was time for the group to trudge to the train staton and go to the next bar. But I was out as were a couple others who had car rides home. When the others exited, we lingered awhile and drank and chatted. Ping. Ping. The texts were non-stop. The drunkards had missed the train and were waiting on the next one. Photo after photo after photo hit my inbox. I thought how pretty they were in pictures. And so I said.
It was revealed that our server somewhere had been named "Snake"!
I got home a bit after eight. I poured a drink and sunk into the couch. I turned the television on and fell dead asleep. At ten thirty, show long over, Netflix waiting for me to tell it what I wanted next, I buttoned up the house and went to bed.
I woke this morning wondering if I was sick. It was too early to tell. It wasn't the drinking that hurt me, of course, but the almost eight hours of being in a crowd. It was too much immersion without preparation. It has been so very, very long. Though I had slept enough, I still felt tired. It was an emotional tiredness, I think, a complete draining of the batteries. I would need to be kind to myself today, I thought.
Soon, the texts started coming in. Everyone had had an incredible time. It was said. And there were promises that we would do it again.
When I told my art/travel buddy that I had talked to girls last night and for the first time in years felt slightly less like Quasimodo, he said, "They felt safe talking to an old invalid." Ha!
And in this corner. . . hailing from Parts Unknown. . . .