Friday, March 15, 2024

Oh. . . That Shakespearean Rag

I think there is a possibility that I am. . . how does one say it now?  "Going crazy"?  "Losing my mind"?  "Becoming disturbed"?  "Insane," "psychotic," "deranged"?  They all seem like old movie terms.  

I'll simply say that I am not "coping well."  Mental anguish and physical lassitude.  Anxiety, depression.  You know the drill.  

I'm not acting right.  It is frightening.  

It bothers me that I know there are people who will find satisfaction or even take pleasure in that.  

"He always thought he was something.  He was a loner.  Look how that worked out.  He's a sad and lonely man now.  You reap what you sow, isn't that right, dear."

"Well. . . he kind of was, though."

"Kind of what?"


O.K.  I made that last part up.  I made the whole thing up, but the last part I stuck in there just to succor myself a bit.  Don't be a hater.  I'm just being confessional and oversharing.  I can confide in you, right?  I mean, you know. . . still?

You see, I went out last night.  I was back from my mother's house sitting on the deck trying not to drink while sipping a Campari and soda.  Drinking is bad.  Q told me so.  So did my expanding waistline.  So. . . maybe just a simple Campari and then some herbal tea.  I had no idea what I would eat for dinner, though.  "Nothing," I thought in my infinite fatness, but I knew that would not be doable for without food, what would the evening hold?  

Just then as I anguished over it all, the phone rang.  It was Tennessee.  He called to tell me the news.  I knew something was up.  

"Let's get some dinner."

Ah.  He was on his own for the evening.  He was in his truck not far from one of my favorite Italian restaurants.  

"O.K.  I'll jump in the car now."

"No. . . I need to change.  Give me thirty minutes."

"Fuck that.  Who gives a shit what you are wearing.  We'll eat outside."

"No, man. . . .'

"Fuck it.  I'm just going to cook."

"Alright.  I'll meet you there in a minute."

There is an art festival starting today, but people were already out and about last night.  Besides, Thursday is the new Friday since Covid.  The inside bar was full and there were only a few undesirable tables left outside, so I sat at the outside bar facing in.  There were two bartenders I didn't know, pretty Italian women, one smiling the other looking stern as a Mafia hit-woman.  They were both True Beauties.

I ordered a Chianti Classico and said I was waiting for my buddy to show up.  I ordered some bruschetta while I was waiting.  Tennessee showed up just as the bruschetta came out.  He started chatting with the hit-woman right away.  He knew her from another restaurant bar in town. 

Chat chat chat.  We recounted the follies of the night before and he caught me up on what I missed when I bounced out.  

The smiling bartender came over to see if we were ready to order.  I ordered the Pollo Scarpariello.  Sort of.  I butchered the last part.  The barmaid laughed.  She had beautiful eyes that seemed true.  She said it back to me correctly.

"Yea. . . that."

"Funny," she said, "I knew what you meant." 

She didn't blink, didn't look away.  Nobody has looked at me like that in years.  Maybe never.  I didn't believe in it, though.  I mean, I didn't think it was more than it was.  

"I'll have the same thing as my dad," said Tennessee.  

I shook my head and rolled my eyes.  She was still looking at me.

"He says he's my friend.  He says he has my back.  But every time we get around women, this is what he pulls."

"I think you need a new wingman," she said, smiling, looking.  I was about to wet myself.  

"Nahhhhh. . . I'm just kidding.  I love this guy.  He's smart.  A lot smarter than I am."

Still looking, still smiling.  "I can tell he's smart," she said.  "I can see it in his eyes." 

Jesus Christ, holy shit. . . fuck me.  I was starting to buy it hook, line, and sinker.  

"Don't do it, old sport.  Don't be stupid.  Don't lean in.  Don't say a thing.  Don't don't don't don't don't."

I didn't.  But I didn't need to.  Tennessee is a talker.  He was going to chat her up regardless.  

I always listen to that little voice in my head: "Of course. . . she's working for tips.  She wants the money."  

Tennessee was on my team now.  He told her she should see my house, that it looked like Hemingway's, that I taught literature.  I sat there like I was somewhere on the spectrum, a stupid Alfred E. Neuman grin plastered on my face thinking, "Yea. . . you should see my house."

The thing was, and I am a keen observer, she kept looking at me when Tennessee was talking.  She was looking at me most of the time.  Usually when I'm with Tennessee, I hardly get a glance.  But there was this, and there was the waitress from the Irish pub I didn't go to the night before who was asking about me.  I didn't believe Tennessee when he said it, but it was verified by two other's who was there.  

Now this is my tale, and I wouldn't lie to you about any of this.  You can trust me even as you doubt.  I wouldn't make this up without telling you I was making it up.  

The barmaid kept coming back to chat.  She had just graduated from law school and had recently taken the bar exam.  She was waiting for the results.  Christ, I thought.  She was more than pretty.  I wanted to tell her I had dated a pretty attorney for many years.  I wanted to tell her something.  Anything.  I knew I shouldn't and wouldn't.  I would say nothing about anything at all.  Desperate men are talkers.  It is better not to talk most times.  Only when invited.  WWDDD popped into my head.  

"What Would Don Draper Do?"

It made me laugh.  

Before our meal came, Tennessee got up to find the restroom.  As I sat there alone, a fellow came over, slapped me on the back, and said hello.  I looked at him and smiled.  I didn't know him.  

"You were a professor at Country Club College, weren't you?" he asked me.  

WTF?  I'm always leery about these things.

"Yea. . . I taught there for awhile."

"I thought so.  I'm ______."  He told me his name.  "I live on_____."  He told me where he lived.  He said it was in "the professor's quarters."  I knew the street.  It was very expensive.  

"What's your area?" I asked thinking he was a professor himself.  

"Oh, no. . . I am a ________."  He told me what he did and the company he owned.  He was a solid man, well built,  with wavy white hair and a tan.  

"When we both had long hair," he said," girls used to think I was you.  They'd come up to me all the time and ask me if I was you."

I laughed.  

"Really.  How many of my girlfriends did you date?"

I didn't say "date." 

"I don't know," he said in a serious tone.  I was laughing because I knew he had never dated any of my girlfriends as I didn't have any.  I never dated like that.  It was true that I ran around town and was pretty high profile, a sophistahippie in a white jeep with a Shepard/Husky companion riding in back, but I was never a "player."  

Just then, Tennessee came back.  I introduced him in hopes of handing the fellow off to him.  It didn't work.  The guy was hammering me now.  

"This guy used to have all the women in town," he told Tennessee.  I shook my head and rolled my eyes the way I always do at the incredulous while enjoying the fictional notoriety all the same.  The fellow made an ironic comment about Tennessee needing to get in shape.  The guy had joined our party.  It turned out that he was an olympic swimmer who never got to the olympics.  

"I medalled in the 1980 Olympics," he said.  


"No.  That was the year we boycotted them.  I didn't get the chance.  I would have."

"Where'd you swim?"

It turned out he swam at my alma mater.  They have a great swim team and have probably produced more medal winning swimmers than any other school, so the fellow had some cred.  

But the guy was a nut.  He started in on heritage.  He deemed us all Alsatians, crossbreed Anglo-Franco-Jew warriors who beat the hell out of the Romans. . . .  I don't know.  He went on and on until our food arrived.  And then, like a hallucination, he just disappeared  

"That guy was a nut," I said. 


"But he was right about one thing."

"What was that."

"The girls liked me.  I was something."  I laughed but did not guffaw.

After dinner, I wanted a Sambuca, but I couldn't remember its name.  

"I don't want to look stupid in front of you," I said to the bartender, "but I want that drink with the coffee beans in it. . . and I can't remember what it is called."


"Yea, that's it."

She still smiled at me with that same intensity.  I felt myself falling apart.  

In a bit, Tennessee and I settled the tab.  

"It was a pleasure to meet you," I said.  

"I hope to see you again," she replied.  

My knees buckled.

Once I could walk again, not because I was weak kneed but because my bad knee had stiffened after sitting for so long, we ambled down the street past the busy bars and restaurants of the night.  We stood on the corner where are paths diverged lingering, talking about the eventing, about past nights, and  nights to come.  There is a remembered pleasantness about standing on a corner chatting with a friend under the glow of a street lamp as people pass in pairs and groups.

Tennessee mentioned my fuck up the night before when I said the wrong thing to his friend about the fellow who owns the large restaurant chain.  I knew I had fucked up right away; now Tennessee was verifying it.  To me it didn't matter so much, but I didn't want to be Tennessee's obnoxious friend.  He told me decadent tales of the filthy rich that were the same ones you read about in the tabloids in an attempt to succor me.  

"But don't say anything bad about Senior to him.  He's a real loyalist there."

As we stood there chatting, pretty women passing by would eye Tennessee up and down, smile. We were back to that now, the new normal.

"Did you see that?"

"Yea, I saw it.  It pisses me off."

It had been a good night.  

Back home, I sat on the couch and remembered what it was like to be looked at again.  

"I am smart," I thought.  "Maybe she could tell."  

I didn't mind flattering myself alone at home for a moment.  It is only normal, right?  Then I realized that I had not had an evening update from Puerto Rico.  Selavy.  Whatever.  

The phone rang.  It was Q on FaceTime.  He started playing his guitar right away, so I hung up.  I dialed him right back and got a message that he was unavailable.  Maybe he took me seriously and had blocked me, but a bit later, he called.  I went on a tirade for a few minutes before I realized he was FaceTiming me with someone else on his phone.  Then he told the fellow he'd call him back.  

Skip ahead.  I got "triggered" as the pop psychologists say, and the conversation ended badly.  I lost my temper in a strange and terrible way, the kind of way that leaves you feeling sick and monstrous.  Piss, shit, fuck, goddamn.  

But something is wrong with me.  I am acting in strange ways, and it scares me.  My mind is a house of horrors, it seems.  I am desperately in need of a victory.  What kind of life is it when a bartender's smile is the highlight of. . . god knows of what?  The day?  The week?  A year?

There was nothing to do but eat some Xanax, wash it down with whiskey, and hope you pass away peacefully in the night.  

But here I am, all fear and regret, hoping to preen my remaining feathers to face the day.  I am beginning to envy those of you who only need to see a therapist.  I'm pretty sure that sooner or later they will have me locked away in a looney bin.  

* * * 

‘My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.
What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
I never know what you are thinking. Think.’

  I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.

  ‘What is that noise?’
                          The wind under the door.
‘What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?’
                           Nothing again nothing.
‘You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember

       I remember
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
‘Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?’    

O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag—
It’s so elegant
So intelligent
‘What shall I do now? What shall I do?’
‘I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
‘With my hair down, so. What shall we do tomorrow?
‘What shall we ever do?’
                                               The hot water at ten.
And if it rains, a closed car at four.
And we shall play a game of chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

(T.S. Elliot, 'The Waste Land')

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