For as long as I have been coming to the Tempus Fugit, the place has always been essentially empty. Only once did I run into other people there. There were two of them crowded into a table for four and they were drinking either a Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE) or, less likely, but still possible, a specialty drink the bartender makes called the Suffering Bastard.
Frankly, I didn't notice what they were drinking, or virtually anything else about them because the Tempus Fugit is a place with high walls. From what I gather, the people who go there are more or less like me. We tend to keep to ourselves. And when we cry in our beer, we like to do it as a solo act.
If I had to make a pronouncement of sorts about the Tempus Fugit, I'd say that in effect it is the anti-Facebook. There are no casual relationships there. No grinning approvals and smarmy thumbs up. No sharing things that need not be shared. It's a hermetic place, frequented by people like me, neo-hermits, who seldom, if ever, let people in.
Tonight, however, I showed up at the Tempus Fugit at around three a.m. My wife has a terrible summer cold and despite being shot through with various anti-biotics, she is coughing and wheezing like an Okie's Model T making its way up a mountain. Neither Whiskey nor I could sleep through the onslaught, so we headed uptown, making our way to the Tempus Fugit with no fanfare whatsoever and no delays.
As usual, I sat down on my favorite stool, one in from the end, and Whiskey curled like a Central Casting golden retriever at my feet. The bartender brought her as he always does a small wooden bowl filled with water, and he slid over to me an eight-ounce juice glass filled with the amber nectar we call Pike's Ale.
"Crowded tonight," I observed. Four of the six tables along the back wall were occupied and just over half of the dozen stools at the bar were be-assed as was mine.
"We're crowded every night," the bartender said quietly. "It's just some nights no one is here."
I let that one sit for a few moments. It was one of those imponderables I am so often confronted with at the Tempus Fugit.
"It's the heat, I believe. When it's 90-degrees out with 90-per-cent humidity, it makes no sense to go home. In fact, we could run out to the river now and you'd find a couple dozen Puerto Ricans doing out there what we're doing in here: bending an elbow and hoping it cools."
"I guess I have no excuse. I'm central air."
"You have different reasons for being here," he nodded. "And that's ok."
"It's not insomnia, tonight," I told him, "the wife has a cough to wake the dead."
"When I was young, we would sleep on our rooftop or fire-escape. Hoping for something that resembled a cool breeze."
He filled my glass with another.
"There was an old man who lived in our building, a tailor. He had the beard of Moses and he would come up to the roof and stare at the stars when it was warm like this. Sometimes we would talk of baseball or of life on those stars.
"He had little bits of color in the white of his beard. Little bits of thread he'd bite off when he was done with a button or a repair. His beard below his mouth a kaleidoscope. There was red thread and green, and blue, yellow and black."
The bartender left from behind the bar with a tray full of glasses filled with Pike's. He was back in just a minute and back to swabbing the bar-top, his restless habit.
"The old man said that the stars were red and green and blue and yellow and black, too. Like the threads in his beard."
"He carried the universe in his beard," I said finishing number two.
"Who doesn't?" he asked, filling me again.
"He believed there was life on everyone of those stars. Life and death and love and laughter."
"And Pike's Ale, too, I suppose."
"Some things are universal."
I reached in my pocket and took out two 20s and placed them on the bartop.
"Keep your dough," he said to me. "The universe is paying tonight."
Whiskey and I walked home just as the sun was coming up.