Last night it was as hot in the city as the handles on the gates of Hell. The temperature during the day had risen to the mid-90s. Though the mercury had dropped some when the sun went down, nearly every surface of the city was radiating stored heat. What's more, the exhaust of a million cars and a million more air-conditioners only added to the swelter.
The heat must have awakened Dame Insomnia, because she jostled me from my slumber at around 2:15. I tried ignoring her as I almost always do.
I picked up my book and headed to the living room. Whiskey followed me and curled at my feet as I read a dozen or so pages on America's entry into Vietnam. Those pages didn't tire me. I looked at the clock, it was now 3. Whiskey and I made eye-contact. It was time to face facts. This night would only pass from the welcoming environs of the Tempus Fugit.
I be-leashed Whiskey, grabbed a handful of low-calorie biscuits and we headed north. With ever-watchful eyes and bearing scars, we headed up-town, full of the hazy notion that sleep would someday come unsullied, undiluted, unending.
In just a few minutes, we arrived in the cool of the Tempus Fugit. There was an old oscillating fan on the bar-top. It sat in the place of the large jar of pickled hard-boiled eggs that a few of the regulars, not me, enjoy. I'm not much of a pickled hard-boiled egg guy; I suppose they're delicious. I'm just not ready to take the plunge. Somewhere, perhaps, a hen is thanking me.
As I do, I sat on my usual stool, one in from the end, and Whiskey once again curled at my size 14s. The bartender was out from behind the mahogany like Nijinsky, and was quick with her small wooden bowl filled with icy water.
Back behind the bar he slid over to me a cool Pike's Pale Ale (the ALE that won for YALE) in an eight-ounce juice glass. I've found through more than 40 years of drinking that beer is best served in an eight-ounce glass. You can nurse it along and it doesn't go warm or flat on you. They understand nuance like this at the Tempus Fugit.
"It's nothing, this heat, compared to 1972. In that year, 891 died in New York alone. That's more than died in the Chicago fire and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake combined."
"I was living here then, and I don't even remember that."
"No one remembers anything anymore. We have sensationalized everything. Nothing has any meaning."
"You're running a little gloomy today."
He slid a bowl of salted Spanish peanuts my way. I slid them back his way, saying as I always do "a pound in every nut."
Then he took my glass and refilled it again with cool amber.
"I remember there was a movie theatre up on Broadway and 88th Street in those days. There's a Duane Reade, a Starbucks, a condo and nail salon there now." (Here's what the street looked like in 1971.)
"Ya, the New Yorker," I said. "I used to go there when I was in college at Columbia. They tore it down probably 30 years ago."
"New York isn't worth shit anymore thanks to nail salons, Starbucks, Duane Reades and condos." He wiped the already spotless bar-top ever cleaner with a damp white terry towel.
"You're damned right, I'm gloomy. I'm tired of hearing about the weather. We knew how to handle it before New York got pasteurized. Before they took the impurities out of it. We went to the New Yorker--the air-conditioned New Yorker--they would play Charlie Chaplin movies all day long. $5 would get you in for as long as you wanted to stay. That's how you beat the heat."
"I guess watching Chaplin in "The Gold Rush" would lower your temperature a bit," I said.
"You're darn tootin' it would. Today, the city opens up 'cooling stations' for people without A/C. Today if we had a heatwave like we had back then--today with the cooling stations, ten-thousand would wilt and die. They ought to open up the old movie theatres and play Chaplin."
"The old movie theatres are no more," I said sadly. "Like you said, they've been Duane Readed, and Starbucked, and nail saloned and condo'd."
He filled Whiskey again and me too, with my third Pike's. He stood behind the bar from us, wiping in an efficient circular motion. He had gone laconic on me. Something that had never happened before during all my hours in the Tempus Fugit.
I didn't like seeing him like this--didn't want to leave him like this. But it was time to leave. I pulled two 20s from my wallet--it was clammy with sweat--and placed them on the bar top.
"On me," he said.
And then he smiled. And then he laughed. And then he said, "stay cool."
Whiskey and I walked home along the East River.
Hoping to do just that.
Hoping to stay cool.