Thursday, July 18, 2013

Another hot night in the Tempus Fugit.

The heat was like a fat man in the seat next to you on an airplane. It crowded you. It violated you. It pressed against you. There was no escaping it.

And it smelled.

It smelled the smell of a million unshowered.

It smelled the smell of pigeon.

Of steaming sewer.

Of dog shit left to bake.

The city, which always closed you in, loomed now. The sky, way above the towers built by rapacious bankers, was more distant. Its color the color of wet sheet rock. The streets seemed narrower. The toxins in the air more redolent.

Even within my apartment, with five air-conditioning units running at full-bore, the heat was there. Movement slowed. And conversation hung in the moist atmosphere.

I got home late. I had seen an old friend for a couple of drinks and dinner and did not arrive home until after midnight. Even at that hour, long past the time I usually go to bed, I knew that sleep this night would not come. The gates to Morpheus were barred. Nailed shut. Closed for the duration.

I decided to not even try. I slipped a collar over Whiskey and once again we headed north to the Tempus Fugit.

We arrived, long-tongued and languid 20 minutes later. Getting there was like swimming through a thermocline. The Tempus Fugit was a strata of cool alongside layers and layers of oppression.

Whiskey curled at my feet and I assumed my usual juncture, a stool one in from the end.

The bartender once again played Nijinsky, or Pee Wee Reese, and was around the bar with a small wooden bowl of cold for Whiskey and then in a blur was pulling back a Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE) for me.

"Heat," I mumbled with my usual insight. "Heat," I said again as if the word had meaning anymore.

I drained my Pike's and hadn't even the time to place my eight-ounce glass on the bar before the bartender placed another amber in from of me.

"On a night like to night," he said "there is no need for language. Leave us go prognathous and grunt and point only."

I nodded as he brought over a small wooden bowl of Spanish peanuts. I pushed it away and he filled in the blanks for me.

"I know," he laughed. "A pound in every nut."

By the time I had rendered my second glass half-empty I had returned to the world of the living. My vital bodily fluids were coursing again through my over-loaded system and I was beginning to feel almost human.

"Think of this," he said. He was wiping the clean varnished surface of the teak with a damp white terry. "Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called in the Masai "Ngaje Ngai," the house of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard..." He paused and I finished.

"No one had explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude."

"What are you seeking, my friend, at this altitude? Some yards, either above or below street level on east 91st Street."

I laughed a bit as he refilled my glass. He scooted around the bar with a tumbler of ice and refreshed Whiskey's bowl. She remained asleep and oblivious.

The Tempus Fugit, as usual, was empty and nearly dark. The four or five table along the back wall, each with a geometry all its own were unoccupied. The one stool to my right and the twelve or so to my left were similarly unemployed.

Behind the bar, amid a forest of various bottles, there was in addition to the 15-watt that lit the cash register, a single neon advertising in crackling blue type Pike's. It cast a glow over the place that reminded me of the color treatment of Victor Sjostrom's 1921 horror "The Phantom Carriage."

"What do any of us seek?" I replied. 

"Some seek company. Some solace. Some peace. Some battle. Some love. Some the absence of love. Some death. Some life. And some, like you seek all of those things."

Whiskey stirred, got up and sniffed a bit around the bar.

"That's a little heavy for a saloon keeper," he said continuing to polish the polish.

"Maybe it's the heat," I answered as I pushed two $20s his way.

"On me," he enjoined.

I leashed Whiskey and we began walking out of the place.

"Stay cool," he said. "Stay cool."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The bartender played Nijinsky or Pee Wee Resse..nice George!