While the rest of New York enjoyed cool, clear weather yesterday, my slim slice of the Upper East Side had a micro-climate all its own. You see these micro-climates out in Napa and Sonoma in northern California. Fog and rain and wind and cold that affects just a few acres bound by hills on one side and the cool or warmth of the ocean on the other.
The same sort of conditions prevailed near me today. The waters of the East River, cool and deep, inverted with the warmer air emanating from the housing projects in the Uppers 90s. The result was a small dark rain cloud that parked precisely over my head.
The cloud followed me like an obedient puppy as my obedient puppy, Whiskey my 16-month-old golden retriever and I beat a path to the Tempus Fugit. It was approximately 2:15 in the morning and I walked the three-quarters of a mile through the rain, down a couple beaten hallways, up and down various half-flights of steps, through a series of dented industrial steel doors and into the dim incandescence of the Tempus Fugit itself. My cloud, courteously, obsequiously stayed parked outside in a hallway, as Whiskey parked herself at my feet and I parked myself on my favorite barstool, one in from the end.
The bartender slid over a small wooden bowl of salted Spanish peanuts for me to nibble at. I pushed them away with the skill of a Monte Carlo croupier and muttered under my breath and my two-week's growth of beard, "a pound in every nut." He laughed his knowing bartender's laugh and sprung around the bar with an overflowing water bowl for Whiskey. He then doubled back behind the bar and drew me a Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE) in an eight ounce juice glass.
There are many around the globe who drink beer in steins, or large glasses, or pints as they do in England or flagons as they do in 1950s Danny Kaye movies. For my dime, beer should never be served in anything larger than an eight-ounce glass. The beer stays fresh that way--it never runs warm or flat, and you need a refill often enough so that you strike up an acquaintance with even the most diffident of bartenders.
"I can't drink for now," I said pushing away the Pike's. "I have, from my pneumonia intimations not only of mortality but also of liver disease--hepatitis. I must eschew that nectar that is Pike's."
He nodded understanding and spilled the Pike's sadly down the drain. He spritzed me a seltzer with plenty of ice.
"You are not well," he said to me. "I have never seen you before with a pallor."
"Pallor is the word for it I said. This is the first I have thought of death."
"Death," he laughed. "You are a young man. You have strength in you that 20 20-year-olds would envy. Do not speak of the long slumber."
I sipped at my seltzer wishing it were instead a Pike's.
"My sickness has knocked me for a loop." I continued. "In 30 years of working I have never taken a sick day, and these past two weeks I have worked less than four full days."
He took the hose to the seltzer and filled me without lifting my glass.
"A little Wordsworth is in order perhaps.
"The rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose;
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where'er I go,
That there hath pass'd away a glory from the earth."
"Has my glory pass'd away from the earth," I asked him somberly.
He ignored my question and OCD'd the polished bar even shinier, wiping it gleaming with a damp white terry in ever smaller concentric circles. As usual the Tempus Fugit was empty. There were signs of customers gone by at two of the tables against the back wall, straight-back chairs askew, and old "New York Post" open to the Sports pages.
"Your glory," he laughed, "Your glory is in your breath. Your glory is in your steel. Your glory is in your sickness. Because even your sickness you do with fervor."
Now it was my turn to laugh. Even Whiskey seemed to chortle at that one.
"Even the rain cloud you parked outside is there to keep you alive." He stopped his swabbing of the bar and then put his ancient hand on mine, the left of which had spotted with age.
"Of all those who rage against the dying of the light, I know no one who will rage like you."
He spritzed my glass full again and re-limed my drink as well.
"Have a pickled egg," he said, bringing over an oversized glass container full of 50 them.
"I'm afraid it would be bad for my blood pressure," I demurred.
"Ah, yes," he said. "The affairs of state must take precedence over the affairs of state."
"Naturally," I answered.
I pushed a twenty across the teak. He pushed it back in an equal and opposite reaction.
"Do me a favor," he said.
"Sneak out the back way so your cloud doesn't see you leaving."
I did. And Whiskey and I walked home in the dry night air.