Sunday, January 5, 2014

Ancient Greece in the Tempus Fugit.

Last night was a bad one. Maybe it was bad because we had gone out to dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant in Astoria, Queens where, frankly, it is impossible not to eat too much. Or it could be because I had a double espresso to cap off the meal. Or, most likely, it could be the spat I had with the missus.
Been there. Done that.

There were no pyrotechnics with the spat. No throwing dishes or being chased around the apartment by a woman wielding a rolling pin. There was nothing like that, no Jiggs and Maggie. But it was enough. Enough to make me question everything, including what am I doing here, can I stand this for the rest of my life, and, even, why am I alive.

We all have fights like that. And it was one of them. And it kept me awake. Awake till 2:15 AM, at which point I gave up the sleeping ghost, got dressed quickly and in the dark like a firefighter, be-leashed Whiskey and walked uptown to the Tempus Fugit.

No matter what happens in the world, the Tempus Fugit remains immemorial. When the columns crack, the rivers run dry and when it begins to rain frogs, it's time to head there. It won't exigent reality but it will provide a necessary stay, a restorative niche until you can fortify yourself against the present.

As usual, the Tempus Fugit was empty when Whiskey and I arrived. The tables along the back was were straight and flush against the liver-colored wall and the 16 or 20 mis-matched chairs that went with those tables were pushed in and in apple-pie-order. The 12 leather-covered stools that lined the teak bar like parapets on a medieval castle were similarly tucked-in and empty. I assumed my
stool--one in from the end, and the bartender pulled me a Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE.)

I sat silently and he stood over me, allowing me my silence to down my first Pike's when I finished and he refilled my glass, he began the evening's dissertation.

"You are in a mood tonight, I see," he began.

"I will play it safe and make no comment. The walls, even walls such as these," I motioned with my head indicating the walls all around us, "have ears."

"Perhaps a little poetry will help."

Anacreon of Teos had good abs.
I gave him my best Yiddish accent, "It couldn't hurt."

"This is from Anacreon of Teos. He wrote is just before I was born, in 546 B.C."

"That pre-dates the advent of Pike's," I answered, sipping at my amber. "And the Tempus Fugit."

I pushed my empty his way and without breaking his oratorical stride, he continued.

"Why I Weep," he said. He picked up his damp white terry and wiped the bar to the anapest of the poem.

"Already my temples are gray
and head white,
graceful youth is no longer
here, but teeth are old,
no longer is much time left
of sweet life.

"Because of these things, I weep,
often afraid of Tartarus;
for the recess of Hades is terrible,
and the descent to it
difficult, and it is certain that

he who has gone down can’t come up."

He finished and filled me a third time. He brought from underneath the bar a bowl of salted Spanish peanuts.

"That's meant to cheer me up?" I asked. 

He laughed at that. I looked to the front doorway, thinking that maybe a hooded man with a scythe would be entering soon. When no one appeared, I turned back to my Pike's.

"Look," he said. He had stopped polishing the already polished bar. He looked dead ahead and continued solemnly.

"The world is getting dumber. I won't argue with you on that. We live in an era of avarice, cruelty and inequity. We're making the Gilded Age look benign."

I nodded in silent agreement.

"The world is heating up. Radiation is in our marrow. Our rivers, lakes and oceans are crowded with billions of tiny plastic pellets--abrasives put into soaps. They are eaten by phytoplankton, which are eaten by fish and so enter our food chain.

"And we're the lucky ones. We have a food chain. One-fifth of the world lives on less than two-dollars a day."

"You're convulsing me," I said.

"Here's the thing. At home, at work, with your kids. Lighten up. As Anacreon said, "no longer is much time left/ of sweet life."

I laughed. "Sweet life."

I slid two twenties his way. More to pay for the philosophy than the Pike's.

"On me."

Whiskey and I suited up for the cold and muck and walked home, knowing that he who has gone down can't come up.

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