Last night was warm in New York, warm and humid with an occasional spit of mist. I sojourned down the warren of winding hallways and entered the Tempus Fugit at just after two in the morning. There was another patron, an old man like myself at the other end of the bar. Other than he and the bartender, and Whiskey, my 22-month-old golden retriever, the joint was, as usual empty.
I assumed my seat at the end of the mahogany and was greeted by the sonorous voice of the bartender:
"How many thousands of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature's soft nurse, how have I frightened thee,
That thou no more will weigh my eyelids down,
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?"
"Yes, you're right again, as usual. Once more I have frightened sleep away and have been visited by Insomnia."
He drew me a Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE!) and slid it and a small bowl of salted Spanish peanuts over to me.
The old man at the opposite end of the bar got up off of his stool and walked tentatively toward me. He pulled out the stool alongside mine and deposited his keister upon it.
"Are the buzzing night-flies keeping you from slumber?" he asked, bastardizing the Bard.
"I don't analyze my Insomnia," I said. "We've know each other so long, I am smart enough to follow wherever She leads."
The bartender terried the place in front of him and pulled him a Pike's. He downed his juice-glass of nectar in a single swallow and placed the tumbler down hard on the surface.
"Another," he murmured.
"I haven't seen you here before," I offered.
He fiddled with his glass and reached over and took a small handful of Spanish peanuts. He spilled them on the mahogany in front of him, separated the nuts into little groups of two and ate them slowly.
"I've come for you," he said to me. "I've waited for you all summer, all autumn, and now it is winter."
The bartender sidled over and filled me again.
"He believes you've heard the Chimes at Midnight."
"Who hasn't?" I answered. "The Chimes at Midnight have no snooze button."
At that, they both laughed.
"The chimes pealed," the stranger said. "They never stop pealing."
Whiskey, at my feet, stirred. She nuzzled me with her black, cold nose. It was, she mentioned, time to leave. I walked over to the coat tree and assumed my jacket. I took her leash and collar out of my deep side pocket and accoutred her appropriately.
I said as I pushed two twenties over to the bartender:
"The grey-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night,
Chequering the eastern clouds with streaks of light,
And flecked darkness like a drunkard reels
From forth day's path and Titan's fiery wheels:"
They laughed, too, at that. I did, too, to myself.
Whiskey and I, without a hint of chimes, walked silently south. Toward home.