Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Drowning in the Tempus Fugit.

I hadn't been up to the Tempus Fugit for more than a couple of weeks but last night seemed to be a perfect night to drop by. The weather was still mild, mild for mid-January anyway, but it was meant to drop by about 20 degrees come morning and snow--about six to 12 inches, was also forecast to visit us. It made sense for me to beat the chill and beat a path to the beaten reinforced steel door of the joint.

I dressed warmly for my walk uptown, donning a 25-year-old pair of flannel-lined jeans and a thick grey sweatshirt. I think this particular sweatshirt was a holdover from my high-school baseball days, when we would rush the season and practice outdoors before Spring had really broken. The sky was high and blue, the clouds large and cumulus, the temperature still in 30s or 40s. The sweatshirt made to resist that chill was about twice as thick as sweatshirts are today, and though every bit of it that could be frayed is, I still prefer it to anything else I wear.

Whiskey and I brushed past our doorman, momentarily disturbing his digital device nocturne. We headed steadily uptown, walking the near-empty streets with dispatch. Whiskey, who ordinarily sniffs and meanders when she walks, was like a vector. She practically dragged me to the Tempus Fugit.

We walked down the labyrinthine hallways and descended and ascended a series of Escher-like stairs. Before long I had duly arrived at my stool, one in from the end, and Whiskey had settled on the floorboards near my feet. The bartender was quick from behind the bar with a bowl of cold for Whiskey and a glass of amber for me. It was, as always a Pike's Ale, (the ALE that won for YALE!)

I drained glass number one and without a jot of wasted motion, the glass was swept from in front of me, refilled and put again in its place. It was the very picture of synchronicity. I immediately picked up my glass so as not to disrupt the dance.

"I heard a story the other day," the bartender offered, "the story of a tugboat that went down in the Kill Van Kull."

"Not the water I would want to sink in. I prefer something warm, like maybe off the coast of Antigua."

"Nevertheless, the tug went down, and down quickly, in about 90 feet of viscous. They've blasted out the bottom there for depth, for the bigger tankers that are coming now that they've widened the Panama Canal."

"I missed the story in the "Times," I said.

Nine men died. The ship was raised but cannot be salvaged.
"It's not the sort of things they cover in the "Times." The "Times" is more apt to foreign untermenschen than the ones in our midst."

"These menschen were truly unter," I joked.

He ignored that, terrying the mahogany in front of me and re-filling me. He brought over a large glass jar filled to the top with pickled hard-boiled eggs. I demurred and he slid the jar back to its home in the curved corner of the bar-top.

"Nine men died, all veterans of the murk and muck. It wasn't until their bodies were found that they knew there had been an accident. There was no explosion. And it must of happened in the deepest depth of night."

"Around the time I stray up here, I suppose."

"The police finally sent a team of divers to examine the scene. This was a full three-days after she sank. They found the tug upside-down resting on the newly-blasted bedrock not far from the Bayonne Bridge. The divers entered the tug, inspecting it, seeing if it could be raised."
They are raising the roadway of the Bayonne Bridge 64 feet to accommodate new, larger tankers.

"That's a pretty lonely place," I said, "in a tug, 90 feet underwater, in the Kill Van Kull."

"There are lonelier," he answered, examining his nails. "The divers found a man alive in the tug. Breathing the air in a trapped air pocket. He had been there for almost 80 hours."

"I guess there's lonely and there's lonely."

"80 hours breathing air from a four-cubic-foot air-pocket. He sipped on a bottle of Coke that floated by for energy."

"The pause that refreshes."

The bartender laughed at that and pulled me another Pike's. "They took him to a decompression chamber in Perth Amboy. He was there for 60 hours."

"I'm not sure which would be worse. 80 hours in the Kill Van Kull or 60 in Perth Amboy."

He laughed a quiet bartender laugh and resumed terry-clothing the mahogany bar top.

"I guess you could drown in either place," he said.

He refused the twenties I passed his way.

"Stay dry," he told me.

Whiskey and I did, walking home in the cold.

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