My heart, that organ some people believe I don't possess, has been bothering me of late. It's all owing to this summer's cataclysmic car crash and subsequent pericarditis. I will get better, my gaggle of doctors assures me, but for the last few weeks I have been in no little amount of pain.
In addition to pain, I have experienced a disconcerting shortness of breath. If I'm walking with someone, particularly going up a hill or flight of steps, I suppress my panting. I certainly don't want word of my illness and weakness getting around at work. They already treat me as if I'm as old as Methusalah. And once they think you're old, unemployment is only a question of time. You've got a target on your back the size of the Colossus of Rhodes.
A final effect of summer's miasma is that by the time I hit the hay in the evening, I'm as tired as a polyester leisure suit at New York fashion week. That said, there's many a night when sleep just will not come. And when it doesn't, like last night, I was off, with Whiskey, to the Tempus Fugit.
We walk slowly tonight, Whiskey and I. Slowly because, see above, I am tired and winded and my legs are heavy. Slowly also because for the last 24 hours or so, the melt has descended upon New York. The accumulation of snow, which is now hard, grey and rock-like, is slowly, slowly disintegrating. At every cross-walk, or nearly every one, there are puddles that could swamp a Fiat 500.
So Whiskey and I walk slowly. That's one thing we've both learned about the Tempus Fugit. It's like the North Star or graffiti in a public bathroom. It will always be there.
There is no tinkle of bells when we arrive, there are no such amenities at the bar. Instead you lean your shoulder into a steel reinforced door and push. Depending on the weather you push accordingly. In the summer's humidity when the door has swelled it helps to have played some high-school football. But last night, in the warming cold, all it took to enter was an "I'm getting on this train" kind of nudge.
I assumed my usual stool, one in from the end, and Whiskey found her place by my feet. The bartender accorded us with his usual ministrations--a small wooden bowl of ice cold water for Whiskey and a juice-glass of Pike's Ale (the ALE the won for YALE!) for me. I had thought about skipping the Pike's this evening, another side-effect of my lingering illness. I am on twelve or fourteen different medications including a steroid called Prednisone, and I was thinking perhaps I'd be better off eschewing the cerveza, but as it was so deftly swept in front of me, I felt obliged to play my role.
"You are looking, once again," the bartender began, "more than a little bit ashen."
"Yes. As they say, I am worse for wear. I still, after seven months, cannot fully lick what's been plaguing me."
He looked into his massive hands and into the white terry cloth with which he keeps the bar-top immaculate.
"Some times," he began "time doesn't heel all wounds."
"Don't jinx me. My doctor has said that recovery might take a year."
"Your problem, I believe, lies not in your heart. But in your shoulders. You carry the weight of the world with you."
He filled me again, before I could stop him. I rotated the glass around and stared deep into the amber.
"I suppose I am the Ur-Father."
"And I am the Ur-Bartender. And the Tempus Fugit, the Ur-Bar."
"No profundity tonight," he continued. "But stop acting like the Ur-Caveman. Where you hunt the mammoth, kill the mammoth, drag the mammoth back to the cave, skin the mammoth, make the fire and cook the mammoth, then make the clothing from the mammoth skin. Let others share in the toil."
I agreed in silence and I thought, one-by-one, of the 28 pills I am taking every day to regulate and normalize that which has grown irregular and abnormal.
"All Ur and no play makes Jack a dead boy," I said.
He filled me again. And I pushed it away.
"I'm ready to sleep I said," getting up to leave.
"On me," he said before I could even pay. "On me."