I made my way up to 91st Street through the soft night air. The weather, at least for the time being, had shifted to spring. The snow which had transmogrified into a concrete-like piss-soaked tumoresque mounds of grey, was nearly all gone. The temperature, even at 3 in the morning, was still in the high 50s.
Whiskey jangled along at my side happily. Which is to say, she acted as she always does, as we always should, as if every endeavor is a great adventure in which something fantastical can be discovered or revealed. She treats even a routine trip to the dry cleaner as something magical, jumping up with her forepaws on the counter or weighing herself like a debutante on the step-on scale.
We navigated down the narrow hallways, up two flights of steps, around corners and through steel-fortified doors. Then we descended one more short staircase and we were there. We had arrived at the Tempus Fugit.
Whiskey assumed her position as I assumed mine, and in short order we were fully libated with our appropriate liquids. Clean cold water for Whiskey and a beautiful amber Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE!) for me.
I took a long sip of my suds, put my glass down and took another, emptying it except for the inconsequential meniscus that remained. The bartender took it all in and pulled me another from a tap as worn as Babe Ruth's bat.
"A rough week, I surmise," he said. He's a bit like Sherlock Holmes, the bartender. He can tell your mood through subtle signs that other humans fail to notice.
"And it's only Tuesday," I laughed, draining glass number two.
He filled me presently and slid over a small wooden bowl of salted Spanish peanuts. I abjured as I always do and he began his evening's disquisition.
"I tell you this," he began, "not because you are a child of the Book, not because you are of the Mosaic persuasion, but because it startled me."
I said nothing, but nodded him to continue.
"Most of your tribe, like you, are not serious drinkers. The damage you do in a decade, in some rougher precincts is accomplished in an hour or so."
"I'm not much of a drinker," I admitted. "If it weren't for Pike's, I wouldn't drink at all."
|Jews couldn't sell grain alcohol, so they resorted to this.|
"It does have that honor," he said. "It tiptoes like a maiden and enlightens all it graces."
"Go on," I said. "You are a citizen of the world. Someone I would have thought was beyond startling."
"As I said, your tribe is notorious for not drinking."
"My father did his finest to reverse that standing," I said. "His stomach was a California wild fire, and he fought to extinguish it every evening."
"In 19th century Poland, as you know, Jews could not buy land. And because of some arcane curiosity of Polish law, the exportation of grains was illegal."
"That probably had something to do with the periodic famines they suffered."
He ignored that and continued.
"The rich landowners landed upon a solution. Make booze and sell booze. In short order, the Jews, prohibited from so many professions owned 85% of all the registered taverns in Poland. There was a Polish proverb in fact, 'The peasant drinks at the inn, and the Jew does him in.'"
|100 years ago, 3/4 of the world's Jews lived in Poland and Lithuania. As many as 30% were involved in the liquor business.|
He wiped the mahogany in front of him with his well-worn white terry.
"You're not trying to tell me you're a member of the tribe, are you?"
"I am," he said. "A member of the tribe that matters."
I laughed. "You mean those of us who don't take pictures of our food before eating it?"
Now, he laughed.
"I was thinking more of Dickens. 'Never be mean in anything; never be false; never be cruel. Avoid those three vices...and I can always be hopeful of you.'"
"David Copperfield," I asked.
"On me," he answered.