After I left my agency Christmas party last night, I was in the mood for some quiet conversation. I'll admit, that's not a mood I often find myself in. Most often I find, like Wordsworth, that the world is too much with us, that there's too much noise in our world, too many demands on our time, too many things we simply must do.
But last night, after the hellish din of a too big party in a too small space, I wanted some quiet talk. Talk that's fewer words and more consideration. Talk that like Claude Debussy said about music, is more about the 'space between the notes,' than the notes themselves.
With that in mind, I boarded a cab and headed uptown to an address only I know, that of the Tempus Fugit.
My driver found the old Verizon warehouse on East 91st Street that houses the Tempus Fugit and in short order, I was climbing up flights, down hallways, through doorways, then down flights and up hallways. Soon, I had meandered my way into the ancient incandescence and had assumed my position, slumped, in my favorite stool, one in from the end.
“Let me tell you,” the bartender said, by way of hello. “Let me tell you about the place I worked before I opened up the Tempus Fugit.”
“OK,” I returned and I hunched forward, elbows on the mahogany, to hear a good story.
“The bar, the speakeasy, actually, because this was the depths of Prohibition—the Noble Experiment—was in mid-town, where speakeasies were as plentiful as trash as a horse-track.”
He pulled from behind the hardwood a well-worn white terry towel, slightly damp by my reckoning, and began polishing the well-polished bar.
“The speakeasy I tended was the most-popular in the city,” he continued. “The most-popular of the gin joints. Moreso than Tex Guinan’s places, or the Bathtub, or the even the Redhead, down on Minetta Lane.”
I finished my second Pike’s (the ALE that won for YALE!) He filled my glass with a third and continued his tale.
“The Redhead was quite a place,” I offered.
“Nothing like where I worked. My speakeasy was called ‘The Dark Place.’”
“A good name,” I said.
“Not a good name at all. It was, in fact, the only thing we could call it.”
He continued polishing the polish and slid over to me a small wooded bowl of salted Spanish peanuts. I pushed them, as I always do away, and uttered my usual line.
“A pound in every nut.”
“Like the Tempus Fugit, The Dark Place was a bar hidden deep inside a building. To enter you had to go down about six hallways, up a few flights, down a few more hallways, and then, voila, there you were.
“We had no windows to the street. And to be totally clear, the Dark Place was a dark place.”
“You mean it was dimly lit?”
“No,” he said. “It was completely dark. Completely without any light at all. It was as dark as a Hasid’s closet at midnight. And that’s what made the Dark Place so popular.
“No light, no sight. No pretense, no judgments, no prejudice. Just a place where everything taken was taken at face value. Lit only by magnetic forces and the invisible glow of god. The pressure was off in the Dark Place. You talked to whomever, not worrying about what they looked liked, what they were drinking, whatever."
“The Dark Place,” I said stupidly.
“The people who could see it could see it. And those that couldn’t stayed away in droves. But those that saw it fit right in.”
“Saw through the complete dark?” I asked.
“What other way of seeing is there?”
Pondering that, I pushed myself away from the mahogany and pushed two twenties his way.
He volleyed them back.
“On me,” he said.
And as the light came up on another day in New York, I walked home.