Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Camus in the Tempus Fugit.

She pulled at my big toe, sticking out from the covers, and I kicked--gently sending her away. Then she gripped my shoulder and began to jostle me. I turned and tried to ignore her. But she is She Who Will Not Be Dismissed and in short order, she, Dame Insomnia, had won out over that weakling Morpheus and I was up, out of bed and getting dressed.

Moments later, with Whiskey in tow, I was walking uptown through the still darkness of the great city toward the even greater bar, the Tempus Fugit.

"Greetings, stranger," said the bartender as I walked into its dim incandescence. "Wise men fish here still," he said as he plie-ed around the bar and placed a wooden bowl of water down on the floor for Whiskey. Whiskey knew the drill and had settled at the foot of my favorite stool before my not-inconsiderable obliquity had reintroduced itself to the forest green leather.

I noticed immediately a most-Pittsburgh like veil of carbon monoxide filled the capacious space of the Tempus Fugit. It was as if ten-thousand Gauloises were being exhaled at once and reminded me of the air in Algiers, just before the colonial wars. I quickly discerned that the smoke was coming from a dark, slight figure at the end of the bar, sipping an Absinthe and chain smoking.

The bartender, quick like a shortstop pulled me a Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE!) and placed it in a six-ounce juice glass in-front of me. I downed it in one gulp and didn't start speaking until he brought me a second serving of suds.

"Who's the mug," I asked, doing my best to sound like an old B-movie actor from a Columbia Pictures shoot-em-up from 1937.

Before the bartender could answer, the figure carried his snifter of absinthe and his ashtray over my way and sat in the stool next to mine. Music, music in my head, soared, something from Berg's "Wozzeck," mean, discordant and dissonant.

"There is but one truly serious psychological problem and that is suicide," the figure exhaled.

I rifled through the course catalog of the second-tier college I went to until I settled upon the source of the smoke's quotation. I finished number two and tapped the rim of my glass--a signal for a third.

"Camus." I said. "Albert Camus."

"At your service," he shook the light blue packaging of his cancer sticks, offering me one.

"No, thanks," I replied. "I prefer an unnaturally natural death." I sipped at number three as the bartender filled his glass with another absinthe.

The bartender said in a stage whisper, "His melancholia is keeping the usual Monday night crowd away."

I quickly scanned the joint. The only other sign of life was an October 1962 copy of the New York Journal-American spread open to the racing form on a table in the back with Whirligig, a seven to one shot circled in the third at Santa Anita, and Terpsichore, nine to one, chosen in the fifth.

Camus drew down an entire cigarette in one inhale, sipped a sip and began: "The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back on its own weight."

"I dig," I said, nonchalantly. "They thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor."

"You know my work," he said.

"I know life," I answered finishing number three, and getting up go home and try sleep once again.

"Nothing is more dreadful than futile and hopeless labor."

"Yet we persist."

"I'll pay for the Frenchie," I said to the bartender.

"On me," he said, as I walked out into the night.

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