I have a lot weighing on my mind right now, and sleep, while it's never come easy for me, has all but abandoned my habitat. Last night, absent sleep for the 19th or 23rd night in a row, at around 2:15, I threw on some ratty old clothing, affixed a leash to Whiskey and shuffled uptown to my home away from home, the Tempus Fugit.
I made my way down six hallways, up four flights of steps and down five more, through five or eleven galvanized steel doors, sliding one or two expansion grates of the sort you find in freight elevators, and, finally, entered the inviting incandescence of the old place.
As usual, the bartender stood sentinel, rhythmically wiping the polished mahogany of the bar top, though no drinks had graced its surface since the last time I imbibed, some months ago.
He was out from behind the bar striking like a cobra, replete with a bowl of cold fresh upstate-New York water for Whiskey, who had taken her usual position at the seat of my favorite stool, one in from the end.
Then, in one continuous motion, he was back behind the bar and pulling me a Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE) nicely served in a six-ounce juice glass. Places that know how to serve serve beer in small quantities. It stays cold and crisp that way and doesn't lose its bite like an old toothless dog.
"And so," he began. He picked up a juice glass from a sink of sudsy water. Dipped it in another sink with fresh water, and buffed it dry with his towel.
"And so, Odysseus has returned from his battles. He has returned from ten years of journeys across the fish-filled seas."
"You're right." I said downing my Pike's and awaiting another. "But don't feel sorry for Odysseus. Seven of those ten years of journeying were sleeping with a god, Calypso and another year, he shacked up with Circe."
I sipped at number two as he slid over a bowl of salted Spanish peanuts my way. I pushed them away, thought about saying something in pidgin Greek, but instead demurred with my usual, "a pound in every nut," and turned back to my Pike's.
"Tru dat," he said, "but despite the circumstances ten years of facing delays, sea monsters, drowning, misdirection, false hope and hardships--that is after ten years of war, that is, well, an Odyssey."
"All men face our demons," I drank. "Our Scylla and Charybidis. Our Polyphemus. Our Laestrygonians."
"Yes," he polished. "Yes. Not to mention those many temptations of the flesh."
I tapped for Pike's number three and he filled my glass up to the brim and topped it with a frosting of creamy foam. He was the Michelangelo of malt.
"There are those who disdain Odysseus for his sins. He lost all his men, he angered the gods, he strayed from the constancy of Penelope."
I leaned over to my side and pet Whiskey who had yelped in her otherwise quiet sleep. Then I pulled two twenties from the pocket of my jeans and pushed them assertively across the hardwood.
"Like the Greeks," he said, "I welcome friends into my home and regale them with drink and gifts and, most important, well-wishes."
He pushed the currency back across to me.
"On me," he said, "on me."