Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A dark well-lit night in the Tempus Fugit.

The other night, like so many other nights, I was visited, as I so tiresomely am, by my almost daily nightly visitor, Dame Insomnia. She has no manners, Dame Insomnia. It matters not a whit to her if I had been up late the night before or if I have a big presentation in front of a big group of people the next morning. When she decides to descend (or is it ascend?) and rustle my shoulder into wakefulness, well, there is nothing I can do, no pill I can take, no warm milk I can drink that will hasten her away.

I have learned of her persistence through a thousand and one nights and a thousand and two visits. So, past being prologue, I do not resist. I throw on last night’s clothing—usually a ratty old tee-shirt and a pair of blue jeans, I be-collar Whiskey, my six year old golden retriever, and I head up-town to the dim incandescence of the Tempus Fugit.

The Tempus Fugit sits in an old warehouse amid the high-rise splendor of the ever-gentrifying Upper East Side, where Verizon—the omnivorous telephone company—keeps its trucks at night. During the day those same trucks roam the streets, looking to pull out necessary cables and wires, just because their true task, their true monopoly is the one they have on disruption and frustration, not cable, internet and what they call voice.

Back through a dozen hall-ways, up and down an Escher’s-full of stairways, through a silent-movie’s worth of old galvanized-steel doors opening and closing synchronized like a well-rehearsed routine, sits the Tempus Fugit as it has sat unchanging since it opened (it has never for a second closed) in 1924 as a speakeasy during Prohibition.

I walked into the dim, squinted to find my seat—one stool in from the end—and assumed my position. Whiskey lay down at my feet, and the bartender, as quick as a sprite drew a wooden bowl full of cold-water and placed it in front of my pup. Back behind the bar, he pulled me a Pike’s (the ALE that WON for YALE!) which he serves, as beer should be served in a six-ounce juice glass, so the liquid doesn’t go warm or flat.

I scanned the premises and noticed one other solitary lumpen about four stools to my left, shrouded in pipe smoke with a dusty bottle of brandy in front of him.

“Who’s the mug,” I said to the bartender. Though he and I had made a pact to never introduce ourselves to each other, less our intimacy impinge upon our intimacy, I still wanted to know the story of who I was drinking virtually alongside of.

“Who’s the mug,” the man spoke, clearing the veil of pipe effluvia as he did and pulling up the stool next to mine.

“I am death, I am the destroyer, I am the crevices of your soul that remain, and will remain for all-time unillumined, deep and lightless as a nun.”

I checked over at the bartender. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. He gave me a wink, and with it a second glass of Pike’s. He shifted a wooden bowl of salted Spanish peanuts in my direction. I lifted the Pike’s to my lips, and pushed away the nuts with my other mitt. “A pound in every nut,” I said, patting my burgeoning mid-section.

“I sir, am Herr Professor Doctor Carl Jung. At your service.”

“Dr. Jung,” I said with my usual sagacity.

“And who are you? Some protoplasmic mass of anxieties, some hater of one’s parents, some dull portent of hunger and doom. Some lonely, lonesome nobody chasing his tale of oblivion deep into nothingness.”

I shifted uneasily in my stool, looking at the darkness of the Tempus Fugit around me. I saw not the incandescence of the few watts that lit the place, but the dull red of Jung’s pipe-bowl and the tip of the bartender’s half-smoked, half-eaten cigar.

“Actually, I couldn’t sleep. I came up here to chase my demons away with a Pike’s.”

“Ah, I underestimated you, my boy. Here, have a brandy.” He poured me a snifter from the ancient bottle in front of him.

“You are someone who knows it is not the light that enlightens us. The darkness does.”

“I’ve always been partial to the dark,” I admitted.

“It’s from the dark that lightness emerges.”

The old man downed his drink, felt the burn, then patted me twice on the shoulder and slid back down the row of stools to his.

I stared down at the brandy he poured me, drained my remaining Pike’s and shoved two twenties over to the bartender.

He shoved them back.

“On me,” he said.

And I walked home in the lightening dark.


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