Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A night filled with cursing.

“I told them to go piss up a rope,” the bartender said to me as I sat down on my favorite stool at the Tempus Fugit.

“Go piss up a rope,” I repeated. “That’s vivid.”

He brought me a Pike’s Ale (the ALE that won for YALE) in an eight-ounce juice glass and went around the bar to bring Whiskey, my 14-month-old golden retriever a small wooden bowl of water.

Such service is de rigueur at the Tempus Fugit, where little ever changes. And little has changed since the place opened as a speakeasy—an illicit bar—in 1924. That was during the heights or depths of “the Great Experiment” as sociologists, and people like sociologists called “Prohibition.” 

Prohibition was ended by President Roosevelt early in his first term in 1933, but a lot remains prohibited at the Tempus Fugit. Things like cell-phones, flat screens, ear buds and such are severely frowned upon. As are venture capitalists, investment bankers, new agers and hipsters.

That’s one reason I frequent the place—it’s a refuge from the world. And the world has too few havens from modernity. It’s said that the idea behind Starbucks is that people need a ‘third place,’ a place to go and hang that is neither their home nor their office. That’s the role the Tempus fills for me. Though it hasn’t the crushing popularity, pretentiousness and high-prices of a Starbucks.

The other reason I’m a veritable denizen of the place is the bartender. Though we’ve yet to exchange names—we agreed to keep our relationship on a professional plane—he and I seem to connect on an elemental level. What’s more, he knows things that few other people know. Al Kaline’s batting average in 1958 (.313, relatively speaking, it was an off year) what demons chased Giuseppe Verdi (many) and most important as far as I’m concerned, he has more than a smattering of knowledge of Yiddish curses.

“Go piss up a rope,” he continued “sounds like it should be Yiddish.”

I nodded.

“But it’s not. It sounds a gentler ‘Gay kocken offen yam,’ but it’s an Americanism. A colorful way of saying “fuck off,” from a time when curses, I believe, we’re delivered with more verve and creativity.”

“Gay kocken offen yam. Go shit in the ocean. I heard that often when I was growing up.”

“It’s a useful curse,” he said, “I’ll give you that. Of the same caliber and effect as ‘Vaksn zolstu vi a tsibele mitn kop in dr'erd.”

“That also was a part of my upbringing. ‘May you grow like an onion with your head in the ground.’”

“And a stellar upbringing it must have been,” he said filling me up with another amber. “Two of my favorites. Both divine in their…”

He searched for the right word. I tried helping, “In their construction. In their meanness and spite.”

“That’s right,” he said. “How do you like this one: ‘A groys gesheft zol erhobn mit skhoyre: vos er hot zol men bay im nit fregn, un vos men fregt zol er nit hobn.’
‘May he have a big store full of goods: may people not ask for what he has, and may he not have what they ask for.’”

“Perfect.” I laughed. “And the other?”
“Well there’s ‘Zol er aropshlingen a shirem un s'zol zikh im efenen in boykh,’ which paints quite a nice picture. ‘May he swallow an umbrella and may it open in his belly.’
“But my money is on this chestnut, ‘Megulgl zol er vern in a henglaykhter: bay tog zol er hengen un bay nakht zol er brenen.’ ‘He should turn into a chandelier, so he'll hang by day and burn by night.’”

“That will do the trick,” I said as I finished my second. “Anyone in particular you’re cursing this evening?”
“Of course,” he answered swabbing the already clean bar-top ever cleaner. “But I’m really just staying in fighting trim.”

I laughed and reached into my wallet for a twenty.

“On me.”

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