Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Early morning in the Tempus Fugit.

Last night at 4:48—about an hour earlier than I usually get up—Dame Insomnia paid me her insistent visit. She didn’t jostle or shake me. She slapped me across the face with a Christmas ham, and up I obediently rose.

I could have sat around the apartment, could have put away some books and DVDs I had ordered, but instead a sleepy Whiskey and I hied uptown to the Tempus Fugit, a bar that never closes, or at least it hasn’t closed since first it opened in 1924.

At the Tempus Fugit a bartender as old as a slide rule holds court, and he makes it look easy, dispensing wisdom along with Pike’s Ale (the ALE that won for YALE) in sparkling eight-ounce juice glasses.

He began the moment I tripped down four slight steps into the place.

“It seems to me,” he said “a cocktail should approach us on tiptoe. Like a demure maiden whose first appeal is long-lashed innocence.”

I laughed, as I do so often when I am in the Tempus Fugit. There aren’t a lot of people who “get” me, whose sense of the world is as mine. And on those rare, cherished occasions that I find one, I seem to spend a lot of my time laughing.

I planted myself onto my usual stool, one in from the end, and Whiskey curled into her space at my feet. In apple-pie-order she was served a bowl of water and the bartender slid over to me a small wooden bowl of salted Spanish peanuts.

I pushed them away as I always do, saying as I always do “a pound in every nut.” I waited for my usual Pike’s, but it wasn’t forthcoming.

“No Pike’s for you this fine morning,” he said. I looked at the clock; it was already 5:45. In fatter times I’d have been heading for work.

“It’s too early and immoderate for Pike’s,” he continued. “I have something special for you.”

I nodded assent. He turned his back to me and his hands flew like wild birds as he handled various bottles behind the bar.

“There’s been much talk of late,” he said while concocting, “of that new skyscraper downtown, the Freedom Tower.”

“My client’s offices are cater-corner to it,” I answered. “Over the last four years I’ve watched it rise.”

“I want you to think about this.” He continued pouring and shaking. “The Empire State Building, perhaps the apotheosis of American engineering achievement was the tallest building in the world for about 40 years, from 1931 when it topped out until 1972 when the World Trade Center went up.”

“Yes,” I murmured, not sure where he was going.

“40 years as the pinnacle.” He wiped the mahogany in front of me and placed there a frosted glass.
The Suffering Bastard. A dramatization.

“The Suffering Bastard,” he said presenting the drink. “Something the soldiers drank in Paris while on leave.”

I sipped it tentatively. I am not much of a fan of mixed drinks. And it was good.

“The British began drinking it after El Alamein and brought it to Paris with them. Originally, it consisted of black market gin from South Africa, stolen British army-issue brandy, a home-made lime cordial, bitters from a local druggist and ginger ale from a shady Greek merchant.”

“It does approach on tiptoe,” I said, wondering, however, if my hair had grown curlier.

“I have found it suitable for what ails us suffering bastards. Or should I say ‘we suffering bastards.’”

“Grammatically, I’m not sure,” I said, downing another sip.

“Forty years the tallest,” he continued. “Whereas the Strausbourg Cathedral was the highest man-made structure for 227 years, from 1647 to 1874. And even then it was 30 feet shorter than the Old St. Paul’s Cathedral which was built beginning the 11th Century and ultimately destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.”

I tapped my glass and he filled it with the remainder of my suffering bastard.

“Human achievement is spurious,” he said as he continued polishing the bar top. “We hail, award, and proclaim heroic all sorts of things that are tiny and ephemeral and ultimately without meaning. Tales…”

“Of sound and fury.”

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more.”

“In other words, ‘go home,’” I said.

“On me,” he said.

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