Saturday, August 24, 2013

Back at the Tempus Fugit.

It's been a while since Whiskey and I went on one of our "night walks" to the Tempus Fugit, a bar that opened nearly 95 years ago as a speakeasy during Prohibition and hasn't closed since.

The Tempus Fugit sits mid-block on East 91st Street in an old industrial quarter that dates from the time that the Upper East Side was not the domain of upper-middle-class strivers, but of poor Irish and Germans and Italians who were just trying to get by without shoving up against the system. The Tempus Fugit occupies an old warehouse building that today houses hundreds of Verizon vehicles, including those undersized Conestoga-type wagons which are towed to job-sites and contain tools and other equipment needed to disrupt the service Verizon claims is so invariably reliable.

The Tempus Fugit lay furtively in the warehouse, through a half-dozen sets of industrial steel doors, up stairs and down stairs, down long and short hallways. And there it is. Dim in incandescence but bright in spirit and warmth.

I'm sure if the executives at Verizon knew of the Tempus Fugit's existence, they'd find some way to shut it down, but somehow the place has outlasted the Feds, the "revenuers," the "Drys," the FBI, the NYPD, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the New York City Health Department, the New York State Liquor Authority and probably two or three score other bureaucracies through the decades. My guess is when chips are placed underneath our skin and we can communicate telepathically, the Tempus Fugit will, too, outlast Verizon Incorporated, stock symbol VZ.

In fact, the Tempus Fugit is everything Verizon isn't.

Warm, real, reliable and unsullied by the crass and loud blandishments to buy buy buy. Not to mention bait and switch inducements to buy buy buy some more.

Whiskey and I arrived there about twenty minutes after Dame Insomnia woke me, gently, last night at around 2:45. Whiskey settled into her spot at the foot of my bar stool one in from the end. The bartender like a gazelle crossed with a hummingbird hopped around the bar with a small wooden bowl filled with water and placed it near Whiskey and then quicker than an 11:15 mass at a seaside resort, he was back behind the bar attending to my needs.

"Half a Pike's," I said pre-emptively. "I'm still not drinking. Recovering from a slight case of Hepatitis."

He drew me four ounces of Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE) and slid my way a bowl of salted Spanish peanuts. I demurred as I always do and repeated for the umpteenth time my anti-legume mantra, "No thanks, a pound in every nut." And the bartender in one fluid motion like a Toscanini or a Bernstein, conducted the bowl to its perch on a shelf beneath the bar.

"You are feeling better, I presume."

"I am, as they say 'on the mend.'"

"Not a pleasant stroll, the walk through the valley of the shadow of death, is it?"

"I'd rather walk to my mother-in-law's in the pouring rain," I said. "And she lives in Jersey."

I sipped at my Pike's like it was Nyquil. I was not yet ready to enjoy the nectar.

Like the exemplary bartender he is, he noticed this and swapped out my Pike's for a cold glass of seltzer spritzed from his heavily carbonated spritzer.

"That's better," he answered.

"Just what the doctor ordered," I concurred.

"Staring down the barrel of age, of illness, of disappointment, dashed dreams and mortality is no picnic. 'A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember.'"

I recognized the quote from Bernstein's speech in "Citizen Kane."

"The girl in the white dress," I said.

"That's right. You know she comes in every night."

"I miss her," I answered.

He filled my seltzer, eschewing a citrus garnish as abundantly too trendy. He pulled out from under the bar a damp white terry and began polishing the already gleaming surface of the time-worn mahogany.

"We all miss her," he said. "We always have."

I nodded agreement and stood up to leave.

"Maybe next time I'm in she'll be here and I'll get to meet her."

"If you can meet her, it's someone else," he reminded me.

I got up to leave and offered him a ten for the seltzer.

"On me," he said.

Whiskey and I walked alone home.

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