Thursday, July 14, 2016

A strange night in the Tempus Fugit. (A repost.)

A lumpy old man was sitting at the bar as I entered the Tempus Fugit. He wore a fedora, without irony, a rumpled grey suit, and an off-white buttoned-down dress shirt with a dark tie.

It was hot outside, hot like a wet towel, a hot that constricted your breathing. Whiskey, my three-year-old golden retriever was restless in the heat. And when Whiskey is restless, well, I am too. So at about three in the morning, I threw on yesterday’s tee-shirt and jeans and walked up to the Tempus Fugit.

In all the years I’d been visiting the place, there was seldom anyone else there. I sat on my usual stool, one in from the end, and Whiskey curled at my feet. The bartender, quick as a whippet was around the mahogany and brought her a bowl of cold water. Whiskey licked at it, then curled into a C, and closed her dark eyes. Back at the serving-side of the woodwork, the bartender pulled me a Pike’s Ale (the ALE that won for YALE!) and placed it in front of me on a small paper napkin embossed with the bar’s name.

I emptied the suds from the juice glass in front of me, and the bartender complied by refilling it. The lumpy man took a Cuban from his breast pocket, offered me one, then lit his. For a moment he disappeared in the haze of his stogie’s blue smoke, then he coughed a few times. Then he began.

“We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Swallow,” he said to me as I swallowed my second glass of Pike’s.

I answered in Shakespeare, and raised him one.

“I know thee not, old man; fall to thy prayers!
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!”

With that, he pushed himself away from the bar. He was old, like I said, and disheveled. But when he pulled himself up to his fullest height, I could see, for a fleeting instant, the man he once was.

His voice boomed as he exhaled some more blue smoke.

“I am Orson Welles,” he commanded. “And who are you. And what have you done?”

I merely stammered. Maybe it was the two Pike’s in rapid succession.

He stared me dead in the eye. He inhaled his Cuban. Then exhaled. Then spoke.

“George walked home through the strange streets of what seemed to be a strange city. For the town was growing…changing…it was heaving up in the middle, incredibly; it was spreading incredibly. And as it heaved and spread, it befouled itself and darkened its skies.”

“Wow,” I said dumbly.

“Wow,” he mocked. “Booth Fucking Tarkington wrote that swill. A second-rate writer of a third-rate novel. And then…”

He examined the lit end of his cigar. He smoothed the leaves of the cylinder then took another long drag.”

“It was to be my apotheosis, my apogee, the continuation of my meteoric rise. My follow-up to ‘Citizen Kane.’ And the Philistines…no, Philistines is too kind, the Helots,” he was shouting now, “The Helots took the film away from me.”

I mustered up some courage. Again, maybe it was the Pike’s talking.

“Actually, Mr. Welles, meteors don’t rise. They fall. They practically, in fact, plummet.”

He stared hard at me. He breathed heavily, rasping. 

“By god, you’re right! They do,” here his laughter coalesced with the phlegm-y rasp of severe coughing fit. After a few minutes, he continued. “They do fall. What’s your name, young man?”

I began to answer.

“No matter,” he interrupted. “I’ll call you Jedediah! Well, Jedediah let’s get drunk. Let’s get good and drunk. Let’s get good and drunk and drive along the coast till we hit Ensenada. There’s a place I know there where a girl costs less than a cigarette.”

The bartender was around the bar by now, leading Welles back to his stool.

“I think you had enough,” was all he said.

I had had enough, too. I passed the bartender two twenties for my Pike’s. And for the entertainment.

“On me,” he said.

And Whiskey and I walked slowly home.

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