Monday, December 5, 2016

A dark night in the Tempus Fugit.

Last night, or more precisely, this morning at 3:32, the battle between me and Dame Insomnia finally ended, with the Princess of Sleeplessness being declared the winner for the eighteen thousandth night in row.

I peeled myself from beneath the down my wife has piled over the bed, one layer, two layers, three layers, more. We have so many toppings on the bed, we are ready, not for the world turning into a cinder as it burns in its own exhaust, but for the return of Mammoths to Manhattan and ice-floes in the Hudson.

I threw on an old pair of sweats I leave by the side of my bed and a pair of what we used to call sneakers before even footwear got fetishized. Whiskey, obedient, bent her head to receive her collar and we walked a mile uptown to the bar that time forgot, the Tempus Fugit.

The bartender was slumped over the mahogany, reading a 1961 edition of the "New York Journal-American" and smoking a White Owl "Invincible" five-cent cigar. 

I interrupted him through the haze of blue cigar smoke.

"What's new in the world?" I said with more than a soup├žon of sarcasm.

He put down the old newspaper, opened his cash-register and laid his still-lit panetella atop a stack of ones in the cash drawer. He took a six-ounce juice glass from beneath the woodwork and pulled me the Caravaggio-lit gold of a Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE!)

"Papa Hemingway," he began. "He shot his head off yesterday."

I pretended it was 1961, not almost 2017.

"Double-barrel in his mouth, trigger with his large articulated toe. Back of the skull against the wainscoting, dripping grey to the wide-plank flooring."

"Thanks for the picture," I gloomed. 

He took my empty from in front of me and replenished the small container. He slid over a small wooden bowl of salted Spanish peanuts and began wiping with a square of white terry the already-gleaming surface of the bar-top.

"We are all apprentices in a craft," he quoted "where no one ever becomes a master."

"That sounds like Papa," I said.

"You lose your power. You never have it permanent like a tattoo. It comes and goes. And sometimes when you're 61 like Papa was, it just goes."

"You're especially lugubrious tonight." I drained my second and reached to my right to give Whiskey a pat on her head. She looked up from her slumber, winked lovingly at me, then continued her romp in doggy-dreamland.

He repeated: "We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master."

The bartender rang 'no sale' on the till and removed his still-lit White Owl from its cot. 

"You don't mind the effluvia?" He said taking a long drag.

"Tonight is a night for a smoke."

"Papa was here last week," the old man continued. 'I can't write anymore, I can't write. I have lost my powers.' "That was all he said."

"Hemingway bellowed. 'I am like the great Mantle who can no longer hit. I am DiMaggio, slowed and walking with a limp. I am like Bob Feller with no more fastball.' I tried, of course, to calm him. It was like talking to a cyclone."

"We all feel small and insignificant at times," I temporized. "I too, have been battling the Black Dog of late."

I tried to cheer the old man up, but he wouldn't bite.

I finished my third amber and took my coat from the wooden coat-tree at the corner of the hardwood.

"Sometimes," I said, "lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for."

I zipped up my Mackinac against the outside world. I even buttoned the two hard-to-button buttons at the top of my neck. 

The bartender drew long on the last inch-and-a-quarter of the White Owl and pushed my twenties back to me.

"On me," he answered. "On me."

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