Monday, January 27, 2020

It was New Year's in the Tempus Fugit.

Last night, hours after the ball dropped and the vomit stopped spewing, as I lay on my designer mattress under my 800-count sheets, I heard the furious gallop of a herd of horses running at me like they were charging the homestretch of Churchill Downs. It was none-other than Dame Insomnia, standing astride four white stallions like a 19th Century Mittel European circus performer or at least a Roman emperor coursing around the Circus Maximus.

One of the steeds, I think the one Dame Insomnia called ‘Bucephalus’ kicked me square in my forehead acreage and concussed me from my lack of slumber. I did what I do in those situations, shook my head, threw on some ratty old clothes—in this case a 45-year-old sweatshirt from my Mexican baseball days—and headed uptown about a mile to the bar that isn’t there, the Tempus Fugit.

Unless you know where the Tempus Fugit is, you don’t know where it is. You can’t see it from the street, or from radio-spectral-photography, and even the most pernicious tracking apparatus of our ever-more-invasive surveillance state finds the Tempus Fugit unfindable. The joint, a former speakeasy that opened in 1924 in an old warehouse and never closed, is on no apps. It has received no Yelp! reviews and if it’s ever received any stars, they are of the celestial variety, not a vagary of the trophy-industrial-complex.

I walked down three long hallways, up two sets of galvanized steel steps, down three more and through a variety of expansion-gates, reinforced steel doors, and finally down a short flight and into the be-dimmed incandescence of the Tempus Fugit itself.

As always, Whiskey, my seven-and-a-half-year-old golden retriever, circled once and sat at the feet of my favorite stool, the one one in from the end of the long teak bar. In a trice, tripping on little cat’s feet, the bartender was around the hardwood and had placed a small bowl of cold water next to Whiskey, then was back around the shiny edifice and was pulling me a Pike’s Ale (The ALE that won for YALE!)
The Tempus Fugit is the only place    e  x  t  a  n  t    that serves Pike’s Ale. Since the Pike’s brewery went (beer) belly up in 1962, the brew has been unattainable. But with the foresight of an Ahab, the bartender bought Pike’s entire stock and has been running off that for the last half-a-century. The bartender, an ageless man who has been manning—or personning--the space behind the teak without even an evening off since the joint opened in 1924, claims he will shutter, finally, the Tempus Fugit when he runs out of Pike’s. 

He predicts given the current rate of consumption times the square root of evaporation, his stock will be depleted by the year 2744. Unlike the oil barons who have stolen the wealth of the earth on their way to killing our dying planet, there is no depletion allowance tax-break on the ever-dwindling supply of Pike’s. We will all, however, make do.

I downed my first Pike’s without the exchange of even a single word, and in one-Jerome-Robbins-like bit of choreography, the bartender pulled me a second glass of suds and began the evening’s disquisition.

“At the end of the bar,” he motioned with his noggin, “the glow. Ethereal, ain’t it.”

Like Caravaggio,” I chariscurro'd.

The bartender pulled a small bowl of salted Spanish peanuts from beneath the bar and slid them in front of me. As ever, I demurred.

“A pound in every nut,” I said, pushing away the legumes.

He pulled out a damp terry and shined the shine of the bar. He opened the drawer of the cash register, pulled a still-lit cigar from the one's till and took a long drag.

“He comes in on New Year.” He nodded again in the direction of the old man six or five stools away. He was thin and leaning to one side, like the ancient Jewish denizens who once occupied the concrete weed-islands that divided Broadway on New York’s Upper West Side. Beneath his old dark grey threadbare herringbone overcoat he wore an even older moth-gobbled t-shirt that read “I’m with stupid.”

“Who’s the mug?” I asked, doing my best to channel Sheldon Leonard and speaking out of the side of my mouth as I downed Pike’s number two.

“The name who can’t be said.”

“Lord Voldemort?” I used one of the four contemporary cultural references I will use during the entirety of the upcoming decade.

The old overcoat slid over to me.

“I can say it, even if you can’t. Yahweh. He, She, They, Zie, Sie, Ey, Ve, Tey, E. I don’t really fuss with the gender pronoun thing. He, She, They who must be obeyed.

"You're god? You don't look a bit like..."

"Michelangelo? Everybody says that. He was a pisher. Laying on his back all day, who can paint like that? After a while painting like that..."

I interrupted, "I was thinking more of Orson Welles as Father Mapple in John Huston's 'Moby Dick.'"

"Nice reference," he said. I get a lot of that, too. No, I'm sorry to say, I look more like an 87-year-old Larry David. I didn't get much in the look's department. Now, Jesus, he was a handsome boy. Took after his mom."

The bartender brought the old one a glass of Pike’s. And drew me Pike’s number three. I’m not much of a drinker, but at the Tempus Fugit beer is served as it should be, in six-ounce juice glasses so it stays cold all the way down.

“But that's neither here nor there,” the old man continued. “I'm pissed. I fucked up, actually. I figured ten commandments would be enough, but I was off by at least a dozen.”

The old man picked at the bowl of Spanish peanuts in front of him. He chose one nut, examined it, then threw it back into the bowl like a too-small mackerel.

“The infallible thing—well, it’s a lot of pressure. I thought the ten I chose would cover everything. I didn't want to over-commit. And I believed my own PR.”

“It’s not a bad list.” I temporized. He was being hard on himself and it hurt me to see it.

“Thanks. But I should have added some more. It's a bee-minus at best. How about, “Thou shalt read a book every now and again. Thou shalt believe scientists and doctors. Thou shalt not take nine minutes to order a cup of coffee.”

“That would be 13 commandments,” I added. “Not a good number.”

“Thou shalt wear a belt so I shant see your tuchis-crack when thou bendeth over. Thou shalt look up from your fuckingeth phone—especially when thou art crossing the street. Thou shalt question know-it-alls and people who issue proclamations or speak with Trumpian self-confidence. Thou shalt sayeth please and thank you. Thou shalt have progressive taxation so people who earneth more helpeth those who earneth less. Thou shalt spend less on bombs and more on schools. Thou shalt use your turn-signal when driving. Thou shalt take David H. Koch’s name offeth all the buildings he hath emblazoned it uponeth.”

“That's 21," I said, "Now you’re talking.” 

“Ten or 21 or 31, I’m talking,” he said. “The question is—the question’s always been, who’s listening?”

I drained my third Pike’s and when I shoved two twenties over the bar to pay, the old man was gone.

“He’s like that,” the bartender said. “You never know.”

Then he shoved the twenties back to me.

“On me,” he said.

Whiskey and I walked home in the fading darkness.

Happy New Year, I suppose.

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