Friday, March 3, 2017

Death in the Tempus Fugit.

Last night, though I’ve run 12 marathons and twice, while I played ball in the Mexican Baseball League, played two quadruple-headers, last night I arrived home as tired as I have ever been.

Fortunately, my wife had gotten home before me and had attended to both dinner and to Whiskey, our almost five-year-old golden retriever. It was all I could do to stay awake while eating, and I hardly touched my dinner. After our meal—after the dishes were put away, my ever-loving had a business call, and I attended to Whiskey’s final foray into the evening. I arrived back in our three-bedroom as if I had completed the Bataan Death March. In short, I was dragging.

I quickly finished the book I was reading and shut the lights in our bedroom, hoping for eight restorative hours of still repose. Alas, after just minutes in the grip of Morpheus, I was visited by She Who Must Be Obeyed—no, not my wife, Dame Insomnia. She fairly dragged me out of bed and dashed proverbial cold water on my face, screaming to me that ‘I must not sleep.’

I thought about taking an ambien and fighting the grand dame off, but I knew that was pushing water uphill. Instead, I threw on some old clothes and threw the leash on Whiskey and headed a mile uptown to the friendly confines of the Tempus Fugit.

As I entered the dim incandescence of the place, as I stripped off my heavy wool coat and peeled the collar and leash off of Whiskey, the bartender, theatrically, drew a large finger to his lips and stage-whispered a giant shhhhhhhhhs, like the air being let out of a tire the size of the moon.

I looked around to see why he was shushing me, and noticed in the corner two sallow men sitting side by side at the far-end of the bar. There were six or eight empty beer steins in front of them and a haze of blue cigar smoke that reminded me of the air in Guangzhou, China on a humid summer’s day.

I took my seat, one in from the end, and Whiskey curled at my feet and returned to her rest. In half-a-trice, the bartender was around the mahogany with a small bowl of fresh, cold water for Whiskey and then back behind the bar ready to pull me a Pike’s Ale (the ALE that won for YALE!) but, as he was filling a small juice-glass full of that amber nectar, he stopped in mid-fill.

“Tonight, with the return of the cold weather, tonight, in your current sleepless condition, tonight, with the world having been shaved by a drunken barber, tonight you will have something different.”

“I’ll drink anything,” I said as if I were in a Noir movie, “As long as it’s wet.”

“Tonight, you shall have a Suffering Bastard.” 

At the words Suffering Bastard, the two men from the other end of the bar shuffled over, bringing their veil of cigar smoke with them. It didn’t take me long to notice who they were.

I recognized them as Sacco and Vanzetti from the great paintings by Ben Shahn.

Sacco spoke first, “If our friend here is having a Suffering Bastard…”

Vanzetti: “Suffering Bastards all around.”

The bartender nodded obliquely and quickly made four. One for each of us, including himself.

“To the death of Liberty,” Vanzetti said.

“To the death of Justice,” Sacco added.

“To the death of hope and dreams and good and god. To the death of charity and love and smiles. To the death of brotherhood and fairness and equality and regard for your fellow man,” Vanzetti continued.

We clinked glasses which caused Whiskey to stir, stand-up, make sure all was ok, and settle down in roughly her same position.

“To the death of all the things we hold dear,” I added. “To the death of solitude, and rest, and repose and contemplation and literature, and opera, and open-mindedness. To the death of neighbors, and love affairs, and comedy, and tragedy.”

The bartender filled us all again.

“To the death of Dante, and Dostoevsky. To the death of Tolstoy and Melville. To the death Puccini and Verdi and Rossini. To the death of Mozart and Smetana and Dvorak. To the death of art and artists,” said Sacco.

We drained Suffering Bastard number two and I was now more woozy than exhausted.

The bartender started to fill us again, and Sacco and Vanzetti and I held up our ham-hands and demurred.

As one, we laughed and said, “To the death of drunkenness.”

With that, the duo disappeared in their fog of smoke to their end of the bar, and I peeled three 20s off to pay for the liberal libations.

“On me,” the bartender said, pushing back my legal tender.

Whiskey and I walked home, fully alive.

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