My co-worker downloads the new iPhone operating system during the shift, opening the closet door right at the opening of the bar. Look at the icons, she tells me, as I open bottles, pour glasses of wine, clear plates, serve plates, maintain conversation at the bar. Jazz Night with Jeremy the Musicador launching into opera tones as he goes through his set, "One Love," "Roxanne," clinking through my head with keyboard samples. "I need another glass of Cotes du Rhone of the week," she half yells at me, as if there is no debate about it. "Vanessa, we've been out of that wine for a month." It no longer exists. She is ordering a glass of wine for the table of a server, along with her date, from a Four Seasons restaurant with a good wine program, their sommelier, a mutual friend. The wine I've poured them already, the last of a Chilean organic cabernet. I told her at the beginning of the shift just which wines we actually have of 'wines of the week.' She looks around, her chin up. Later, at one point, as I'm telling her I can't do what she just asked me to do, deliver the musician his curried chicken, because she's standing right in my way, again at the bar mouth, such that I put the plate of food down along with the bread basket right there where we put clean glasses wiped off from the washer, as she likes to especially at the end of the night when she wants to go home, obstructionist, she says to me, as if it were simple, "take it easy."
The night is saved by interesting conversation and also by being busy. Moving is a good thing. Something fun and a good adrenal run being thrown into a blender. Good conversations with a professor originally from Cornwall. I tell him my JFK at Amherst 50th business, of what to do with a fine speech that has the line "where power corrupts, poetry cleanses," and as I come back around the bar after pouring a decanted Clos de Savignac, a savage mourvedre blend like a juniper bush with bees around it in sunlight, to go with his cassoulet, he tells me another take, that of Pierre Trudeau, who once deemed it necessary to impose martial law in parts of Canada, tossing four hundred into jail, albeit one with clean sheets. The Canadian leader's touch, "lack of power corrupts; absolute lack of power corrupts absolutely." And we agree, that a little PR about an anniversary might be a good thing. And, then, to round out the story, brass tacks, I'm told how the Trudeau story played out, two sons, one dying in avalanche, the old man dying, but finally the other son going into politics.
And then the evening is dragged out again, by a late entry, who is puzzled by how his night had ended here Monday with a young woman he found here, took out to one of those scene roof-top places where they serve horrid wine, brought back, but finding her not wanting to have anything to do with him, as the rest of his stared at him, or avoided his account, and even how he had called Uber, at the end of the busy Monday jazz night, the band knowing how to get to me like mosquitos, such that I now hand them the bottle, pour it for your fucking self. (I write this in jest, as musicians are exempt from selfishness, and I greatly respect and celebrate their small needs for the glass of wine and dinner that is part of their pay and birthright.) Why does everything accelerate and grow with gravity, I'd like to ask the physicist, who now by the way is old and cathetered, not much wish of life from reports. He peers at me with bright eyes, perfectly calm, as I make an espresso, having allowed the busboy to go home, and wonders at the chill of his reception, this at, oh, about 10:30, which makes him all the more inquisitive. A fault of my own ego, even as I try not to react, not to react. "Tell it to me straight," he says. "I think you talked to much about yourself," I mutter. "I think she said something like that." This is the third time he's been in this week. "Don't throw me under the bus, man." The corner three top, who's had two bottles of Red Sancerre, has ordered a third or fourth round of tawny port, and I'm looking for glassware for it. "We smoked a cigar..." I hear him in the background. The bright person's running commentary one ultimately gets sick of as if it were dirty dishwasher. And he's even your friend by now, along with you, a voice in your miserable lifeboat ride.
The night before, wine tasting night, the Bourgueil, the whole case of red, from what may be surmised from opening four bottles, is off. Vegetal, green, no fruit, closed, muddy. The Chinon rosé is quite good. Damien, the wine guy, is a good entertainer, leaves at Eight PM. I like his line about the rosé, 'fruit, but with a savory element, a great food wine.' And here comes a large man, looking vaguely like Mickey Rourke, comes up and sits down between two women, one from Argentina who is celebrating a birthday on her own--she likes Chateaux Neuf du Pape, which I am entirely aware of--and one who fits into the category of blond and attractive who has long been coming to wine tasting night, often telling me how she feels she needs a shower after certain (male) customers leave. She has returned after a long absence, years away. And here we go again. I pour the newcomer a taste of three wines, a Mandela gesture of good will, and he takes the Bordeaux.
Big guy likes Bordeaux. Big guy, while affable, explains his Irish background as birthday girl turns to him, as she eats bread, telling me from time to time that she's a bit drunk, tells of how he was a professional soccer player, has five degrees in black belt martial arts, is some sort of negotiator between insurance companies and, say, teacher's unions. His mother passed away a year ago, suddenly, so treasure your parents. And all the while he's getting closer and closer, standing above blondie Becky, focussing on her. And for me, having had two long late nights anyway, at this point, I'm tired, and helping with the business of service out in the dining room, serving the older couple who come in and sit in the corner many a Tuesday wine tasting night, always getting one of the discounted bottles. Slowly, the engaging Irish quality of the gentleman descends, and out comes the reptile part of the human brain. He runs off a list of bands he's seen back in the day, The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, as his attention drifts away from his interlocution with the girls, blondie joined by a truly kind person who happens to be a principal at an at risk school. He repeats himself. I saw the Ramones, I saw the Sex Pistols. A lot of music in New York for a guy who grew up in Ireland. I should have never changed the music on the sound system, a desperate act that I realize now has backfired.
Earlier on, Becky goes through her list of the old regulars who might drop by. The boss's wife drops in, wearing a new pair of chic eye glasses. She greets my coworker, and then I screw up some enthusiasm I'm not feeling. "I said hello to you and you didn't say anything..." she says when I come to the bar mouth, slipping past the wine rep and an incoming busboy, to say my hello how are you. French women speak slower when speaking American English, as if now playing a cello, dragging long notes out where before they had violins and a whole symphony. The faces at the bar do seem moping early on, as if vaguely unsatisfied, but mute, eyes, headpiece filled with straw. And I for, my part, would like to ask them, what the fuck do you want from me anyway. No, don't invite your friends. This night isn't special, it's not magical, it's the same old, in the same old barroom you came in to years ago, except now it's acquired cosmic dust. aging through being lived in, and so it doesn't suddenly respond, like a watered plant cannot suddenly respond. The fewer people to witness my downfall, my Dante journey down into Hell, the better. Some nights just are like that, the night before the moon will be full, waiting, for Hell to open, then feeling the agonizing slow descent, everyone even getting in the way of the requisite tasks, the uncontrollable quality of people rising above you, looking on down as you grip whatever you can. Go from the bar, escape by talking to the older regulars about Billy Martin's hamburger. Earlier, a moment of escape looking for a Chablis for the make-out couple over at one of the tables, both of them handsome and abundant and in love, so why not an austere wine.
Big Irish, who's not really that big, but thick, and topped with a handsome head of dark full slicked back hair, after buying several rounds for the ladies, and after it being explained to him that maybe he isn't the perfect match for Becky, whilst she hides in the back hallway by the bathroom, by our shoot-from-the-hip educator, after paying his check, finally he goes down the stairs smoothly like on an escalator, placing his glass of wine down on a shelf by the door, and disappears off into the night, still with blazer and his neat slacks, and no longer prepared to thrust into the person in the barstool next to him. Putting on the Leonard Cohen Pandora station seems to have worked, though now my coworker Jay comes and says, 'what, this music is good for slashing your wrists.' 'Jay,' I say, kneeling, trying to sort things out, at least put the juice away amidst the wine and mineral water bottles, 'that's about exactly what I feel like doing right now.'
The two nights before have been busy, and fairly long. No wonder I was spent, as my coworker observed when I finally plunked down on a barstool to eat a small bowl of risotto with one lousy grilled shrimp on it, should have gotten two, aware of my lackings as far as regulating the flow of wine. I still have an amount of cleaning up to do.
A night later I'm at home staring at a bottle of Ventoux, listening with Dr. Dre headphones to The Pogues play "Rainy Night in Soho," back in 1988 in Japan on YouTube. A wise writer has been kind enough to email me that everyone in DC seems "competent and dedicated" but that he needs the vice of New York. I've lost the aerator of the kitchen faucet, it seems, and so I can't hook up the dishwashing machine to run it through. I could look again at the Frost poem about being 'acquainted with the night,' but it seems to hurt, as true as it is. Fortunately another masterpiece, also neglected, is playing with all its sound. And in Shane MacGowan's voice, is somehow like crossing down into the underworld and hearing again the voice of your father in the midst of your ride down a portent river.