It is the end of July. My own kitchen floor is looking a little grubby, a special breed of greasy dust inhabiting the air. And in the restaurant on such a Sunday night a cobweb could grow. The frozen yogurt shop is busy until 10, but we, given the business and the reservations make the call to close the kitchen at 9.
"Mr. T will be coming in tonight, I know it," I tell server V who is working alone downstairs after already working the day shift, when I arrive to work at 4:15. Yes, that would be perfect. Agonizingly slow night, then Mr. T comes in right before the kitchen closes, has his Manhattan, orders three courses, and everyone in the kitchen is staring at each other.
I have a pleasant man, 57 years of age, with an impressive goatee, who turns out to be from Belgrave, an engineer who went to medical school and became an anesthesiologist. He's been to Baux de Provence, the beautiful village perched on Bauxite rich cliffs where they have excellent local wines, and he opts for the rosé we have by the glass, which is from nearby Aix.
A father daughter couple come in and sit at a table near the front windows and have an easy Sunday night dinner. The daughter would be age appropriate to date, but for the fact I've done nothing with my life, and the father at a good ripe age is in great shape and there is good conversation, the two at ease with each other and the state of life.
And then H, busboy, downstairs, who's running my food shouts up at me, hey. Hey what? I ask, as soon as I find a neat break in the conversation with the gentleman. Kitchen closing at 9. Okay. When the gentleman, who has earned a life, and who's having problems finding a house in Northern Virginia before it gets snapped up, finishes up with our talk of soccer and where to send his rower son to college, departs, I clean the floor of the wine refrigerator, underneath where the fruit brandies and the Lillet and the juice store'n'pour containers rest overneath, taking bottles out, Windex, bar rag. Medicine is getting very corporate these days, the man was saying.
A chocolate mousse to share for dessert, talk of John Oliver's take on Net Neutrality, and father and daughter depart, seeming to appreciate my effort to be friendly but not intrusive, as an idiot can be a little hyper in such a situation over making conversation. The place is empty, and now the final minutes are ticking down, the nervous hour. I'm rearranging furniture, after putting the place settings back in the low mahogany table's drawers, putting things in order for tomorrow night's jazz. I look out at the street. Foot traffic, again, in to have some yogurt. No one interested in a nice glass of wine. My own preaching, backfiring? The digital clock on the Aloha computer screen turns silently to 9:00 PM. Safe, or so you think...
Gathering some things, the few dishes that have piled up on a milk crate below the bar rail, placing a white cloth napkin over them, I head downstairs, turn the knob of the door to the main dining room with its customary click, and there is Mr. T, sipping his Manhattan, and of course he sees me, and raises his arm high, "Tim! Hello." I may have dodged the bullet, but at 9:08, V has not. "Tim," he explains, "I got here just in time and ordered right away," he says, explaining why he won't be keeping me company 'til midnight upstairs, singing along to the sound system. I typed Mahler into the Pandora's brain and created a new late night station for such a purpose, and I also dug up a few Jacques Brel CDs I'd burned with some appropriately slow and philosophical maybe even morbid and depressing songs, beautiful on some days, indigestible on others to certain mindsets. "I'm having the catfish," Mr. T says proudly, and I help out by pouring him a dose of Pouilly Fumé from the half bottle he's ordered from the ice bucket. In the kitchen folks are staring at each other. There is a piece of uncooked catfish filet out on the cutting board. "I have no social life," the chef explained to me last week. "Just shoot me, please," V says quietly to me, as I look guiltily into her brown eyes.
But what are you going to do? You're an upstairs guy who doesn't do downstairs. I change, back into cargo pocket shorts and the white tee shirt I came in with. I bring down my check out, which feels weird, as the downstairs people come up and hand me the checkout paperwork and cash a good while before I leave on just about every single shift I've worked in ten years. I finally go to fetch my bike from the basement, after we take a group self picture with Mr. T's new iPhone. I notice Mr. T has on some shiny patent leather white slippers for shoes. As I bring my bike up Mr. T says, "Tim, I want to give you something," reaching into his purse. I ignored him before, but he insists, saying "Now Tim I think I've mistreated you before," handing me a folded twenty. "Be careful about your bike," he says, meaning, be safe, but also don't let it get stolen.
I slip away into the night eventually, around 10:30 without a sip of wine. I'm going to get home and watch the final stage of the Tour, and ride my bike indoors. I roll up, and the upstairs neighbor looks out from his lit high window where he's sitting at his desk, and taking off my helmet, the headlamp on it turned off, I give him a wave, and enter my flat and close the door. (My brother thinks me entirely pompous for using the word, flat, but it's a good quick word, and that's what it is.) I did not need one more person, it turns out, and I turn on the TV and thank god for Bob Roll, and there is Vincenzo Nibali standing shyly on the podium, a beautiful moment as they play the national anthem of Italy, which must be a tradition at the final ceremony of the Tour.
But it's lonesome after all the noise, though I have no business going out. And fortunately I have a bottle of Beaujolais to open, though I wish it was chilled. It takes me some time to get organized enough to get on the bicycle. I get the television adjusted and begin my workout and the sip of wine eases the fact that I am totally unprepared for the future, as if I were living still in a college dorm, not the slightest idea about what to do as far as real estate, a living situation for coming golden years. And the thought is never far away, what a disappointment I always am for women, getting sucked into situations like with my grandfather on Easter night, people I spend time with too generously, people like the pot smoking high school buddy who appeared to need in his middling squalor a friend, people like Mr. T, all the sort of people you end up knowing without selfishness or an agenda to protect yourself with. (I was never arrogant enough to be a professional intellectual.) I deserve it, being stuck alone, a bottle of wine and an indoor bike ride the only thing to sooth the deep unease that must be mixed with some gratitude for it not being worse.
Joseph Mitchell too, I think as I ride, would have known loneliness. There is in him somewhere, the piece about Old McSorley's Ale House, a line about the drink "insulating" an older person against the loneliness of night. And that is what it does, as I drink my mild bottle, waiting for the Tour to come on again, watching on interesting piece about a director of low budget horror type films, beautiful eloquent rapturous films about zombies and such and big cats that stalk the night.
You'd really like to cry sometimes, but forgetting how, well, you go on. And thus, meditation is very important, the only real way to control the mind, the wine's benefit now making you slightly more depressed and stuck on thoughts then you might otherwise be.
To find your own natural style, that is actually the hardest thing for a writer to do. It takes time.