The barman's bedeviler is an entertaining guy, with impeccable shoes and a tweed jacket, who lives out in the country with horses and dogs. He'll eat dinner downstairs with his party, then just as you're finally getting rid of the last people after dinner service in the bar, he will, remembering earlier times, late nights, cigarettes, relaxing with the lights down low with chicks, indulging in his taste for Jameson's with a good hearted audience for his stories, come to haunt. He likes to tell stories in which he, a practical man, tells people 'to suck my d...' all told with a smoky voice accented by the mastery of English across the sea. The people of a certain island, a U.S. territory, sit around and scratch their balls. The two young ladies chuckle. I chuckle. He would not have come up here if I weren't here. The young man, who ordered the round of drinks, puffs from an electric cigarette, and thankfully there is talk of another late night hangout. I feel a bit bad I've jacked up the lights and turned the music down, the candles up except for the one on their table in the corner, saying to myself, 'no, no, please no...' as I run the bar mats through the dishwasher. The cook comes up stairs and offers me a Salvadoran butter cookie, and I pour him a glass of Bordeaux, and I remark on the cool festive Hawaiian-like shirt, sent to him by his sister in Gabon, and the fedora on his shaved head. He's going out to meet some cook friends. "Where's yours," he says politely, so I pour myself a small amount of Chinon, the first of the night, even as I grit my teeth somewhere, mildly. I take a sip, and ask him if he has any grey hair yet. Yes, he does, on his chin. The charming devil over in the corner is making a hyperbole over recycling a certain rubber item. JB asks for his check, quietly, proudly, sadly giving me his credit card. There may well be some tequila in his future, tonight with his friends, in Georgetown or up on 18th Street. I give him a bro hug before he goes; the restaurant has been through some changes lately, the departure of a chef.
Soon, our guest the dominant male asks for the check. "Put a hundred percent tip on it," he says, thanking me for my late night friendly tolerance, my joining in with the late nights (for which he always paid the check.) Stories, great ones, the joy of being regaled, indeed, it has its pull. And I feel a bit guilty, for not switching back into the old mode.
The downstairs manager had come up an hour earlier and simply said his name. I looked at her, preoccupied with tying a few loose ends up. She describes him, his drink. "Oh, merdre, he popped into my mind a few days ago." "You shouldn't have thought about him," she smiles. "He wants to come upstairs." Maybe if I hadn't have known it would have been better, but when you've been jerked back and forth in the summer's mix of slow-slow-slow and then a pop, jesus-christ-just-let-me-go-home.
The Uber is here, the young man says, and by the time I find the man's credit card underneath the low Indonesian pod chair, run downstairs and catch him getting into a Lincoln Navigator with the chicks and the guy, he is my friend again. And later, alone, not very happy, a bit rattled, too lazy to go buy rice across the street at the Safeway, I eat a small dish of salmon tartar, putting the capers aside. The end of the night is a vulnerable time. Ah, just get me home and I'll ride my bike indoors to the Tour's last time trial (and the huge powerful mastodon legs of the World Champion at the event) my mind says, and that is what I do.
I get my ride in, a good sweat, with a few glasses of wine from an opened bottle in the fridge, shower, go to bed after a bowl of rice and some rye crackers with almond butter, and wake up feeling a bit lost, adrift, the bad influences, my weaknesses playing in my mind. The Tour rolls into Paris and onto the Champs-Élyseés.
After a shower I look down somewhat glumly at the yoga mat, without my contacts in, the day getting sweaty, as if it were a diving board, and I go through my basic routine, the inversions to wake the third eye and put one in a better mood, along with the triangle, the half moon, the warrior, finally a headstand before the meditation that time before work might allow. I think of Joseph Mitchell, some of the best writing I've ever read, haunting in a good way, the courtly man from North Carolina who came to New York as a police reporter, who wandered all New York near and far, writing pieces for The New Yorker. He captured New York, now a very old New York, before it all changed, before its realness was lost, drifting away, taken over by the uniform stamp, as if writing of unicorns in a time when once they were quite real. His own story, whatever it was, he never really told, though it gave him a deep enough soul to serve as recording material for much of humanity and human experience in its diverse realms, something you might say, if you had to, tender about him. Perhaps he alluded to it here and there. We may never really know.
If I should write a book maybe it would be like the inverse of Mitchell's walks to distant cemeteries and humble territories, or his feet, one might imagine, bumped by rats on the ships he may have explored to write a piece about rats on ships. It would be of a slow and steady barman, who mildly, self-editingly, recorded a bit of the life that came past him, though of course, the great bulk of it lost into the obscurity of even a decent memory. It would record all the unannounced guests, and maybe some of his own random memories, like that of bringing flowers once to a girl at the end of a school year, standing in the door, feeling suddenly the height of his throat above the floor of the hallway in which he stood, looking at the girl look up at him before he nodded and tucked the box back under his arm and walked away into the rain. "Okay. I won't write you," the young voice said, and yet everything he would ever write about be for such mythical eyes, as if to present her too the flowers of experience. Scraps here and there, like MacGowan's. It would not be good as Joseph's Mitchell's, but might explain a few things none the less before they too were lost to modernity and all its rules and means, to carry on the human story with the mighty pen.
The worst devils, as Melville may have once explained to the original Queequeg at his altar, are the ones who tell you not to write.