"Two thousand one hundred and thirty games," the skeptic journalist says, admitting his respect for the man, sitting next to Walter Brennan up in the press box, as Gary Cooper, playing Lou Gehrig, sits down somewhere through a baseball game in Detroit, 14, or is it 16, years of not missing a single game, taking himself out, walking back to the dugout, knowing he can't swing a bat as he should anymore, the new guy jogging out to play first base. "Sure, you're ready to do this, Lou," the manager asks, and he replies, (something like), "Yes, I'm ready." No one says anything when he goes back down into the dugout and walks along the bench in front of his seated teammates. But they've squeezed a camera behind that bench, looking out onto the ball field a level up from them, and Cooper is transformed as his tall broad figure in his cap moves past, on, on, shadowed, to the spot that awaits him. The Pride of the Yankees, 1942. Sappy music and all. TCM, on a Thursday night off in January, before a blizzard in Washington, DC. If you've watched High Noon, well, Cooper knew how to do that thing which lets one do that thing called acting.
About halfway through my shift, I realize I've left the hamburger on ezekial muffin in my courier bag. I tucked into it parsley, thin slices of red onion, olive oil on the bread part I'm skeptical of but makes it taste good, a squeeze of mustard and a tiny one of ketchup. I hate to waste, food in particular, a barman needs it to get through, a good amount of protein, trust me. Feeding and care of the animal is not easy. Not tucked away in the beer cooler, stashed away above the champagne bottles laid flat on a shelf above the white wines. Meaning it is not safe to eat. It's a busy night. Out on Wisconsin glare black ice. A long string of cars, busses, SUVs, in both directions.
The band is finally packing up after quitting at ten, when one of our regulars comes in. The barman is an athlete and can respond to people who hound him for another glass of wine. The Finn, this customer, a tall man, Andrew Wyeth might have painted him so. Who tells me he's invited his buddy, a mutual friend, to come by. Tonight? Now? Are you mad?
I've been very busy since I got in the door at 4:30. We were fed a modest meal of chicken wings and rice before the door opened. The wine bar is booked solid. It's a night of constant movement, constant coming and going, at the bar, everywhere. A trainee server from Columbia. By ten, that's enough. Let's hit The Safeway to stock up on meat for the coming blizzard, and let's just get home. Let's just go home. I've paid my dues to the night, earned enough tips for the tip pool, dealt with plenty of people, all in agreeable way. And I've had enough of it for one night. Fresh air is calling.
Except for one customer. And the one who's on his way. Delayed. More delayed. The Uber he's riding in is in an eight car accident up the road. Guys, I'm done with my night. Let me just go home. There's a blizzard to get ready for, and I've been called to house-sit, which makes things complicated.
The Breton senior waitress, calls her Breton man, to see where he is on the road. It's taking him almost two hours to come in from Virginia, 395 a parking lot, finally making headway on 50, Pennsylvania to M Street.
I've restocked the bar. I've eaten my piece of salmon, standing, enjoying the nutrition more than the flavor, taking intermittent bites from it over by the oven, hidden away from the bar seats, food instead of wine. I pull out my courier bag from the stereo spare liquor back up stock closet, swipe my credit card to pay for my discounted dinner, and change into my street clothes back in the wine room. People really do not care if they're keeping you, no concept for your pain when it becomes pain. But, you ride it out. I've not had a glass of wine, and I don't really want one, for a change. I want to get on with my life.
And then, finally, the last two come. I pour them two Bordeaux, and even after closing out his check, just to show, look man, I'm done, I pour the Finn another splash of Taylor Fladgate. It's Fellini's birthday. I do not mention mine, two days ago. But, hey, someone else likes Eight and a Half, and the scene, I'm not sure which one, Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinalli (sp.) "He died in Paris," I say, speaking of the passing of the great actor. It's nice to hear, someone else has respect.
The Bretons give me a ride home. Vercingetorix. He has long white hair, muscular, and he knows how to drive, letting the car go at pace in low drive, no foot on the gas. The corners are greasy. He wears the torques he should, and she soothes me over my customers whom I have trained so well to stay late, and even sometimes, in blizzards, Finns, give me a ride home. "I'll put up a box, with grains, with leftover baguette, with olive oil, for the birds... and hazelnuts for the squirrels," the kind lady says. They met on Metro, an empty car, she sat next to him.
By the time I get home, given a ride, no Safeway run, a feeling of frustration hovers over me. I should have walked home. A walk home is always grounding. And the fresh snow, a treat for a country boy who grew up cross country skiing. Sweep the front stoop off of the inch of powder snow, the sidewalk, put in a load of laundry, open a bottle of wine in order to calm down, ride the bike on the stand in the living room, finally do some yoga, a shoulder stand, and then finally to bed, still almost muttering to myself. As wonderful as it might be to have many friends in a barroom, it's lonely when you go home alone, late, the city gone to bed. This is why people have cats.
There's a bit of joke element to it. Like the old so n so and such n such walk into a bar. A spiritual visionary, a Jesus, a Buddha, goes to see his, or hers, therapist. Every Monday, 11 AM, a downtown office building. Mundane familiar worldly problems and irritations, concerns, feelings, the what-should-I-do... in plural form. The woman looks at you, puzzled sometimes, sympathetic. Offering little pointers now and then. She helps you hear what you yourself are saying. You're not feeling great stability in your job. Well, it's the restaurant business!
Hmm, should I go out into the desert for forty days? Loaves and fishes, you're in the weeds just about every night, and when it goes slow, still, a long time on your feet entertaining. Entertaining. Listening, in need of seven different ears and five different mouths with which to talk. It's a job meant for a human being, sure. It's natural, it's stimulating. If you're not a bar owner, not so much a living, and even then.
Even youth, a person processes the adult experiences of disappointment. That time is supposed to be more positive for college kids. But even then we are adults. Disappointments are part of all our mortal histories, why not be Lou Gehrig and get used to them. That's life. That is life.
Gary Cooper, playing Lou Gehrig in front of a full Yankee Stadium, (or a substitute for it, Wrigley, or a ball park closer to Hollywood) delivers the tribute speech. "Today I consider myself the luckiest man in the world." Gary Cooper, wearing pinstripes, number 4, walks alone back to the dugout, the hallway to the locker room, into shadow, good as any of the most ancient dramas.
It is hard for people to do things, things you might ask of them. Gehrig, let him play baseball. Cooper, Coops, as Hemingway called his friend, started as a cartoonist, then an extra standing out, six four, in a crowd, let him act. Let John Donne write poetry. None of it makes particular economic sense, but then economic sense must ultimately play toward what people can actually do and, yes, how the planet and all its creatures big and small, might live.
The Irish, staying up all night, playing music, all the farmers coming to play their instruments.