Thursday, June 23, 2016

The sleepy eyed waiter is sitting hunched over his smart phone at a table-clothed table back against the left wall before the mural in the dark restaurant when I come in, and I have to run up and use the john, fresh from my half hour walk to work between downpours and lightning, talking to my lovely mom I miss so much on the phone, the guts doing their thing, no time to say hi to my friend.  A customary sight, a placid server looking at their laptop in leisurely mode, about to be done with a day shift.  Upstairs the wine bar has been left as standing from a difficult night of serving dinner in conditions of live jazz under a full moon, the trio bringing along a little white dog who various people get fixated with, one a woman who sits at the bar drinking white Burgundy on ice (a wonderful person to talk to at the end of the night with her beau, as I drink a light red, Beaujolais maybe, on the rocks myself, splash of soda), and then the couple who manage to walk out without paying their check as they got up from their table and mingled with the musicians as I brought out their dinners over in the couch set in the corner, slipping away, forgetfully, unintentionally, I'm sure, in town from California for a conference, ordering cocktails when wine is better...  My fellow server, distracted had three friends at the bar, going away for the summer, bought them dessert, a nice kid she is, while loose ends of the night's service floated and a cook sat for a drink, and a woman who habitually arrives late on jazz nights wanting a tasting of whatever wines I want her to taste arrives with a couple whose anniversary it is, the woman of the couple, hair long, a guitar with her, a Yamaha acoustic, a veteran of the Sixties folk music.  Can you take a picture with your iPhone and then send it to me?  I am fixing the dishwasher's time clock report, and running for more sparkling pink as she asks...

I start setting up for Tuesday night wine tasting.  Oaky, at least I got here ten minutes early.  The low teak tables are out of position, misaligned for the night's requirements.  The woman swept during the day.  None of them are set up.  The busboy from last night's joy told me before he left that there were silverware set-ups in all the table drawers, with a few exceptions, and a need for a general wipe of their tops and some with bread crumbs and a few sticky spots.   I have silverware to polish with a cloth napkin with a sprinkle of vodka, hot water for tea and coffee thermoses to fill, butter ramekins to ready with cut butter patties, napkins to prepare with silverware, and I begin to gather it's another night with no busboy, one two-top on the reservation books, great.  Mineral water to lug up from basement cage.  Grab a couple bottles of champagne, you never know....  Soda water six pack.  Downstairs busboy to plead with, hey man can you get me some ice, and he being generous remembers to bring the usual brown paper baker's bag of baguettes up just a few minutes before the front door opens.  All this in addition to the usual stocking, the fruit, the placement of wines in bins and cooler, the checklist.  And it all seems to take everyone by surprise.

There's good news.  Ron, our oldest steady long serving wine rep from the good company of the massive portfolio tastings that have Kermit Lynch wines, will be showing up for the wine tasting of the Carcassonne wines to help me out, not that Wine Tasting night here has anywhere the pull it used to, before 14th Street, before H Street and Barracks Row and City Center.  And very solid and supportive friends who've brought great practical help to me of late arrive, and the sharing of conversation is good, we all need a base.

It's a long night, and in the end one of our two officer retired colonel friends shows up and the second is going to meet him, as they are buddies in the end, and things to talk about bearing upon life in a therapeutic insightful way. At which point I too could use some therapy and sit at the bar with the new Cabernet Franc wine from Carcassonne, La Roque, and eat the reheated portion of calves liver I saved from last night in the cooler, drinking with them as they talk, of wives, pensions, male health issues, etc.

And when I arrive Wednesday it become evident from the dishwasher shouting at me down in the basement, "Yes, Sir, How are you, Sir," that there will be an alternate to the usual busboy.  (I do not appreciate loud greetings when I show up for a shift, generally speaking.)  Sleepy eyes joins me upstairs after I've been at it a good 14 minutes, to help set up for another Jazz Night.  He has a day job, and I cannot blame him.  The main thing, given his positioning, at the gate of the upstairs wine bar where I am behind the bar's mini fortress, is for him to get people seated, often enough the main battle of coping effectively with the older people frat party of live jazz in a restaurant's dining room.

At the end of the night he's putting the little plug in candles away, blocking the mouth of the bar, as the downstairs server, who's ready to go home after a slow night plants the night's last couple, ordering dinner late, and the couple is sat just a few minutes before their dinner arrives, and there it is, but everyone's clueless, and it takes the boss to say, standing at that crucial point at the top of the stairs, hey, serve the food!  I can't help being very irritated.  Boss looks at me, and I express my feelings and the need for traffic direction with my eyes.  And soon enough, as kitchen guys come up for their defacto shift drink continuum, the busser is no longer loud but reveals that he is in bad pain, in his arm, and able to use only one, and this is at a ridiculous late hour at which it is very hard to get dessert out of the kitchen for the last couple, thank you, coquettish server from Brittany who by now is home in Virginia, God willing.  So that's what's been up with him for the last hour or so...  Shoulda told me before you lugged the bottles from the recycling bin away in the thick plastic garbage bag down the stairs and out the back.  "I'll sweep up, man, get outta here..."  His face is tight.  Mysterious, or different of how he expresses himself, often good at it, now he is very quiet, and there is seomthing solemn and serious, deeply serious about everything he says, so here before me is another mode, another mode of a man who reads the Bible seriously.  He has to go back down to the basement to change out of clothes stylish for a server, let alone a busser, and in the end the tall Nigerian basketball player dishwasher in town for the summer and happy with the Lebron James outcome holds the door and his bicycle for him as a very muted form of himself leaves into the night for his journey home.  With one arm hurt, I am concerned about him biking home, via metro.  There is lots left to do, in an almost ugly way, and I will have to do it alone.

I wake up very tired the next day.  This schedule of work is hard, different, isolating a bit.  The closer who closes the restaurant every single time he works wondering whether this pool system that gives equal renumeration for day or night shift, bar or main, up or down, weekend or not, is something perhaps some people are allowed to play to their advantage without being cast into the late night, the long un-wind, the bad habits that foster their own continuation, to the discouragement of pursuit of other professional or volunteer activities.  The night wound down with viewing the PBS biography of George Plimpton 'starring himself,' having to turn away from the deep rough spot of the intimately encountered death of Robert Kennedy, too much to take alone at night, turn it off, find what Bear Grylls is up to.  What do I put into a shift?  What do I make happen? What do I clean up after, leaving the bar stocked, clean, in good shape, perhaps for not having much life elsewhere...

And to this end, the writing helps, it helps a lot.

How many times do I wake up feeling bad, feeling bad over interpretations of what might have or might not have happened years ago.  What bad influence got to the sweet student earnest kid, fostered in him an inappropriate reaction to the college he graduated from, all of this up for interpretation.  What happened to him, why did he become a writer, why did he not end up in the literary world of New York and Paris Reviews and Bob Giroux and so on...

But to such lonely thoughts, one remembers the inborn need to write, to sort out thoughts, to get out what is painful and wild and overgrown and imblended with weeds and poison ivy there at that level of forest floor where taller stories grow from...

I suppose this is why stories are necessary, hard to tell, long, very long, deciphered on an individual basis, Frodo escaping the dragon, symbolic, to survive, with help, and fight another day...

And there is something about this work, undertaken for perhaps the same reasons Mr. George Plimpton might have found for it, the engaging in of an activity, a job, a role, a physical duty, a societal position enmeshed in a pecking order, a team, a collection of humans, something to give you grist for the mill, and thereby some way to study or comment upon the nature of writing and literary arts.  Such that one day one hopes to have written enough about things, things in general, maybe like camping a night in the mist on a ridge with the managing partner of the restaurant, who did his national military service in the Alps, that you have enough to reflect upon, enough stashed remembered things, enough to feel like a writer.  And from that point, feel worthy as far as knowing something about the process.  Did the raw material matter?  Wasn't it all finally some form of yoga, Bhagavad Gita style.

Just that it takes, like the whale I like to write about, a lot of sifting, a lot of swimming, a lot of distance in oceans that would appear blank to those who do not swim.  Why write?  Why swim?  But what other interests and enthusiasms do I really have, but to cook, clean, have wine and keep afloat and room for friends, in an honest way.

Walking down in the woods, the stream running brown from the majestic downpour three days ago, down to where a young small beaver has found a starter dam by the pilings of the small pedestrian bridge over the creek near the parkway, where upon the woody detritus a large brown snake rests, its molted old translucent skin there like an empty sausage wrapper closer to its usual spot here, impressively long, walking slowly, shoulders still sagged from the personal burdens, I find a bit of fresh air.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Behind the bar there is the ice bin, and to the right of it, the bar's stainless steel workbench of three sinks.  Arriving, the wines are taken from the ice bin where they have sat overnight, and they are placed into two of the sinks.  To the far right I put the whites served by the glass in an orange Veuve Cliquot bucket which fits into the sink, four bottles open.  Into the middle sink, plugged simply with a champagne cork, I put the sparkling wines, the rosé, and the wines of the week, and any leftover.  If it is Tuesday night wine tasting, I rest unopened bottles down on their sides, plug that sink too, so that there will be enough in case customers ordered the discounted bottles of the white or rosé or sparkling on offer, last week a Jurançon sec.  The same process will happen if there is a private party back in the wine room, wines chosen, but how much will they need?  Once the bottles are in place I scoop out the ice that has sat in the ice bin, and pour it over the bottles in the sink compartments.  And then I pour hot water into the empty bin, give it a wipe and then another rinse.

Then I will turn to the cooler behind me, and take out the fruit tray and the juices in quart containers, placing bottles of mineral water, sparkling and flat for the night.  There is silver ware to ready, mis en place, the set-up, so things will be there when you reach for them, the clean knife, the escargot forks, the dessert spoons, the coffee spoons, the dinner fork to replace the one that falls on the floor with a clank.  The red wines served by the glass are on top of the cooler, foil cut for the first two in the five bottle row of the six on offer.  There are three back-up of each wine back in the corner beyond the stove and the cutting board in the busboy station, the recycling bin, and above, the shelves with wines laid on their sides, popular ones from the longer list of wines by the bottle.

After four nights of it, closing, the writer part of the barman has kind of lost it.  It is strange, dusting one's self off, putting away that crucial business of what he does for a living, rent, health insurance, food.  What is there to write anyway?  Awkwardness.  Too many thoughts to sort out from that lost Liberal Arts realm.

The words of the therapist held fast in the mind from early in the week, "I wouldn't want to talk to someone who'd said that to me either."  "Leave her alone!"  Okay.  I will.

The day off comes.  And from being surrounded by people to interact with, then we go to shyness, quiet.

Work seems like some form of self-codependent lie, a masquerade...

Is this why attempts at higher communication, in Shakespeare, usually end in tragedy?  Are such things as words and love meant only for the old campus?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

And that is the thing.  The law of the Universe is such, the departing, the distancing of galaxies from themselves.  Beethoven must have been famous for being private, and Mahler, echoing that...  Not that this essaying here is trying to sound smart.  The thing is privacy, the space free from outside question, the space from where creativity comes.  Yes, almost a cliche.  But that it's true.

Emily knew it.  Her departure from the rest, her sensitivity to the cosmos, her little witnesses in plants and bird chirps.   Indian pipe.  The divergence of species.  The bee is different from the butterfly.  The iris is not the larch.  Her natural instinct to seek the most private of spaces, confidences with little nieces.

The obscurity of the creative process.  Shane MacGowan's process is unknown to James Fearnley, the songwriter a crazed hooligan to the accordionist of the Pogues in memoir form of Here Comes Everybody.

You can't share.  You don't want interruption.  The mood comes, you try it, you finish a sketch, do a few more, losing energy.  That it all piles up, builds on itself is good, but in the meantime, there is rawness, a sense of adolescence, which perhaps is inevitable, one way or another, seen or unseen, it's up the personal choice of an artist, do you want to paint the hungered saltimbanques in all their thusness and all their sadness and emotion misery, or do you want to put yourself out there, Guernica, or some other way to say it.

That's the thing,  Creativity?  You want privacy.

A sensitive father, even though a different blood type, lets a son create in his own privacy, hard as that must be, very hard.

Everything pulls away from everything else.  This is the law,  The law of dark matter, and energy, and at the center of every galaxy, a black hole spinning things in, as if a balancing energy to that Big Bang which set everything into this suchness.  At the very center.

The tragic black hole at the center holds us in orbit to each other
in the black blank space, fixtures of our night's sky
to look up at or out to in the great distance,
compelled to a point for lack of action,
not lack of potential of love.

And the flesh that lumbers on unknowingly, with some increasing great self-confidence, some vision, those can be the foolish of people, the less than wise.  The ones who can call the artist's sketch the work of a blithering idiot.