THE BARTENDER KNOWS #26
Health is a funny thing. Some say it’s worth more than money.
I’m inclined to agree with them. But unfortunately, we all have to face some harrowing facts about the nature of our own existence. Or, if not our existence, our eventual lack there of. Nothing will make things more clear than when you have to look death in the eye. It burns off all the fat from your life. If you go into a doctor and they say everything is all right — there is a weight lifted from your shoulders. It gives you a “new lease on life”. Getting bad news does the same thing. And dear reader, did I get some bad news…
I’m not going to whine to you about my particular maladies. That’s NOT how winning is done (I never miss a chance to slide in a “Rocky” reference). Let’s just say any mortal man would be thrown off their game. Not The Bartender Knows, though — no, sir. We here in The Bartender Knows community understand that the song isn’t over until the Fat Bartender Sings — and we are at fighting weight. I can share a couple small side illnesses with you. Somehow the years behind the stick did some nerve damage to my foot and like most street gangsters, I walk currently with a limp. Fatigue has also been plaguing me. So, long story short, I’m not at full capacity and this middle age thing certainly has more cons than pros.
Which brings us to the title of this column. The Mom and the Movie Star. Allow me to explain. Let’s start with “The Mom”.
Covid Lockdowns were a funny thing. It made a lot of people reconnect with folks they hadn’t spoken to in years. In my case, it was this mother of three I dated back in high school and hadn’t talked to since. She found me on the usual social media platforms and reached out. I’m endlessly curious about people and their lives (I suppose that’s what a writer does). We started making calls to one another. It was cool to open up a more mature dialogue with someone you knew when you were younger. She explained that she was getting a divorce. I listened and tried to be supportive. I asked her about her kids and how things were going — the usual stuff. I even let my guard down and told her about where I was in life. She had just returned to the dating pool and apparently, that pool was full of swimmers. She’s a fit middle aged woman, so that didn’t surprise me much. After all, imagine sleeping with the same person for over 25 years? I’d be tearing my fingernails off clawing at the walls to climb out.
Turned out just last week, she was finally coming to visit New York City on business. I thought: ‘awesome, let’s get a drink’. But then it hit me…my health was pretty much in ruins. I didn’t feel very good about myself, plus the new horrid information about my internal organs, my bum leg and to make matters worse — it was the same day America’s Favorite Orange Ex-Boyfriend was coming to town to be indicted on criminal charges. Let’s just say…it wasn’t a good night to be in downtown Manhattan. I knew the trains would be fucked, it would take at least an hour to get back to Brooklyn, etc, etc.
The Mom was determined: “Well, I only have [this specific time and this specific time] to hang out.”
Hell, I wasn’t offended. After all, I’m a New Yorker. I understand busy. I said: “You should come out to Williamsburg. It’s super mellow, really chill, no stress, and at the end of the night we’ll get you in an Uber and it’s a 10 minute ride.”
Then I hear this: “Well, I’m coming all the way across the country. Don’t you think it should be you who comes to see me?” Now, folks, she was well aware of my conditions. I told her about my nerve damaged foot. I expressed I had at least four health procedures needed to be done that week. And then it hit me: she still thinks she’s that young lady from back in high school. Suddenly, all the clues had set in. She had bragged relentlessly about her sexual conquests as of late over the phone. She had expressed her need to ‘take back control over her life’ (whatever the fuck that meant).
Logic washed over me like a cool stream. I remembered that she still lived in the same suburban town she went to high school in. Shit, I’ve lived in 13 American cities and three European metropolises in that same lifespan. Of course New York City was an intimidating place. Of course being out of her comfort zone was going to be jarring. I manned up. I wrapped my foot and ankle with fresh bandages, took two aspirin, bought a small bottle of wine to slip into my sport coat and I was on my way to the fucking Financial District — the most boring and milk-toast part of the city you can go. The subways were screwed, as predicted (all with the creepy, nodding off junkies and a homeless man beating off into his already stained brown sweatpants). I made it to her hotel. She greeted me in the lobby. Not more than three seconds later, she said: “I only have, like, 45 minutes or so…so…”
I looked at my watch. It was 9:30 pm. “Oh, what time do you have your meeting?” (NOTE: Keep in mind she had already checked into the hotel by 4pm. That’s plenty of time to make yourself comfortable).
My mind made the calculations. (2nd NOTE: her meeting was two short NYC blocks away. New Yorkers will get what I mean here). Where’s she preparing to go? The King’s Coronation?
Least to say, I was really non-plussed. I found a small joint around the corner and tried to lighten the mood. She was barely talkative, totally aloof and really…conventional. I couldn’t get this thought out of my head: what the fuck? I didn’t want to sleep with her — I was trying to be friendly. It was weird. Let me take that back. It wasn’t weird…it was sort of…non-human. I felt like I was a human Seamless order. This lady invites a sick man all the way to the Financial District for 45 minutes of barely breathing dialogue. Ugh.
I was a gentleman, however. I walked her back to her hotel, gave her a kiss on the cheek and wished her well. Yikes. No wonder why she was divorced. Suburbia had claimed another victim. Control people like that have no business here in this crazy town of mine.
I walked, or should I say limped, back north on Broadway and thought: “Great. I’m in Downtown Manhattan, the subways are jacked, police are everywhere, the Orange Man is making the town crazy again and it’s going to take me an hour, at least, to hobble home. What am I going to do?”
This is why there’s such a thing called Bartender Gods. They look after the worthy — and I have been a penitent man at their alter for decades. There, through the billowing smoke of the sewers, appeared the familiar neon red lights of a dive bar.
It was perfect from moment one. There was an empty seat at the end of the old wooden bar. The place was shaped like a hull of a pirate ship — no pomp, no flair. The bartender was surly in all the right ways and the drinks were cheap. I took the first one down and let the shitty 80’s rock music wash over me. “Fuck it,” I thought. “You can’t please everybody.” If I couldn’t make it back to Brooklyn quick, I might as well get a buzz on in the process. Peace had finally set in. Then…
“You’re in my seat,” I heard a man say over my shoulder. I didn’t even have time to look up before a crowd surrounded my side of the bar. A very tall man stood next to me silhouetted by the glow of the television screens. “Nah, man, I’m just playin’,” he said, clapping me on the shoulder. I was so out of it — part from the pain in my leg and part from the cheap drinks. That’s when the big bartender was like: “The usual, Mr. ****?”
Boom. I then recognized Mr. ****. He was in one of my favorite films from the 90’s (let’s just call it “Roidz In The Hood”). He was in full Movie Star mode — people were all over this dude. He was an absolute professional with the fans. He smiled for every picture. He listened to all the horrible jokes these tourist types hurled at him. He hugged and high-fived each and everyone that approached him. I just ordered another large drink and kept myself to myself. The whole circus slowly died down. He came back over to the end of the bar. “Mind if I put my jacket on your seat?” he asked.
“Sure…” I said. I guess I could have offered my seat and scooted over to the empty one right beside for the Movie Star — but I was tired. Like I said, confronting death brings out all sorts of odd behavior. I just didn’t care. He grabbed the bar stool next to me. I could feel his gaze.
“So, what’s your deal?” he asked.
Now me and ‘Tre’ were face to face. I must admit — it was surreal. But he didn’t look so good. He was sort of bloated and grizzled. There was a sadness behind his eyes. I mean, age comes to us all, but he seemed — tired. I asked him: “How do you do it man?”
“Do what?” he said, sipping on a pint sized Vodka.
“Deal with all of these people…you know…the fans, the pictures…all of that?”
“Part of the game, man.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’d be a total jerk if I was famous. I like being alone too much…” — I realized I had lost his attention. His phone was already out. I went back to my drink and watched the bizarre ads on the television.
“No, man, I mean that. What do you do?”
Now, dear reader, this is the moment when you lecture me about how I should have pitched all my best ideas to the Movie Star, try to charm and win him over and ‘enhance’ my career. How many artists would kill for a chance to talk about their work to a legit Movie Star? But between the doctors bad news, a limping foot, and The Suburban Mom, I was in no mood for silly games.
“I’m a writer.”
“Oh yeah? Me too.”
“Oh, that’s cool…” I said. Another throng of people came out of no where wanting pictures and hugs from the Movie Star. He obliged. I went back to my drink. When they were finally done with him, he looked back at me. “Yo, talk to me…like what do you like to write?”
I was about to open my mouth when his phone rang again and he started to rip into the line with a huge laugh. “What up, motherfucker?!?”
I was getting drained yet again. It was going to be a long ride back to Brooklyn. I ordered an even bigger drink. He’s back at me again.
“Seriously though, you got your stuff on AirDrop?”
“You gotta get with it, my man, especially for moments like this.”
Moments like this.
I think if I was 19 I would have been more impressed. Hell, even if I was 30, I probably would be. I’ve been in this writing game for awhile now and I’ve learned two major things:
- Never trust anyone who promises you things in the first five minutes of meeting them.
- Never do any real artistic deals at bars when intoxicated.
Mr. **** was not pleased with my nonchalance. You could tell that he was mildly confused that I was the only one on the whole place that didn’t laude him with reverence. This must have got to him. He put his phone in my face and scrolled through the images with his finger.
“You see all of that? Those are all the things I got in play right now.”
“Cool…” I said. (Again, I’ve met certain famous people before and there is nothing they love more then telling everyone what they do).
‘Ok, buddy. You really like your writing?” The Movie Star asked.
“I do. I’ve done it all my life.”
“Well, if you liked it so much, how come you don’t talk about it?”
“Like, are you afraid or something to show it out there in the world?”
“Seriously, bro, you got to re-work your whole attitude. I mean, you trying to bring the whole bar down? We ain’t got no time for sad stories around here.”
I finished off the last of the drink. More people surrounded The Movie Star. I paid my tab. I slid off the bar stool. “You can have your seat back, Mr. ****. It was nice to meet you.” The Movie Star gave me a limp-wristed handshake and didn’t even look me in the eye.
Outside, the air was fresh and clear. Sirens blared in the distance. The subway was right there. I strolled down the stairs. The subway advisory showed: 5 min.
I nodded. Maybe the Bartender Gods and Subway Gods were out tonight, I thought. The subway came and I boarded. Sitting there, alone in the tram car, I thought about all the people sleeping peacefully in their beds. I thought about all the wild folks still out, pouring liquor and drugs into their bloodstream, spiraling about on the dirty streets above. The limp didn’t feel that bad anymore. The doctors news didn’t scare me anymore. Life was going to be what it was going to be. I was who I was going to be too.
I thought about the two people I ran across in Manhattan tonight. The Mom and The Movie Star. I chuckled.
I was really glad I wasn’t either of them.