Date: Tuesday, 2002
To: The usual
I think the way that bars work is the same as the way that gambling works. Psychologists call it intermittent reinforcement.
You go into a bar two dozen times and you're bored out of your mind. But the twenty-fifth time, something really wonderful happens. So you keep coming back, over and over again, always hoping that that same wonderful thing will happen to you again.
Me, I've reached the age when about the only time my blood vessels really dilate and oxygen gets to the brain and the neurotransmitters start to flow is when I'm sitting in a bar and have had a at least a few drinks.
Now all the respectable authorities tell me that this is a complete illusion. They tell me that when Charlie Parker had the heroin flowing through his veins, he thought he was blowing really great sax. And when William Faulkner was boozed out of his mind, he thought he was writing immortal prose. But in fact, Charlie Parker's sax when he was stoned and William Faulkner's screenplays which he wrote when falling-down drunk were nothing but pieces of shit.
Well, all this may be true. But the stuff that goes through my brain doesn't need the approval of any critics except myself. And I really like it, so if you don't you can kiss my ass.
There are a few movies that really show the bar life. There's Brother From Another Planet by John Sayles, a large part of which is set in a bar in Harlem. And there's Tree's Lounge by Steve Buscemi, set in a lounge in ... well, who the hell cares where, because you go to just about any bar anywhere in the United States in the afternoon, and you can find Tree's Lounge. (And of course you're going to mention Barfly, based on a Charles Bukowski story, but I'm not sure it's exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about.)
Both Brother and Tree's show the sort of environment where, if you come in anytime after lunch and before the after-work crowd shows up, you know that a particular individual is going to be sitting on a particular barstool. And if some day that individual should happen to die, then nobody else will dare sit on that barstool, because that stool will belong to that particular individual until the day the universe comes to an end or until a new bartender takes over and most of the regulars no longer care to make an issue of the point.
This afternoon I saw a French movie by Patrice Chereau (acute accent on the first e in the last name: Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train) called Intimacy (which should not be confused with the excellent Swedish movie called Innocence, because really only the first two letters are the same). A lot of people will go see Intimacy because of the sex, and they won't be disappointed. It's always interesting, to me anyway, to see a mainstream moving pushing the boundaries a little further than they've been pushed before. But that in itself is not worth my $4.50 (afternoon prices), because you could just rent a porno film and see the boundaries totally eliminated.
And a lot of people will not go see it because of the sex, and whatever they do instead, they may or may not be disappointed, but you surely can't blame that on the movie, except that if the movie had had less sex, I guess these people might have gone to see a truly interesting and complex film, and their lives would be the richer for it.
But fuck them if they're put off by a little sex!
Anyway, I'm not going to tell you about this movie. Not tonight anyway, because I'm not in the mood for it. Maybe tomorrow, but it's about time you guys learned to find out for yourselves what movies are worth checking out. But for a few moments in Intimacy there was an interesting discussion between the bartenders (i.e. two of the lead characters) about the way the bar business works.
At the moment, I just want to say something about going to Anna's tonight. Monday night, no less. (Well, if you want to get technical about it, at this point Monday night was last night.) And in case you guys don't know anything about bars, I'll tell you that nobody but an idiot would go to a bar on a Monday night.
Except that, as I'm sure I've already told most of your guys before, the most interesting things that have ever happened to me in bars have happened on nights when I walked into some bar and the place was mostly empty and my first impulse was to turn around and walk back out again. But I sometimes think I might as well sit down and have one drink, and all of a sudden there is a chick sitting beside me, god knows where she came from, and all of a sudden I am at the beginning of a wild adventure.
Or would be, except that since after an hour or so the chick realizes what a completely boring guy I am, and I am left once again walking home in the early hours of the morning alone, and maybe even in the rain (but this time I just barely escaped that), but at least sometimes I get a good story out of it.
But that's not what happened to me at Anna's tonight (or last night, for those of you who persist in getting technical), which, once again, for those of you with short attention spans, was that most unpromising night of the week --- Monday night.
The thing is, Chrissie was working tonight. And Chrissie was not working last night, or at least that was the drift I got Sunday afternoon (i.e. yesterday, or technically the day before yesterday) when I came in because A was working. And god knows why I should come in to see A, except that she's from New York and for that reason alone I should get down on my knees and kiss her feet, if she gave any indication at all that she would like having her feet kissed, but it's not as if she actually pays any attention to her customers. She knows that they drink, sure, even if they haven't been in for several weeks, and is quick to offer a refill or whatever other service they may need. But I never get the impression that she is at all in need of our company.
Anyway, what can I say, A is from New York and I love her, even if she's busy with god knows what at the other end of the bar the whole time I'm there. But Chrissie, my very special bartender, it seemed like she was not going to come in Sunday night, so why should I come back?
But it's not about Chrissie. It's not even about this other chick, the one I haven't mentioned yet, who doesn't even work at Anna's, and lives on the other side of the island, and I only see her about once a month or less, so why should she deserve an initial? But --- what the hell? --- I'm generous, so call her D. Sitting at the bar, with an guy who turned out to be Irish whose name also happens to be D, except that's rather confusing, but I'm sure you'll sort it out. And as soon as I come in D (the chick, not the Irish bloke) says to me, "Hi, Professor."
Now normally, I really don't much appreciate people who call me professor, but D, she can call me professor any night she happens to be at Anna's, which is damned rare, and I will get down and kiss her feet, or kiss her fingertips, or... The long and the short of it is that she is someone I would not mind kissing in a whole lot of places.
But I don't get any indication that that's what she wants from me.
But anyway, that's not what it's about. It's not even about D.
It's not even completely about the chick with the lithe torso who was playing darts. Playing darts with one of the employees of Anna's. Not a bartender, but someone who is an ... employee. Not that he matters in any case. Because tonight he was just a customer playing darts with this chick.
But this, um, chick....
I was just sitting at the bar and idly wondering if there was some way I could gracefully walk back to the dart board and ask her how much she would ask for in order to play darts naked. But since I didn't have that much money in my wallet, and being the shy guy that I am....
Well, it was just an idle speculation. A fantasy, if you want to get technical about it. And it was enjoyable enough watching her throwing the darts (very badly, as was quite obvious, probably not even hitting the board at all) even with all her clothes on. (I say "all", but that doesn't mean she was covered from ankle to neck. She wearing jeans, and some frilly white thing on the top half, leaving an adequate portion exposed of that midriff section I like so much and which was so much fun to watch lithely bending as she threw the darts toward the general vicinity of the dart board.)
But it was not about her. And not about D (the Irish block, not the chick from the Windward Side) deciding it was time he came over for a little conversation to get to know who I was, the chick throwing the darts constituting the obvious conversation piece.
And it was not about the other chicks who were to suddenly arrive much after midnight, probably coming from upstairs where there was Open Mike night tonight, which I might even have gone to, our of curiosity, except for the fact that Chrissie was working downstairs. Anyway, backspace and delete this second group so that I can insert them again a few more paragraphs down where they will be in the proper time sequence.
What this is was about....
I think maybe it was about the jukebox.
I had started out playing some songs mainly to hear what they were like, because when the new owners took over they put a whole lot of new albums on the jukebox that are less than 20 years old and so I of course don't know anything about them, so I'm still learning the new jukebox menu.
But then there were also some other women (oh oh! starting to get serious and use those politically correct words) with a vaguely upscale look mixed in with some guys, all sitting at a table. I'm not sure quite when they had arrived. Anyway, this was before the group was upstairs came down.
So it was a pretty busy Monday night.
Anyway, the chick playing darts left and I thought these other vaguely upscale women looked like they might appreciate something more in the way of a less experimental approach to the jukebox selection and something more up tempo (which is what you're not so likely to get when you're choosing from an album you don't know anything about).
So I put in another $2 (seven songs) and put on some real house-rocking stuff. Starting with Jerry Lee Lewis, "Great Balls o' Fire."
Well, before my new selection came on, the vaguely upscale women left with their boyfriends, so I never got a chance to find out whether they were Jerry Lee Lewis fans. But meanwhile a new crowd came down from the Open Mike night upstairs. (This new group was prematurely referred to a few paragraphs above.) By now it was probably less than an hour to closing time and the Open Mike was now closed.
Anyway the crowd who'd been there the whole time, D the chick and D the Irish bloke and Ch the graduate student in zoology who, like me, has tenure at Anna's.... Anyway, these guys were all in a clump at the other end of the bar, which in practice means the other side of it, but I'm not going to try and explain the geometry to you. (Well, think of a U. Now start to extend one end of the U so that it's trying to become an S.)
So these people at least were enjoying my house-rocking selections. And they started giving me signs encouraging me to participate by way of dancing or whatever. Actually, I don't quite remember quite how it happened, but somehow I was standing there playing piano on the bar top along with Jerry Lee Lewis. Which I consider myself pretty good at, partly because in some earlier version of my life I once actually played piano, but here we're talking about Beethoven and Chopin, nothing like Jerry Lee Lewis, but at least I know what direction the hands should move in in order make it look good.
So there I am banging my hands on the bartop, and somebody taps me on the shoulder, and who should it be a Japanese girl. And I don't mean Japanese from Hawaii, but Japanese from the Land of the Rising Sun. I don't know to what extent all your guys on the great American Mainland (not to mention Europe and parts further east) are aware of this, but this --- the fact that the chick is from Nippon itself --- is something one can immediately tell by her facial expression, without her saying a word. I'm not sure where she came from, but I guess she was part of the crowd that had arrived from upstairs.
I don't think she ever did say a word, but I also made a judgement on the basis of her facial expression that her English was not completely bad, although I'm not so 100% sure of my judgement in this respect.
Anyway, as I say, I don't think this Japanese girl ever did say a word, but she tapped me on the shoulder and made a gesture which as far as I know is the same in Japanese and American and which translates as, "Would you dance with me?" And I made the corresponding universal-language gesture which translates as, "My pleasure!"
So we had a good time dancing together. But then I think I'd made a mistake on the jukebox, because my next selection was off the Dwight Yoakum album, (which was certainly not a mistake!) but it was a classic country slow two-stepper ("The Heart That You Own") rather than another house-rocker. But I thought, well, why shouldn't I have a slow dance with the Japanese girl who had just finished having so much fun dancing with me to Jerry Lee Lewis? So I put the question to her in the universal language, and we slow danced to Jerry Lee Lewis. Slow dancing unfortunately doesn't necessarily mean close dancing, but we certainly had a good time. And then some more house-rockers from the Fifties and Sixties came on, but she more or less dissolved into the crowd pretty soon. (Not so easy to do, considering that there wasn't that much of a crowd. But anyway, she was gone, and we'd both known from the beginning that it was only a ten-minute stand.)
Anyway, it was getting to be almost closing time, and most of the people in the bar were clearly enjoying the music I'd chosen and the energy was high. And Tommy the new owner, who'd been among the people who came down from upstairs after the Open mike closed, from some reason yelled in my direction, "Lee, you love me don't you?"
And the juke box got to the last song I'd selected, which was a nice slow one to close out the evening: Barry White, "Can't Get Enough of Your Love," which even though slow, is pretty much a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
And somehow it came into my head that that since I didn't see any women who seemed in a receptive mood, what I should do is to ask Tommy to dance. Well, you might think I was a little drunk by that point, and of course it's a free country so you can think what you want, but he seemed to be in a fairly crazy mood and he's the kind of guy who is usually ready enough to do something crazy, provided that it's sane. Anyway, he did seem somewhat taken aback when I asked him to dance, but he knows me and understood the spirit I'd asked it in, so for a minute or two we slow danced to Barry White.
As I've said, slow dancing does not necesssarily mean close dancing; he didn't seem as ready as me to really clown it up.
And that was the end of the evening. The juke box stopped, since nobody else had put any money in. And Chrissie started yelling that it was time for all of us to get our asses out of there. And I stopped in the bathroom and then headed home. The Japanese girl was sitting outside on the sidewalk talking to a couple of young guys who looked like musicians and didn't look Japanese, so I think I was probably right that her English wasn't completely dreadful.
As I said at the beginning, it's a question of intermittent reinforcement. This one night will probably keep me coming back to Anna's for another ten years, almost all of which will consist of boring nights.