For me there is fear on St. Patrick’s Day. It is never one drink no never not one. Double trouble. Double amaretto. That honey drink. I wish I could just wear green and be happy. Celebrate, not obliterate. Drink like a sparrow, not like a wild arrow, speeding towards the bitter end.
We saw a lady in the Holiday yesterday. Her name was Chrissie and she was about forty years old. A lady like any you might see on the street in New York City dressed in a blue polyester pantsuit, low heeled clunk sandals strapped to her puffy feet. Her face was like whipped cake batter, stirred into a smile. Her mouth and nose wide wide. Her liquefied blue eyes rolling, staring out loose, as though the glaze across them was something she was straining to see through. Chrissie had given her keys and her money to the bartender. Ukrainian old crone. Somebody said she had been there since noon, drinking Dewars and water. She fell off the bar stool around 7:15.
We didn’t know how it happened. We were drunk. We heard a big thud noise and felt a commotion, looked sharply left, to the other end of the bar. Crack, thud, Chrissie slid off her stool and fell to the floor. Lay there wallowing, like some blue polyester seal, limbs vibrating, like she didn’t know which were her arms and which were her legs and what either was used for. Moments of silence. Her sniffle cough suck breath cry. Then the men pitched in. Alcoholic themselves. Some old and some younger. One my hedonistic busboy friend. They grabbed her arms and pulled up, Chrissie lumber from the floor. They told her to go home. “Lady, when you fall off the bar stool it’s time to go,” they agreed. But Chrissie stays, the bartender offering little resistance, tired of fighting with drunks all day long. Chrissie is shaken but Chrissie is smiling Chrissie wants another drink Chrissie is not going home everybody knows this is fun.
Off the side of a ’50s shot glass:
There are several reasons for drinking
and one has just entered my head.
If a man can’t drink when he’s living
How in HELL can he drink when he’s dead.
She fell again an hour later. This time she was nowhere near the bar stool this time we saw the whole thing. We had moved to a table and saw her get off her seat and do this sort of wade, stagger slow monster walk toward the ladies’ room. There was no ripped carpet. No chihuahua’s bark challenging her ankles. We saw her squinting, as though she imagined a wall where there was none. She put her hands up in front of her as if to avoid collision, rearing suddenly back and then off balance, she fell, arms above her head as if diving forwards onto the floor. She hit flat, face first. Swat. Rockin the house. “Shit,” said the bartender angry, waving his hands and stomping gray haired out from behind the bar, “they spose to be come in drink nice and quiet, nice, now she fallen out in the floor and kill she self. Every time do this, every time.”
I was the first one to her. Steadying the shoulder. “Ugh,” she grunted. Licking up dirt. Purse jammed into her belly. Swimming. Drowning. When I lifted her head she was gasping for air. We turned her over and her head lay at the crook of my arm and she looking so composed, as though she had done the whole fall thing so someone would pick her up and ask her what’s wrong. She got cheated. We didn’t have to ask her. Nose run blood unrestricted.
“Alright,” says the bartender. “Now she go home.” We place her at a chair and table. Head hits her hand. Cocktail napkin. Crying. I note the odor of unwashed woman. She takes my sleeve. “Will you take me home, will you I don’t wanna go by myself.” “Yeah,” says the bartender, “you take she home, you go home too.” Drunk we take her home. Drunk. Blind leading. We balance her between us. When Chrissie slows up sleepy we begin singing. The Star Spangled Banner. Frank Sinatra songs. Loudly. She knows where she lives. It’s right around the corner she keeps saying.
It started raining in my backyard. Evening rush. Amongst thin brown trees. Gentle bird wander. It started slow and quietly, like some kind of mist. The chirping don’t stop it, the chirping don’t stop. Green wind. Electric body touch. I heard wet car wheels rolling up First Avenue. Touch touch light touch.
Eight o’clock at the bar and I was working. Waiting tables. Dragging drinks around. In a thermal white T-shirt. We have to go in the back and dip winter ice cream and there is a pane broken out of the window there. Waxy snow like soap powder comes through the window in handfuls. The scooper freezes in its water. The cold makes our nipples hard and protrude through thin natural bras and when we serve the a la mode sundae, men stare and say, “Boy I sure like it when y’all go back there and dip that ice cream.” Polish restaurant men customers say, “Boy that’s what I like about these Polish palaces, the women are all big busted!” The men gesture, cupping their hands, imagined melons, to their chests, and they smile, in hot and goofy camaraderie. “Gives a guy something to look at.” What’s showing above the counter, above the serving tray, above the waist, eye level, who’s thinking about food anyway.
We are. We eat everything. Nibble delicious bits in the kitchen. Scallops and chicken Van Gogh. We get clams opened, we get hard oysters shucked. We girls command the floor. Wide open, black tiled floor like free space, white wall clean windows people pass and looking in, hungry walk by and look in we gorged. Big assed and black aproned. Change jingling, hitting our thighs, swing heavy swing low, side to side. Dollar bills don’t make no noise. Fives and tens even less. Up and down the aisles, polished wood tables and chairs. Dinner parties and dinner dates, where the women drink rum and ginger ale and the men stick to beer. Mitibishi, a regular, a Japanese student, orders buckets, barrels and bottles of champagne for him and his toasted birthday party of 20. American school friends. Miti comes in every night, ordering steak medium rare with rice. Rumored heir to transistor billions back home, he reads economics books over dinner with an American boy who seems to have given up his studies to follow Miti around, turning pages, and acting bodyguard eating and drinking bloody marys. Miti never drinks liquor but tonight there is champagne. Signing checks and credit cards. Fido gives him half a valium to make his head stop spinning, and then carries him about, leaving and rising above, the trail of vomit, when that moment arrives, mirror shades cracking, underfoot.
The thin bus boy, running with a mop. We don’t cry over spills and we don’t do floors. We don’t wait on people we hate. We drop their food on the floor. We don’t answer to snapped fingers. We take drugs in the bathroom. We smoke joints in the walk in, slip away for a game of Ms. Pacman, and bring the bartenders their food on time.
Free space. Free drinks on the job. I set two empty shot glasses next to each other on the smooth black bar and he knows what I mean. Mico, the smooth black bartender. He is way over six feet tall and big, an ex-football playing male model from Minnesota who drinks Remy and so do I. The stuff comes out of the silver spout fast, like liquid pepper. He spills a little on both sides of the glasses, moves the silver spout from glass to glass, barely aiming as if in an exuberant spray of bullets. Automatic. “Wouldn’t have you drink alone” he says, smiling. Winking. The devil alcoholic, black iris sheen. We are glassy. Cheers, we clink glasses, and take full shots, our throats going, heat spreading, obliterating, momentary sweet peace. Sweet communion. We feel the same mellow.
Spending time in restaurants on our days off Menus unopened. Mexican brunch. Mescal. Margaritas. Red wine flowing. Late night escargot. Treat us well.
“Somebody’s got to.” Speak the same language, of liquor, of love. Languishing in booths. Parties of girl servers. Checking our reactions with one another. “Did I do the right thing, that’s what I would have done.” We laugh as loud as we want to, crack up carrying, over our heads. Other patrons astounded through masks. Ain’t it a shame. All those drunk girls. But we take care of each other. Talk dirty. Raise sand. Tip big. Treat us well.
And I keep thinking I’m going to get a day gig. Work two jobs. Save up some money. Get myself together. I think about it often. After work. After hours.
The streets are dark and deserted
Not a sound nor sign of life
Oh, how you long to hear your mother’s voice
cause you’re lost and alone.
But remember you made the choice.
—The Temptations, “Runaway Child”
Though I have been drinking all night on the job I am still sober. The shots of Remy like coffee. Adrenaline. I have been known to go to the after hours place alone when no one would go with me and I needed (wanted) a nitecap. A bare lit walk east on eight street. Gold boots and the wind, hitting on cross streets. Black coat without buttons. I have one glove. Whey don’t you take a cab oh it is more dangerous this way. In the desert night, the sky is its deepest, darkest, post midnight blue. It is almost navy, with tiny white sharp, vibrating point cold stars. They look so far away, clear, isolated wisps of cloud, hang, like angels, like my grandmother’s gray hair. I pass One Fifth’s shaded, cream antique glimmer. I look in the window at a forest of chair legs, upstanding on tables like so many thin necked customers or unbudded new flowers. Ghosts and porters drink mimosas off the brass rail bar. I pass One University Place, and see the Nigerian Muslim graveyard crew run late but temperate to work, while the last customers, deck smashed rough boys in gabardine, weave towards dim yellow cabs, wondering where they go, no place like home.
The wind throws my coat open on Broadway and Eighth. Checkers pull up tentatively. I wave them away and other cars with bright headlights and invisible drivers stop to cruise, simply, curbside, purring sex cats at my heels. I race. Astor Place. Hydraulic tornado gusts and the cube on its side. The open streets are miles of free tar and white lines stop light click and shine, on and off heavy and loud in the silent, scream torn square. Transvestite hookers shiver outside Frieda’s Place. Thin legged and big wigged. Flapping yellow pages, spilled loose leaves and posters whip around like a flock of night birds. Caught in the wire fence and plastered.
I have my cigarettes already and keep due east, through the far east side, passing veiled shadows of ’60s jazz clubs, where there was once action but now there is no action. There is abandonment. Charred, dark shells of rooms that had once been packed and smokey, Sun Ra once blew and the smell of reefer arouse. Dank sawdust and beer. There are bricks and wet wall chunks on the floor now. The Flame Eternal. The building still burning, new action next door.
Can you see in the dark, can you see in the black room? We are known in the after hours club and pass in without paying. The girls have decided to come for a quick one by cab. We spread over the room like butter. In leather miniskirts and high heels. Our slut makeup on. At the bar we sit, women hard drinking. The girl bartender sets us up. All top shelf. I drink shots of sauza and beer. Five dollar tip two dollars a round. “Did you work tonight?” Yeah. We breathe together. Exhalation. Exhausted. Inhalation. Revived. We keep drinking. Drop a C-note and run to the bathroom, closeting ourselves under purple neon lights and dirt basement walls. “Of course you face looks puffy” I say to my friend looking in the mirror. “We’ve been on a binge for two weeks.”
Playing pool. African ruby slow shine in the dark. The music soft and at tables, away from the bar sit quiet people. In theater coats. Under hat and deadlock. Soft congregation. Gold earring air flow. When punk strippers get off work they come here, in thigh high vinyl boots and black stockings. Vampire black hair. Grey circled eyes. They stand up and arrest the room with chains. We’ve got a back table and talk fast. Excited by vodka. Tamed by tequila. Rendered unreasonable by Jack Daniels. Feeling on, hot rum and coke. I’ve got 70 dollars. The girl who could have anything.
It is very late. So late it is early. When the front door opens, sunlight streams in. The door closes quickly but the darkness is lightened. The mood, ruined. The spirit winding down. The club emptying. The bouncer loading garbage bags. Waking crashed passengers. The last ones fortify behind dark glasses. I’m sitting alone, listening intently to the guitar solo in “Guts.” I feel my roots shake beneath me. Run in circles. Missing dates. Lost phones and apartments. Lost motor control. I start dropping things. And wake up in the evening. Future uncertain. The end ever near.