Sunday, April 01, 2007

charlatans, all

At that awful jazz bar. The façade is creamsicle orange. We finish our hot dogs, push open the door.
The place is three car lengths deep. The exposed brick behind the bar is whitewashed, the walls are spotted with blue and orange halogens. The cover is ten dollars. The music doesn’t float, it perches, swoops, and punctuates. I’ll have the pale ale, I say. Dubbba-dipdipdip-paaaaa! Say the drums. That’s six dollars, says the duck-lipped bartender in the loose fitting blouse and tweed skirt. Dowwpikapikatumtumtum, says the bass.

The clientele are a murky bunch:

The two blondes, whom we overhear are Williamsburg residents, talk over the music, shriek for attention. No He Didn’t! says the big girl, throws the overshoulder eye at my friend.

The older couple, teeth stained with cabernet, nuzzle like lovebirds newly found; he runs his hand through a spotty beard, adjusts his cokebottle glasses, whispers first in one, then the other ear. She laughs, slaps his thigh.

Down the bar, closer to the musicians, lie a forgettable bunch of thirtysomethings. All of them ringless, all alone on a Saturday night. The square jaw Indian girl forgets to suck in her tummy, and to compensate stands to show her male counterpart the benefit of her hypothetical sit-ups. But this bar is small, and when you stand, raise your voice, burp, clean your ear, attention is drawn. And so we all criticize the merits of her bellybutton.

The lipless, sourmouthed man in the unbuttoned cardigan slouches out to smoke; we knock knees to make space. Once outside, cigarette perched between his lips, he knocks the window for the bartender’s attention. When he gets no response, I catch his eye and stand to help. The bartender smiles as the smoker simply waves and I sit without purpose.

The jazzmen in the back are bathed in green light. The entrance to the bathroom is directly behind them, through a cheap plywood door. The bassist twitches, eyes closed, fingers dancing. He stands, involuntarily, to pluck away; he is a big man, and his hair brushes against the low ceiling. The drummer is obscured, and at every opportunity, introduces the keyboardist, the bassist, and himself, Marty Pullman, with a flourish of drumsticks and a wink at the black girls, newly entered, who look lost and embarrassed by his attention.

The smoker from before ducks in and we tuck our knees that he might cross. He touches my chest, on the buttons of my vest and tells me thanks. I smile, look to my buddy. He rolls his eyes for me.

Finally, there is the woman opposite the bar, two tables away from us, her back against the wall. There are shopping bags on either side of her. Olive skin, cheeks deflated and gravity-bound, her stare petrified to the door behind me. but there is movement in her face; her lip trembles, her eyes fill. With deliberate unselfconsciousness, she finishes her wine. The waiter trips over her after his cigarette and she asks for a cup of coffee, clears her throat.

My buddy and I have a table against the wall, just inside the door that the shifty, dreadlocked pudge keeps leaving open as he goes out to smoke.
We sip our beers tentatively, afraid that we might contract whatever these slow-pitch Saturday night sob stories are afflicted by. I lean in, tell him in a low, patronizing tone that I never want to get old, and he agrees, quickly, heartily, coldly.
The loneliness here is not final, nor is it self-imposed. It is not sad, yet. But we leave anyhow, beers tucked in our pockets.
We finish them by the swing sets on fifth and first. East of Stone Park café, away from the Williamsburg girls who have tailed us from the bar, whose sandpaper voices irk me from a block away. We make our escape up seventh, my buddy tells me to go long, swigs away his beer, tosses the bottle. It slips through my hands, the neck snaps on the pavement. He tells me I’d make a terrible dog and we flip our collars for the cold, cold breeze, turn the corner quietly. I yell for those hipster scum to Go Back To Billyburg, and those girls go silent, for a minute. A smoke-voiced Fuck You carries easily in the breeze, and the girls fade towards fourth, towards the F train. The streetlight above us times out, shuts off.
I finish my beer, hang it from a rowhouse wrought-iron fence. My buddy salutes and walks towards Prospect park. I walk south on sixth, hands stuffed deep in my pockets.