He was lounging on the corner, itching to light his cigarette in the purple glow of the Old Town Bar. Rush past him, get inside, meet your friends. It’s cold. Rush past him to get to the grocery store. Buy chicken breasts and artichokes for your lover and cook it all up before 8 o’clock. Run next door and buy the wine.
He cups his hand, strikes a match. Why are you rushing to cook for a man who will leave you? He knows you, all about you, your mother, your grandmother, your Russian memories, your old uptown roommates and your new downtown friends. Hemlines have gone up and down, shoes got sexier, lipstick got bolder. He used to wear those romantic vests and shirts with billowing sleeves. Now it’s raincoats, spook coats, with collars and epaulets and belts that hang in a spy-like way.
Getting too cold to stand outside now. Life used to be out here, in the streets, not behind windows and screens and air conditioners that bang away and sit there like eyes in cages. Times change, so what the hell -- plenty of drinks inside the Old Town Bar, plenty of women to admire.
Beer. Scotch. Port. Cointreau. Whatever you’re drinking, that’s what I’ll have, he tells his new girl at the Old Town Bar. “Two, please,” she orders, and he is happy. Gray Goose or Smirnoff’s – all the same hot fire as it goes down. She leaves with a friend. All the same as he looks over to the park where ladies used to stroll, two by two, down well kept paths.
Time for another drink. Almost completely dark – can’t read the clock on the watchtower. Sound and light and human noise drown him, suffocate him, silence him. He twists and turns to get through the crowd to the bar. Every night, the same fight! “Hello,” he says to a woman with bright green eyes and a cobalt sweater. “Hello,” she says. “Do I know you?” “No, I don’t think so,” he answers as his voice begins to fade. “May I buy you a drink?” “No, I’m waiting for my friend,” she replies and turns away. When she looks back, he is gone. After five minutes, her memory of him is gone. Her friend arrives. They order martinis and talk about work. She sneezes.
From his splintery stool at the far end of the bar, he watches a woman with brown eyes. She’s new here. She looks Asian, one of those Russian women with Tatar eyes that never get bred out. Exotic, cheap, sexy – she and her friends are laughing into their wine, pretending not to care. “Good night, ladies,” he whispers as they slide off their bar stools and drift away.
A man and his wife take their seats. Another girl drifts in. “Is this taken?” She just moved to the neighborhood and wants to check out the Old Town. “Read about in the Times,” she explains. “My advertising agency is just crazy,” she tells the wife. “Ten hour days most of the week, and then I’m too pooped to do much on the weekends.” She sips on her Grey Goose. “But it’s exciting, really exciting!”
How bright is this girl? Not worth his time. Seen her a million times, waiting on corners for friends, growing older and shriller and moving to the suburbs. Spending too much money, getting too much sun … it’s always the same.
(to be continued ...)