Monday, May 28, 2012

Stars and Bars

Elaine's, then

Elaine's, now.

A handwritten sign on a steel shutter is all that's left of my favourite bar in New York:

Elaine's, once the property of Elaine Kaufman, a voluminous woman with attitude; a haystack with emotions. She died, aged 81, and they pulled down the shutters exactly a year ago. 

Before I quit the booze I was a regular there. I stood at the counter and drank martinis and Alex the bartender, with impeccable timing, always shouted the same line, "ready for another one, Irish?" - And Irish was always ready for another one.

After I stopped drinking I never went back to the places that knew me. It would have been too much of a shock to the bartenders, ordering soda water instead of Jack D. and coke. 

One afternoon I was sitting outside a coffee shop on Broadway, sipping on a frappa-something-or-other, when a bartender called Mikey spotted me. He worked in my neighbourhood bar, a grungy Irish dive. I hadn't seen him in over a year, so, as he approached me, I knew I could expect an emotional reunion.

"Barry, Barry, Barry, Barry, Barry," he said. - and it's a great estimator of shock and surprise, the number of times somebody uses your name in greeting.

"Mikey," I said, "long time no see".

"Jesus, you can say that again. Barry, Barry, Barry, Barry, Barry. We often talk about you. Many is the night we look at the empty space where you used to be, and we wonder what went wrong. What ever happened to him? I hope he's all right. He was in the construction game, I hope he didn't have an accident. He might have fallen off a scaffold or down a hole. Maybe he had a heart attack, he wasn't young. Or cancer, god forbid. Barry, Barry, Barry, Barry, Barry. What became of you at all?"

I took the bull by the horns. There was no point beating around the bush. "Mikey," I said, "I quit the booze".

For a moment it seemed as if all the traffic stopped on Broadway so that the drivers might register Mikey's reaction. People looked out windows, and waited. Women with strollers stopped strolling.

"Did you?" Said Mikey, his eyes narrowing, "Well fuck you."

And with that, he was gone.

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