Another evening at Blue Lady Lounge, my favorite third-stop Williamsburg bar that seems to have adopted me. I’ve just finished a freelance job, and now sit with my Brooklyn Lager, feeling a very rough day slowly wash away. I can’t quite relax, however, because the place is packed with cops, many of them wearing their handguns, in shoulder holsters, in plain view. This is by no means a cop bar; I’ve stumbled into a post-funeral gathering. Though I’m not much of a lawbreaker, I’m still taken aback by such a concentration of authority and its accompanying firepower.
For the most part, I’ve no problem with the police. There are horrible abuses, sure, many of which end in an unfortunate and likely avoidable loss of life. But by and large I’m sympathetic to the beat cop. The way I see it, some bad cops probably deserve to be behind bars, just as some protestors probably deserve to have their skulls cracked open. Maybe it was dating the daughter of a retired NYPD detective that purged me of my juvenile fuck-the-police sloganeering. His stories of New York City in the 1970s would chill your blood.
The crowd is friendly, subdued. Packs of friends, men and their wives, men and their girlfriends, several parents, aunts and uncles. But still. Handguns and liquor? That’s just a freak sight.
A few nights later: Saturday, midnight, at Union Pool, watching the bartender determine the proper recipe for some awful-looking drink. I’m enjoying two peaceful hours, working through pints, reading today’s Post, luxuriating–yes, luxuriating–in a mild opiate haze, smoking a cigarette or two because it feels right, even though I’m not a smoker. I’m here to celebrate–alone, quiet, in my own head–because I’ve just learned that a credit card dispute I’d filed has come through in my favor.
Last Christmas, I took a cheap flight to London to visit some friends. Four of us decided to rent a car, drive around England for a few days, and head up to Edinburgh for New Year’s Eve. I assumed the driving duties because, for one reason or another, none of my three companions were eligible, and I was fine on the "wrong side of the road" for several hours–from central London to the small coastal town of Bude. Up and around the winding roads, barely white-knuckled with the oncoming traffic, I was enjoying the dark curves and foggy bends until–wham!
We avoided a proper head-on collision by two split-seconds. I zagged left just in time to get the nose out of the way, offering up the rear quarter-panel instead of my life. (One split-second less would’ve made Harry, sitting behind me, a corpse. Or, at the very least, a cripple.) Of course it was my fault–I’d reverted to American form and slid over to the right-hand side of the road. The other driver, a local man who resembled the farmer from Babe, was dazed but unhurt. Both cars were totaled.
Farmer Hoggett’s two sons came to fetch him, push his car onto the shoulder and get my insurance information. Then they gave us a ride into town and introduced us to the proprietors of the local inn, who gave us a break on a room despite my attempt to kill one of Bude’s favorite old men. God bless the British and their good manners.
The rental company was easyCar, part of the easyEverything conglomo that dominates European cityscapes with their internet cafes and cheap intracontinental flights. They had no intention of refunding me for the unused time on the contract, so I filed the dispute. Three months later, they relented and reimbursed me two hundred pounds. U.S. $300.
And so, at Union Pool, when the bartender sprayed beer on me and my newspaper and then offered anything from the bar as apology, I simply asked for another pint. Under other circumstances, with every dollar converting itself back into Czech crowns against my will, with every $4 Yuengling octoplicating into the 50 pints of Staropramen of recent memory, I would’ve gone for something more pricey. A top-shelf gin and tonic, for instance–my favorite drink that I couldn’t afford back in Prague. Saturday night, though, I wasn’t sweating the extra couple bucks.
Thanks for the pint, Union Pool. It wasn’t necessary, but it was certainly appreciated.