Wednesday Afternoon, 3 P.M.

Written by Jim Knipfel on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.


It was slowly
beginning to dawn on me that the time was fast approaching when it might be
necessary to find a new home bar. The place that had been our home bar for the
past couple of years was starting to change into something unpleasant. Word
was getting around. There were some initial signs near the end of last summer
that there was some sickness afoot–but then it went into remission for


a few months.
Fall and winter were fine.


This spring,
however, it’s back again, and worse. It began with an infestation of children
(both strollered and free-range). I’ve never had the patience for children
in my bars; I’m always tempted to spill things on them, or kick them. Then
came the hepcat cigar smokers and the dozens upon dozens of cellphones. I just
wasn’t comfortable there anymore. And what the hell’s the point of
going to a bar if you’re not comfortable there?


"It’s
becoming more and more like Jack Nicholson in Cuckoo’s Nest,"
Morgan said of the bar earlier this week, "you just want to smother it
with a pillow and run away."


So on Wednesday
afternoon, we did (except for the smothering part).


It had happened
before–we’d be settled in all comfortable in a home bar, know our
bartenders, know when to expect knocks–have a good long ride there–until
something happened that made finding a new bar imperative. Sometimes it took
a while–spending night after night in places we knew from the outset weren’t
going to do it–and sometimes we got lucky.


There was another
place we usually passed on the way to the home bar–a place I first noticed
a few years ago. We’d been talking about going there for some time, giving
it a shot, but just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. The kicker came when
Morgan noticed in passing that they had a pool table.


It’s growing
increasingly difficult to find a decent New York bar with a pool table these
days. I’m ignoring places like Max Fish–concentrating instead on those
establishments I’d actually care to visit. There’s one in my neighborhood,
but it’s a small table, only half of it is lit, it’s missing a few
balls and it’s positioned in such a way–between a broken jukebox and
a large wooden pillar–that several shots are impossible.


But it’s
free, and you can get a beer, so we don’t complain much.


That was the
problem with the Brooklyn pool hall I used to hang out in, back in the early
90s, during various stretches of unemployment. It was bright, it was cheap,
it was never very crowded–but they didn’t have a liquor license. All
you could get there was watery soda and a basket of something they called "nachos,"
which amounted to a small pile of Doritos floating in a lake of Cheez Whiz.
You could smoke, though it was frowned upon, but you couldn’t get a beer.
And they blasted the rap music–oh, how they loved their rap music in that
place.


This new place,
however, had potential.


I may not be
the world’s greatest pool player–what with the eyes and all–but
I’m not the world’s greatest typer, either, and that hasn’t stopped
me.


The moment
we walked through the door, I knew we’d found a contender for new home
bar. It was on a fairly busy street, but inside, on a comfortably cool Wednesday
afternoon, the bar was empty. Completely, gloriously empty–except for the
bartender and us. While there may have been a time once when I might immediately
begin to wonder what was wrong with the place, I didn’t do that now. Nice
long bar, scarred wooden tables and surprisingly well lit (it wasn’t lit
like a McDonald’s–I have a thing for bars lit like McDonald’s–but
it was okay). And while the beer selection wasn’t on a par with the old
home bar–which prided itself on its beer selection–you could still
get yourself a beer. And it was all ours.


Eagles on the
radio, beers in hand, we worked our way back–and back and back, it seemed–toward
the pool table, which was separated from the rest of the bar by a small half-wall,
with a shelf to set your beer on and an ashtray or two. The pool table itself
was a beauty. It seemed either new or unused, though the bar, I knew, had been
there forever. Gray felt, green bumpers, the balls unscratched.


The walls were
lined with tables and bookshelves. We set our beers down and Morgan glanced
at a few of the titles. I was very relieved, somehow, to discover that they
were neither hipster books–no Beats or Bukowski or Jim Carroll–nor
hipster academic tomes–no Baudrillard, no Deleuze and Guattari for slumming
Columbia lit-crit fops. Instead, they were just books that normal people might
read: Joan Collins, Joan Rivers, some popular science, some old bestselling
histories.


Unless,
I began to worry, it’s just a ploy to keep them from being stolen by
slumming Columbia students.


"Want
to have these beers first before we get started?" Morgan asked.


"Sure."


We sat down,
as the Eagles segued into something from Don Henley’s first solo album.


"Uh-oh,"
I said a minute later. I heard voices. Heard voices and saw shadows. Shadows
and voices that didn’t stop at the bar, but moved straight back to where
we were sitting. They threw their coats on a chair, then I heard the sound of
quarters being plinked into a slot–followed by a ka-chunk and the
slow rumbling of pool balls.


"Well,
shit," I said quietly.


"No big
deal," Morgan said. "We’ll just wait them out."


The two youngsters–I’d
guess they were in their late 20s, but I’m inevitably dead wrong when I
try to guess things like that–sounded like they were from Bay Ridge, with
their talk of "the old neighborhood" and "my boys." But
if they were a couple Italian guys from Bay Ridge, I’m surprised they were
such miserable pool players.


Shortly after
the break, I heard the tok of the cue, then a long silence, as the ball
bounced around the table with abandon, hitting nothing. It takes an odd sort
of skill to do that so early in the game.


"Shit,
man," one of them said.


As they continued
to blunder their way around the table, singing along with the Foreigner (which
might make them older than I thought), I leaned in and whispered, "We should
take these guys on. I’ll lay a $20 down. Whaddya think?"


She gave me
a little smile which seemed to say, "Yes, we’d probably win–but
that might not be such a good idea."


Yeah,
I thought–what if this first game’s just a ruse to sucker us in?


(Though I think
she was thinking more in terms of the beating I would end up taking.)


Instead, we
drank our beer, listened to the music–most all of it, it seemed, dating
from between 1982 and 1987–got more beer, talked about stuff.


"I have
climbed…the highest mountain," Morgan announced in a nerdy
voice when U2 came on. "I have run through the fields. Only
to be with you."


"You have
that?" I asked, referring to the notorious Negativland single. Negativland
was always one of those bands I appreciated in theory (much as I appreciated
Throbbing Gristle in theory)–I loved what they were doing but found it
extremely difficult to actually listen to their records for any span of time.
Except maybe that one. God bless ’em, anyway.


"Yeah,"
she said.


"I think
I need to hear that again sometime soon."


Meanwhile,
our boys kept playing. When they finished the first game, they racked up for
another. I sighed, even as I had to duck out of the way of a cuestick.


"They
aren’t even drinking," Morgan said. "What the hell’s that
all about–come in here, play pool, not drink anything?"


"Bad news,"
I agreed. So we got another round for ourselves. The young (there I go again)
Irish bartender pulled a Murphy’s the same way she’d pull a Guinness,
so it took a while.


Despite the
pool table situation, I was still liking it there. I was comfortable. It was
quiet. I could even see a little bit.


"I’m
thinking of getting that ‘white supremacy’ tattoo covered up,"
one of the Bay Ridge Boys said. "You suppose Eddie could do that for me?"


"Yeah,"
his friend replied.


"Just
cover it up in black or something?"


"Yeah."


Meanwhile,
I worked on the beer, wondering why they didn’t stick to croquet.


After the fourth
game, they finally left. Never had a drink. Just gathered up their coats and
walked out. The afternoon had cost them $4–which, come to think of it,
is pretty good.


Unfortunately,
by the time they left, the beers were starting to do what they do. I wasn’t
exactly Jackie Gleason to begin with–well, in some ways–and now, none
of the balls seemed to be going where I wanted them to.


In short order,
Morgan kicked my ass in four straight games.


"I don’t
know," she said when we were finished, "there’s just something
not very satisfying about saying, ‘Yeah, I beat a blind guy at pool.’"


We sat down
and had a few more beers. The late afternoon sun was pouring through the front
windows, crawling across the wooden floor, but wasn’t coming anywhere near
us. The bar remained empty, and the radio kept playing songs that meant nothing
to me when I was in high school, but somehow meant something to me now.



 


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