Thursday, December 13, 2007

I Fall To Pieces

Years ago, when Romaine and I first started working together, she introduced me to one of her great loves in Manhattan: Pieces. The shoebox of a bar hosts a legendary karaoke night on Tuesdays that is something of a drunken staple. As we were getting to know each other, we would drop by occasionally after the show and I would sit back while Romaine would belt out a favorite country tune, her trusty leather jacket on, a bottle of beer in one hand, the microphone in the other. As time went on, we went to fewer and fewer bars together and my Tuesday nights gravitated to hot boy central at Bowery Bar. Flash forward a few years and in need of somewhere new, I headed instead to somewhere very old.

Hot listener Zach, who recently relocated to New York, wanted to hit the town and had initially suggested Bowery Bar. During his last visit to the city, I took him there on a hot summer night and I suppose he just assumed it was hot every Tuesday night. But Bowery Bar has seasons, which is part of why it has remained the hottest Tuesday night in town for more than a decade. Spring and Fall are the best times to go, weather-wise, and during the summer, when most gay New Yorkers spend their weekends out of town, Bowery Bar is a perfect weeknight opportunity to regroup and exchange notes. But in winter, the giant outdoor patio all but abandoned, Bowery Bar is off the radar, and brave New Yorkers disperse to neighborhood bars that are easier to navigate to in the midst of an ice storm.

I shot down the idea of Bowery Bar and suggested instead that we hang out in a fun midtown bar, conveniently near my office. I wanted Jonathan to join us too, but after spending his entire long weekend with his sister in midtown, he was anxious to explore another part of the city, one would assume in close proximity to his apartment and/or the late night Taco Bell on 14th Street. So I suggested our long ago haunt Pieces. Even though singing was anathema to each of us, it seemed like a fun environment to have a casual drink and pass judgment on strangers. And really, what more do you want in a bar?

I suggested we meet at the studio and head down together. Jonathan had never heard the show so he came an hour early to share in the “magic”. He settled down in Romaine’s usual chair on the other side of the studio while Romaine ran the board. Almost immediately, he pulled out a crossword puzzle and started in on it with his usual intensity and an ink pen. Occasionally, he would chuckle or look up and smile when the show caught his fancy in one ear, but soon he would return to the trials of down and across as we ran out the clock on another show.

As we were walking out, we gathered Zach from the main lobby and the three of us headed for the One train to the heart of the West Village. Along the way, Jonathan and I traded off as tour guides and New York historians, tossing in our own experiences into the mix to give it some humanity. Most of it, like the location of the Stonewall Inn, was already well-known to Zach and with the temperature dropping, we hastened our walk to Pieces.

The bar was just as I remembered it. The narrow entrance was Tailhook Convention-style cruising. The right side devoted to the stage and the devoted sing song regulars. The left side, running the length of the bar itself, was for fresh meat, like us. We immediately took up our position near the stage but decidedly in the fresh meat section. Earlier Jonathan and I had been buzzing like gay hornets about Xanadu and the disappointment that the slim country vignette from the finale was cut from the soundtrack recording as well as the new Broadway show, but Zach was ready for a meaty political conversation better suited to Hardball than gay bar. Jonathan is a political animal like me, so he was happy to pile into the fight. We discussed electability and the fascinating mysteries of the Iowa caucus system.

All the while, Zach was chugging, CHUGGING gin and tonic. As the drinks disappeared he became more and more adamant about mobilizing Jonathan and I to a higher political calling. He is recently out of the Air Force and I think just getting out of the military is a little bit like just coming out of the closet. He is filled with years of pent up gay with a capital “G” energy and he can’t wait to translate it into action now that he no longer has to look over his shoulder. Jonathan and I, much longer in the mix, are far more comfortable with the current state of affairs. But I admire Zach’s pluck and enthusiasm. Jonathan thought his youthful, untainted vigor refreshing and sweet.

As usual, the hour was drawing late. Zach left to get his coat at coat check and I soon followed. When I got there, I thought Zach had already left, but instead I found him getting the bum’s rush from inside the coat check area. Initially I assumed he had lost his claim check and went in to help them find his coat, but apparently, the cigarette break the coat room attendant took was too long and Zach in full military zeal, charged into the coat area to leave no jacket behind. I didn’t realize until that moment just how plastered he was, but I guess the four drinks he had before he arrived at the bar were just too much for his system to bear.

I really should have gone with him to make sure he got home okay, but by the time I told Jonathan I was leaving too, Zach was gone into the night. He ended up sending me a text message in the morning which confirmed that he did in fact get home safely. I said good night to Jonathan hastily and dashed out to find a cab to take me to Grand Central. Mike was already waiting on the drunk train to join me on the long journey home. As I bounced along sixth avenue in the back of the cab trying to ignore the cab TV in the back, it occurred to me that I probably should have made sure Jonathan got home safely too. I really am not a very good friend. Especially since I suspected he was quite intoxicated too. That was only confirmed for me a few minutes later when he sent me a text message of regret that he hadn't dueted to something from Xanadu.

But by then, suddenly, the wheel's were in motion on the train leaving the station. There will be other nights for two bad singers to duet. Xanadu isn't going anywhere, and neither is our friendship. And that's the great thing about a bar like Pieces, and old friends too. You can leave it just where it is and come back, even a few years later and find it exactly the way you left it.


David said...

Love this one. The last paragraph says it all. Well done! -David in New Mexico

B is for Boring said...

Oh Derek - you are just as witty on your blog as you are online... New York life must be so much fun - the bars in the suburbs of LA are full of the same tragic old queens night after night...

Bryan in SoCal

Aaron said...

Dear God I hope you are recording some of these dramas for your video podcast show. For those of us in remote rural areas, your stories are a fascinating look into the richness of real gay life.