Drunken entry numero...
Tonight I went with a friend from work to Siberia Bar. The only bar I know of that exists in a subway station.
You walk into the Times Square station just as if you are entering the bowles of New York City to catch a train. But instead of Pakistani cobblers or magazine shops, there are two blackened doors with generic signs that read "Open."
You enter a railroad size space with a bar. It is dimly light with naked red bulbs. If you walk into the adjoining room, you might think you are in the lowest of low rent fraternity houses. No larger than the size of a subway car, the walls are graffited and emantaing red light from the long red flourescent tubes hanging, barely, from the ceiling. Attached to one wall, is a piece of solid oak, on top of which they have placed plastic seat cushions - ripped - with the innards exposed and flithified to the point where you sit knowing that a roach or another critter will probably come crawling out to explore your space. Under the wooden plank, are crates, I assume these serve as reinforcements in case the bolts holding the plank to the wall decide to retreat from their duty.
On the opposite side of the room, sit rotting couches that were presumably found on the street and dragged in for additional seating. They are more than worn and worse than trash, using your imagination, you could picture them in a dormatory lounge 15 years ago.
Against the western wall are cases upon cases of empty cardboard boxes that transported beer into the establishment, now empty and waiting for disposal.
The walls are covered in graffeti. Some of it, is remarkable tagging, done by new school artists. I can always recognize the difference. The illustrations, in black magic marker, are publishing quality animations. Women and men, very East Village profiles, stretch the length of the bar.
We walk in and I know the bartender. He's an old friend of mine and we haven't seen each other in nearly a year. He picks up where we left off and tells me that he has great pictures of me from the wedding we went to nearly a year ago. Neither of us have been in touch with the newlyweds.
My collegue is impressed that I know the bartender in this hip, dilapidated spot and we begin to drink for free.
We are enjoying the fact that it isn't crowded like most watering holes in the area. No pretensions, cool people. We sit and drink for an hour or so when my friend A. shows up with his sister in-law.
I am pleased to see him because it shows that he paid attention when I told him where I would be. He asked me to call him before I left, but in the hustle and bustle, I forgot. He showed up anyway.
I love that. He showed up in this place of all places and that meant so much. It didn't even phase him, Mr. Wall Street trader. Last week he lunched with Mark Rich in London. Tonight he sitting in a rat infested, red-light subway station bar, smiling at me.
He didn't say a word about the surroundings. He makes half a million dollars a year and his deals are the morning news on CNBC. He's my age but he's a wunderkind. He could be whining and dining with people I read about on society pages, but instead he's here looking for me. He smiles and is kind to my co-worker. When he tells stories, he speaks to me and her - including her in the story. I love that too. When he elaborates, he gives her small asides, acknowledging that she doesn't have the requisite background to get the "inside joke" and in explaining, he invites her in to our world.
He entertains the group and for once, I don't even have to speak. When I want a cigarette, I motion for one and he hands it to me and he lights it. We share a glance - my glance says thank you but his says, I know you and I appreciate you. I am here for you. I am your best friend.
I get up go to the bathroom and he warns me about it. I go anyway, and my bartending friend stops me and hands me a candle to take with me. I smile with thanks and when I set it down on the floor of the bathroom, I see a roach lounging. I glance around the dark cubbyhole, and it reminds me of the bathroom in "Trainspotting," except that bathroom is much, much nicer. That bathroom is a Ritz compared to this one. More graffited than the bar, there are holes clearly punched in the walls, and as I squat to pee, I look to my right and see two men, peering in a hole in the wall asking me if I have any requests. They are at the jukebox, staring into a hole the six of large plate, watching me. I laugh. They politely look down, away, so that I can finish.
I return and my friend asks me if I want to leave. "And go where," I ask? "Anywhere," he replies. "There are a million places." But I don't want to go, I tell him.
I am enjoying being back on my turf. Not at some preppy gathering where I need to act polite and informed about the money laundering debates and defend my Democratic voting status. This is my scene and I remind him. He laughs. He moves to sit next to me on the couch and with his arm comfortably around me, his hand moving up and down my back in that reassuring way, he whispers to me, "it will all be different when you start making 6 figures."
"No, it won't, " I argue. "It won't be different. This is who I am. I will still be at places like this." And he laughs at me, the way my father does when I tell him I will always be like this. That I will always be free-spirited. That I will always be independent. He laughs at me like that.
He's always laughed at me like that. Both of them. It used to infuriate me. The laughter. Now it doesn't so much. I'm not sure whether that's because I am confident in that I am right, or moving toward their opinion.
He asks me for the third time, to come with him to Washington D.C. for the weekend to the black-tie fundraiser he's attending but I remind him, for the third time, that I have plans here. He laughs my plans off as if it's a play date in a sandbox.
He reminds me, that his 29th birthday is approaching. He reminds me of his impending doom. He believes he will die at 30, a vision he had in second grade. He tells me that he is leaving his newly purchased apartment to me. He reminds me, that I am the executer of his will. He becomes very sober and asks me if I have cleaned up my act. I am to dispose of his ashes and he is concerned, I may fuck up and die before him.
He asks me, earnestly, if I have been using drugs. This conversation is tiresome after all of these years. I tell him what he wants to hear, as he uses his premonitionary death as an excuse to make sure that I am clean. "No," I tell him, "You know I don't do anything anymore." "Tell me," he urges, "tell me the truth." No, I tell him. "No coke," he asks? "No," I tell him, staring him in the eye because it's the truth.
"Anything else," he asks? No, I say looking around. He grabs my arm. "I know you've done something," he accuses. Why even bother? I wonder. He won't be happy until we talk. So we talk. He's not angry with me.
"My birthday is coming up," he reminds me. "I want you to do something for my birthday," he says. "I want you to give me a 365-day countdown," he details, "from the day. So that even if I live, I will always have it to remember the 30 years I lived, believing I would die."
I mentally calculated the months until his birthday. I have time to find this counter. Build it, if I have to. And so I acquiesce. He is satisfied with this answer and reminds me again, of what's required of me when he dies. I am sworn to secrecy, but he reminds me that it will require two months away from my work and a current passport. He tells me for what must be the 1000th time, how much money there will be for me to do this ritual,. where I must go and finally, that his parents have been informed and that they are pleased that I will be the one to handle this. They agreed not to contest his wishes.
Although the conversation is morbid, I am comfortable, sitting here closely with him. We are completely yin and yang, but completely understand each other. It is not until the bartender comes and joins us and I become engrossed in a new conversation, that realize he is leaving. He kisses me goodbye, on the cheek, as he's done a million times before, and I smile disconnectedly.
And it is not until after he leaves, while I am still surrounded by people, that I notice the coldness that settles in on my back where his arm laid just a few moments ago and for the very first time in my life, that I think about how I alone I would feel, in life - without him.
My best friend.