“Arghhhhhhhhhhh……” I groan.
As much as I love The Patriot, I hate The Patriot when I “have to” go there after I was just drinking at the same bar 8 hours ago. But….. it was Chris’ birthday and I promised to introduce him to Selina, a very talented bartender who works at the bar.
The Patriot is what I imagine Europeans think of when they think of an American bar. It’s dirty, there’s country music, neon lights, an eccentric group of drinkers, and very good looking bartenders who occasionally dance on the bar. Pair this yokel Americana situation with the fact that it’s a 10 minute walk from Wall Street and you have a very interesting situation. It’s located in this strange nexus of shitty bars such as Dakota Roadhouse (which sports an asshole dog that likes to steal your food) and Raccoon Lounge (the feeling you get from the name sums up that place). For being so close to the financial heart of the world, the standards of “WoChamb” (west of Chambers Ave) are surprisingly low class. I like to go there for the company mainly. It’s a mishmash of stockbrokers or “button-downs” as my friend calls them, construction workers, hipsters, and men that appear to be without home. I’ve met the whole gambit of characters at The Patriot, from the creator of DOS to an opera singer who works sushi restaurants. It’s a pretty eccentric place with no real identity other then providing the perfect atmosphere to get absolutely smashed.
Sunday brunch at Ulysses is something of a tradition amongst my friends. It’s a great, classy place with fantastic food and even more fantastic Bloody Marys. This isn’t a weekly thing or anything, more of a random thing to do whenever someone wakes up early enough on a Sunday to arrange a brunch. This was different though; this morning we had business in downtown. I needed to get Chris to meet Selina’s nipples.
Anyway, brunch went on without incident; a few Bloody Marys and some corned beef revived my stomach up. As we trekked up to The Patriot I realized I wasn’t quite in the mood to go drinking, but a commitment is a commitment and Syracuse (my alumna mater) was playing a noon basketball game that I wanted to watch. When I opened the door to the bar my wish-washiness washed itself away. The slightly unsanitary smell of the place woke me up and let me know it was time to get busy. Then I saw the exact type of person I had been told hangs out at The Patriot on Sunday afternoons. At the nearest end of the bar to me sat a man with his back turned. I couldn’t see his face but I could see the 5 plastic toy dinosaurs that were lined up in front of him. The dinosaurs varied in shape, size and origin. One was a 15” tall T-Rex that looked like it was from the Jurassic Park catalogue while another was far cuter and friendly; possibly one of the adult dinosaurs in The Land Before Time. In front of each of the dinosaurs sat a shot glass of some brown liquid and a crazy fun straw which led the booze from the shot glass to the dinosaur’s mouth. The 5 dinosaurs formed a semi-circle in front of the man at the bar giving the appearance of an alcoholic version of a 6 year old girl’s tea party. Actually, that’s exactly what it was.
By this time I’m walking myself over to the bar without trying to stare….just knowing in a few short seconds I’ll be sitting at the bar where I can observe this specimen from a less awkward place. I have a lot of hobbies; but my favorite thing to do is to watch people and fabricate little stories about their days. I could do it all day. Union Square is probably my favorite place to people-watch due to the variety of people. Get bored of watching two old men fight over a chess game? Then stare at the pretty lady who keeps looking at her phone. What’s she waiting for? Maybe a first date? Cocaine?? Sometimes I create nicknames for my observational subjects like Lurch, Porky Thunder, or Gung Ho. I’m the type of person who spends a first date by pointing out people to my date and saying“What do you think she’s doing eating alone on a Friday night?” instead of “Which part of the city do you live in?”
So I’m sitting at this shitty bar watching this guy from the corner of my eye and he just continued on sitting there like the most normal thing in the fucking world. Don’t mind me and these inebriated dinosaurs. Nope, just sipping on this drink and watching this basketball game on TV….nothing strange going on here.
“Every Sunday this happens.” The bartender explained to me, as I clearly cannot take my eyes off the scene (alright, maybe I wasn’t viewing out of the corner of my eye). “What’s really awesome is that he takes little sips from each of the shot glasses when he thinks no one is looking so that it appears the dinosaurs are really getting wasted with him”.
I couldn’t help myself….I had to find out more of the story. My imagination is having an explosion in my head. It doesn’t want to make up a story, it just needs the details immediately. Truth is always stranger than fiction.
“So, who’s your team?” I asked as I motion up to the TV which is now (finally…) playing the Syracuse game in hopes of buttering him up for the inquisition.
“I call the one on the right Oedipus Rex. He can be a real asshole. These other ones are Waffles, Puddles, Plate, and Jeff.” He said without looking away from the TV. “Don’t bullshit me with that basketball crap. If you want to know what’s the deal with my friends here, just come out and ask, I’m not embarrassed.”
Stunned. Fuck. Shit. Fuck Shit. Here I was, trying to play it cool like I’ve done before with countless other insane individuals around this city and this guy comes back with the sane-est statement I’ve ever heard.
“How do you know I wasn’t genuinely interested in your take on this basketball game? I’m a pretty big college basketball fan myself and the viewing crowd here looks a little sparse…” I say, trying to make sad excuses for my prying. The great joy of being a people-watcher is believing that the person doesn’t know you’re thinking about them. It’s all about noting their little traits and then making witty banter about it to a friend or in your own head. This situation is more like a lioness wondering why you care about the ripping of flesh she’s doing and now suddenly her interest is on you. Role reversal. Suddenly I was a stalker nutcase.
“I’m pretty good at observing people too,” he continued as he looked at me, finally taking his eye off the TV. “I could tell from your walk and the fact that you’re sitting here and the three guys who came in with are sitting at that table in the corner. There are other TVs and I bet you’d rather talk basketball with your buddies than me. You wanted to know what kind of quack I am. I’m not a quack or at least not more than anyone else. I’m not trying to be a scene. Not like your buddy over there that’s screaming at a TV, hoping he can influence a fucking game taking place hundreds of miles away.” In the background I hear Chris yelling “when the fuck are we gonna play some defense???” as he bashes the table.
“These toys are my son’s…Richie. He’s grown up now, but I keep them around. I used to come to this bar and hang out with my buddies just like you are. Slowly they went away. Moved. One died. Another’s too busy to hang out anymore and the other’s wife hates me. I remember my son playing with these same toys when he was a kid and how much fun he had. He didn’t need anyone else there.”
His gaze wandered off into deep into and beyond the Budweiser clock on the wall. Not only had this situation put me in “stunned” mode, but him as well. His own conversation had hypnotized him and his mind was somewhere else in space/time. Maybe to 1994 standing in the doorway of his son’s room watching his boy play with these toys. Quietly yearning to be be able to take part in Rich’s jocund playtime but, he was an adult with bills to pay and politics to be concerned with.
3 awkward minutes of me sitting there at this bar while a bathetic montage of events played in this man’s head. Abruptly he shivered, shaking his head and bringing himself back to The Patriot.
“Anywhat….so here I am, a 62 year old retired trash collector and I sit at this bar every week with these fucking toys. We get drunk together. People do crazy shit when they’re drunk. I like to have fun like my son used to have. To drink with someone that reminds me of old times, probably for the very same reason you drink with your friends.”
“…gggrooarrrrrrrr……” the man quietly growled to himself, apparently speaking for the dinosaurs. Then he lifted the shotglass from Odepius Rex, downed the brown drink and quickly replaced it to it’s original position.“He never lets anyone else drink until his is gone. Like I said, he’s an asshole.”
This man had just elucidated insanity to me. You can’t be alone in New York. There’s always people around and the nonstop laughter, chatter, singing, music playing, yelling and so forth is a constant reminder. It’s too expensive to live in NY alone, so there’s roommates even in your own space talking on the phone, watching TV, or playing music. The list never stops. There’s nowhere quiet in New York.
Two or three years ago I was having a tough night and I just wanted to be alone. So I sat, in a park, covering my ears with my hands and humming to myself to drown out the white commotion of Manhattan. To escape, just for a few moments, regardless at what cost to my own public pride and reputation. I sat there for 30 minutes, maybe an hour doing that. I must have looked crazy but that was what I needed.
I knew exactly what he’s talking about. Sometimes looking crazy is worth getting to someplace comfortable and relaxing. Bringing this full circle, I think that’s what The Patriot and to a larger extend, drinking are all about. I felt embarrassed for treating this man as an exhibit. I was the high school bitch who picks out others’ weirdness to hide her own shame and shortcomings.
“Can I buy you and your friends a round?”