It wasn’t good for me but it was fairly good for my journal, spending too many afternoons, running into more than a few evenings and a smattering of very late nights, in 2007 and 2008, sitting in Rudy’s Bar, writing in my notebook and drinking Jameson and lager. It’s on Ninth Ave: red exterior, a five-foot pink pig next to the door outside (as if announcing how tall you have to be to enter the place–which opened as a speakeasy in 1931, according to my notes), and inside free hotdogs, darkness the eye adjusts to, an excellent jukebox, and red stools and banquet benches more cloth tape than original leatherette. Ten years ago now, I’m not sure these people can really exist anymore. I’m surprised they still existed then. It’s all almost-guaranteed verbatim. I might have made one or two things up, but no more. And don’t steal any of it, I intend to use it all…..
The first entry is 18 Mar 08:
The old woman — it turns out she is a year younger than [the writer], but as clearly as life has not been terribly helpful to him, with the booze, the cigarettes, etc., it has really not been a boon for her. She looks 70, and not a good 70. She is telling the other guy with her about all the people who’d died in her building — apartments 41, 52, 57, all dead. Apartment numbers, not years of life. She cries: I grew up in this neighborhood, you can’t hustle me. It’ll be young people coming. That’s it. Young people!
Guy says to an over-affectionate, drunken woman: That’s not my wallet honey, don’t squeeze it.
A man eating from a take-out container. Another man, slightly drunk:
—What is that? I like to learn things. It looks like seaweed.
—This? This is collard greens. I was married to a black girl. I learned to like the soul food.
I come in to take a piss one day, seven, eight years ago, I come in to take a piss. I been coming here ever since. I was living on East 28th street and was going home and I said let me stop in here to take a piss. Cause I’ll never make it home. Been coming here ever since.
I like hats. I don’t wear them often. But.
She said to me, Jimmy, if a guy like you can’t find a girlfriend, I don’t want to date you. That was about a year ago. A year ago. Now she’s dead.
On the jukebox Johnny Cash, “Folsom Prison”, then “Walk the Line”. The man is cutting up salami and smoked gouda cheese. Johnny Cash sings: I keep a close watch on this heart of mine. I keep my eyes wide open all the time. I keep the ends out for the tie that binds. Because you’re mine… I come here for the first time, a few drinks, I had like eight dollars. I says Gary I says let me tell you. He lent me five hundred dollar bills. I paid him back. I paid him back in a month. It’s all coming back to me that was my first night here at Rudy’s.
The woman the writer called Selma Diamond because of the voice, and the old half-Chinese guy with no front teeth:
Selma D: She had an air conditioner.
Chinese guy: Yeah. She had an air conditioner.
Selma D: She was rich.
Chinese guy: nods, drinks.
Selma D: (as statement of fact) You got an air conditioner.
Chinese guy: Nah.
Selma D: You don’t got an air conditioner? And you live in Brooklyn?
Chinese guy: Nah.
Selma D: Where do you live?
Chinese guy: I live in Westchester now.
Selma D: Oh! Oh! you got all that fresh air up there!
She looked like Natalie Merchant. She played twelve Dylan songs. It’s a form of ecstasy, she said. She was clearly insane. Arthur wanted to ask her if she was even just marginally sane then he realized who he was asking, that this was not a good idea. She was pressing her breast up against him—not, it turns out, knowledgeably, she was just nuts. She said: His career is unimpeachable. His personal life is redeemable. Plus, he held Woodstock. That was really great. That’s as close as the Jews are gonna get to a Messiah in this generation.
A certain woman, regal, African smock, large and pretty. Arthur asked her the time. It’s about ten to, she says. I’m a little fast. He’d forgotten these constructions: Ten to. I’m a little fast.
Arthur wrote: The stories tonight. Horror stories—of food in the ghetto. The string beans, covered in mold; the flies in the meat fridge; the un-owned cat in the meat fridge. Mice, etc. And white Americans are outraged that black Americans think maybe there was a conspiracy to give them AIDS. You live in the poor parts of this country and you cannot for the life of you figure out where they’re hiding the things that would help you live a strong, healthy, confident life. And then you realize this is a terribly effective system at work here, the aim of which is the retention of power in certain hands, and the denial of it to other hands, your hands and the hands of people like you.
Commie John. Commie John is reading the entirety of Ezra Pound’s Cantos with accompanying explanatory texts. He carries this stuff around with him in the kind of legal briefcase Arthur had used in the Catholic schools, with flap over the top and the latch down the side, the hard rectangular handle.
That’s when I heard her say, Oh my god we killed the gringo.
Every alcoholic is extremely healthy. Oh certainly.
Cachaça—national drink of Brazil.
M11 bus—the smell of tyranny in the man’s possession of the outside seat. The loud woman sat up front, self-appointed greeter and narrator. Hi! Hi! Hola! ¿como está? Her voice was gruff with illness, age, and fat. I’m ninety-one years old! she said. I’m ninety-one years old. The driver tried to quiet her. Outside on the avenue, girls in tight gym clothes walked their small dogs. The sun shone with a certain summer kindness.
A sexy woman, perhaps forty: I’ve had a lot of mistakes running down my leg.
—Have you seen Jeff around?
—He was here, baby. He went I think to sell the cigarettes to the gypsies. He’ll be back later.
Stanley says: Let me tell you about Marvin. He did the album Ecology. They didn’t want to record it. They didn’t want to record it. It was too … ecoLOgical—you see what I’m saying? Motown, that guy what’s his name, he decided to record it. And—Stanley leans in close, to tell the secret—psst, guess what? It’s the best seller they ever had. Better than Smokey Robinson’s stuff. That’s Marvin. WHO IS TO BLAME FOR THE CHILDREN man? You gotta save the children. That’s Marvin.
More frisée! she cried. The nineties were the frisée decade.
Oh my fuckin’ leg. Old Irish guy, stubbly & punch drunk, shouting. Frankie, that meal was good. That meal was very good. He’s wearing a black T-shirt that says, in large white capital letters, WEB. But if there’s one man in the place who has never made use of the WEB, it is he.
I am from Romania. But I’m Hungarian. I’m a big fan of the movie Back to the Future.
Him: You’re pretty as a picture.
Her: I ain’t got all my teeth.
Him: No matter.
The news. He would rather spend two hours on the phone with the electric company than listen to this shit. What was his generation producing? He could feel the fatigue of the culture; he could taste the exhaustion. Such moments put him into a quiet, impotent rage.
The girl walked through the daytime, middle-aged, all-male grunge of the bar, looking for the owner, who was also her super. Her purpose insulated her, at least partially, from nervousness.
Young woman on subway says, to friend: People just want unequivocal adoration.
So he said to me I heard you say it and I said to him Well then you’re a fucking liar… The man the speaker is talking to has a blinking watch, like an alarm he’s been ignoring for decades.
—Hey, what are you doing?
—Waiting for Jimmy.
—Oh, is he comin’, the fuckin’ bum?
Another guy. Bus driver maybe? They’re all full of complaints:
—Then he stopped answering my fucking phone calls. You know how long I’ve been waiting for a fucking transfer, put in a grievance every day you don’t get the transfer… They got two provisionals up there… I was number 27 on that test.
—That’s the civil service, fuck that.
—Yeah this guy wanted me fired. I had a couple of DWIs and I was a provisional. This guy Levi wanted me fired. He didn’t like my father either…. He said you call me Mr. Levi, so I said you call me Mr. Kelly.
Guy down the bar hears mention of palimony, calls out: They don’t have that shit in Jersey.
Imagine a future—TV screens everywhere—monitors—cameras—apathy—titillation in the form of news. Special laws to keep black people from voting. A multi-layered test for white prosperity that allows you to vote.
Re: the pill he takes (to get it up):
—That was not salmon. That was dusty rose.
—You’re dating yourself, dusty rose, Jesus Christ.
Men with their heads down. Muttered terrors, vaguely imagined struggles. Alcohol. They looked like hideously ruined versions of Salinger’s Franny, whispering the Jesus prayer.
His son called, he didn’t pick up. His girlfriend called, he didn’t pick up. This is bar life. Everyone goes on hold.
The sagging shoulders and concave chest of the alcoholic — his look of fatigue and irritation.
No, no, my father was put away. He was a vicious man, actually. But very intelligent.
Regarding the Long Island Iced Tea: There is no honor in such a drink, the old man said. He looked grave. No honor.
Fuck’s that about? You trying to irritate me, or you just stupid?
Final entry Nov 19 2008:
Two MTA guys mock-arguing at the 96th Street platform. One is a motorman, the other a conductor. The latter is big, black, long-legged, wearing a Knicks cap. The former is short, bald, white, head bumpy. Their amusement with each other.