When children are young they are told they could become the next president of the United States. When children become teenagers, the same people warn them that they’ll become cast aside drunks languishing in some no name dive bar rolling about on the floor pissing and puking but not in a romantic way.
It is then, not every day when the universe positions the president of the United States, argued as the Most Powerful Man/Person in the world in tossing distance to a group of merry lads and lasses all of whom are plowed before 9PM as a regular routine.
Indeed, the motorcade came out of nowhere. At once, the door to the establishment was blocked by several men in suits. Were one to have hesitated, to have waited just a moment to use up the entire Happy Hour as the Naive Americans once did, the way indeed blocked and no one could pass. In Gothem the police are about everywhere. They are our internal army in order to keep the population docile and their comings and goings lights flashing and sirens crying has become but the sound of the wind in the trees, something that unless those flashing lights are pulling over your taxi or you are stopped and detained for a simple Quality of Life infraction, the sound and fury is ignored. It was very hard to dismiss this motorcade of police. It was harder to dismiss the serious men in suits who did not appear as our own Men in Blue, these were the Men in Black, the elite among thugs.
In no time at all the positions were taken. This was rehearsed in every detail. The way the cars boxed in the limos, the double lines of police, the barriers set up, the spotters and perhaps snipers on the roof (we did not see the later but imagined them since everyone had seen The West Wing), the way the population at large was pushed out of the way for the night with ease. “I cannot tell you who this is,” said the man in a pressed suit, “but this individual is very important.” “That’s fucking the president of the United fucking States,” said Larry. “Larry! Shush you before you get us all arrested,” the bartender shouted as she pressed to the window. The rest of us, that is, all the bar patrons trapped at the end of Happy Hour were crushed together in on knot in the doorway of perhaps the smallest of the still extant dive bars of the city.
A last refuge of the scoundrels. Strangers for the most part, except for the regulars. They were known elements. The list was right out of central casting, or central booking. The war veteran sipping his wine brushed his comb-over and complained he wasn’t allowed outside to smoke, “I’m a war veteran!” he demanded or confessed. The self-identified film maker with an Irish accent and straw hat bounced about having the time of his life. Clearly the creative type fallen now upon hard times and living out the last of his puff in a bar or doing research into his next project. The two bartenders, both women of a certain age, perhaps about the same vintage, both had seen too many long shifts and were bored by the stories of hookers with hearts of gold and broken business men with small petty dreams they keep alive in paper sacks. The manager exclaimed to the police blocking the door that he himself had working in bars before he was old enough to legally drink. Twenty years! Twenty years a manager! He was both amused by the situation and rather annoyed by the lack of business calling out, “Will the president reimburse me for the lost business, I have no customers!”
Indeed in a city where anything can happen and does, even the most anointed of our citizens is but an inconvenience to the more pressing routines of rushing about on errands and tasks.
The bartenders had changed shifts, but both of them remained since perhaps in their long lives they had yet to have seen it all and this was an event neither wanted to miss out on even though one belonged elsewhere for the night and the other was loosing out on nightly tips in order to cover, it can be assumed, high rent. The remainder of the patrons were an assortment of passers-by and a younger set unimpressed by meeting the president of the United States of America.
If by “meet” it is but separated by a wall of bricks, a building that had been replaced by a yard of rubble, another brick wall of the restaurant that the president was dinning in, several police barriers and the combined forces of the Secret Service – an ocean of brooks brothers suits and Burberry ties and cheaper Sears suits of the NYPD detective squad and perhaps a few drones just tossed in for good measure.
It was just another autumn afternoon in Gothem and the usual rogue nations, G8ers, and Global Leaders were presenting and otherwise worrying about writing nonbinding treaties and statements at the UN. As Gothemites, we are used to the motorcades and having our trendiest bars closed on short notice so various wealthy political blowhards from the world over can do blow and so it hard. It was still an unusual location, the cusp of SOHO or border of Little Italy or Chinatowncityworld as the case may be. Houston Street is no Savelle Row.
Larry, get out from behind the bar you fool! The bartender yelled at the little man pouring himself a beer having taken full advantage of the distraction by POTUS outside. He laughed and made a cartoonish gesture of being caught and trying to hurry. It was clear these few knew each other very well, it was a working relationship but one nevertheless.
Outside the commotion calmed down. The rushing about, the set up, the securing the area, the what not and so forth of all these important players had turned at once, dull. The Secret Service was replaced by NYPD sergeants and the like. There was the chance to leave. The War Vet had been snoozing in the toilet. Since there was an opportunity to get outside and smoke, he at once left. So did a very worried man was to meet his girlfriend, a little man who kept pacing back and forth and calling on his phone as if perhaps his girlfriend could just up and leave him over this incident, “Henry, you should never be in a bar next to the president, it’s over! But… But… Loretta…” I imagined him saying. Another small group, younger people, seemed even less interested and certainly not wanting to be in the doorway with the regulars, since everyone was crushed together hoping to get some view of someone important. “I kissed the mayor last night,” one of them exclaimed, then started to make sure every sergeant on duty knew. “Was it consensual?” a voice quipped.
As the night drew on, the crowd across the street dissipated and the police started what one said was 90% of the job… just standing around.
Years ago I had been hired for a private-eye type of stakeout. I had to keep eyes on a building and record who entered or exited. It was an all day affair. Boring as hell. Not the type of boredom as tending to an art gallery, where once in a while you look up from War and Peace and ask, “let me know if you have any questions” and make a wincing smile. This is the boredom of not being able to take your eyes off of your target. The boredom where at any moment, anything could happen. A tense state of affairs, I assume as cats feel all the time on their mouse house stakeouts. Waiting, tense and ready to strike, yet knowing one has to conserve energy because one could be here all day and catch nothing. No wonder why cats are assholes.
The bar phone rang several times. It seemed that some patrons wanted to come in. After a discussion with the sergeant in charge, it was negotiated that if names could be provided, these individuals would be searched at the checkpoint and allowed entry to the bar under heavy police escort. I was to meet my companion and entreated her to come to the bar, to have the chance to perhaps see the president if not at least have the honor to be walked down the street arm and arm with the police, in a manner of speaking.
It was perhaps the first, maybe the only time available, to have police escort one to a dive bar as it was the first and only time in the lives of those gathered that they had been prevented from leaving, actually encouraged to drink, by the Secret Service.
New patrons came in small groups to replace those who left, except except for my friend and I, they too were regulars to the establishment. I had never been although I passed by it just about every day and had walked by it my entire life, considering was one of the few bars to pass the hundred year mark or be well on its way.
It was no Sweetwater Tavern. That place on St. Mark’s Place was a large spacious establishment old enough to be well worn and still maintain a telephone booth. Rumor has it that William Boroughs had picked up boys there back in his Junky days. The narrow hall that made the bar reminded me somewhat of McSorley’s however, that spot had long ago become more a tourist attraction than watering hole for locals. Indeed, the space was so narrow that one had to flatten out just to pass those at the bar and the wall across was plexiglass covering all manner of photodocuments and good thing too since I and others were pressed to the wall in passing. I am not sure I have ever, outside of a rush hour subway, pressed up against such a great many people I did not know nor want to touch. But, that was one way to become fast friends, I guess, and as the night went on we did make merry and drank in those stale waters served in tall glasses.
Next door the royal family dinned away in what later would be reported by the press in ever great detail so there was no mistake as to what was on the menu, what was selected, what bites were taken, and in what direction he and the Royal Missus masticated. Even on this was an otherwise nondescript Wednesday night, not even the New Friday everyone talks about, there was a need for these sordid gastronomic details.
And in time. His nibs and his lovely lady with the arms were finished, I can only assume they paid the bill as again a flurry of activity hit the streets and again the men in suits of various qualities rushed about on a a very choreographed almost dance number and lights again flashed, and doors opened, and people waved, and the drunks squished into the doorway or against the small dirty window and phones went up and snapped away in camera mode and in a moment, just a second, someone said, “Jebsus, I think I see him! Oh no… I don’t.” In the end none of us saw more than a momentary blur, could have been the First Family could have been deer unexpectedly jumping. All this wait, and no wave, no MisterPresidentIvotedforyoutwice, no kisses on top of mayor kisses tonight for anyone. We had camped out all night and this was it.
And the cars pulled out.
And the barriers were tossed onto a waiting truck.
And the police melted into the night.
And the city did what it does best, appear as if nothing had ever happened that today was just like yesterday and will be like tomorrow.
The regulars took their positions.
Everyone on the street left.
Except for the sergeants. They all said after this, they need a good drink. And the men we had been joking and chatting with and who kept a nervous eye on us all night ponied up to the bar and put away their badges, lifted a pint and listened to Larry’s stories, stories I am sure he had been waiting all night, perhaps even longer, to tell.
“It was Dublin, but a time of The Troubles…” I heard him say as I paid my own tab, and took the arm of my companion and asked her, “So…. when are you telling your parents I got you escorted into a dive bar?”