b Papa Dog's Blog: 3. Catharsis

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

3. Catharsis

The transit strike kicked New York in the shins. As the Director and I were pulling on our beers and winding down from the day's arduous mission, the subway workers were getting the last passengers to their stops and driving the trains back to their final stations. Turnstyles were chained up, computers shut down, and gates locked as the venerable system went into hibernation. When morning broke tens of thousands would begin their arduous commute from points all over the five boroughs. Nature was not unkind: the weather was in the reasonable thirties, but the circumstance that many faced of walking long miles over bridges and up the city's long streets is not a task one wants to perform in the middle of December.

I was fortunate that the Director permitted me to camp out in his loft. I live in Brooklyn where a walking commute would mean a three hour trek each way. The contingency plan of letting cabs take multiple fares and putting passenger vans on the street didn't work from where I live. And besides, it didn't take long for the price gouging to arrive. For commuters accustomed to paying two dollars each way, dropping $20 to $40 a trip to get to work is untenable.

The timing for businesses couldn't have been worse. Days of weaker business in any circumstance is detrimental to any operation, but the revenue generated in the week before Christmas can represent a significant percentage of a company's annual earnings. When day broke, angry words were exchanged between the Mayor, Governor, MTA, and the Union. But the words didn't bring the trains back that day.

I rose a bit before ten and logged into the news which showed rivers of people trudging over the Brooklyn Bridge. Certain streets, including Madison, where I work, were closed to non-essential vehicle traffic during peak commuter times. Cars carrying fewer than four passengers were not allowed to enter the bulk of Manhattan for the first part of the day. The normally crowded sidewalks of New York were overloaded as the winter bundled masses walked briskly to their jobs. After removing evidence of the previous night's drinking, I set out to join the hordes.

Indeed, the streets were teeming with people, and every car that moved past was filled with passengers. New Yorkers have a reputation as a fast moving lot, and at this capacity, one was liable to be trampled if he did not keep up with the crowd. I did, and arrived at work where my brain was a bit soft all day. When I got done with what had to be completed, I set out onto the street, which was an eerie spectacle. At six in the evening, Madison Avenue is usually overwhelmed with vehicle traffic. Busses driving rapidly on the edge of the curb, so as to intimidate overconfident pedestrians; cabs filled with passengers, or off-duty signs lit up to annoy the fares flagging for attention; cranky motorists playing chicken with jaywalkers who know the law is on their side, although physics is not.

Before heading back to the loft, I ducked into Park Avenue Liquors to pick up a bottle of Connemara, the world's finest Irish Whisky. I knew it would be appreciated back at the space. I popped the whisky in my bag and set out for Hell's Kitchen. The streets were more crowded than they were in the morning, and commuters were more visibly annoyed now that nightfall had dropped the temperature about ten degrees. Cabs were hard to come by, and expensive. Bicycle taxis were enjoying a renaissance in business, and the drivers were festively garbed. At the corner of Madison and 43rd, I saw Spider-Man driving a bike cab across the busy street. At 6th and 45th, it was a viking.

Before heading over to the loft, I stopped in at Deacon Broadies, my regular watering hole, where the four customers at the bar were bitterly cursing the transit union. The parent union had condemned the strike, and court action was to come in the morning. "Noobody wants this fokkin' strike," Andy, the barkeep, muttered. "The drayvers're all losin' three days pay every day it's oan, everybody's got a beg pain in the ass tae get ta work. Oi thought besiness would be terrible. At least oi've got some coostomers." We all shared our thoughts on the affair, which we were all being put out by. Admittedly, I was luckier than most.

The Director walked into the bar after an hour and sat down on the stool beside me. I inquired as to Haley. It was bad enough what she had to go through the day before, but to add injury to that insult, she had to have outpatient surgery earlier in the day. He told me that she was asleep a lot, but doing well. "Good," I said. "She's got a rough couple of days ahead still, and she's gonna need all the rest she can get." We knocked back a beer a piece, and then walked over to the loft.

The elevator doors opened onto a party already in progress. Haley was sitting on a chair wrapped in a parka and smoking a joint while her friends Jared, a handsome theater type in a pea coat, and Deb, a fetching New York dame were cradling their respective drinks. The Director and I grabbed more chairs and I retired to the kitchen to prepare the whisky. I brought out the glasses for booze and waters back, and a small bowl of ice.

With a rare feeling of theater, I introduced the whisky, a subject in which I take great pride. "What I'm serving you," I said, "is Connemara, which is easily the finest Irish whisky I've ever had. It's a peated single malt Irish, which is unusual. I've brought ice, but you won't need it, because this is an unusually mellow, but full flavored malt. I think you'll all approve." I poured the round and we toasted Haley in her recovery, and most importantly, her emancipation. "To removing cysts!" the Director bellowed.

It was an odd mix of emotions in the room, between Haley's ordeals, the Director's affection for his gal and anger for her antagonist, and poor Jared's shock at losing his mentor to a sudden heart attack. But there was a feeling of compassion and community in the room that livened things considerably. The conversation moved all over the place, and the room felt like a classic salon. Consider the mix: the Director, an accomplished author and creator of successful movies; Haley, a television worker with a passion for theater and an obsession with progressive content; Jared, accomplished behind the scenes in the acting world; myself, head of a First Amendment group for the comics field; and delightful Deborah, who grew up with an architect of television for her father and spent much of her own life building her own considerable path in that same business. The Director's house had rarely seen so many people in it during the years when he shared it with his wife. I've always known him as a supremely social creature, but it was not something he could easily indulge in the past. Sitting in that room, sipping my delightful whisky, I could see that when the moments of concern for Haley abated I'd catch him glancing at the scene assembled with a flush of happiness alight in his eyes. It was unsaid, but I knew that look, and it was him, speaking with his delighted little boy voice, exclaiming, "How cool is this!"

After a few glasses of booze, Jared excused himself in that self-conscious way people have when they've imbibed a bit much and they are policing themselves, afraid they've somehow been obnoxious. Haley tired, and the Director took her to bed, leaving me sitting across from Deb. I noticed upon walking in that she is a very handsome woman. Small of build with eyes set like subtle jewels, and a delightful smile. A bit over a decade my senior, she wore her experience well. There was no bitterness in that face, but instead a seriousness and a vast capacity for joy. We started talking perhaps around midnight, and it didn't stop until morning.

I adore conversation, intelligent conversation with deep thinkers. I'm not modest about my intelligence, but I try not to be vain either. That said, my immodesty demands company that is quick of wit, filled with informed opinions, and the ability to argue them. Deb matched me one for one on each of those counts. Of course we talked about the situation between Haley and the Director, each of us protective in our own ways. Deb was something of a den mother for Haley and placed her well-being as a very high priority. I have the same relationship with the Director, and from those two perspectives, we agreed that what was happening between them seemed very good for them both.

The real joy in the conversation was when we discussed the world. I am obsessed with the notion of responsible self-government, in civics, in journalism and the proper reporting of the news, and, of course, of the political direction of the world. I was delighted to find Deb filled with insights and opinions on those matters as well. Who knew how many hours were passing as we talked. Time was marked by cigarettes and glasses of whisky. Somewhere around five in the morning we ran out of both, and we tried to figure out how the Director's elevator security system worked. We failed, and I told Deb she'd have to go on a mission into his room and retrieve some keys from his pants. She took off her shoes to do so, when I considered that perhaps he had keys in his jacket. Instead I found a couple of packs of Marlboro Lights. We laughed like children at our foolish plan and then stole one of the packs.

I felt very comfortable with her, and with each of us warmed by the caress of the whisky, began to allow that to turn into the seedling of affection. Her eyes were delightful to stare into, and she returned the gaze with easy confidence. When we spoke it didn't seem that there was any world beyond our two chairs, moving increasingly close to each other. Or rather, I kept moving my chair just a bit closer to hers. She complimented me on my gentlemanly behavior towards Haley, which reminded me of a moment earlier in the evening when, sitting between the Director and I, she exclaimed, "My god, I'm sitting between two gentlemen." Her definition of such a man was priceless: "A gentleman isn't someone who opens a door for a woman or holds her coat because he's looking to impress her. It's a man who has that so ingrained into how he behaves that he doesn't even realize he's doing it." At one point in our conversation it felt like there was as short a mental distance between us as there was a physical one, which is to say none at all. I told her I wanted to kiss her, but that I wouldn't because it would be ungentlemanly. Then I picked up the overflowing ashtray to discard the butts and as I walked away stroked her lovely hair and tugged gently. "I like that," she said.

The night sky turned to dawn and we were nearing the last of the beers we drank in the Connemara's stead. We were discussing Peter Greenaway's movies, particularly "The Pillow Book," and I made a comment about the movie being filled with beautiful bodies. She told me if I wanted to see beautiful bodies I should instead look at a movie called "Dangerous Beauty," which she happened to have on her. We went into the Director's office and popped it on his computer. The film opened on a library and introduced us to a stunning blonde. Deb mentioned that it was impossible to go wrong with a film filled with sex and books. At that point I'd already started holding her hand, resting my head on her shoulders, angling, quite frankly, for nothing more than the opportunity to lie down with her on the bed in the back room, and simply hold her as we slept. Then the Director woke up and looked in on us. I tried to persuade him to go back to bed, but he didn't take the hint.

Gradually conversation overtook the film and we simply shut it off. The sun was up now and we were on the last of our beer. The Director disappeared to look in on Haley, and Deb and I retired to the living room. She scrunched into in her chair and let out a cat-like yawn. I told her we should retire to the back room and curl up to sleep. I stood, took her hand, and asked her to follow me. She sat in place, telling me that she would love to, but that if she lay down in bed, she wouldn't properly wake for what she had to do during the day. I didn't like it, but I didn't push the matter either, deciding to sit with her and talk, watching as she dozed off. I wrapped her in a blanket and joined the Director in his office. We stepped out for more cigarettes and, because it was after 8, beer. On the way back, I alluded to my developing interest in her. "Well, yeah," he said sarcastically, "you had your hands all over her. I teased her about that when you were out of the room and she said, 'That's just gentlemanly affection.'" I was glad of the information.

The sun fully out, the sidewalks again overflowing with commuters annoyed by the strike, the Director and I fought our way back to his place. We stepped off the elevator where Deb was still sleeping and settled into his office. "I'm not going to work today," I said. "Fuck it," he said, "This is just the thing we need to blow out the tension." I agreed and then erupted into laughter. "What?" he asked. "Can you imagine if your assistant came in this morning. Here we are sitting at your desk at nine in the morning, knocking back beers, smoking, a woman passed out in the front room..." We both started laughing.

"Ah, fuck it," he said, "It's Christmas."

I raised my beer to a toast. "Fuck Christmas," I said.

Bottles clinked above the morning delivery trucks. "Fuck Christmas."


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