Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Temple Bar

The wind is blowing icily, causing my trench coat to whip around my bare legs like the wings of startled bats. I shiver as my friend and I stuff three quarters in the meter and start digging for dollar bills. He dips into his wallet. With his face turned down to watch his fingers pull at the paper bills, the crown of his balding head shines like the crest of a well waxed apple hiding a star at its core. My bladder aches all the worse for my shivering, holding the bottom of my coat closed with my hands where there are no more buttons left to fasten. He lays the crisp rectangular papers in my waiting hand and I run to the corner, to a building that I’m too uncomfortable to appreciate or be too curious about. Under the awning blocking the bright red front door with its little glass portal, a woman leans back smoking a cigarette. I look at her and then immediately past her, over her shoulder, at the closed transparent door behind her.
"Is this place open?" I ask her.
Her eyes are small and unfriendly, peering out from under her dark wavy bangs, her mouth has left a red lipstick stain on the end of the half smoked cigarette.
"Yeah." She says it as if she couldn’t care less about the state of this place or any other place for that matter, and I brush hurriedly past her, grieving over the misfortune that leads her to stand in this particular doorstep where I would come to encounter her. The door swings eagerly open as I press against it and I find myself in a very big dark room with several different doors and dark hallways at either end of a luxuriously long bar. I walk sure footed inside, without taking the time to recover from the momentary blindness, as my eyes adjust to the dim atmosphere.
There is a television hung over one end of the bar, but no bartender. Three people sit on their individual stools, two next to each other at one end; a young woman and an old man. The third is alone at the end of the bar. The woman is dressed casually but nicely in gray and blue athletic wear with a healthy dose of black make up adorning her eye lids and her dark hair pulled up in a bun. A slew of cosmopolitan magazines are spread on the bar in front of her. She is reading one, occasionally looking up at the television. The old man is also dressed well, in slacks and a white dress shirt. His hair is white and the creases in his face are new and thick. He glances at me momentarily, revealing his sour faded eyes. Then he looks back to the papers he is holding and proceeds to divide his attention between them and the television.
After a brief hesitation in which I am perplexed by the absence of the bartender, I determine that I will be unable to delve into the mystery of this chamber effectively until after I have found a place to urinate. Either my need to pee is so great, or I have reached a point in my life where I no longer feel that I require anyone’s permission to do anything, maybe now I see the request for permission as just a quaint gesture, like putting little brass rings on the napkins for a dinner party or pulling my left foot back and up as I bow to say hello. I walk into the darkness, as if I know where I’m going , walking in a straight line parallel to the bar towards a blackened hallway. As I pass the end of the bar, I notice the third man. He sits with his laptop open, working on something, the blue light of the LCD screen reflecting off of the lenses of his spectacles while his almond shaped eyes dart here and there watching the data scroll by. As I enter the hallway, I am gratified to find that I have chosen the right direction. The bathroom doors are marked with gold plaques reading "Women" and "Men" respectively.
Hurrying through the door that is marked "Women", I am both surprised and pleased to find that the bathroom is spacious and bright and pleasant smelling. There are 5 stalls, more than I expected, and the walls and floor are clean. I select the largest stall and lay down the thin toilet seat covers after shutting and latching the door behind me. As I urinate, I hold the dollar bills in my hand and think about the unyielding scene in the main room, how perfect it is, how still and quiet, how resistant to any attempt at change or disturbance. Succumbing to the intimidation of this unfamiliar environment is not an option. There is nowhere else nearby where I can complete my mission. As I pull my shorts back up and drop the length of my coat back down, I resolve to get what I want, kick flushing the toilet. I stride out of the restroom and back towards the bar, holding up the two dollar bills.
"Anybody got change for a dollar?" I say it in a loud, clear and confident voice that, for an instant, echoes through the room like an explosion.
They all look up reticently, unhappy to be budged from their private realities. The man at the computer looks up towards me, up towards the roof and back to his computer screen before I can register his movements. The old man barely lifts his thick eyebrows. The woman with the magazines gestures to the woman from outside who is now seated at the bar. The woman with the small and unfriendly eyes, looks back towards me and reluctantly rises from her seat as if her ass is the heaviest object she has ever been asked to lift.
While she opens the register I say, "Actually, I could use two dollars worth."
"Alright." She sounds disappointed and at the same time so resigned to disappointment that it hardly seems to matter. Her mouth barely opens as she speaks that single word. She takes the dollars from me and shells out a fistful of quarters. I accept them and look into her tiny squinting eyes with sincerity.
"Thank you… very much." I speak slowly and with great emphasis on each word. "I… sincerely… appreciate… it." She scarcely nods but her face seems a little softer, as if a tiny whiff of soft wind broke through the ossified barrier of her sour expression. I turn and push back through the red door into a blast of cool air which whips up my coat again, letting me know that the world outside still remains, the vast open world still surrounds the musty and perfect heart of the lonely bar, as much as its inhabitants would like to forget it, as much as they would like to be forever left alone.

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