THESE MANY, EMPTY, SATURDAY AFTERNOONS
“How you doin’?” Steve asks.
“I’m thinking about knishes,” Pete replies.
Steve nods his head and resumes strumming his imaginary guitar. Pete sets down a plastic box filled with sushi on the bar in front of him. “I call this one, The Sushi Blues,” he says, and sings quietly, accompanied by Pete’s [silent] strumming, “When there was sushi, there was no rush. Ketchup, once, but never for fish. Bukowski said it best, ‘these many empty Saturday afternoons."
Steve nods his head in appreciation of the recitation.
Pete concentrates on his wasabi now, a thin line of verdant goo oozing out like snail excrement. He smiles at it – the grin of a man who was once at the top of his game and who has now sunk so low as to imagine himself still there.
Pete takes a long pull on his morphine lollipop and stares out the window at Gina The Wig Lady placing her sundries in a basket lowered from the apartment above the bar. Hanging over the balcony is Gina’s mother with whom she has lived her entire life save for three weeks in September of '65 when she cohabitated with Vinnie Sip two blocks away on Mulberry Street.
Gina flips him the bird and Pete shakes his head. Even though her history reaches back to when this neighborhood was The Five Points, Pete’s been here since the forties and feels his association with The New York Intellectuals sets him above and beyond.
“Hmmm hmm hm… home...” Pete sings in time to the vibrations Steve makes in the bar’s dead air. When he senses Gina has gone, he looks back out the window and smiles a languorous smile that once landed great beauties in his bed.
The next item to conquer is the soy sauce. His fingers trace the slippery plastic like braille, patiently seeking indentations on the packet; but he is in no rush – until happy hour rolls around and the bar needs this table for paying customers, he can sit undisturbed, opening up as many packets of condiments, as slowly as he wants.
By 4:45, he’s managed to mix the soy sauce with the wasabi to his liking, but by then his pop has been worn to a nub and the need for anything – sushi, women, even poetry – has fled.
He settles back against the window and relaxes into a dulled stupor. Behind the firecracker sun spots in his eyes he dreams of a time when this bar was a diving board, a dock at the end of Montauk where he began and ended each day, whispering with friends, swapping lovers and trailing his knobby toes in the water until the darkness forced him to swim back home against the changing tides.