The Working Man’s Special (Based on Keats’ “La Belle Dame sans Merci”)

And so each Friday I’d go cash my check, after the job, when the kids were still in school, and the wife was still at work. I didn’t make a whole lot, enough for the bills, the basics, and a few beers. From there I’d walk up a few blocks to the old neighborhood, Hell’s Kitchen, now full of fags and bankers, not like when I was a kid. I’d pop into Rudy’s Bar, a place my dad, grand-dad, all the Dolan men had thrown a few back in. Wasn’t owned by Rudy any more, but I liked drinking there, reminded me of those old days.
Happy hour started at noon and the bar, for three or four hours, was filled with Shriner types: old guys on pensions, who drank beer for lunch, and had built the city with their hands. Retired steel workers, bus drivers, gray haired guys who reminded me of those old men I loved and looked up to as a kid filled the place. Rudy’s still had the Working Man’s Special, a shot and a cheap can beer. I’d suck two maybe three down before I’d have to get back on the train to Brooklyn, for Diane’s end-a-the-week Mac-and-Cheese.
So it’s Friday afternoon, Yankee’s are on the tube, two o’clock, Jimmy’s behind the bar and I’m just sipping my beer, when I see this guy who I never seen before pacing around the back-a-the bar. I’m thinking to myself, what wrong with this schmuck? Why is he in here? And why does this guy look so miserable? He’s made three maybe four calls on the payphone, and I look over at Jimmy, and he shoots me this look like why’s this forty dollar hair cut in a Bloomingdales suit in here with the shriners on Friday afternoon? And why doesn’t he have a cellphone?
The haircut walks over, sits down at the bar, and orders up a single malt. The guys in the place all look at him. Now the locals are guys who drink single malt once a year on their birthdays, but when they see the suits no trouble they go on with their small-talking, staring, and sipping. Jimmy pours this guy’s drink, and the guy pays him. I looking at Mr.GQ, out of the corner of my eye, and see that the guy’s suffering. He’s one sad looking chump. I see sweat on his far head, and his suit looks like he’s slept in it. He finishes up his drink and calls for another.
He’s spending some cash, so I know Jimmy’s thinking that this white collar might make his tip jar a little heavier. And Jim seeing the lucrative possibilities of this four train suit asks his name, “I ain’t seen you before, what you doing around here? What do they call you?”
“Oh, um, yeah I ah, kind of new to the neighborhood, live in, you know, one of those newly renovated co-op‘s. I’m sorry Charles, the name is Charles.”
“Charlie, I’m Jimmy, that there at the end of the bar is Frankie” pointing to me “he grew up round here, isn’t that right Frankie?” I gave a nod not wanting to get involved with the suit. “Nice to meet ya Charlie—don’t worry guys round here look tough, but they ain’t. Buncha old stinks, still think the neighborhood belongs to the micks. Guys don’t realize city’s changed, do ya boys?”
Charlie’s sipping his third, when he starts patting himself, like he’s on fire. Pulls out this fancy contraption, thing looks like a god-damn space computer, Jimmy and I don’t realize it’s a phone till he sticks it on his ear.
Charlie rushes out of the place, leaving his coat, and Jimmy and I like two school girls start gossiping. “What’s this guy’s deal?” “Maybe insider trading or something? I saw something in the Post about two guys, made millions lying.” Jimmy whispers this. “Nah, yah think? Ah that’s movie stuff.” And before we can come up with some crazy reason that this guy would be drinking in Rudy’s, of all places, he wanders back.
“Sorry about that Jimmy, god s’been a day.” “Ah don’t worry Charlie, I knew you’d come back. If not I would hocked that fancy coat of yours to pay for that third drink.” They both laugh. “No it was just a friend about this girl, woman really, she…” “Go on kid confess. Before we go to the priest, air our sins to God, we all got a bartender we prep it with.” “It’s just—I met this chick, got be last spring by now. Jim she’s the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. She’s the whole package. I met her one night, when I was out with a few colleagues after work, laying out a business model over drinks. We’re in the Hudson Library Bar, you know where that is?” “Yeah in the Hudson Hotel, had a cousin who was bell hop there.” Jimmy was crouching over the bar, like he was this guy’s therapist or something. “Ok. So the guys I work with leave, and I stay back, sipping on a few drinks checking out the crowd. And in she walks. There was something about her, it was in her eyes. I can’t explain, except, I don’t know: you ever see a woman, look in her eyes, and know she’d be good in bed?” “Yeah,” Jimmy now hooked “I married her.” “So you do know what I mean—ok, she and I get to talking at the Hudson and in a flash, were back at my place. I swear it lasted four hour, and was the best I ever had.”
Not paying attention at first, at this point a few of us were looking over at him beginning to follow the story. “So I started seeing this chick regularly. We’d go out to dinner, I bought her this really expensive festooned Tiffany’s tennis Bracelet that set me back a few days pay.” We had no idea what this guy meant “festooned?” But we were so interested in this soap opera he was spilling out, that we forgave his big word. “She wore the god damn thing around her wrist every day. So we are out one night at Jean Georges, and she looks across the table at me and softly says ‘I love you.’ It was the sweetest thing I’d ever heard.” I motioned for another while Charlie rambled on. “I said it back Jim, I’d never said that to anyone but my mother.” Jimmy smiled, “Any good guy loves his mother, and tells her and you seem like a good one Charlie. Come on let me buy you one on the house.”
The old guys at the end of the bar heard the words “buy ya one” and the drunk fools perked up. They were pissed that this kid was getting some special treatment, he was new they never liked anyone new, but Charlie looked like he needed it. “So what wrong then Charlie sounds like a good girl?” Jimmy was like a prized fighter with his customers. He knew exactly how to move around ‘em, how to ask about your guts, getting you to open wallet instead. “Oh no at that point six months ago, I thought to myself ‘Charles you’ve met the mother of your children.’ It was only about a week ago that that changed. ” “Go head kid, don’t be shy, we all been there before.”
“Well I am out again at the Hudson Library bar for work. And I’m in the back, papers spread out, talking with a few colleagues. She walks in, in a cocktail dress, like the night I had first seen her. But she has a guy on her arm. And so I’m thinking, it could be her brother, cousin, or some gay guy she pals around with. I hang low, but after only five minutes I see they are much more than friends. She got her hands on this guy’s zipper and her tongue in his mouth.”
“So, like an idiot, I play tough guy, walk over to her, make a scene, and get kicked out of the place. I’m never allowed back. Can you believe the guy she was with threatened to kill me, what a fool. That’s not even the best part, the guy who just called me, spends a lot of time in the neighborhood, and he told me she’d done the same thing to a few guys he knows, even screwed a buddy of his up so much he didn’t make partner.” “Ah you live and learn kid, you’re young.” Jimmy lit a cigarette and shouted to the bar, “Anyone tells the board of health, I’ll find out who told, and get the unions on your ass for drinking on the job.” Charlie the poor dummy kept talking, “I must sound like a fool, but it’s just she just was like this wonderful dream, and then one day, I woke up cold and all alone. I shouldn’t be, but I’ve been trying to reach her, just trying to fix things.” “Ah forget about her, she the past Charlie.” Jimmy puffed on his cigarette. “She won’t pick up my calls, so I’ve been trying her from different numbers hoping she might pick up then. Called her from the payphone in the back—nothing, won’t answer.” “ Ah don’t worry kid” Jimmy feeling bad for the guy, “She’s not the right one for ya, that’s all. Sounds like a classic New York City whore. Mommy and Daddy just didn’t love her enough, that all. We all been hurt by one of those once or twice, ain’t that right Frankie?” I look over feeling for this kid, “Yeah makes us strong Jim, don’t it?”
The kid’s put back four doubles by now, and for a skinny guy I know he’s gotta be hurting. Yanks are in the ninth and it’s not like it used be. This new breed of a free-trading baseball team doesn’t feel like home. And so I gather my thing up, leave’m on the bar, and hit the john before heading home to Brooklyn.
I Walk out of the can zipping my fly up, and I look across the room—mostly old guys without a place to go, without a city, without much but a few bucks and a favorite drink. I walk over to my seat, and hear Charlie still crying into his glass, “So that why I am here, can’t go to my old place, can’t get her out of my head, and I just needed a drink.” “Well you’re welcome anytime Charlie, you’re a good guy. I like this kid—good guy right Frankie?” I give a wink and a nod, thanking God I ain’t young no more. The kid tries to smile at me, but he’s all over the place. And then out of nowhere, standing up, he takes that computer phone of his, and pitches it across the bar. The thing shatters into a million plastic pieces, circuits all over the bottles.
I look over at Jimmy. He looks at me wondering if he should be mad and then this group of sad old men, the entire place jump up to their feet. I thought it was the Yank’s at first, though maybe someone hit one out of the park. But it was just Charlie, grinning like an idiot, and all we can do was clap. This entire bar full of old guys, all who’d met a girl like this when they were young just clapped. Charlie took a bow, sat back down. And these old guys, all of us, if we listened or not, understood.

The Working Man’s Special (Based on Keats’ “La Belle Dame sans Merci”)


Joined July 2008

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Artist's Description

The working man’s view of a lost love in a white collar world.

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