I have a list of possible blog subjects, mainly memories of events in my life that made a sufficient impression on my mind to endure at least in outline, while most of my life has faded from memory. There is no plan or ordering of when, if ever, I’ll choose one to write about. Some are of events in my life that are hard to take up because I know I can’t really do them justice.
The memory I turn to today is not one of those. It comes from an aimless time in my life in which one day was much like another, in the actual living as well as the memory. Why this atypical, yet far from momentous, evening with a barroom setting has come to the top of the list today I cannot say. Yet there it is, and it will get its few words now and be checked off the list for good.
Although I can’t be certain of the time, I believe it was during the winter after I returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts from Italy, some twenty-six years ago. Now that I think about it, the heaps of snow everywhere outside now as I write may have helped turn my mind back to an earlier similar setting. In truth I can’t be sure whether it was before or after my year in Italy. I’m only sure it was a time when I was without girlfriend or wife and thus totally adrift.
I started the evening out in a certain restaurant and bar in Harvard Square. It was a weekend night, probably Saturday, and the place was already crowded when I got there, with no stools free at the bar. I drank my beer standing. I really wasn’t there with any purpose; I wasn’t planning to meet a woman or engage in conversation or get drunk. It was just a place to be amidst people that to me were neither intolerable nor very interesting. Nor likely to turn violent, which is a consideration when choosing a bar. Being there was more appealing than being home alone, though I can’t even say where that was at the time.
Standing near me was a rather small fellow who evidently felt our proximity called for conversation, as though we were guests brought together for the first time at a party. I didn’t really care to talk, and I can’t remember how the conversation started, but I do remember that the man’s name was Seamus, which was a name I’d never encountered before. Seamus was not a man to put one at ease, because he didn’t look to be at ease himself. I don’t know how long we’d been talking before the subject turned to baseball. That made a big difference. Seamus told me how relieved he was to hear I was interested in baseball, because he had been anxiously searching for a subject of mutual interest, and now, having found one somewhat unexpectedly, he could relax. I would have preferred to silently drink my beer in the semidarkness, thinking about nothing, interacting with no one, but I give Seamus credit for not accepting such a sorry situation. I don’t remember anything else about my time there that night, but I must have been there for hours.
This bar had an earlier closing time than some. It’s not much fun to be at a bar when it closes. I can’t remember if I ducked out before that happened or not, but I do know that instead of going home I headed on foot for a nearby bar that had a later closing time.
The other bar, which doesn’t exist anymore, was called the Ha’penny. It was a small bar I seldom went to, and I seem to recall that it was somewhat below the street level. There weren’t many people in the bar this night, but the atmosphere was convivial. The young bartender (whom I doubt I had ever seen before) greeted me and straightaway introduced me to the man next to me at the bar, or rather announced to me who he was: Seamus, the poet. Two Seamuses in one night! How strange to have gone through my whole life without hearing a name, and then to meet two with it on the same night. I think the bartender may have said Seamus taught at Harvard. This Seamus seemed calm and self-assured, in contrast with the first Seamus I’d met.
There were only a few people in the bar, among them two young women with a male friend, and another guy sitting silently alone. There were probably others, but those are all I remember. It was a much more intimate and friendly scene in the Ha’penny than the one I’d just left. Soon I was engaged in a conversation with the women and the poet. I can’t remember talking to the man who was with the women, but I don’t have the feeling he was attached to either of them. The women were both nurses.
One of the nurses lived in a town across the Charles River. She was not unappealing, but her looks couldn’t compare with those of her blonde friend, who was visiting from Colorado. She was gorgeous. The women were seated around the corner of the bar from where Seamus and I were standing.
As we all talked, the woman from Colorado leaned back, knees above the bar level, revealing lovely thighs. “Look at that,” I said to Seamus sotto voce, which wasn’t exactly poetry, but spontaneously expressed what I felt must be a shared sense of awe for the feminine beauty before us. It was not something I would normally have said to a stranger, or anyone for that matter, so I must have felt a quick rapport with this poet, though the effect of the beers I’d drunk can’t be discounted.
I don’t remember anything of our conversation beyond the facts already related, but I know we must have talked with the nurses for some time after that. The next thing I do remember was an eruption of ugliness that broke the evening’s spell. The previously silent, sullen young man at the bar, whom we had all ignored, was on this feet shouting “You’re all a bunch of assholes!”
He stood there looking around hatefully through his drunkenness as though waiting for someone to challenge his assertion. The suddenness of the outburst and its striking contrast with the prevailing spirit it so quickly chased away was stunning really. I think he may have continued to repeat his proclamation. A response seemed necessary, yet none of us responded. Seamus obliquely excused our inaction by saying to me “The man might be a poet,” and I nodded my concurrence, but without really pardoning myself. What should one’s response be to the equivalent of a mad man’s raging? Perhaps if I myself had been totally sober it would have been easier for me to shrug it off as merely something to get away from.
I don’t remember the bartender intervening in any way with the aggressively unhappy drunk. Maybe it wasn’t unusual. Maybe it was nearly closing time anyway. The next thing I can recall is being outside in the cold shortly after the nurses and their male companion had left the bar, driven out basically. We were parting with no plans to meet again.
The two women and the man crossed the street to where their car was parked, while I headed up the street toward home, wherever that was. There was snow piled up beside the streets. Then one of the nurses is shouting. “Bob! I love you, Bob!” I look back, see it’s the local one, wave to her, and walk on. It was one last thing I’d remember from that night, something that could boost my ego a little (and counter the shame I was feeling for my passivity in the face of loutishness), even if the way my apparent conquest had been announced pointed to the local nurse’s having been more than tipsy.
So far as I know I never saw either of the nurses again. I may never have returned to that bar. I think I must have seen the first Seamus again, but never the second, though I did meet someone later who had taken a writing seminar with him. I wonder if his memory of that night is better than mine, if he remembers details I don’t? A poet might.