Thursday, February 02, 2006

Cold Heart for a Warm Winter 


I apologize for all the silence around here lately. Although the weatherman says that this is one of the warmest winters in history, it's been a dark cold season for Manhattan Transfer. I've lost a lot. Including my job. (Hire me!). The girlfriend left me. (No. I'm not going to provide a link for "Date me!") There are rumors that the best bar in NYC is shutting down. (Buy me drinks!) I'm drinking more than a person with no income has any business drinking.

Winters have always been a bad season for Manhattan Transfer. Last year's heartbreaks and headaches led to this post:

A winter night in early March. The wind shakes the glass of the shops on Franklin Street. The cobra-headed street lights make little cones of cold yellow light in the darkness. You walk west into the wind toward Broadway, and turn right up a short flight of uneven steps at a place where the columns of an old Tribeca textile building are wrapped in white Christmas lights.

Inside is a long tall room with a bar on the left. J.J. behind the bar sees you come in and reaches for the bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey. The place is called Grace. You’ve been here before. You used to be a regular but something changed. A new crowd ran in newer bars and you stopped coming to Grace. Even you are surprised you are back in Grace again.

You push aside one of the tall stools in front of the bar, and lean up against the bar on your elbow. J.J. puts the glass in front of you. Two ice-cubes float in the amber whiskey. You watch them melt for a moment before you take a hit. The water cuts the alcohol a bit and lets the flavors of the whiskey flourish. The small portion of ice makes the drink cool but not cold. After your first drink you lick your lips and smile at the taste of whiskey. The muscles in your neck loosen and your eyes relax.

“Been awhile,” J.J. says as he shifts around some glasses beneath the bar.

“Yeah. Awhile. I didn’t know I was coming here,” you say. “I had other plans. But I found myself in the neighborhood and then in front of the bar.”

This was true. You had other plans for the night. Those were gone now.

You try to remember the last time you were here. It was in November. You were alone. You were alone a lot last November. A good friend had died. Another friend had given up the drink. Your brothers had all moved away.

Of course, there had been trouble with a girl. You know the moment the trouble started. It was just before dessert in a restaurant in Chicago where you and girl had gone for a weekend. She stopped talking, and put her fork down. This wasn’t what she wanted. When she said “this” she meant everything that had to do with you. She meant she wanted to leave you. You were to tell your mother not to expect her for the holidays.

Thinking about it now you realize that the trouble hadn’t started then. It had its start in a hundred smaller conversations that were tucked into everyday the rhythm of life. This one stood out because it was a disruption in the rhythm. The conversation that stopped everything else. You imagined it as a doorway in time which would forever divide what had come before you crossed the threshold and what had come after.

Afterwards, it was easy not to think about the girl and the dinner and the doorway during the day. Why was it so hard to avoid looking back through that doorway at night? You spent your nights pretending not to look but the only way you could stop yourself was with whiskey. So you drank too much.

You are drinking again tonight. Trying not to think about how cold it was outside. Somehow you had managed in a few short months to march yourself down another corridor that led directly toward another doorway, through which you had stepped tonight. Another conversation that brought stillness to life. Another mark between before and after. Another tearl in her eyes. Another goodbye.

J.J. hands you another whiskey. How many has that been? You’ve already lost count. You take a pen out of your pocket and start to write on a bar napkin. What you write is meant to be a joke, a twelve step program for people who seem to be addicted to broken hearts. But you can’t laugh at it tonight. You hope tomorrow it will be funny. Tonight you just wish you could cry but that’s the other part, that you cannot even, ever cry.

The whiskey helps though. It really does.

[About a year ago on Manhattan Transfer I wrote How To Preserve Your Heart. After that the blog went silent for ten days.]

Which was just a retelling of the story of the events which led to "How to Repair Your Heart: A 12-Step Program."

1. Your heart has been torn out but you cannot just shove it in the freezer where you're keeping your liver for a day when you be more responsible with it.

2. The heart is a delicate organ. Without proper measures it is prone to freezer burn, which can lead to hardness, cracking and breaking.

3. Preservation requires marinating in whiskey for several hours.

4. This will also help sterilize the areas around the heart, including and up to your mind.

5. Never throw out the old ice. The second glass of whiskey should be poured over the remains of the first. The third over the second. The fourth over the third. The fifth over the fourth. The sixth over the rest of month, until it stops hurting so goddamn much.

6. Avoid the temptation to take your heart out and examine it. It will look blackened, dead and broken. This will make you panic. Ignore your heart. Forget it. Eventually it will work again, providing you keep it in a cold, dark place for long enough.

7. Have I mentioned cocaine? No? Good. Stay away from coke while you've removed your heart. It is no good for the heartless.

8. Speed, diet pills and kgb pills are even worse. You need to feel down, hungover, dead while you try to preserve your heart. That pain in your head and where your heart used to be means you are still alive and might survive this.

9. Forgive and forget. Fuck that. You really aren't going to forgive or forget, so why pretend? You feel empty because you've lost something important. You're drunk, and a bile producing organ has filled the void where your heart used to be. Hate, hate, hate. You're going to anyway. Might as well turn your faults into principles.

10. Get a job or a hobby. Never mind the hobby bullshit. You're not going to like anything for a long time, especially not knitting or rescuing plastic bags from urban trees. Jobs are good because they suck. They give your hatred an object. (Hint: Try to avoid wondering whether things would have worked out better if you'd had a better job--of course they would have, but thinking about this will make you postal.)

11. Back to drugs. Remember when you were stupid enough to believe you and your friends wouldn't get completely fucked by your chemical dependencies? Well, it's time to return to the faith. Nothing will get you through this like good drugs, great nights and awful days.

12. There is no step twelve. I'm sorry. You're basically fucked. You cannot preserve your heart. It's broken, it's been cut out and you can try to freeze it but it's not going to work. I was only trying to make you feel better when I said it would work again. Look. You're a drunk, you've spent money you don't have on drugs you cannot afford and you've got a bad attitude at work. Welcome to the world--we've been expecting you.

[Dealing With Life After Dumpage--Maccers]

[Choire Sicha's Non-Expert on Broken Hearts--The Morning News]

We'll keep on keeping on over here at MT. You can take my job, take my girl, take my bar but you cannot take the night from me. Or the blog. More soon.