As he left the Greenpoint Tavern, moments before being invited to leave, James Cassese had an epiphany. The Greenpoint Tavern (or GPT or Rosies as it was known to regulars, Rosie’s for one of the owners with her blue-tinted bouffant and lacquered face that covered maternal booze-dispensing tenderness) on a Saturday near midnight was exactly the place where clarity could sweep over you. Despite the neon palm tree in the window it was always Christmas at the bar – strands of Christmas lights and Christmas streamers and Christmas banners on the wall. At the long bar, a few old Polish men drank morosely and tried to ignore the crowds of bellowing children in odd clothing who had seized Rosie’s and were holding the pool table and jukebox hostage.
James’s rocket of possibility had launched as he’d summoned the last scuffed dollars from his wallet and realized that he couldn’t tip on what it was clear would be his last drink. So then, how to get money for that next drink, and even more importantly, the drinks after that? Rosie had already given him one free drink for old time’s sake and she had more recently scolded him for borrowing the drink of one of the noisy art child who had vehemently complained about theft. Even worse, Rosie had taken the kid’s side although she had known James for twenty years (it didn’t occur to James that familiarity was exactly what had led Rosie to her decision). Cassese was a large man with a thick black moustache worn completely without irony. His bulk had always given him confidence; people thought twice before they shouldered past him on the subway and this made him feel an inherent importance. The loss of his job as a car service dispatcher in the Bronx two years earlier had inexorably directed James back to Greenpoint, where in eleven months he’d worn out the couch welcome of every family member and friend he had left. There it was late on a June night and James had no place to go with his empty wallet. Foresight had led him to wear his long windbreaker – it made sleeping in the park more comfortable.
The loss of his job had given James all the time in the world to do what he desired most – drink – but had taken away the means for him to do it. Rosies was his last stand. James had grown up in Greenpoint and he’d been visiting the bar for thirty years, back to when he was an underage drinker in an era no bartender on Bedford ever said the word, ‘ID.’ Despite the fact that James had just dispatched the final dollar from his last welfare check, he’d rediscovered his confidence as well whiskey-and-soda’s went down. The nine-inch Bowie knife strapped to his ankle in a soft leather case bolstered that confidence, which is why he wore it, of course, but the rocket of insight didn’t explode until he opened the bar door and walked out into June.
Across the street car headlights flung diamonds and shadows onto plate glass shop windows. James looked directly through cars and the people hurrying away from the subway and through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows and saw the barista in the L To-Go exposed behind the counter. That’s when it all came together for. Besides the barista, a gangly kid, the To-Go store was empty and closing, the morning and lunch rushes long past. James decided that he would walk in with his confident bulk, present his nine inches to the puny kid and have him empty the register (James had seen the barista’s pulling the cash drawer from the register and counting the money out on the counter other nights, so perhaps his epiphany was not as spontaneous as it seems). A stroll around the block and he would return directly to Rosie’s; no cop would ever suspect such casual bravado. In the bar, he would tell Rosie that an old friend had finally paid off a loan and he would buy both of them shots and he would even apologize for his earlier misbehavior. It was a happy vision.
Music and Memory, Part 32: Piano Karma
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