|The Whore rides into Babylon on a seven-headed beast.|
An old friend of mine called last week. He had just lost his job and was turning to me for some insights, and maybe a soft shoulder, about the world of freelancing.
Ordinarily, when I go out for a drink, I go solo and I go, almost exclusively to the Tempus Fugit. Many of my friends have asked exactly where the Tempus Fugit is, or have urged me to take them. But since it opened as a speakeasy 90 years ago and was thereby hidden down a labyrinth of hallways and stairways in a Verizon warehouse on way east 91st, I have yet to reveal its exact whereabouts.
The place is well-hidden and a secret. I intend to keep it that way.
That said, when my friend asked me if I knew a bar where we could bend an ear and an elbow, I came up empty. Finally, pressed, I blurted: "Let's go to a place I heard about on 114th and Pleasant Avenue, The Whore of Babylon."
I don’t usually think of city-planners as blessed with a sense of irony, but Pleasant Avenue is and always was a misnomer. It’s a scab of a street. The scabs hiding the bruises beneath. As such, however, the location suited my needs. It was far away from the sequined banality of the Upper East. Far away from the short-skirted and tight-shirted.
The Whore of Babylon, tonight, would suit me just fine.
The Whore, like the Tempus Fugit, also started in the wake of Prohibition. It also boasts no sign and puts up a threatening front so as to discourage hipsters and other temporal phenomenon. Like the Tempus Fugit, it has made no concessions to the 21st Century. There are no flat screens, no music, no neon. Just a dark old bar, three tables shoved against a back wall, and a burly, Popeye-forearmed barkeep. His tattoos show no trace of irony.
We sat at one of the tables, the bartender brought over our beers, wiping our table damp before setting them down.
"Nice place," my friend said.
The bartender kicked at the sawdust accumulating on the floor.
"This was a place of dissolute wickedness in its day," the bartender began. "As they say, it was fairly swarming with hot and cold-running temptations."
My friend and I toasted to temptation. We drank to those we succumbed to and even more to those few we resisted. The bartender, quick as a furtive kiss, whisked around the bar and brought us another.
"So how is it," my unemployed companion asked. "How is it dealing with the caprices of the job market?"
"You are a ditch-digger now. Wake up, grab your shovel and dig."
"Dig?” he asked.
"This is when you find out if you did your homework. If your reputation's solid. If your opus precedes you."
"And if it doesn't?"
"Well, I can't help you there. Then you're the Whore of Babylon. A wicked creature, the Queen of the prostitutes riding on a seven-headed beast."
"Fuck, you're gloomy."
"There was a time when personality--even a personality on the spectrum like mine--was permitted. We're all supposed to be Little Mary Sunshine these days, but I am that I am."
He drained number two. I was about four sips behind him. I caught up, then signaled the bartender for a check.
We laughed for a minute, like old times. Laughed about the banality of our business. Laughed about being old when we knew each other when we were young.
“Stay away from bars like this,” I said as I got up to leave. “The Whore of Babylon blows often an ill-wind.”
I treated, and we walked silently home.