It Might as Well Be Spring
I took this day off months in advance when I knew Nacho was coming down for a long weekend, tacking on an extra day off for recovery that, as it turns out, was hardly necessary. We are not becoming old men, just men more easily affected by the weather. So it’s more than appropriate that during Nacho’s stay a new front seemed to come through every hour on the hour. Winter in New Orleans is like that.
I guess it seems odd that one day we were searching for a bar with a wide open patio, tables with free access to the mild sunshine and then spent the next craving something cozy, but that’s how it goes when the heat has left us. Without the imperative of air conditioning and shut doors, the bars, cafes, and storefront restaurants seem as if they aren’t taking full advantage of their sites. Everyone sits inside with their heads turned jealously towards the two tables set up on the angled sidewalk. Their occupants laugh and lean together, carefree and dressed appropriately while the rest of us squirm.
Nacho and I discussed an ideal English pub, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him that everything that made it ideal would also make it unmarketable in modern New Orleans. We have such rare occasion for roaring fires and rooms quiet enough to hear the bulldog snoring. Still, the Clay Beagle will remain a permanently soft dream for him to come back to when times get nervous and agitated.
This time around I did get to introduce him to the Apple Barrel, one of my favorite bars and one that is great because you can just tell that it isn’t the product of a couple of brainstorming sessions or even, aged as it is, open to suggestions about its future. The room itself is small, about 30 by 20, with a topless old upright piano bang up against the wall as you enter. Scuffed hardwood everywhere and a righteous old retriever lying on her side. They giver her ice cubes to chew when it’s hot; not sure what they do when it’s cold. The place has a few older bartenders, which I often find myself craving. Not old bartenders who’ve been pushed from place to place because of personality deficiencies, dependency problems, or just general defeat. And not old bartenders who are recently retired insurance risk analysts who are busy depleting a bar they’ve just bought out of all its character, but the kind that have stuck with a place like it was in the family, like they promised Uncle Benjy on his deathbed they’d look after it for him. Old bartenders made of rope–they shrink in the drought and expand in the squall, they fray and creak but always hold.
We didn’t stay too long. Some bars you just don’t want to embarrass yourself in, even if others do. We went home and drank Tecate, a beer I always consider summery but that seemed appropriate as our go-to brew for the weekend, the staunch reserve to come down to after the hard liquor. For whatever reason, though, we never got off the ground with the liquor. It just wasn’t that kind of weekend.
I feel like I judge Nacho too harshly sometimes, and I think I’ve figured out why. I’ve always looked to him as an important guide–not a role model by any means, but as maybe an understated trail-blazer, the one hacking through the overgrowth of life ahead of me. So we’ve gone from the eager soon-to-be college graduate admiring the seasoned, manic diarist approaching thirty to the seasoned, over-pensive epicure approaching thirty worrying about the tiring publisher with curled shavings piled around his feet where he’s carved away unnecessary parts of his life. I judge him because I want him to be his best, to be balanced–not the way a sweaty, middle-aged mom holding a yoga pose is, but the way a sword resting on its forger’s finger is. He used to be a little less self-conscious, and I realize now that my constant poking fun at his funny little self-conscious tics has made him…a little more self-conscious.
Ah, well. He’s still aging well, still doesn’t look as old as he feels. He can still put away the rum and wake up ready to shovel snow before dawn if he needs to. He can still make you laugh and explain the knotholes of history without much fuss. He’ll make a good old bartender one day. Keep the coolers stocked and fronted, clean out the tap lines every morning. He’ll be ready for business even if no one else but me patronizes the place.