The Artist

by whatsthatyousaymrsrobinson

I’ve been meaning to write for a while now about the regulars at my local. Because there’s a reason I go there, and it’s not just for the generous buy back policy.

In the early days after my husband pulled the rip cord on his emergency ‘shute, I would come home to my lovely, and oh so very empty apartment, look around and think, “nope. Can’t do this.” Then I would go and hog a barstool and make a friend.

The roster looks something like this:

There’s the Cuban taxi driver. Who drinks a lot and goes on fad diets and reads difficult books, and who, for months now, has had the severe hots for a tattooed chick who serves him his morning cappuccino. I’ve been coaching him on ways to ask her out that don’t interrupt her work flow.

The Cuban likes the idea of having a girlfriend, (especially a tattooed one) but he’s so into this woman that he lacks the moxy to put this desire into effect.

In the summer I invited him to my house for a barbecue and when, upon asking and being told that there would be no eligible women present he turned me down.

There’s the other Grenadian (cousin of the Irish car bomber) who wrangles coffee and frets about his weight and, five years after his girlfriend left him, still can’t bring himself to get back into dating.

There’s the bartender, a year round surfer. Cool. Sardonic, shaven-headed, good looking. Who will never forget your name or what you drink, even if you come in only once.

There’s the Bengali, raised on Staten Island. Who recently had to be disabused of the notion that his life was over at 35 because his girlfriend had chosen Hong Kong over him.

There’s the married couple. Who own a successful business in the neighborhood and, as far as I can tell, use the bar as their living room.

There’s the guy who tunes church organs. Who drinks gin and tonics and can answer any question you care to ask about classical music.

There are several artists. You run into them late at night, usually. Sitting quietly. Drinking quietly. Some whose names I know and some I don’t.

So the other night the Brazilian is making me look good by putting his hilariously handsome self at my side, and the night we’re out happens to coincide with a showing by one of the artists whose names I know.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing the art because one of the other artists whose names I know, and who had installed the show, had said; “John? He’s a painter’s painter.” I wasn’t sure what he meant, but it sounded good.

The Brazilian and I arrive early and look at the work and wish we had a spare few thousand dollars to buy some. The artist spends a lot of time in Europe, so he’s painted about that. But I also recognize my community garden and the Gowanus Canal and, best of all, the view of the buildings across the street from our local. He’s got the light just right. It’s six o’clock summer evening light. He’s put the bartender in the painting too. A tiny figure, in the corner.

The artist has real talent. He paints bodies so they look like they’re in motion. You can’t take your eyes off them.

I’ve known the artist for several years. He’s a brave man, I think. For a long time I wasn’t writing and he always encouraged me to start again. “The art is the thing,” he says. His favorite salutation is “courage”, which he pronounces the French way. It’s great to finally see his work after hearing about it for so long. It’s so thrilling to see what other people are thinking about and how they’re making sense of the world.

I ask the artist who else is coming from our local. And he says they’re all coming.

And so it turned out.  It was a field trip. We stuck around the gallery for a bit, enjoying the free booze and the novelty of seeing each other in a place that wasn’t our local and then the Cuban had an idea. There’s a bar up the street that plays reggae on a Thursday night.

There’s one other thing that the regulars at my local have in common; they make fun of me because I once happened to mention that I don’t like reggae. Although it’s not that I don’t like reggae, it’s that I don’t appreciate it. I feel like I’m too white for reggae. (This statement is guaranteed to make the regulars guffaw with laughter.)

Once, years ago, I was at a party on a roof in Sunset Park with a bunch of Jamaicans and one was trying to get me to dance with him and I played the white card and he said. “You don’t have to be Jamaican, you just have to be drunk.”

But I could never get the hang of it.

So off we go to hear some reggae. The Cuban knows the DJ and he introduces me to him. And he points out this peculiar fact about me and reggae. In my defense, I invite the DJ to observe the color of my skin and he laughs. Reggae is a universal language and has been for decades, he says. Jamaica’s gift to us all. Don’t over think it. Take it.

So we regulars settle down with some drinks and some ideas about how to solve the problems of the world.  The bartender plays pinball. The married couple play Pacman. The DJ does his work. The bar fills up. The music is loud. The music is good. I ask one of the regulars who is playing. Peter Tosh. He says. Old school.

The Cuban and I get up and dance. The Cuban protests that he hates dancing, but he dances all the same, and he’s very good. He leads well. I follow well. My father swings a good shoe and he taught me, a long time ago.

It’s fun to dance with a man who dances well.

And it’s fun to find out, too, that I’m not too white for reggae. 

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