Monday, April 19, 2010

A Bar in a Church

We went through the glass doors and walked into the bar. Even if there weren’t a gigantic Christ painted on the back wall—hovering over a few tables and smiling down, like he was going to offer to buy the next round—it would have been obivious that the place used to be a church. Religious buildings take on a holy air that remains even after they stop functioning as places of worship. (In Canterbury, there is an old synagogue that now functions as a music hall for the King’s School; but, if you go inside, you can almost hear the Sh’ma.)
The bar’s lounge/black marble dance floor was where pews would have been. The raised bit at the back was, I figured, the Orthodox version of a bimah. The tables were black-finished wood, same with the chairs, and there were a couple of black sofas near the entrance. The bar was at our right. It was painted black and behind it, liquor bottles perched on dark wooden shelves. Underneath, a long line of refrigerators contained juice and bottled beer. There was a mirror in the center, and the two bartenders stood in front of it, having a chat.
The Drunkard squeaked, contorted his face into gleeful expression, and dashed to the bar. The predominant liquor was whiskey. Unwillingly, the girls had brought us to The Drunkard’s heaven. “Shit,” said The Traveler.
“Now,” I said, “there’s no reason to assume that this means he’s going to lose control. After all—”
The Traveler looked at me, raised his eyebrows, and tilted his head down. If he had glasses, he’d be looking over the frames and the expression of incredulity would have been complete. “Really? You’re going to try to say that he will not go overboard.”
I looked over, saw The Drunkard returning with a glass of whiskey and ice. “Well,” I said. “Maybe you’re right.”
The Drunkard rejoined us and, tears in his eyes, said, “Truly, this is a place of holiness.”
The Student looked around the walls, at the purple velvet reading Freud—the name of the bar—and the various saints’ portraits leading to the Christ at the back. “Drunkard, you may have found your church.”
“Fuck that,” responded The Drunkard. “You get free l’chaims just for wandering around North London.” He dropped his voice to a conspiratorial tone. “I know when the Lubavitchers unleash the Mitzvah Tanks.”
Lena turned to The Traveler and said, “Was coming here a mistake?”
“Nah,” he said, “it’ll be great.”
The girls, The Traveler, and The Student walked over to the bar. I was about to order a drink, and then my stomach did a somersault. The Drunkard and I walked towards the back where there was a large, empty table. Across the room, there was a table filled with Greeks. But besides them and a couple gazing into each other’s eyes under the Christ, the place was empty.
The Drunkard and I scooted a couple chairs out from the table—yielding the horrible screeching sound of metal on marble—and sat down. The Drunkard, facing the mural at the back, stared at Jesus. “How come he never looks Jewish?”
I scratched my chin. “Dunno. Maybe—”
“Narrator!” shouted someone from the table across the room. I looked up and, sure enough, there was Zaf—resplendent in his gelled-hair, jeans, and black jacket that, inexplicably, had a patch for the University of Alabama on the arm. He walked over, grinning madly and said, “And Drunkard! How are you making tonight, huh?”
The Drunkard’s left eye twitched. “My beloved language. She weeps.” He sipped his drink.
Zaf laughed his confused chuckle and said, “What are you doing here?”
I pointed at the chair next to me and he sat down. I said, “The Traveler arranged for us to stay with some friends of one of his flatmates. The hell are you doing here?”
“O, my friend of Santorini studies biology here. I, Natalya, and Lynn are staying with her to Monday.”
“Cool, man.”
“Hey,” said The Drunkard. “You’re Greek. What’s up with your man Jesus? How come he doesn’t look like a Jew? You got something against Jews?”
“Drunkard,” I said. “Contain yourself.”
“No, fuck off. I don’t get this.”
Zaf looked confused and, as such, didn’t answer.
“Drunkard, please. Don’t make me get The Traveler to unleash capoeira on you in front of the Germans. That would be most unfortunate.”
He grunted and returned to staring at the Christ.
Zaf stood and said, “So, I hope you have good time. Maybe we’ll see you out tomorrow. I maybe return.” He walked off.
“He maybe return?”
“He means he might be back. I’ve been working with him, man. He’s an engineer at heart. They’re impossible to teach unless you’re working with numbers.”
The Traveler and the others walked up and took seats. “Isn’t that Zaf?” asked The Traveler.
“Yup,” I said.
“Huh,” he said, sipping from a glass. “Small world.”
“Woah,” I said. “Hold on, what are you drinking?”
“Coke. Relax.”
The Student had a bottle of stout, and the Germans were drinking white wine. We toasted to Oxford (I held up a phantom glass in my hand) and drank.
The night was pretty tame. We talked about coursework as postgraduates (the general consensus was that the amount of time we had outside of classes was inordinate) and attempted to talk about sports, but it turned into a debate about baseball and soccer, with The Drunkard, The Student, and I on the side of baseball, and The Traveler, Lena, and Dee on the other. Turns out—not surprisingly—that everyone outside of the States feels that baseball is a complete and utter joke.
Most impressive, though, was that The Drunkard did not go his usual route and get absolutely tanked. He stopped after he finished the whiskey in front of him, and managed to be quite erudite and—even more extraordinary—reined in on the swearing. After I reminded him of the omnipresent threat of capoeira, not every other word was “fuck.” The Yiddish curses were still there, but those are funny and, thus, should not count.
We stayed until closing time and then returned to the car. The Student didn’t give another look at the OUP—which was probably good.
When we got back to the flat, people prepared for bed and the next day at the retail village. Much to my dismay, no further light was shed on my nickname—though the girls kept calling me it, probably because I twitched whenever they did.

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