Scenes from the Holiday Cocktail Lounge

The scene: Holiday Cocktail Lounge, former haunt of W.H. Auden and Allen Ginsberg; St. Mark's Place
The time: Sunday, 8 p.m.
The players: Stefan, the 89-year-old Ukranian bartender; a man who has just gotten out of "somewhere" after thirty years; myself; the TV.

"A glass of beer," rasps the old man in a homberg shambling up to the counter. "God damn it, I'd like a glass of beer." Stefan the bartender motions to a sign that reading "NO DRAFT—BOTTLED BEER ONLY."

"Awww, shit." He coughs. "I been gone thirty years. They finally let me out. They actually let me out!" He surveys the place: "It's still a dump. It was a dump thirty years ago, last time I was in here, and it's a dump now."

The old bartender wheezes something in reply. "Where?" I'd guess he is saying. Let him out from where? Prison? Bellevue?

"I ain't tellin' you," the old-timer says, leaning across the counter until he is almost touching the bartender's face with his, a smile creeping across his face. "Old man! How old are ya, ninety-nine?"

"Eighty-nine," the bartender rasps. "Eighty-nine."

"Come here often?" the old guy asks in my direction; we're the only two people in the bar. "Is it Sunday? I just got out. Wasn't there a holiday this weekend?"

"Fourth of July."

The TV breaks into the silence: "The wild horses are beginning to ignore me, which is more than I ever could have hoped for," intones the narrator for a nature show.

This appears to be too much for the just-released man; he gets up and leaves in an cloud of cursing and invectives. "Fuck this," is the last thing heard before he hurls himself back onto the street.

A tourist couple comes in, snapping photos, loudly enunciating their words. "What. Do. You. Want. To. Do?" the girl asks Stefan the bartender.

"Sleep," he says, his voice barely audible. "I want to sleep."

[Photo: Urban 75]