Fanelli's

Sort of sleepy/foggy today. Don't like that feeling. Went to the gym, which sharpened my focus for a while, but I was still weary. Someone rang the bell last night at 2:30 AM. Rang it twice, the second time with purpose, like they were really trying to wake up whoever lived where they were ringing. I'm on Broadway downtown, and the buzzers are lighted. And maybe it was irresistible to someone passing by. Anyway, took a long time to find sleep again after that.

This evening, I decided I wanted to go out for just a little bit. I wanted a hamburger. One from Fanelli's, which is just two blocks away. I went and sat at the bar. A table wasn't necessary for the brief dinner I had envisioned. Place was fairly empty. I was surprised. I told the young, New Wave-ish-looking bartender I knew what I wanted to order for food, but she brought my drink only and then disappeared. A giant muscleheaded bald guy replaced her. He wore a bar-stained putty-colored large T-shirt. Loose around the chest, which was wide as a whiskey barrel, and snug at the arms, which were roughly the same girth as my legs. He smiled, but it was a hard smile. He was a bright guy, but his eyes were blurred by booze. Maybe he'd had a few behind the bar. So it seemed to me. He leaned in when he talked to me. He said lots of pseudo-offensive things to me as banter. His way of being charming. I decided I was a hard-boiled character from one of those 1940s movies and gave it right back to him. He liked it. And the guy next to me, who was a regular and knew him, liked it too. "Give it to him," he said approvingly.

My intention going in to Fanelli's was to order a cheeseburger and one drink and consume it and come back home. I'd be there maybe 40 minutes, I figured. But here I was with only the drink, because of the negligent Bow Wow Wow bartender, and the thick guy looming over me, liking the repartee that, okay, I engaged in but didn't want to maintain. That kind of sarcasm can go to bad places, and I don't feel dark enough—never feel dark enough—to go to those places. Certainly not with a stranger, and not over some cheap drink in a bar.

So...I was thinking of leaving after my drink. And then an old guy comes and sits next to me. A guy in a nice navy blazer with gold buttons, a flamboyant, nicely pressed button-down in powder blue with red stripes and navy matte buttons. He's wearing a navy cotton baseball cap that has "Amsterdam" embroidered in bright red thread on the front. He has dark, intense eyes like a man close to his age who I know very well. He is jowly. He is drinking white wine in a place not known for its wine, and when he orders more, he asks for "an inch" but is pleased when the big mountain-like guy empties the bottle in his glass. "Oh, okay," he says, happy. His name is Jack, I will later find out. He worked in advertising. For a while, we talk about the industry. I mention having seen the movie Art & Copy. He hasn't seen it, but he has opinions. "I hear it was crap," he says. I tell him about George Lois, who is in the movie and who I interviewed a few years ago. He talks about Lois' work. "He did some crap, a lot of crap," he says, trying to dim the shine of George's truly groundbreaking work. Jack is someone who has good ideas but maybe never quite made it to the top ranks. And that's okay, I think. But he's not at peace with that. He delivers a few pitches to me. Ideas for the Gap and for Virgin America. He is showing me he's still in the game, even though he has already explained to me that he is now a "lay priest" and spreads "the vision" in the way that he sees fit. (I did not ask for details on that.)

Jack writes his email address on the back of my bar tab, which I have not yet paid. He writes me a note too. I can tell by the way he looks up nonchalantly when he writes it that I'm not meant to watch him while he pens the note to me. I look away. I fold up the paper when he's done writing and tuck it into the pocket of my corduroys. Jack is very focused on me, still talking, still intense. But then my cheeseburger arrives. The giant man—who I hear tell another patron that he is looking forward to seeing the movie Amreeka at the Sunshine and who also is a fan of In the Loop—has taken my food order and serves me the hunk of grilled cheese and meat (I asked for it with no bun and with a salad instead of fries, which made him roll his eyes). The moment my food arrives, Jack turns away and begins chatting with some women who've just sat at his other side. I hear him tell them what he had told me, which is that his evening has only just begun. He'd told me that after Fanelli's, he'd be going to his "local," which was an old, old, old bar on 14th between A and B. I've passed by that place. It's a serious joint. Lifers in there.

I finished my food alone. Took the bar tab out of my pocket, unfolded it, and got the money out. Paid. Left the tab, with Jack's email address and note, which I still never read, on the bar. I got up and put on my jacket and walked out. Didn't look back to say goodbye to Jack. Didn't hear him trying to say goodbye. I went back out on the rain-slicked streets. To home.