Thursday, December 15, 2005

This is a Post All About PATRICE...

...BECAUSE she came into town and so we all convened—the coven convened—at the infamous Dan’s Café in Adams Morgan. Dickey, the proprietor, has a capricious schedule based on whether he feels like opening for the night or not. Mary asked him so very kindly, considering Patrice’s imminent arrival, if he would open on Wednesday. He said if we were all coming, he would open. And he did, with a “Closed” sign slyly placed on the door.

You’ve heard about “holes in the wall” and “dive bars.” Everyone has a favorite! Let me just say, Dan’s Café is the penultimate dive bar—it is so quintessential that it may or may not exist. Maybe it is a manifestation of our desire to be in a real place with real people run by no-nonsense wise men. Or maybe it is real. Last night took on the feel of many a fantastic story—Peter Pan, Brigadoon, The Shining, Lost Horizon…a misty surreal past-in-the-present place with only the chill in the air to serve as a reminder of actual time and place. The ONLY thing that has changed at Dan’s Café since I started going there, I don’t I know, back in the late 19th century, is the new jukebox.

It is important to say that you either get Dan’s or you don’t. Period. I don’t hold it against people who don’t get it because we must be inclusive of all ignorant swains, mustn’t we?

Back to Patrice. Patrice is the coolest person in the universe, and this is a widely and pervasively held belief. She suffers precisely zero (0) fools and was heard to say some very naughty but dead-on things about a certain president of ours last night. In fact, she was going to go down to the White House, in a zone chart cab, and elucidate Mister Bush on some of her thoughts. I think the hallowed white façade would have shook from her visceral invective. That I applaud wholeheartedly.

What this is really about is continuity. I love continuity. I like references, enduring symbolism, constants, and linear pervasive themes.

Dan’s is run by Dickey, a sage, tall black gent who brings to mind the dignity and wisdom of Frederick Douglass. He has a keen level stare, a countenance that has observed enough folly, idiocy, human braggadocio and frailty for several lifetimes. He is a black man proprietor in a callow white man’s nightlife playground—Adam’s Morgan—who is interested in you if he’s interested in you, and could give a shit about you if he’s not. I count myself as one of the fortunate ones. He treated me gently, respectfully and sometimes lovingly. And it was splendid. He used to lean over the bar, this was after I had gone there for many years, and ask me so sweetly to come up to Atlantic City with him. It was never lecherous or weird, and I can’t quite explain that, but it just wasn’t. It was real, that’s all. I think I was just someone that he liked, period. I know I wasn’t the only one, but there weren’t many others, and I felt honored.

Dickey’s son Victor is the main bartender—there is a baroque hierarchy and division of labor only a taciturn father and son relationship can comprehend. Victor sits menacingly at the right hand of his father on the opposite end of the bar. He hunches over and lifts his head to take you in, chin down, eyes up. Both men engage in serial bemusement. Victor is very handsome, and knows it very well, and he has a body—pecs, abs, the whole piñata—that won’t quit. He did time in a federal penitentiary and he has the residual buff prisoner’s build. And the sweetest, slyest smile.

I walked in last night and there is—trust me—no fanfare whatsoever. No hale-fellow- well-met call from behind the bar. You go pay your obeisance. To each man, separately. I walked up to Victor and said, “Hey there.” He said, “Let me get up here…” and he hoisted himself up and leaned over the bar so he could give me a kiss. This is a benediction—it does not come perfunctorily or lightly. Then I walked down to say hi to Dickey. The years have finally tagged him, he did look older to me. He was wearing a navy blue knit cap and was playing a nonstop game of Solitaire. He offered me his hand, and I took it, rough and large, and he smiled and said, “Well, look at you! You look as young as you ever did.” And he smiled and if you want to know the truth, I will treasure that compliment, with its inflection and cadence, for a long time. It meant a lot to me to still look like the girl he wanted to accompany him on his jaunts. He smiled and seemed so pleased that life and age hadn’t changed me too drastically. “Look at you…” He knew I had three kids and asked all their ages and asked about MZA and then asked what I was doing—I told him and he said, “Oh! You’re making the big money now!” I said, “No.” But honestly, it was like talking to a professor who had once held a vested interest in you. He asked where I lived and put in perspective. He told me who else lived there too and then about Mark’s Z.’s new baby, because there was this time, that spanned many years, when all of us, this large amorphous, interconnected group, used to habituate that place. And it was a time.

It would be so easy to trivialize, but I always believed there was a reason we were all drawn there—and it wasn’t for the pool or the beer (solely), there was something else. Foremost is the native Washingtonian component (Holly, Hope, Susie, Polly, Moira, Sheila, Colum, JP, etc.)—that is the strong base paint, added to that the longtime DC residents like Patrice, Mary, SueLa and Suzanne. We all used to go and it was a scene, but a very subtle scene. We’d all regard each other and spar with Victor and talk to Dickey and watch each other until finally one day there was a West Side Story breaking down of cliques or gangs or whatever, and we started talking to one another. Susie and I started a salon—one of our first meetings was at the Yenching Palace on Connecticut Avenue—and THAT is when Dan’s really became, not just a place we hung out in individual pods, but a place to find each other and count on having an evening out, no matter what.

Last night, the weird neon signs and the plastic dead hanging plant type things from the ceiling were all there—the frill free bathrooms at the back of the bar—and a new jukebox that sadly did not still have “Sexual Healing” or “To Sir With Love” on it. It was Mary, Suzanne, Patrice, Moira, Sheila, Glenda, Mike and Charlie. That’s it. We talked and cracked each other up—a favorite feature. Either who can out-liberal who or who can crack up who. Toothless insults, and then one very heartfelt toast for our friend Susie on the opposite coast.

Later in the night three black coated lads entered the bar and Sheila stood up vibrantly, exuberantly, and said, “What’s wrong with you? Can’t you see the sign says ‘CLOSED’?” And they sheepishly retreated to the door and then Victor waved them in, reluctantly. The ringleader looked like a young Kiefer Sutherland and I could see him lean in to his friends, conspiratorially, so proud of himself, and say, “This place…” As in, You see? You see what I’ve found? Where I’ve brought you? And that made me glad, as a charter member of the ancien regime, to see that its appeal was still clear to some, while we sat on the lopsided barstools and smiled in the luminous blue chilled neon.

I paid my tab and tipped Victor nicely—which always makes him happy. I leaned over to shake his hand in mock formality. He said, “Don’t shake my hand.” And I leaned over and blew him a kiss.

Moira, Sheila and I said goodbye to Patrice. She said earlier in the night, “I can’t tell you how much this means to me and how much I miss all of you. Thank you for coming out.”

We wouldn’t have missed it.


Cynicism is another word for reality

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