Sam sat up to the bar. “This is the best bar in the world, I am going to live in this bar for the rest of my life,” he mumbled to himself or no one. Sam was one of a random handful gathered there that day with no appointment or interest in watching other people drink, but this place had it all, Sam knew. He had walked in assured and ready to get serious about a few things. All bars represented for Sam a magical opportunity to tidy up loose ends, the fretful anxious miscellany of cosmopolitan life was best brought up and sorted out in establishments such as this, in the company of friends and/or total strangers, companions did not matter because booze and ambience did, and this bar’s special charm made it a frontrunner in the contest for his heart’s affection.
Bluesy alt-rock played from a stereo at all times, two single-occupant bathrooms could be found at the rear and drinks were served in mason jars instead of barware, if you can believe that. Exposed light bulbs suspended from a reproduction antique tin ceiling. Architectural details of repurposed timber coaxed forward a feeling of weathered masculinity, as if an old fishing boat had somehow managed to dock itself inside of a log cabin. Sam assumed the position he believed was the most correct configuration of his body, a last-minute assembly of bones, organs and limbs that dreams are not made of. His arms and legs had the pliant yet brittle nature of pipe cleaners used by children for afterschool craft projects. His forehead was the size of Arizona. The hole he tossed drinks into, sucked dick with, or occasionally used for eating had arranged itself long ago into a permanent smirk, sometimes referred to within the community as “gayface.” Elbows secured to the bar, butt on a high stool, feet rested on a horizontal brass pole eight inches above the floor or alternatively dangled when not on brass pole, back slouched forward and head propped up by hand.
His favorite guy was shaking a cocktail shaker with vigor from behind the bar, 32 inches of solid hardwood between them, stainless steel canister raised overhead by an impressive bicep, forearm and fist, engaged in the athletics of alcohol shaking in pursuit of mixology, pretend office of drunks entranced and exhausted by desire. His guy was his bartender and was also named Sam. Sam the bartender and Sam the drunk, together previously, at last and forever, a supplier/demander sort of thing named the same word, Sam and Sam, each one homonymous for one or the other.
Sam was now pouring the drink for Sam, a whiskey sour. Sam winked and asked Sam how it tasted. “This is just the ticket,” replied Sam. Sam the bartender moved on down the bar to wipe a surface with a dishtowel. It was 2:30 in the afternoon. Outdoors a kind of off-white pallor cancelled the sky above Broadway and Myrtle in the unfortunate New York neighborhood of Bushwick near Bed-Stuy. The air felt not bad at around 77 degrees Fahrenheit, complemented by a faint drizzle of early summer precipitation.
The drink was right. Sam looked forward to what the future had in store, no doubt a second whiskey sour to build upon the success of this promising start. “Don’t get ahead of yourself, Sam,” Sam thought, “slow down. Let refreshment linger. You’ve got most of the time in the world.” This was true enough. The impetus for visiting Sam the bartender was that Sam the drunk had a studio visit later that evening, an actual meeting with a curator, and true to his practice he could not imagine facing such an embarrassment sober. Sam the drunk was also an artist, he rented a painting studio, and sometimes professionals in the field would drop by to evaluate his progress without offering to promote or exhibit his work. It was a somewhat dispiriting livelihood as far as livelihoods go, but not without perks, chief among them the fact that he was rarely required to be anywhere, ever.
Sam the drunk set aside the afternoon to prepare for whatever big self-reveal he was in for that evening, perhaps he would mull over the kinds of things he could say in service to his art’s interpretation, portraits of cool celebrities, floral still life paintings, or else, pictures of birds and other really cute animals rendered in oil, handled with mannerisms recalling eras bygone, thoroughly embarrassing on account of their heartfelt disinterest in contemporary issues, whatever those were, although now that he had the drink and time to think, wasn’t the revealing tank-top worn by Sam the bartender so much more of interest than his art? This inspired wardrobe decision, obviously intentional, wearing to work a sleeveless shirt so that the arm wielding cocktail shaker overhead may be looked upon in its Olympic, unclothed glory, the elegant appendage, human delivery apparatus for delicious mixed drinks. “Bartender Sam is a genius,” thought Sam the drunk. “His arms are fascinating, the way they attach to his torso, custom-joined to his pectoral chest via bone, shoulder and tendon, iconic, substantial, not to be trifled with.”
Sam the drunk looked into Sam the bartender’s eyes. “What the fuck is up with those eyes?” The time had come for Sam the drunk to order a second drink since he had put away the first one rather quickly after all. He was determined also to ponder Sam the bartender’s eyes while he mixed and poured. Sam the bartender had soft, heavy eyelids with delicate brown lashes, half-covering languorous eyeballs in a big way with giant brown pupils, darkened circles surrounding each one not out of weariness, but as if conté crayon had been rubbed gently round his eye sockets, a genetic trait resulting from some vague Mediterranean ethnic background, a chic conglomerate Sephardic Moorish Italian Greek whatever person. A thick tousled mop of sun-blessed dirty blonde hair covered his head and the top halves of his ears, falling nicely to his eyebrows. Healthy looking lips were often made wide enough to reveal a pleasant smile with coy gaps between teeth. Boy, those looked clean.
The flesh of his eyelids resembled foreskin is what this was really all about, come to think of it. How could one not think about uncut dick when blinked at by Sam? How does one not heed such plain insight? Yes, Sam the bartender’s point of view was the naked point of view. Sam the drunk thought about Sam the bartender’s balls hanging somewhere inside his pants like two personal assistants, waiting to aid Sam the bartender do whatever needed doing. “God, this bar has it all,” marveled Sam the drunk. Gazing into the big eyes of Sam the bartender was as thrilling as the unfurlment of excess skin surrounding the glans tip of what must be his massive and excellent penis. This was not conjecture. Based on the suggestion of eyelids as evidence, Sam the drunk had uncovered bankable intel on the restricted portion of this other Sam’s body and naturally he was aroused though he remained on his barstool. Sam the bartender poured out another whiskey sour just as Sam the drunk neared closer to losing it in a curious corner of the imagination’s realm.
“I should check my apps,” announced Sam the drunk, yanking himself back toward reality, pressing pause on his line of inquiry involving Sam the bartender’s foreskin and eyelids. He feared he might not achieve solid proof of their correlating. The satisfaction of knowing for real via hands-on discovery was off-limits seeing as Sam the bartender only slept with women, and it occurred to him also that circumcision was a common procedure, common enough to preclude this whole thing anyway. Sam the drunk pulled out his iPhone from his left front pocket, set it down on the bar next to his cocktail and entered the passcode. He looked at Facebook and then he looked at Twitter. Sam looked at his friends’ posts about various social injustices, political scandals, the latest pop cultural news items, thinkpieces and party pictures from the night before, and he familiarized himself with absolutely everyone’s amateur commentaries on all of the above and more. Twitter came through with even more social commentary, brief in form but endless for it’s up-to-date musings, puns, observations, self-aggrandizements and feats of over-sharing. The banality of underwhelming sameness streaming downward before his eyes would have bored him had he not also felt for some reason that staying abreast of news feeds was necessary work essential to his wellbeing. Sam took a drink.
In a somewhat abstract yet nevertheless very real sense, these apps were two of the most influential figures in Sam’s life as well as in the lives of millions of others. Twitter and Facebook were like two parents with whom he consulted for guidance on a range of topics several times daily. And yet, it dawned on him that the two remained unwed to one another, living in sin on his smartphone, or else formerly married and embroiled in drawn-out divorce proceedings. Sam did not know for sure which of the two scenarios it was, but regardless of details, the fact that Twitter and Facebook refused to join in matrimony was a disgrace to the institution of family, building block of civilization. This, Sam suddenly decided, was a source of shame he could no longer bear. He took a gulp of whiskey sour in disgust. “Actually shocking,” Sam the drunk mumbled. He checked Instagram, obvious bastard app child of mother and father Facebook and Twitter. The look of Instagram betrayed a comingling of traits contributed by each parent during coital embrace and carried to term, the efficient scroll of Twitter crossbred with the endless joy of personal photos made available on Facebook. Instagram was proof of Facebook and Twitter’s outrageous sexual union and Sam could not stand it, he felt sick, sliding once more into slumps of agony.
Sam the bartender looked at his drinking friend with amused pity from down and across the bar. Sam the bartender was fond of Sam the drunk. He thought he was bottom-line a solid dude even if he was often weird. He enjoyed having him as a regular to the bar for the times when he spoke up because he could ramble on hilariously about really brilliant out-there bullshit and there had been some good jokes at the expense of other patrons. Serving Sam the drunk was one of the things that made it hard to leave the barkeep profession behind. “He likes me, he looks pretty down and I should do something about it,” thought Sam the bartender. Something could be done. Sam the bartender decided he might take a risk and deviate from the mood guidelines established by his manager some time ago, suggestions which included rules governing the bar’s soundtrack. Mood guidelines were strictly adhered to by employees and going off-brand was enough to land him in trouble should his manager find out about it, but fuck it. Sam the bartender thought a hit song by Mariah Carey might cheer him up. After giving it a little thought he searched and queued up “Honey” on Spotify, preparing to let her rip, to Hell with mood guidelines, Sam the drunk needed this, he needed it now. Gay guys love Mariah Carey. Sam the bartender began to feel invigorated by the shakeup, bending the rules for a friend.
Of course he knew Sam the drunk was gay but this did not matter to him. The fact of Sam the drunk’s alternative sexual identity not mattering was a source of personal pride for Sam the bartender. His indifference to Sam’s sexuality was a rainbow-colored feather in his otherwise bland, heterosexual cap. Even if he was self-conscious and nervous at times in his dealings with others not identically similar to himself, he felt it was no small achievement in the history of gay-straight relations to be so totally cool with his customer’s lifestyle. There were no featured gay people in the place he had come from, no lesbian aunts lurking in his family tree willing to teach lessons of tolerance. Even if he had kissed a guy in college one time, it seemed to Sam that everyone did that in college at least once, what with the amount of drugs and progressive ideologies being passed around, all sex was fun and cost nothing, gay shit on campus was nearly impossible to avoid.
In spite of all this, leaving his small hometown on the south shore of provincial Massachusetts and arriving to New York City two years ago, even while piloting the U-Haul down I-95, moving forward he had sought to ally himself with the urbane liberal passion for embracing diversity. He was going to mix it up with all walks of life. Being cool with the gross sexual appetites of this lonely gay was a part of his better nature and wasn’t this something to take pride in. June was Pride Month, wasn’t it? Sam the bartender pressed play on Mariah Carey and dedicated “Honey” to Sam the drunk. Mariah panted the opening bars in a falsetto whisper as Sam approached Sam. “Next round is on the house.”
Sam the drunk checked the clock on his iPhone. 3:38pm. Great. Time enough for a third, perhaps a fourth, who the fuck cared. “Thanks, Sam.”
“Sure thing, Sam.”
Uh, uh, honey got me hooked on you / I like that…
“Mariah Carey. Wow,” thought Sam the drunk. Ever since fourth grade, when he first fell in love with her, listening to Mariah had always sort of sent him over the edge. Over time his veneration had grown, formalizing itself as a tantric, semi-religious ritual pastime. As the song played, Sam the drunk’s eyes widened and saw nothing since all he could manage to do was hear. Mariah was getting it now, it never took very long, reaching for it with that voice, emceed and encouraged along by Sean Puff Daddy Combs, sometimes collaborator.
Bourbon flavored powers of observation slipped above bounds for a moment throwing Sam’s auditory and visual senses into one multi-phenomenal blur trending toward synesthetic bliss. The room turned orange. Sam the drunk’s heart or whatever raced to meet the durational limits and aspirations of pop. His body remained in tact and in position, belligerent testament to profane corporeality. He wished he could float in midair, or, he wished he could live underwater. The way his body refused to disobey the laws of science never failed to annoy. The liquid extent to which a person’s spiritual effluvium spills out of oneself and is sucked up into vortex cones beyond self-control made Sam the drunk feel personal. He resented his body and how often he was made to feel empty, duh, fuck this earthly vessel, the upkeep on this thing was a bitch. His molar hurt and he needed a haircut. “Honey” gushed up out of the Mariah Carey larynx like a geyser, inspiring Sam the drunk to abandon any attachment he may have still had for temporal, subsolar reality. He was feeling very personal and the suddenness of feelings startled him. He wanted out. There had to be an exit.
“Fuck! Get me out of here! Fuck!”
A fresh whiskey sour appeared, sliding into place on the bar in front of him as one competent, hospitable gesture.
“Here you go, Sam, chill out,” said the bartender in soft voice, exuding support. Sam’s exalted sensory state reversed course and deflated back down to a normal proportion, he looked up at Sam and accepted the drink. “Thanks, Sam.” He downed it as fast as he could. Mariah Carey finished the song. Sam, exhausted and thrilled, picked up his iPhone. He cancelled the studio visit. Why leave now. Things were looking up. This was the best bar in the world. Sam and Sam were getting along just fine, everything was fine and now was the time.
A version of this essay appeared online in Adult Magazine in 2014