But sometimes, one is in New York, and midnight signals the start of one's birthday . . .
This preamble therefore is essentially a disclaimer: any thoughts I type after midnight ought to be, de facto, invalid. On top of that, tonight's post doesn't really have anything to do with what I've been reading. On the L, plane, and bus today I read Craig Nova's remarkable novel The Good Son (1982); tonight's post, if you're willing to allow me to stretch it, applies at most to Ludwig Bemelmans's wonderful Hotel Bemelmans, which I've drawn from before.
Ludwig Bemelmans, after all, was, aside from being the creator of the beloved Madeline books, a raconteur--and, of particular interest to me, as a survivor of years of retail work, a raconteur who dealt primarily in stories of customer service, most often filtered through the hotel or restaurant industry. Though I have no real right to--in part because one martini too many for me means, I shudder to admit, two martinis--I thus feel a certain kinship with Bemelmans. Therefore, when I'm in New York I look at my calendar in advance to determine what night I will have free to spend at Bemelmans Bar in the Carlyle Hotel. The bar, chock full of Bemelmans drawings--perhaps done in lieu of payment for drinks?--and therefore enchanting even before the drinks are poured, is the deep-banquetted sort of place where the staff is conditioned to treat you as if you belonged, even though you clearly do not.
Tonight, I was by myself, and I had intended to simply order a martini and continue to blaze through The Good Son. As my friends--or my wife--could surely tell you, much as I enjoy good company, I am at heart somewhat solitary, and the thought of a quiet drink in a well-apportioned bar was quite pleasant. But foiling my plans was a jazz group, the Loston Harris trio, and I found myself, as it seems always happens in Bemelmans Bar, trying to draw. I sketched the trio, poorly, enjoyed their versions of "They Can't Take That Away from Me", and "Night and Day," and was disappointed to learn (it was, after all, soon to be my birthday) that they weren't prepared to play my second-favorite Johnny Mercer song, "I Thought about You,". All in all, I generally had a one-martini-too-many good time.
While I sat in a lovely banquette and enjoyed the trio, I did experience a moment that I think would have entertained Ludwig Bemelmans. Around 11, as the band was really getting into it, a trim, good-looking brunette in a skirt and tank top strolled into the bar--with a dog. The dog was somewhere between a rat terrier and a bulldog, and, I'll admit--despite my natural dislike of dogs--that it was a nice-looking pooch. I wondered to myself, as she sashayed by me to a corner table, if she would be allowed to stay. Ten minutes later, I got my answer, as she, heading very slowly for the door, explained in an Australian accent to the obvious tourists in front of me that "they're kicking me out because they think the dog is dirty." The headwaiter was at her elbow--polite but firm, not taking his eyes off her, in a way that should be familiar to anyone who's worked retail before--and as she dithered, thrusting the dog in Loston Harris's face, the headwaiter finally was forced to take decisive action, moving swiftly to her side and taking her elbow while saying, "Ma'am, you must leave now." That restrained politeness, in the face of what was, in the headwaiter's eyes, a legitimately grievous offense, placed me squarely in Ludwig Bemelmans territory, nearly one hundred years after he'd initially plowed it.
Finally--and this is only because it's my birthday, I've had one martini too many, and I like the idea of this concept spreading through the internets, I'll leave you with a little joke--to call it a meme is to give it too much credit, I'm afraid--that my friend Bob and I came up with a few years ago. The idea was for everyone in a group of friends to write a verse to "These Foolish Things" that would apply to them.
I'll start with my verse about myself, simply because I think Bob's verse about himself--which follows--is better:
A passage long that's read aloud at parties
It's sometimes funny, but more often arty
Oh, how the words you say cling
These foolish things
Remind me of you
And here's Bob's:
The food you ate that no one else would dare to
The thing that looked like--but was not a bear suit,
Oh, how your arguments cling
These foolish things
Remind me of you
I suppose drunk blogging is a tiny bit more forgivable than drunk dialing, but, regardless, thanks for sticking it out to the end on this one. If you're feeling particularly strong, I'd welcome your verses to "These Foolish Things" in comments.