Variations on Me

I know, it sounds like the opening line of Penthouse Letters, but it’s true.  During the High Holy Days, when Naomi leads Nashuva services, she has the band over to run through the music for the special Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur liturgy.  Sounds great, two guitars, a bass, two singers, a pianist and a violin all amped up in our living room, all night.  I love the music, but I also like to get away from it.  Hearing the Yom Kippur melodies five days before the actual holiday spoils the misery for me.  It’s a liturgy that means a lot to me on one day every year, but its impact dwindles when I hear it rehearsed over Johnnie’s pizza, wine, beer, and Coke on the other side of my bedroom door.

So I stayed away for a while.

I took a book and dropped into Cole P.E. on 6th street downtown, where I had just finished a meeting. It was 5 pm. I ordered an Anchor Steam. I was already feeling melancholy—Naomi had the band do one Yom Kippur prayer to the tune of “I Will Remember You,” a song I played endlessly when my cousin Lloyd dies.  And the Anchor Steam—shit,  after I ordered it I remembered Lloyd and I actually visited the brewery.

But I drank it slowly and looked down the bar, at all the other men, shoulders hunched, slightly stubbly beards, thinking, drinking.  Do women ever find as much comfort in a bar as men do?  And I realized: they all, basically, look just like me. Middle age-ish.  Trying to gather their souls back to them after a long day.  Letting the alcohol transport their thoughts beyound their immediate worries.  They wore their shirts out. They spoke—I overheard—of commercials to film, a song score to write for a Disney movie featuring a pair of 11 year old girls, baseball scores. The bartenders, men a decade younger, but they’ll get there, served us beers and Cole’s retro cocktails.  Somewhere 13 miles west my wife was lost in ancient melodies, but could this scene, this need, be any less ancient?

After the Anchor Steam I was tempted by the menu’s description of the Rickey: fresh lime juice, Millers gin, simple syrup, soda. Love those. And I was tempted by the bottles of once-rare Italian apertifs and digestifs behind the bar: Punt e Mes, Fernet, Aperol. But I had to drive home.  I nodded good bye to the bartender, and took leave of my pew-mates with the ritual grunt. Yom Kippur was waiting.