“You can’t judge a book by its cover”
“Yeah, but you can tell how much it’s gonna cost”
“Yeah, but you can tell how much it’s gonna cost”
-Some Kind of Wonderful
The March closed down for a few days in mid-April so the renovations could take place. Tré was working 15 hours a day, making sure every detail went according to plan. He approved glassware and marketing collateral, barstool placement, the distance between the pictures hanging on the wall.
He was having a petty good time. Bulstrode had signed off on all his ideas, even the pricey ones.
Bulstrode was a bit distracted.
High on the pricey list was a one-way mirror for the ladies’ room; a window from within, a mirror from without. He’d read about this an industry magazine and the idea had wedged itself inextricably in his brain. He’d observed that on nights out, girls tended to go to the bathroom in pairs or groups. While Tré had no idea what happened in the ladies’ room, he imagined it as a haven for recon, girls grouped together outside tainting male influence, exchanging intel (funny how guys never think of girls performing normal bathroom functions when they travel to the toilet). The ladies would be able to peer out at the bar from within the ladies room, as they gossiped or put on makeup. It would give them a distinct advantage and end up something special for the ladies that’s not the same old condescending bullshit bars usually employ to attract women. The more that women like a bar, the more they’d come. And the more women there are at a bar, it follows naturally the more men there are at a bar.
As a little gravy, the outward facing mirror gave the barroom some depth.
It really was a clever idea. And Tré had almost had to physically restrain himself to keep from clapping as he watched it being installed.
Caleb had decided to steer clear of the renovation. He’d come in when it was all done, get the lay of the land, and then decide whether he liked it or not. In deference to his experience and maturity, Caleb had ordered a few black button-down shirts for Caleb with only a small L.G.E. logo over the breast pocket. Tré thought Caleb would appreciate the extra consideration, but Caleb wasn’t particularly exercised about the uniforms. He cared more that this whole thing seemed no more than an appeal to Bulstrode’s vanity and it might excise the very things that made The March special.
It was depressing and he phoned Farebrother and arranged to meet him at Sidetracks for an afternoon of whiskey and commiseration.
Not much was happening on this late Tuesday afternoon at Sidetracks. Close to the door, a table of businessmen extended lunchtime drinks into afternoon beers, having a grand old time pretending to be inveterate gamblers. Further in sat a table of real inveterate gamblers, envying and annoyed by the businessmen’s pretense.
Caleb joined Farebrother at the bar.
“Hiya, Caleb,” said Farebrother. “How’s tricks?”
“Tricky,” said Caleb, signaling the bartender. “Two shots of Jameson and a High Life for me.”
When the drinks came, the two men gestured at one another with their shotglasses, thonked them on the bar and then upended them into their mouths simultaneously (this is the correct method of doing shots and should always be respected).
“You know what I was thinking about,” said Farebrother, chasing the shot with a sip of beer. “I was thinking about the parties we used to have at The March back in the old days.”
“We had some corkers,” said Caleb.
“It’s hard to fathom,” said Farebrother. “That we were once young enough to dress up in togas and go to a bar where we sang along with the Grateful Dead at the top of our lungs.”
“You have no idea how hard it is to serve drinks in a toga,” said Caleb, laughing.
“There was no difficulty in consuming them,” said Farebrother. “Lord knows I had enough practice.”
“It was hard to keep a nice set of sheets in those days,” said Caleb.
“That said,” said Farebrother. “I find I’m feeling kind of excited to see the fancy new digs at The March.”
Caleb just sighed.
“I guess you think the March didn’t need any classing up,” said Farebrother. “I will agree with you that the staff are regular latter-day bon vivants and the regular clientele certainly manages even to fart with flair. But the place itself won’t suffer from a little gussying up.”
“I don’t know, Farebrother,” said Caleb. “I’ve spent a lot of years behind that bar and I don’t want to see it homogenized and … boring. I’m pretty sure that Bulstrode plans on a cityscape full of boring bars that all look nice and exactly the same. The thing about a good neighborhood tavern is that it belongs to the neighborhood.”
“I’m pretty sure The March belongs to Bulstrode,” said Farebrother.
“That’s only technically true,” said Caleb. “He’s not the one who made it special. That bar has long been my livelihood and home away from. I’m worried about losing it.”
“At the risk of being intolerably clichéd,” said Farebrother. “The only constant is change. Everything changes. Bulstrode will do what he wants to do and there’s not a goddamn thing that any of us can do to stop it. Time marches on, pal. You just notice it more when you get to be our age. To wit: if either of us tried to walk around in a toga again, we’d just look really stupid.”
“We looked stupid then,” said Caleb.
“We could get away with looking stupid then,” said Farebrother. “Fat, wrinkly and old is a lot less forgiving.”
“Speak for yourself,” said Caleb. “I’m not fat.”
“No need to rub it in, brother,” said Farebrother. “Look, The March now is nothing like it was in 1976, except for how it is. It’s still fun. It’s still an easy place to be. There’s no reason why cleaning the place up a little will turn it into some yuppiefied fern bar, where people sit around drinking Johnny Black and trading stock tips. You’ll still be there. I’ll still be there. And Bulstrode will lose interest soon enough.”
“I guess,” said Caleb. “But I just can’t stand the thought of working in some goddamn chain bar.”
“Bulstrode doesn’t have a normal sized ego,” said Farebrother. “And it’ll take a lot of effort to satisfy it. But, dollars to donuts, he’ll move on from you and onto someone else and it’ll be over. In the meantime, The March marches on. And we just keep on getting older.”
“You’re probably right,” said Caleb. “And it sucks getting older.”
“Beats the alternative,” said Farebrother.
“I’m glad I have Mary,” said Caleb. “Having kids makes the march of fucking time seem more poignant, but more tolerable too. Do you ever wish you’d settled down, had kids?”
“Not really,” said Farebrother. “I’m pretty stuck in my bachelor ways. Besides, the only woman I really took a shine to is too young for me and in love with someone else.”
“That is true,” said Caleb, who knew who Farebrother meant and who agreed with Farebrother’s assessment. “Let’s drink some more whiskey.”
“Yes,” said Farebrother. “Let’s drink some more whiskey.”