The Martini Effect – Chapter 9 (Candle in the Wind at Vega Alta)
(We rejoin our Dharma Drunk heroes as they wander the streets of the Bronx searching for Marylou’s dimly remembered bar.)
Marylou crosses 161st Street.
And I continue to follow.
She’s watching the sidewalk like a tracker. She’s eyeing cracks and grooves in the pavement as if she’s following footprints down a backwater trail.
She’s Natty Bumppo from THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS.
“Hawkeye,” I say to her as I continue to follow her.
“We’re close,” she says without taking her eyes from the ground.
We find ourselves in front of Vega Alta.
She studies the front of the place for a moment.
“How’s your Spanish?” she asks me.
“Terrible,” I say.
“No worries,” she says as she steps through the bar’s front door. “Tecate! Corona! Vamos.”
“Andale!” I say as I follow her.
She sips her bottle of Tecate.
I sip my Corona Extra.
She looks around quietly.
“Alas, my friend,” she says and then drops her head on the bar. “This isn’t it.”
“No Shangri-La?” I ask.
“No Shangri-La,” she replies as she picks her head back up off the bar and turns to look at the walls behind us.
Small bars and local bars and dive bars each have their own fingerprint.
No two alike.
Once again, saints and sinners simultaneously.
Heroes to many a Yankees fan.
Villains to many an opposing fan.
A tribute to so many faces that an entire pinstriped tribe can rally around.
The smile is unmistakable.
The photo may be small, black-and-white, and softly focused. The evening winter light may be dimming the interior of the bar. The reddish bulb may be casting harsh shadows over the pale face.
But the smile is indisputable.
Norma Jean. Lyricist Bernie Taupin called her a ‘candle in the wind.’
Marilyn Monroe beams from the photo inclining next to a shirtless Joe DiMaggio.
The Yankee Clipper.
Saint and sinner.
“Think of the great Joe DiMaggio,” Santiago says to his young protégé in Hemingway’s THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. Almost a Christ figure for the old man as he battles sharks off the coast of Cuba, protecting his precious, captured marlin.
Monroe’s smile masks her own tortured interior. Predators sweeping around her as she fought an infinite sadness within.
Predators outside the boat. Predators in the boat.
So much she fought for. So much she won.
And it wasn’t enough.
The smile would always be a mask.
Are there just people who can never be happy?
Her smile is poignant under the reddish light.
Sound the alarm.
She was a game DiMaggio couldn’t win.
She had predators Santiago couldn’t fend off.
Do we all mask ourselves with a smile?
What would Marilyn Monroe’s Instagram account look like?
Would it always have the smile?
Is that what we’re all doing now?
Show our best face in perfectly curated posts.
Tell our stories in a perfectly crafted collection of characters.
Even our public grief is well curated. Show our most empathetic, sympathetic, injured, but still poised selves. Pick the best photos. Pick the right words. Tag the right people. Show that we’re human, but not messy.
Most of us are messy behind our smiles.
That’s why I love this photo. The gleaming white smile lit by a harsh bulb on the wall of dive bar.
There are times in our lives when this is what we look like behind our curated smiles.
Harshly lit and messy as fuck.
Marylou and I finish our beers and exit the bar.
“I don’t know where the bar is, pal,” Marylou says as she leans her head on my shoulder. “I’m lost.”
I kiss the top of her head. “Maybe it was one of the bars we used to go to downtown,” I suggest.
She looks up at me. Hopeful.
“Onward?” she asks. “Uno mas? One more try?”
I wink at her.
“Vamos,” I say.
(Tune in next week for the next installment…)