The Terminal Writing Blues

dive bar
Terminal Bar, 1981. Perhaps the most dangerous and interesting dive bar in NYC at that time.

Earlier today, in preparation for my Wednesday trip back to NY, I was tidying up the FL house and gathering up old copies of the Sunday New York Times strewn about the living room to throw in the recycling bin.

By chance, this article caught my eye.

I am a sucker for reviews of books authored by older, white male writers — a dying breed.

I don’t know if you have picked up copies of the NYT book review section lately, but they usually focus on books written by women; it was encouraging to see that one had managed to fly under the radar of the BR’s long-standing editorial, market-driven misandry.

It’s title immediately drew me in, like a thirsty fly: The Bar at Twilight, by Frederic Tuten.

The first three paragraphs of Joshua Henkin’s review did not interest me all that much, but the fourth did.

“‘Winter, 1965′”, wrote Henkin, “is a lovely ode to a lost New York City and to a literary world where short stories were mailed in manila envelopes and a story plucked from the slush pile at a small journal could set a writer on the path to fame.”

He continues to describe the story, and I thought wow, I have to read this. A minute later, I was lucky enough to find it in a back issue of Bomb.

Here’s the link.

I don’t much go to literary bars in Manhattan nowadays (and don’t know if true writer bars still exist there), but I used to — a lot —  in my early to late 20s, which is the age of the narrator of Winter, 1965.

Reading it was an unsettling, yet familiar experience, like stepping into a time machine.

I felt as if I was reading one of my own stories, especially the one I often used to write in my head at the time — as I quaffed endless pints of Guinness and shots of Jameson and looked at myself in the long bar mirrors — the one I never did quite did get around to actually writing.

I even lived downtown, where many of the events described in Winter, 1965 take place, and would often run into the sorts of  women that Tuten describes here.  I, too, pretentiously carried on about Lowry’s Volcano — didn’t everyone, back then? — but I never managed to quite finish reading much beyond a third of Malc’s opus, though I would knowingly refer to it, when attempting to impress the artsy girls I would sometimes meet at these bars, as “hands down the best novel in English written in the 20th century.”

I don’t recall much success in luring many back to my cheesy studio on 13th Street. I suppose they saw me for the literary poseur I was, an unpublished hanger-on, one who talked about writing, whilst soused nightly in a saloon, a loner who paid his weekly tab off by working at a dismal day job —  just like the protagonist in Winter, 1965.

The White Horse, The Bells of Hell, the Buffalo Roadhouse, and of course the Head (the Lion’s Head, to youze tourists), were full of envious people just like that, who would never amount to anything as writers.

Good story.

A bit too reminiscent of Papa’s style, perhaps, but still a fine read.

leaving america