Chapter Three: The Hairpin Brewery
My place was only three blocks away from the Hairpin Brewery. I rolled up and everything looked as I’d last left it. The neighbor to my right is named John. I never got his last name, or if I did, I forgot it. He can’t be much older than me—although he’s prematurely gray—but his curmudgeonly nativist attitude makes him seem old. Sounds to me like he’s right out of Philadelphia, but loves to play local. He probably spends much of his time drinking judging from the bulbous nose, his red face, which is emphasized because of the full head of silver hair. I never bothered to find out, but my guess is he’s divorced. Don’t know what he does for a living, but he always seems to be home.
I finally got off my bike for the first time in hours and was walking in my cleats up to my front door when he caught me. We said hello to each other as if it hadn’t been nine months since I’d seen him last. Turned out he was in a hurry to get to the gossip.
He gestured over his back, “See the new place?”
“The brewpub? Yeah. Looks neat.”
Not what he wanted to hear. “Lotta noise late into the night. Guy comes in and turns the old hotel into an obnoxious bar? No town meeting about it, nothing.”
He glanced back in its direction as if to catch some current infraction or outrage. “I had to sleep with my window shut.”
John was clearly Captain Nativist, all the insinuations about the owner being an interloper having no respect for the way things have always been. I wasn’t going to argue with him. Obviously he had the need to vent so I listened. He went on about the horrific brewpub and I found out that the owner lives in one of the better sections of the better development, in one of the McMansions with the three car garage last seen on the market for more than half a million dollars.
When that rant wound down I started giving off signs that I wanted to get going so he whipped out more juicy gossip to keep me there. He raised his brow to show this was something else, “Did you hear what happened last week?”
John leaned in, “Guy over on Abattoir went nuts and killed himself. Sinks his own damned boat with him in it.”
“Really. Who was it?”
“Don’t remember the name. Guy was running around yelling crazy shit that weekend. Dug a huge hole in his backyard like he was looking for something.” John allowed himself a chuckle over it, shook his head, “Batshit crazy, man.”
I finally extricated myself from John and went in my house. I put my bike to the side in the sun porch, kicked off my shoes and stood there taking stock of the tomb I had just unsealed. A fresh swarm of dust motes had gotten stirred, now floating in the block of sunlight projected from the rear kitchen window onto the front screen door. It was peaceful, but I had to get the stuffiness out so I went into the kitchen and opened the window above the sink. In came a nice breeze and the sounds of Fowl’s Point: a pimped out Civic with an after market exhaust pipe accelerated out of the trailer park up the hill. With each gear shift its buzz ricocheted about the town like some monstrous cricket projecting its call in every direction. It faded off down Route 11, replaced by the steady white noise of a sports game escaping the confines of a neighbor’s living room. And John is worried about the new brewpub.
Nothing to see out back though, nobody out and about, so I turned back to my kitchen. I’m always expecting to come upon a little disaster when I’ve been gone for a while. All was in order though, no break-ins or burst pipes, or animal infestation. It only had that air of a place abandoned, not the used, cozy feeling a lived-in place gets, but one comprised of its depersonalized physicality. I would have to vacuum, play music, cook something and eat it on the couch to make it feel alive again.
I did the first remedies: vacuumed with the radio on, then went up and showered, changed into shorts and a t-shirt, put my sore feet into soft leather shoes and headed up to the Hairpin Brewery for dinner.
The place was a welcoming lighthouse of clean brightness and positive energy. No sign of the guy in charge who’d watched me circling an hour ago. The teenager hostess at the podium was over-friendly and put on airs, playing at her role.
“Welcome to the Hairpin. How many will we be serving?”
“Table for one.”
“If you’ll follow me…”
I was led past the bar packed with eager beer guts and seated at a hightop table in the rear section. Apparently the front and half of the back are for seating, with the bar running down the center. Behind it and extending to the remaining rear was the kitchen and brewery. A glass window showcased the craft brew industry: big copper vats topped with gauges and pipes. Looked like a latter-day boiler room, except that it was bright and clean.
I ordered a tasty-sounding beer and an arugula salad with chicken in it. I took out my book and found the place I marked. Moby Dick is this summer’s read. Over the years I had tried reading it but stalled out for one reason or another. This time I was determined. Ishmael had just found a place to stay for the night when a hand touched my shoulder softly and a man’s voice said, “Good book?”
It was the manager I had seen earlier. Up close he looked less intimidating, more like a big kid, somebody you went to high school with who’s twenty years older but just as dumb.
I took his question as one not expecting an answer.
We shook hands and he squeezed mine too hard. One of those guys.
“Jerry Bariletti. I own this place.”
“Cliff Chambers. Love the place. Couldn’t believe my eyes.”
He nodded, “Thanks. You live around here long?” This was his way of gauging how hostile I might be, on what side of the local political fence I might fall.
“No, I just come down from PA for the summers.”
I imagined I felt his relief. Since I had mentioned the renovations he changed the topic to construction stuff, either because he didn’t know what else to say or thought I might be impressed with his range of skills and knowledge. Maybe he thought I was lonely and needed company. I barely listened to him, but watched him and surmised what kind of guy he was.
Jerry had a pudgy face that always needed a shave, wore his shirt unbuttoned one button too many and a gold chain dangled in his dark chest hair. Pleated slacks, over-priced Italian shoes and jacket, some cologne to smell expensive: a man whose values and style were formed decades back. He was as tall as I was, which means on the shorter side. His feet were always restless as were his dodgy eyes.
A good looking petite blond, his girlfriend or wife, appeared next to him. He put his arm around her waist.
Jerry introduced me, “This is Chip.”
“Sorry, Cliff. This is Sari.” Then he said to her, “He likes books too.”
The book thing again. I couldn’t help but feel there was also an element of emphasizing how I’m eating alone in a hip new brewpub and reading a book. Not something you see often. Years ago I felt funny doing it but got used to it. The book is my companion, an attachment formed back in the days before cell phones were companions. But it’s not like more people eat alone because they have cell phones…
Sari held out her hand limply like I was supposed to kiss it, but I shook it. She looked at the closed paperback and said, “Did you read all the whale stuff at the beginning or skip it?”
Her voice was deeper than I expected, especially given her petiteness. A voice of gravity, not of girl giggles, her words chosen carefully and spoken clearly without the constant ‘likes’ interspersed.
I laughed, “Skipped most of it.”
“You have to. It’s the only way you can read it. How do you like it?”
“I like it. I relate to Ishmael on the first page.”
“And watch how the whaling industry is its own character.”
Jerry was half listening, smiling in a way that was for him aloof, condescending. Oh look at the nerd with the book and that’s all he can talk about, not building renovation, or sports.
What struck me immediately: she was his opposite in every way you could imagine. She was poised, tasteful, intellectual. He is a common enough type: the anti-intellectual boor. His type is such the norm for our society that when I have occasionally tried to explain to my students the concept of the anti-intellectual or the meaning of the word philistine I get nothing back but stares of incomprehension, an inability to grasp that which is outside their airtight lives. Isn’t that the ultimate end of anti-intellectualism: to not be able to conceive of its own state?
Jerry had moved away, then called her away. She smiled, waved and said, “Nice meeting you, Cliff.”
I waved back to her as she was pulled along in his rude wake. They ended up out on the front porch schmoozing or impressing others with talks of roofing materials and literature. Too bad. I could see myself talking with her all night.
My food came and I wolfed it down and had another beer before paying my check. When I got up to leave I saw I wasn’t the only guy leaving the bar alone tonight. A big, athletic looking guy with a blond crew cut got up and walked out ahead of me. When I got out onto the porch Sari and Jerry were getting in a black Mercedes parked obnoxiously on the sidewalk where I had earlier been circling on my bike. The blond guy was walking at an angle oblique to them clearly watching them as they got in and drove away. He took out his phone and made a call.
I walked back to my house just as the sun was going down and I went straight to bed.