Tuesday, October 6, 2020

A Drink With Frank by Joe Taylor

I've always taken the lyrics to "One For My Baby", as sung by Sinatra---"Set 'em up Joe, I got a little story, I think you should know"---personally. Sinatra was, at his core, a "saloon singer", drink in one hand, cigarette in the other, bleeding out his heart over some dame. Some dame who done him wrong. It's always "quarter to three" in some bar somewhere with a bartender "getting anxious to close." Most guys I know have been there. I've been there, "drinking my friend to the end of a brief episode." Ordering one more-for my lately flown baby-and "one more for the road."

Aside from Italian heritage and blue eyes Frank Sinatra and I have little in common. I can't sing a note. Never have been accused of being cool. Never have been drawn to the glitter of Vegas. Ah, but we have been drawn to, with a lollipop pasted on our foreheads, the wrong women. The women of those intoxicating, devastating---but always "brief episodes." Sinatra nearly committed suicide when Ava Gardner dumped him after he deserted his long suffering, three children bearing wife, Nancy. I was asking for the same final result when, in 1967, I ran through the projects of New Haven drunk, screaming the name of a black girl I had dated and fell heavy for before she decided I was just another play thing to be discarded when the novelty wore off.

I always wanted to meet Sinatra. Actually I always wanted to drink with Frank. A few years after his death my only option was to drink where Frank Sinatra had drunk. I was going through a rough patch. Yeah, another "brief episode." I was in New York trying to forget in a town that offers "forget" in assorted varieties from Disneyfied Times Square to getting high on enlightenment---and maybe a chance museum meeting with an artsy woman, or if  really desperate, a paid liaison of any sexual flavor. And there are the bars. Each beckoning you in, whether upscale wine bars, rock and roll bars, and sports bars where you can simultaneously watch Japanese baseball, Pakistani cricket, and NASCAR. I really needed a drink to forget my "brief episode." But I didn't need loud music, boisterous fans, pretentious metrosexuals. I needed Frank.

Hoboken, New Jersey, where Frank Sinatra was born and raised actually has landmarks dedicated to him. A bar in that city has a large collection of Sinatra memorabilia---but it was a bar that he never frequented. Every entry level Sinatra fan knows he hung out a lot a Jilly's. But, then so did many other celebrities of the '50s and '60s. So Frank's photo, although revered is one of many on the wall. Patsy's and PJ Clark's were two other Sinatra favorites. They are primarily restaurants. No, no-I wanted to go to a place where Frank didn't eat-didn't have an appetite to eat. When he was heartbroken and hurting like I was. I wanted to go to drink. Just drink---to the end of a "brief episode." 

I don't know where it was that I found the name of the bar. In fact I've forgotten the name and location of the bar, which ironically is good because it was Frank's private place to go and drink and wallow in love lost---alone. I do remember it was in Manhattan, not too far from what is left of Little Italy, gradually being evaporated into China Town. The guide book I had described Frank's bar as no-frills and it exceeded my most minimal expectations. I don't recall there being a name on the place. It was that neighborhood kind of a bar that if you didn't know the name of, didn't know where it was, you didn't belong there. The place smelled of smoke and piss. It didn't have a second door, a "Ladies Entrance" as was common back in the day. Didn't need one. No lady would have wanted to enter.

The book suggested the owner, an old cigar smoking Italian man, might be there. He was, sitting on a stool puffing away. This was before indoor smoking was banned in the City, but I doubt he would have ceased puffing even under penalty. And he sure as hell wouldn't have told Frank not to light up. The bar itself was impressive. Made the old fashioned way, heavy wood, mahogany, custom made probably right there on location, topped in marble of course. The rest of the place was austere, simple to the point---wooden stools, wooden chairs, wooden tables, that's it---you come here to drink. No kitchen, no microwave, no glass canister of nuts, no popcorn machine, no chips, no Fritos, no Doritos...you come here to drink. That's it.

So, I drank. A few drafts, maybe four, they were small, 8 ounces. There was no larger option. A few of the guys at the bar, each keeping to themselves-nursing their beers and maybe their bruises-ordered shots before downing them with drafts. Remembering that Sinatra's favorite booze was Jack Daniels I had a shot of Jack before my fifth and final draft. I felt better, but in that bluesy kind of way where the hurt doesn't stop, but you feel it with more appreciation. I felt like Frank and I had shared a moment. A deep personal moment. Then, like the delayed burn of the whiskey, it hit me. If I had, even as cautiously and politely as possible, approached Frank here, in his bar as he mourned his departed lover, he would have probably decked me. I remembered a verse from that song, "this torch that I found, it's gotta be drowned, or it soon might explode." I threw a couple bucks on the bar and split.

Retired, after a lifetime in  radio, from on air to management, Joe Taylor has returned to his love of writing. He wrote and produced a number of national and regional award winning radio documentaries and feature series. He has previously published in Cracked Magazine, Ink Monkey Magazine, The Watershed Journal, and The Tobeco Literary Review. He resides in rural northwestern Pennsylvania.

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