I have a Wednesday place. I didn’t choose it. Candidly, I was sort of go along to get along at the suggestion. I feared that a ghost from another time might make it a place better left alone. Not engaging ghosts is tricky business in my small swath of the world. I gave up a local tennis venue and regular supermarket. Short of moving away, I had little choice but to brave it. I did, one winter Wednesday night 18 months ago.
In the muddle of last year’s Rubik’s Cube of heartache and Uncle Bobby’s precipitous decline, weekdays felt no different than weekends. Days raced and crawled into weeks and months and nothing about me resembled mindfulness. Getting through each day without dropping a spinning plate was all I could muster. I wanted to settle deep into my couch and shut the world away. Somehow, in the middle of each week, my world found its pace.
In the midst of The Januarys, my beloved, incorrigible Russian friend offered a midweek answer to the doldrums.
The place is not really the story. It is dimly lit and there is a maze of rooms to navigate. At its center is a weighty, oak, wrap-around bar whose equally heavy chairs invite you to sit for a spell. On the far side are a dance floor and small stage. My only other time there was spent on that crowded dance floor celebrating a love unexpectedly returned. It left again before I even had time to catch my breath.
Like with people, I am not so much for flash. I crave the comfort that comes with knowing something or someone over time. I am skeptical of nouveau. The feel of a well-worn moccasin will forever outpace the thrill of immediate infatuation with anything, human or not. Too many of us seek freshness. Familiar and flawed is where I find my bliss. It is where interesting lives.
As I walk in each Wednesday night, it is reassuring to see that the cracked window at the entrance remains unrepaired. Damaged but not broken resonates with me. I am equally glad to see the faces that make the core of us. There is Andrei, of course, the de facto center of our group. I often only see him on Wednesday and he never disappoints in enthusiasm. When he has a story to tell, he animates in extremis, all talking hands and punctuated speech.
Tina is there, too. Blonde and beautiful, she embodies the elusive confidence of thirty-somethings. I remember that surety in myself. I love her bravado and candor. She is Russian as well, and I laughed aloud one day while reading a text from her announcing our Wednesday place as “consistently inconsistent.” Those Russians love to craft their second language with cleverness. She nailed it.
My Wednesday place began as we three.
My writer friend, Joanne, was a come-lately addition. Intrigued by my unbreakable Wednesday appointment, she is now a warm staple; apple pie and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on a crisp autumn night. She came just to see and hasn’t missed a Wednesday since. Joanne trumps us all in warmth.
Dana is reliable, too. The mother of four, one doesn’t have to be prescient to know that she is also trying to find her life’s rhythm. One week she’ll grab the Karaoke mic, and the next she might quietly observe. Mostly, I think she likes the promise of gathering with trusted souls.
Week by week our Wednesday place found its traction and others began to come, curious about our commitment to a well-worn place that promises little more than a finely poured beer. The other cast of characters are “consistently inconsistent” in devotion. Some we already knew; some we are coming to know. If life were a sitcom, my Wednesday place would have a continuum of guest stars, each one adding a different dynamic; their often-unexpected appearances adding to the shenanigans.
The left corner of the bar is our weekly goal. Unlike weekends, when this place is packed, Wednesday is rarely crowded. Still, commandeering the left corner is never a given, more like a gift. It guarantees a flow of conversation and the best angle from which to observe the usually mediocre, but sometimes spectacularly great, karaoke which takes place in the vast space on the other side of the bar. And yes, on occasion I lend my voice to the mediocrity. There have been epic failures like “Love Shack”, and a nearly acceptable rendition of “California Dreaming.” The former all empty flash; the success of the latter owed to low register and subtle octave change. The B-52’s makes me edgy. The Mama’s and Papa’s are comfortable personified.
Speaking of comfort, I have one more piece to add to the mosaic. There is a bartender at my Wednesday place who is the most consistent of us all. He is an Irishman with boyish charm; a peer for us in a place where a majority of the clientele need proper I.D. Over months, in small drips of conversation and revelation, he has become a part of us. He is an ear for the serious and the silly. He has an intangible gift we all know, but struggle to incorporate. When he talks to you, you feel like you are the only person in the room, like what you might be saying is important.
While tending to his work, he always finds a way back to our corner. There’s often a wink or a smile emanating from his warm, comfortable face and that tells me that he “gets’ our motley crew. Perhaps, I romanticize the place. If I do, he’s part of the fairy tale. There is no satisfactory substitute.
My favorite Wednesday night of the many was the first after the death of Uncle Bobby. I extended my reach to invite friends to join me in memoriam. They came and I traded my usual Stella for the Uncle Bobby preferred Guinness. We toasted his journey, urged on by patient friends to share stores of him. Uncle Bobby would have loved my Wednesday place and all the people who make it so. Like the brown plaid blanket he placed across his lap, he would have worn this place with comfort.
Eighteen months have passed since Andrei’s suggestion. He could not know then that his intuition would help heal a heart that felt like shattered glass or sustain me through the difficult walk I faced with Uncle Bobby. I have no idea how long the Wednesday night ritual will continue. Life seems so expansive to me now, so filled with limitless possibility, that I can make no promises.
But, tonight I will be there; comfortable and grateful for friends and an unexpectedly special place.