So we were out at Shay’s recently, the little nook of a bar on JFK in Cambridge, and things started getting pretty rowdy. It was closing time on a Friday night, wall to wall with med students, locals, some chick celebrating her birthday and the 20 people there to help her, taking up half the bar in the process.
I always miss the beginning of the good stuff. But there was a gaggle of giggling blondes in front by the windows, and judging by the number of empty bottles of Bud Light on the table, and the animation with which they spoke, they were reasonably sauced up. The poor table service there betrays one’s alcohol consumption over the course of the evening. Amid the celebratory singing and general hub-bub, one of them fled the tribe and stumbled forth into the crowd, navel exposed, tripping on platform sneakers. She squoze her way to the bar and requested a cigarette from a middle-aged man leaning there with his middle-aged wife, deeply absorbed in scowling at one another.
The last I saw of our trio, the blonde was retreating empty-handed to her corner. Like I said, I always miss the beginning of the good stuff.
It was at this time that my attention was drawn back to Ruby, who had returned from the restroom and was now engaging me in conversation about karaoke.
Eventually the bartender bellowed last call and the birthday party broke up, wandering off clutching their heads with one hand and their Molecular Biology texts with the other. Upon their exit, our friendly middle-aged man rose unsteadily but flushed with adrenaline from his bar stool. The seat would have rocked dramatically, but the stools there are nailed to the floor. His craggy voice sliced out through the closing time din. “Hey, miss!” Our jazzy blonde, now leaning over the corner table talking to her friends, did a 180 — well, more like a 210 before correcting her line of vision — and cocked her head. He thrust his arm out violently, shaking his middle finger in the smoky air. “Fuck. You.” He said it accusingly and with disgust, like one New York City cab driver to another, following it cinematically with a phlegmy spit on the hardwood floor.
The record scratched off and the bar fell instantly silent, all heads swiveling between the two players, eagerly awaiting the next exchange.
He was clearly out of line. She was clearly not having any of it. She lurched back toward him and the two began slinging profanities at one another.
I was amazed. Call me old fashioned, but I wouldn’t stand for a man old enough to be my father telling me to fuck off while in polite company. Even if the company was just shy of polite. And he was getting a little riled, enough that he looked like he might even haul off and deck her.
All over a cigarette?
I always miss the beginning of the good stuff.
So we left. Mainly because it got a little warm in there and the bartender had his hands full, but also because it was closing time and Charlie’s is open an hour longer than Shay’s. So down the block we went.
Charlie’s in Harvard Square on a Friday at 1:15 AM is no joke. Climbing the stairs, you part the smoke and emerge into a dancing spree of bike messengers, food service workers celebrating the end of their shift, punk rock kids, the more daring 20- and 30-somethings of us, Metallica, tattoos, fries, Vans, chops, pints, and Natalie Portman.
Natalie fucking Portman.
She’s very small but was creating quite a stir. Clean faced and hair in a ponytail, she sipped some pink beverage through a straw and made her way smoothly through the chaos from one end of the bar to the other, the grungy throng parting like the Red Sea to let her pass. She couldn’t help but brush up against every guy in the thickly packed crowd. I have never seen so many erections in my life.
I wish someone good would enroll at Harvard. I mean, I don’t have anything against Natalie Portman, but why not some dashing young male actor for me to fall hopelessly in love with and follow around Harvard Yard at an inconspicuous distance? Whenever I see a famous person in public, I wonder how they can leave their house — especially someone so duly worshipped as she — and come to a bar where every boy in the room has been waiting pantingly for her to turn 18 so they could masturbate unfettered to The Professional.
So we left. Mainly because it got a little warm in there and the bartender had her hands full, but also because it was closing time. So down the block we went.
That said, I am far more impressed with Ruby than with Natalie Portman. And here is why.
The following night, it was snowy and cold and I was itching to get out of the house. Ruby agreed to brave the weather, but I wasn’t sure where I was in the mood to go. She said, “There’s always the B-Side.”
I sucked in my breath and blinked, torn between fear and disbelief.
The thing with the B-Side is this. The place is Mythical. Like Atlantis. Or Jupiter. My friend Mike from Berklee used to talk about the B-Side and his eyes would get all sparkly and distant, a tiny stream of drool escaping down his chin. I have never been to the B-Side, and there is only one reason why: I can never find it.
Inman Square is the Bermuda Triangle of Cambridge. I’ve lived here for almost nine years, and left to my own devices, I am consistently unable to find Inman Square. I’ve been told it’s quite simple, really. Still to this day it evades me. When someone returns from an evening in Inman Square, I touch them in disbelief. “You made it back? Thank God!” and I pull them to me protectively and want to never let them go there again.
But Ruby goes to the B-Side every night so not only does she know where it is, but she knows which bus stops it’s okay to park at where she won’t get a ticket. Even if I ever located the B-Side, I would have to drive by it all night, peering in from the street, wishing I had one of those deflatable cars like the Jetsons.
So when we rolled up in front of The Legendary One and Only B-Side Lounge, she had a parking spot waiting for her directly across from the entrance. Later I realized it was actually assigned to her, that the B-Side hired undercover Secret Service men to vigilantly guard her personal 10′ x 20′ space on Cambridge Street in case she showed up.
Given it was 10:30 on a Saturday night, a line was to be expected. And a line there was. In the freezing rain, people huddled around the corner waiting for some sorry fool to leave so they could be blessed with the presence of Boston’s Coolest of the Cool in the B-Side. So we get in the end of the line, and I start wondering if this is such a good idea. I can see in the window where warm and lighthearted conversations bubble, and good music is probably being played.
Then as he’s denying entrance to three more people trying to schmooze their way in, the door guy sees us and rises to attention from his stool, hurrying over. He nods reverently to Ruby and assures her, “I’ll go get Andy.” I’m already impressed. Straight out of Fight Club. “It’s all under control, sir.”
I’ve been informed before our arrival that Andy is a real character, a tall boy of the sexy-ugly variety. Come to think of it, he actually is a character — Ruby has written him into her latest screenplay. Andy, in all his tall, sexy-ugly glory appears post haste from the back door, and ushers us carefully through the unmarked fire exit, between the storeroom and the dishwasher, through the kitchen and out into the bar. We are greeted with cheers and libations.
I’m hit with two simultaneous epiphanies: One, the B-Side has hard-boiled eggs aligned in glossy spirals on either side of the taps. And Two, my best friend is a fucking rock star.
We hang our coats and she pulls out a Camel Red. Before she even has a chance to grope for a match, two men in black appear and begin a sword fight with their Zippos to light her cigarette. I look down at the dirty floor for a red carpet.
“Yeah. Hi. I’m with her.”
The B-Side is one hip establishment. In fact, they are playing the Cure’s B-Sides, without irony. I order a cold plate — a scoop of mandarin, pineapple and peach sorbet, dressed with a handful of berries. At a freakin bar. The rest of the evening is all about “Your booth” and “Your usual” (a glass of Chardonnay with a side of diet Coke).
At the end of the evening, as my dear sweet Ruby is dropping me off at my apartment, I ask her for her autograph. I can’t even imagine how good it’s going to get when she’s really famous.