Sunday night. Time to get out of the house with my friends Denny and Mad Dog and head over to Smitty’s Sports Bar. All three of us–not Smitty, I don’t care about him–are always feeling a little stifled as the weekend comes to a close, so we head over to Smitty’s to talk sports and poetry by gay guys.
“You guys all set, or you want another pitcher of Frank O’Hara?”
I know, you’d think the two don’t mix, but they do. Every time I wanna change the subject from kids, how we need a new septic, when are you gonna take my car in for service, blotta blotta blotta, to something sublime and ethereal like Hart Crane’s “The Bridge” I gotta get outta the house. And the only place where three red-blooded American guys like us can talk sports and queer verse without drawing suspicion is a sports bar, where men can be men without interference by women.
Ernie Broglio: Tragically, T.S. Eliot never saw him play before he was traded to the Cubs. Broglio, that is, not Eliot.
Tonight should be especially good because it’s the Cardinals vs. the Cubs, opening night of the baseball season. I grew up a Cardinals fan–me and T.S. Eliot I might add–and I’ve always pondered the “rivalry” between the two teams; isn’t this a sloppy use of language that W.H. Auden, f’rinstance, would never have tolerated? I mean, the Cardinals have won the World Series eleven times, while the Cubs have won–three. George Will said that if a foreign power took over America and wanted to recruit prison camp guards, they would do well to start with Cardinals fans, but we’re not intentionally sadistic, we just get to celebrate more often. Still, they’re the reigning world champs, let ’em have their fun, I say. Could be another century before they get lucky again.
I take a seat at the bar and order a Blue Moon summer special. I always think of it as lesbian beer because I first tasted it in a bar in downtown Boston that, as they say, swings both ways; by day it serves a business crowd, but by night it’s a realm of Sapphic pleasure, or something like that. I took my friend Butch–no pun intended–in there one time for lunch and, like the salesman he is, he started to chat up the waitress. “What’s this place like at night?” he asked, taking in the scene with approval.
“You wouldn’t be welcome here,” she replied, as drily as she could in place that makes its money off alcoholic beverages.
I see Denny and Mad Dog at the door and motion for them to come over–there’s three seats right under one of the wide-screen TVs that Smitty provides so each man can be alone with his thoughts at all times. “You guys want a pitcher?” the waitress says and Mad Dog is about to say “yes” when Denny stops him. “Don’t ever drink draft beer,” he says.
“Why not?” the Dog Man asks.
“I got it on good authority from my gay friend—”
“No way is Arthur Rimbaud better than Cavafy!”
“The one who told you if you drink beer out of a bottle you don’t capture the full bouquet you get with a glass?”
“That’s him–he says that bars never clean their pipes, so draft beer is full of disgusting crap.”
They both curl their lips and order a bottle beer. We sit down and start chewing the fat.
Our talk usually devolves to fundamental principles fairly quickly: Does good pitching beat good hitting? Should the National League adopt the designated hitter rule to extend the careers of slow sluggers? Should gay poets conceal and compress their sexual identity when they write, or should they celebrate it? There’s no answer to these eternal questions–they’ll be debating these topics in sports bars a hundred years from now–but still, they get the old conversational juices flowing.
We start with Oscar Wilde, even though his work didn’t become informed with the essential sense of tragedy that marks all great works of art until The Ballad of Reading Gaol. There’s just so much to talk about!
“I wonder what ever happened to his kids,” Mad Dog asks.
“Yeah–he was one of the few who switched teams,” Denny says by way of agreement.
Lou Brock, wearing his patented headgear, the “Brockabrella.”
“Are you kidding?” the wise guy next to me says. “Ernie Broglio for Lou Brock has got to be one of the most lopsided trades in the history of baseball. Brock went to the Hall of Fame, while Broglio . . .”
“Ex-cuse me,” Mad Dog says, and quite huffily I might add. “We’re trying to have a conversation about gay poets here–not baseball.”
That shuts the guy up. “Oh, sorry, I thought you was talking about the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry.”
I could say something about that rivalry issue noted above, but I let it pass. The guy looks back up at the game, and we get our train of thought back on track.
“I dunno about the tragic sense of life being so essential,” Denny says. “Look at the whimsy of a guy like Frank O’Hara.”
“Whimsy or serious, Wilde wasn’t that hot of a poet,” Mad Dog says. “I’d throw his entire oeuvre into a cocked hat for Lord Alfred Douglas’ Two Loves.”
“The love that dare not speak its name,” I say with appreciation before taking a sip from my longneck bottle.
Unfortunately, that invidious comparison draws Denny’s ire. “Douglas ruined Wilde, all for the reflected glory of hanging out with a guy who could write rings around him.”
“No less an authority than Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch said Douglas wrote the finest sonnets of his time,” Mad Dog replies. The hairs on the back of my neck are standing up–there’s nothing worse than a stupid sports bar fight between two guys who’ve had a little too much to drink.
“Oh yeah?” Denny says. “Douglas couldn’t change the nibs in Oscar Wilde’s pens, so go fart in your stupid Quiller-Couch.”
I’m saying to myself “He’s gone too far” but my mind, dulled by the fine hops and fruity finish of the Blue Moon, doesn’t work as fast as Mad Dog’s right, which sails over my head and lands on Denny’s nose.
“Parse this, sucker!”
“Fight, fight, fight,” the chant immediately goes up in the bar, and a circle is formed around the combatants with unlucky me in the middle. Thankfully Smitty keeps a tight ship, and he’s over the bar in a second to grab Denny while a bouncer takes care of Mad Dog.
“If I’ve told you knuckleheads once I’ve told you a thousand times,” Smitty says, beads of sweat on his forehead from the unexpected exertion, “if you got a literary beef you got to take it outside–unnerstand?”
The two amateur fighters and poetry critics look at each other sheepishly and sit down on bar stools again.
“Geez, what was that all about?” the wise guy next to me asks.
“Nuthin’–just your typical Wilde vs. Douglas fight.”
“Buster Douglas,” the wise guy says with a far-off look in his eye. “Now that’s gotta be one of the greatest sports upsets of all time.”
Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”