On April 10th, I had the pleasure of occupying the last barstool at Gramps. It was a thick, cushy seat and it supported my bum in a way profound. I had a pen in my hand, a verse in mind. Before me was a cigar box cradling a stack of cocktail napkins. Above my lap, a shining metal placard fastened to the bar top, inscribed with my position: Poet in Decadence.
As Poet in Decadence, my duties were described as follows:
to occupy the seat at Gramps for the night
to scribble a poem upon a fresh cocktail napkin
to give the poeticized napkin to a bartender
to receive a drink for that poem
Each night of April, a different poet occupied this nightly residency at Gramps. Though this night of April 10th, this night was all mine. I remember the sun had just dipped below the horizon. Outside, the streets were quiet; there was a calm before all those nocturnal denizens hit the pavement to get what's coming to them. As the bar filled, voices swelled, music played, the space buzzed with a blue glow. I found myself surrounded by a throng of characters to be met and known. These patrons of Gramps, these complicated creatures became the company of a Poet in Decadence. For all past and future Poets in Decadence and the casual observer alike, I will introduce some of my company here.
First, there was Jim. Jim was a tall, tall man in a pink shirt, mid-forties. He was a New Englander with a loud voice and a foghorn drawl. He was a rare thing: as boisterous as a fratboy but with a holy admiration for poetry, especially that of Walt Whitman. Jim read several of my napkins and gave me more praise than they deserved. He was a man looking for love; his large blue eyes were like a lighthouse scanning the the dark seas of Gramps. He wasn't able to find it. Jim first introduced himself as a science teacher, but as the evening progressed, he switched to geologist. Both fine professions. Of Gramps, he said: A place like this, you got all these young guys with new ideas. Look at this place--Gramps? I don’t understand it but I like it.
Bill stood to the flank of Jim, like a trusted Colt 45 revolver in holster. Bill was a tad older and from Waco, Texas. He was shorter and stockier than Jim, with the bearing of a man who herds cattle; his words rattled from his lips and he had a raspy chuckle. Bill also had a formidable grey mustache. He filched several of my napkins so as to wipe down this run of whiskers after each sip of beer. Much of Bill’s duties were to keep Jim’s excitability in check. Whenever voices grew too loud, he would pet his mustache and then hold his hand out flat and say, let’s keep it down. When Jim finally grew too loud for Bill’s liking, he decided the two should sojourn and they sauntered from the establishment and out into the night.
Windy Mindy joined Bill, Jim and I for a time. Like a breeze, she was always on her way in or out. She asked everyone his or her name and rarely gave hers. On each appearance, she’d bring a different man, he always looking a bit reticent and flustered. She had a plunging blouse cradling a pair of large and very visible breasts. Like the New Englander, she was an individual of high decibel levels. She enjoyed collecting a crowd about her and subsequently vanishing. She did this to Jim and Bill on several occasions. They were two men swept up in the breeze. She told me her boyfriend was at work. She wrote crude poems on my napkins.
Will arrived soon after Bill, Jim and Mindy left. He was from Indiana. Having spent time in Indianapolis myself, I can tell you Will was unerringly a fruit of that land. He was hazel-eyed and had a well-groomed, tawny beard. He wore a blue plaid shirt and rusty chinos. He had a ceaseless smile of short polished teeth. He seemed as if he could build a proper bonfire. He was new to the city, and caught in a hurricane of thoughts concerning the very different look of things. People seem so different and open here, he said. In his intoxication, he had caught Miami fever. Like someone who stomped their way through hundreds of miles of icy northern territories, he was peering at the ocean from beneath a coconut tree and all sorts of fantastic thoughts were blowing his mind.
What is this that you are doing? Olya whispered in my ear. The night was getting late. Her voice was like a row of fizzing firecrackers. I explained my role. So I write poem? she said. It is collaboration? she said. She had large, square, black-rimmed glasses, long fiery-hair and a constellation of freckles atop her nose and cheeks. She was Russian. She greatly enjoyed using the word collaborate. I told her about our Poetry Cruise. A boat? she said. So would be collaboration? I believe I was smitten. Olya and I wrote many a poem together, exchanging napkins and collaborating. I wish I could remember what we wrote. As soon as they appeared, the bartender swept the napkins up and sent a fresh beer flying in. Whether or not I will see Olya again, I can only hope. By the time we parted ways, I was at my end. I stumbled into my Lyft and then stumbled out and into my bed. This Poet in Decadence then closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Though my one-night-residency at Gramps has ended and the final days of April draw close, there still remain Nights of Decadence to be had. If you have a chance to grace a Poet in Decadence with your company, I'm sure they will appreciate it. When you end your night, I hope you do so with a smile; and if you stumble from the bar, I hope you do not let the door, as they say, hit you in the ass on your way out.
Good luck to all you denizens of the night, roaming Miami's streets, drinking beers, writing poetry and basking in the exuberance of strangers.