Love and Letters at a Bar Downtown



Neighborhood: Bowery

I work at a bar on the Bowery.

Drunk people are funny. Also incredibly forgetful. Here is a list of some of the strange things we have found at the bar at the end of a long night: a single shoe; an antique baby stroller (it looked like the stroller for Rosemary’s Baby); a banjo; a dog; the image of a young woman in a white dress… It was an apparition, really. A ghost. 

But we know it was there because we all saw it. So it wasn’t a hallucination. No. It was real. She was real. Only, she wasn’t.

She made glasses spin and shatter. She might have broken the mirror. Someone did. When no one was looking. 

We also found a thin notebook dense with love. Sometimes I read it when I am supposed to be working. The handwriting is faint and loopy, so it’s hard to make out every word. 

My Breath (or maybe it’s Brenda, the word is too blurry to read). Do you remember those hot hours when we hiked to Lover’s Leap? I should have taken your hand and dove head first. Just to prove we could. I should have cut us both with your pocket knife, just to prove our skin was solid and (this word is smudged). The (also smudged) of us falling, like lovers, off a cliff. 

No one ever claimed the notebook. 

I’ve found things in the basement, too, where ice machines, coolers, compressors, sinks, and all the guts of the bar live. Where water rushes and spills. Where beer kegs and cases slowly empty. Where we build broken-bottle pyramids. Where dirty glasses turn magically clean—lipstick, germs, sorrows, all gone. Once I discovered the porter vacuuming a basin filled with soapy water and shards of glass. I’ve also found: the shell of a woman’s body (it was art); a sleeping busboy; a cow, framed and staring (also art); a spider the size of my palm; my love with his arms around a stranger.

I found the traces of a night long ago when my brother and I snuck downstairs for a smoke, three weeks before the night he was murdered at a bar in Brooklyn. I wonder if anyone has ever seen his ghost there. I wonder if he might have broken a mirror. 

It was my brother who found the lover’s notebook. I remember it made him shake with laughter. He read the words aloud—acting out scenes, gesticulating, the hilarity of it all possessing him. Then he sucked on his cigarette deeply and sighed a cloud of smoke, exhausted by the effort. I didn’t think it was funny at the time. I only wondered: Why be so sick with love? What’s the point? 

My Breath (it must be breath), The letters I have written to you are scattered about. All still sealed. All unread. I have found them tucked into cabinets, pressed between the pages of books. 

I never told my brother that the notebook was mine. That in it I had scribbled stories, letters, and sketches for a novel. It had been started in college, so it was already worn and old when my brother picked it up off a pile of papers in the basement. I was surprised that I could not read my own writing, that it sounded so cheesy, so pitiful. I smiled at him, pretending it was just another strange thing left behind. 

Many pages are illegible, the handwriting swings from letters to hieroglyphs. But I can make out the last few lines:

I have so much to be grateful for. I have money to spend, shelter, ease. And yes, beauty. There is so much beauty, all around. My eyes drink it: the trees, the river, the stars. But what are these things to me if I do not have you? All I can ask is where are you? Where is my dear (Breath? Or maybe Beloved?), twin of my heart… The next page is missing. 

My brother was right, there is something funny about it, how self-conscious the writing is, how old-fashioned. The words have become so distant, so foreign, that it seems like they were never mine. And now I associate them with our bar’s ghost. She is Breath. Everything I have written here is true, even if it happened long ago, except for her, maybe. I haven’t seen her for many years. I am beginning to doubt that I ever did. 

I haven’t seen my brother for many years, either. He was killed in 1998 at a circus-themed party in a Brooklyn bar where revelers who dressed up as clowns got in for half price. I am beginning to doubt my memories of him, too. Were his eyes really the blue-green sea I picture? Was his laughter high-pitched and riotous? Was he dressed as a clown the night he died? I don’t remember. 

Isn’t it strange how there is always something missing? And no matter where I am, I long for that other place, that missing piece.

I guess in the end the notebook is more sad than funny. It might even be heart-breaking. 

Maybe longing itself is (I’m not sure about this word. Maybe it’s Gold? God?), the thing that draws the infinite near, that takes the part of you that’s missing and puts it back in its place. It just might be. Still, it’s sad to know this life is full of it. 

I can’t help but adding, in the words of my favorite New Yorker (and writer of love letters): 

“And Fuller, O vastly Fuller…” 


Kaarin Von is an entrepreneur in New York City’s bar and restaurant business. She has written a novel about the revelers and ghosts that haunt a dive bar in the 1990’s. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, two black cats and a Sicilian rescue dog.

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§ 5 Responses to “Love and Letters at a Bar Downtown”

  • Elenna Stauffer says:

    Haunting in all the best ways. An elegaic and beautiful story.

  • Tsb says:

    “I never told my brother that the notebook was mine.” damn.

  • Jasmine says:

    It is a beautiful story.

  • John Reidy says:

    I remember being in the Circus bar in the late 70’s. This bar was on liberty Av. There were always fights in there. We called it a “bucket of blood”. This one night, a guy got thrown out. Not through the door but Through the window. Great writing, held me in. Love that it was you who wrote it. Nice surprise. Eep up the good work.

  • Marco Jo Clate says:

    Gorgeous spiraling of memory, longing, wit and love. A lush read!

§ Leave a Reply

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