Kristy and I live in a Victorian two blocks from the shop. It was actually built as an apartment building at the turn of the century and the six apartments are connected by a curling oak-railed staircase (complete with coffin turners -- little nooks where people often stick vases or lamps, but which were traditionally scooped out of spiral stairwells to allow for coffin bearers to negotiate the twisting trip down). Apparently, our ground apartment was intended to accommodate the building's super and is the biggest of the six. Our ceilings are thirteen feet high and the floors are hard wood. There are arches, period light fixtures, and a big bay window where our Christmas tree, wound in tiny white lights and cranberry garlands and decorated with little wooden nutcrackers and those kitchy tin ornaments from the fifties, stood. We sat around a long dining table: Larry sipping a Coppola cabernet, John upending a bottle of Young's Winter Warmer, and me drinking a Sam Adams holiday beer called Old Fezziweg Ale. The others had left around 1 AM -- Eva, Panda, and Leon (reluctantly). Kristy had gone to bed. Vic Damone crooned on Pandora, a recently discovered web site that plays an endless selection of songs/artists similar to the one you initially type in (I had put in Bing).
As we sat there talking about this and that (Graham Greene was brought up, as was Lucian Freud, and Larry posed the question: "How old were you when you realized Zsa Zsa Gabor wasn't important?"), I had a boozy moment of sentimentality. I've always wanted friends like Larry and John, smart, artistic, more than a little eccentric. Larry recently hosted a Sir Carol Reed film festival at the shop ("REED UP @ THE RAC"), and as we hunkered there in my apartment's colossal center room, our great room, we three alone, getting unavoidably squiffy, mired in ideological discussions that bordered on bickering, I was reminded of a scene midway through Odd Man Out, the stunning first installment in Reed's informal trilogy. It depicted what the three of us agreed would be our ideal living situation. In the film's third act, Shell, an opportunistic but likeable rag-picker, decides to hide Johnny McQueen, a wounded IRA captain played by James Mason, in the cavernous squat he shares with Lukey, a mad artist, and Tober, a failed surgeon. As Shell gallops up the grand staircase to discuss this idea of stowing Johnny with his housemates, snow flits through yawning holes in the roof onto the floor two stories below.I can't imagine this scene, played out as it is by three caviling characters, drunk, mad, hungry, in a behomithic wreck of a Belfast mansion without heat, would be appealing to many, but...in any case, Larry (a painter, in fact), John (not a failed surgeon, but..) and I stayed up past three, talking about things which, for the most part, though I managed to participate, were way over my head (the Gabor sisters not withstanding).