I first “met” Rosie Schaap, author of Drinking with Men, in a most unusual and literary way. Damiano and I had just finished up our “Poetry & Translation Song & Dance Routine,” as we call it, for this past spring’s group of University of Washington Rome Center students. One of them came up to me and said, “I really liked your poem that was on that podcast.” “What podcast?!?” I hadn’t known.
So when I got home, the first thing I did was google it, and this is what I found. Have a listen if you want to hear a smart and interesting discussion of poems more or less related to drinking and bars. I was delighted to be in such august company (Shakespeare, Gary Snyder, Heather McHugh) and to hear Curtis Fox's very interesting take on Mr. Shakes’s “Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame.” I was also delighted to hear how deeply and completely Ms. Schaap “got” my poem.
I then did what any grateful poet in the 21st century would do: I found her email address and wrote her a thank-you message. And I told her I was going to be giving a reading in Brooklyn in June. And, on the appointed Sunday, there she was, in the audience at the Lunar Walk Reading at the Two Moon Café.
In the meantime, I’d gotten hold of a copy of her terrific memoir, Drinking with Men, which I began to devour. How could anyone not love a book that mentions, in the very Introduction, one of the great classics of urban single life: Live Alone and Like It by Marjorie Hillis. This is a book that I own and tongue-in-cheekily cherish, a manual for the single career gal living the 1930s city life, which instructs on such useful topics as Necessary Kitchen Equipment. You might think she’s going to tout that then-newish invention, the electric toaster, but no, she’s more concerned that every single woman have a proper set of martini-mixing equipment for entertaining purposes. Gal after my own heart.
And Rosie’s is a book after my own heart. There are so many, many memoirs out there, as you know, and some of them make me want to cry – with boredom. I have discovered, in my recent years of memoir reading, that the ones I really like use as their foundation something like an objective correlative (yes, I’m a poet). They focus on a very specific theme or image, and present the life viewed through that particular lens. Peter Trachtenberg’s Seven Tattoos was maybe the first one that I read of this sub-genre: a lyrical yet fiercely intelligent meditation with each chapter focused, quite like a poem, on one of the author’s (then) seven tattoos.
Drinking with Men is a smart and beautifully written memoir organized around the search for the perfect bar. Journeying from the bar car on Metro North, where our protagonist whips out her tarot cards to do readings in exchange for beers, to various bars and pubs in Ireland, Montreal, Massachusetts, and New York (of course), we are given significant glimpses into a lyrical, wide-ranging, and ever-exploring psyche. Though I felt a real kinship at many points with this “narrator,” you don’t need to have an Irish soul – real or imagined – to be moved by the various poetic and personal journeys that she takes us on.
At a couple of points (for example, while I was on the bus to and from New York for the visit during which I would Meet the Author in Person, at her Bar), I just had to stop reading in public because I get very pink and misty when I start to cry. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll learn some wonderful things – about martinis, metaphors, and making a life on your own terms.
A coda: When I visited Rosie at the wonderful little neighborhood joint where she tends bar of a Tuesday evening, I got to be an honorary “regular.” This was a real thrill, as, on that podcast, she’d so brilliantly situated my “Bar Napkin Sonnet #11” within the problematic context of “regularhood” and being a woman. Not to mention it was so much fun to meet the real regulars.
I knew that Rosie would “pull” a good Guinness, and she did, but I also got to experience some things at her bar that, well, we just don’t have so readily in Italy. For one, and I hope I’m writing it correctly, an Oliver Twist martini – yes, with olives and a twist. A real treat. Then, and the Italian readers of this blog should probably go elsewhere right now, a most amazing concoction: a grilled cheese sandwich with kielbasa, and grape jelly on top. Salty, sweet, smoky: it was perfect. Thank you, Rosie, and thank you, Regulars.
Rosie Schaap writes the “Drink” column for the New York Times, and is the author of Drinking with Men, a memoir that will make for great late-summer reading.