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Club 41 on King Street West

Club 41 is what it is – it is certainly not now, nor can ever be, a product of my expectations as I am not doted of the gift of rearranging quanta in order to make of reality, past and present, the image of my desires. That is something that, I think, I need to remember.

Club 41, named only for its address on King Street and implying nothing else, is a place that has been a gathering point and convenient watering hole for myself and friends for getting on several years. It is where I met my friend Monica and, later, became involved with her. However, since she was away visiting family for the holidays and I was, somehow, gripped by a case of the 'holiday blues' (cue blues harp, here), I decided to head downtown and try to cheer myself up with some drinks and good company.

That is, essentially, the draw of Club 41; whoever you are and wherever you come from, there is no cover charge at the door and you are free to enter and contribute to the environment of the place according to what you bring of yourself. I suppose that is the draw of it – being able to simply walk in, be greeted, order a drink and, then, just enjoy. That is, of course, what drew me and why I return although I occasionally wonder if my own expectations are an impediment to my enjoyment or if, reasonably, I should expect something different.

On this particular night, I boarded the King streetcar and, in a fit of childish impetuousness, rode past my stop only for the pleasure of being on the antique, rumbling and rolling tram squealing along its iron rails and sending occasional cascades of sparks from the overhead wires. I have enjoyed riding the streetcars since I was little and think that they add a great flair to our city's culture. I even remember, once, having the opportunity to hang off the side of a tram in San Francisco and feel like I was in a Rice-a-Roni commercial. It is unfortunate that, apparently, our tram fleet is to be phased out and retired. Having enjoyed my adventure on the city rails, I descended at Yonge Street to walk the half block back to Club 41.

On entering, doffing my overcoat and scarf and shaking off the winter chill, I was greeted by the owner, who was working the front desk, with a warm welcome and a handshake. I draped my coat over my arm and, ducking and weaving around crowded tables of patron, some known to me and some not, I made my way toward the bar. The staff at Club 41 are known for their hospitality and, as I traversed the place, I was greeted by name and with smiles from those I encountered. Finally, taking a seat, stowing my coat on the rail underneath the oval bar and anticipating what the night might bring, I flagged the bartender. He arrived almost immediately.

“Nice to see you again,” he said, shaking my hand.

“Thank you, Jack,” I said to him. “How have your holidays been?”

“Busy, busy,” he reported. “Lots of hours here and a new baby at home.”

“That's right!” I exclaimed. “Congratulations to you both!”

“Thank you so much. The little guy is amazing and Astrid is tired but happy. It's all good.”

“Fantastic.” My mind began to work on what sort of a little gift I could send for the baby.

“The usual, my friend?”

“I'm far too predictable,” I said and nodded 'yes'. He laughed and busied himself preparing my drink. I removed some bills from my pocket when he passed the glass over. He stopped my hand.

“This one's on me. It's nice to have you around,” he said. I think I blushed at his sentiment but said 'thank you kindly' and saluted him with the glass as he hurried off to conjure his mixing magic for some other patrons.

I had barely settled when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned one way, duped, and turned back to find some friends and newer acquaintances had all gathered to wish me the best of the holidays. I felt honoured by their attention and, before long, standing, sitting or lounging by the bar, we coalesced into a jabbering, laughing, loud, thoughtful or silent, party of conspirators in constant movement from one conversation to another.

I don't know when it was that I realised that I wasn't receiving what I thought I could or should or, maybe, I was way off-base with the sentiment altogether. It confused me and I wondered if I was being too harsh on others with what I expected or, conversely, I had identified a valid lapse on their part that was OK to point out. Of course, I also knew that I could claim no exclusivity – a monopoly – on what is right in terms of fair discussion and exchange. I just felt as though the conversation didn't mature as it should.

Honestly, it started to make me grumpy and I hate being grumpy. It makes me growl at people that have a right not to be growled at.

It seemed to me that whatever the argument or view laid out by someone of our group and regardless of the eloquence or lack – those being immaterial for the expression of the idea itself – the return for the effort was half-hearted and simplistic. I was certain I could fill Santa's sleigh with the number of times I had heard, 'Right on', 'that's so true', and 'I totally get that'. Didn't the person who initiated the discussion deserve a little better in terms of feedback?

Lost in my own reflections, I studied my empty glass and wondered if I wanted another drink. Noticing the time, I decided that I could have one before heading out and still be home at a half decent hour – not fully decent but good enough. I detached myself from the group and sidled along the bar looking for a refill. Presently, Jack noticed me and obliged. I thanked him and wandered slowly back to the group.

Truthfully, this was not an isolated occasion in which I perceived a failure to achieve my own expectations but, I was also acutely aware that it may have more to do with me than with anyone else. I had, in fact, noticed it so many times that it seemed more the norm than an anomaly. However, analysing myself in order to understand others, I realised that there could be many motives for what I was taking for superficiality. People do get tired, especially at the end of a long work week, and just want to relax, laugh and be light-hearted. I understood that. Also, during the Holidays, maybe people are naturally a little more flighty with all the rushing around, greeting, visiting and general spirit that comes with the season. I understood that, as well.

Naomi was perched on a bar stool looking as stunning as ever in a festively coloured dress. Her legs were crossed and the heel of her left shoe was hooked over the lower rung of the stool. I had to wonder how a woman managed to always looked so perfectly poised and it made me smile. Mistaking what was, for me, more of an inner display of pleasure for an outward smile, she returned in kind and beckoned me with her hand. I slipped through the crowd and stood beside her.

“You're quiet tonight,” she observed.

“Yeah,” I acquiesced. “I'm probably thinking too much about nothing.” I laughed and rolled my eyes, perhaps, feeling a little foolish for my sullen mood.

“I get on a jag like that sometimes,” she offered. “You get something niggling in your brain and it just won't go away. It might be in your head but it's a pain in the butt!”

“Oh!” she added quickly. “It's like one of those annoying songs that you can't get out! She started to laugh and the sound of it was sunny and sincere.

“You're darn right about that!” I answered, laughing. “It makes me think that I spend an awful lot of effort trying to be on top of things – to understand them – but, maybe I don't really need to. I should just relax and go with the flow. Does that sound more reasonable?”

“No,” she said frankly. We both paused and took simultaneous sips from our glasses.

“You've got to do what you are most comfortable with – we all do,” she continued. I studied her face. She looked into the distance, pensive, her dark eyes thoughtful.

“Look at it this way,” she said and pointed a bright, scarlet fingernail at me. “Sometimes, you just need to be alone with your thoughts. Sometimes, I do. That doesn't depend on external circumstance, like being here.” She gestured generally to our surroundings.

“It depends on your internal thought-scape. The thing is that I can't know yours and you can't know mine. It's, like, you never know what's going on with someone else.

“But sometimes, in whatever way, we coincide and end up having an interesting talk – like now. That's the spice of life.” She concluded and shot a killer smile at me.

“You know, you're right,” I responded after recovering from her smile.

“Things aren't always going to coincide. Even with someone you know well, there are going to be times when it just doesn't sync-up.”

“Absolutely.” Naomi nodded emphatically.

“It's just a part of being individuals,” I conjectured. “Maybe I need to keep that in mind more.

“Thanks, Naomi,” I said, sincerely. “I think I feel better.”

“That'll be two-hundred bucks for the session,” she said and held out her palm. “See you next week at the same time?”

Later, walking to the subway, I reflected on my evening at Club 41 and realised that I had enjoyed myself immensely. It didn't take, I was reassured, every conversation to be meaningful or full of significance. It was the one – even occasionally – to make the whole experience worthwhile.

I was smiling as, holding the railing in my leather-gloved hand, I descended the snow-slicked steps down into King Street station and heard the rumble of an approaching train.

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