Three years ago, Fred Bacher asked me to write down some memories and feelings I had about The Pink Flamingo – now just called “The Pink,” according to my son – a jubilant, downscale bar on Allen Street in Buffalo. (On Friday and Saturday nights the place had a fine DJ playing Iggy Pop and Gladys Knight.) Fred said he was working on piece about the bar for Buffalo Spree magazine (now edited by a mutual friend, Liz Licata). I don’t think he ever published a piece. I dug up the notes I sent him:
A couple memories of the Pink Flamingo:
In 1987 I promoted a story about “Save Our Selves” [SOS] that appeared in the Buffalo News. SOS was one of those secular humanist initiatives promulgated by Paul Kurtz’s publishing enterprises out of Buffalo, in this case “Free Inquiry,” a quarterly journal that published critiques of supernatural belief and religious dogma. I was Executive Editor of FI at the time.
SOS was started in reaction to, and as a secular alternative to, Alcoholics Anonymous, which has numerous religious overtones (“a higher power,” “the Serenity Prayer,” and so on). SOS kept the peer-counseling component and left out these overtones.
I was interviewed by Buffalo News reporter named Louise for the story. I’d known Louise from back in my Spectrum Days; she’d guest-taught some modules to student reporters, and she’d liked my writing. (I’d done a series on the Night People’s Drop-In Center, and Louise praised my phrase “pail pink fountains of puke.”)
In the course of the interview, no doubt just trying to find something to say — much as I was grateful for opportunities Kurtz gave me as an editor, I was uncomfortable hawking some of Kurtz’s initiatives, and none more so than this one — I said that I had a lot of friends in the arts and music community who were beset by terrible problems with alcohol. The next day that quote appeared in the article. The photograph of me made me look like a long-time friend of Bill myself, eyes not completely open, my hands clutching at a cup of coffee. I wished I had been better prepared for the interview.
That night I went to the Pink Flamingo, something I did at least twice a week back in 86 – 89. I walked in, saw about a dozen people I knew and some good friends, and went up to the bar to order something (I am guessing a shot of tequila and a Molson Extra).
“Hey, Bob.” A good friend of mine, M. — a beautiful female writer and event-organizer — tapped me on the shoulder. I gave her a kiss.
M. smiled, then said plainly: “We all read that article in the News today, about us being terrible alcoholics.”
Charmingly, M. did *not* say, “How dare you say that? We are NOT all terrible alcoholics.” Instead she said, “You drink here, and elsewhere, as much as we do. It would have been nice had you mentioned that as well.”
Instead of telling me that I was a hypocritical dolt, she said, in effect, “We like you, and you can tell the world you are one of us.” I was humbled by M.’s gracefulness.
Here was the “us” I was a part of: gregarious, friendly, generous, hard-working, and hard-playing writers, artists, film-makers, arrangers, editors, and their friends and lovers and roommates who came to the Pink Flamingo to drink, receive solace, read out loud, debate which version of which song was the best — I remember you, Fred, saying that, “Well, I suppose ‘Heroes’ is one Bowie song I like”.
After M. and my other Flamingo friends made it clear I wasn’t going to be scolded any further — though I deserved a few swats — hey, nobody even demanded I buy them a drink! — I told her that my wife and I just got officially separated — the morning before my News interview, in fact. “Louise told me that it will take me 24 months to feel normal again. *24 months*!” [She was nearly right.]
Most of my friends at the Pink Flamingo were at most just vaguely aware that I had been married in the first place. No more than three or four had ever met my wife, who had never stepped inside this, my favourite social and drinking arts-talking spot.
“That’s not so long, 24 months” M. said, giving me a big smile. “I’ll help you get started.” We had some drinks at the bar, laughed and happily argued with our friends, and then she took me to her home.
We spent many nights together at the Pink Flamingo back in Buffalo in the day. He was charming and generous and brilliant. He once told me that Neil Young wrote “musical graffiti” and that “Heroes” was the only David Bowie song he could really tolerate. I was always very, very happy to see him.
But being a teacher is the best job.
To have a child who loves you.
To have students who show up.
And to have a lover who pays attention.