Monday, May 28, 2012

Stars and Bars

Elaine's, then

Elaine's, now.

A handwritten sign on a steel shutter is all that's left of my favourite bar in New York:

Elaine's, once the property of Elaine Kaufman, a voluminous woman with attitude; a haystack with emotions. She died, aged 81, and they pulled down the shutters exactly a year ago. 

Before I quit the booze I was a regular there. I stood at the counter and drank martinis and Alex the bartender, with impeccable timing, always shouted the same line, "ready for another one, Irish?" - And Irish was always ready for another one.

After I stopped drinking I never went back to the places that knew me. It would have been too much of a shock to the bartenders, ordering soda water instead of Jack D. and coke. 

One afternoon I was sitting outside a coffee shop on Broadway, sipping on a frappa-something-or-other, when a bartender called Mikey spotted me. He worked in my neighbourhood bar, a grungy Irish dive. I hadn't seen him in over a year, so, as he approached me, I knew I could expect an emotional reunion.

"Barry, Barry, Barry, Barry, Barry," he said. - and it's a great estimator of shock and surprise, the number of times somebody uses your name in greeting.

"Mikey," I said, "long time no see".

"Jesus, you can say that again. Barry, Barry, Barry, Barry, Barry. We often talk about you. Many is the night we look at the empty space where you used to be, and we wonder what went wrong. What ever happened to him? I hope he's all right. He was in the construction game, I hope he didn't have an accident. He might have fallen off a scaffold or down a hole. Maybe he had a heart attack, he wasn't young. Or cancer, god forbid. Barry, Barry, Barry, Barry, Barry. What became of you at all?"

I took the bull by the horns. There was no point beating around the bush. "Mikey," I said, "I quit the booze".

For a moment it seemed as if all the traffic stopped on Broadway so that the drivers might register Mikey's reaction. People looked out windows, and waited. Women with strollers stopped strolling.

"Did you?" Said Mikey, his eyes narrowing, "Well fuck you."

And with that, he was gone.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Morning

Street Fair, 9th Avenue.

Breakfast in a Southern style diner on 45th Street

The waitress, a Daisy Hazzard lookalike, has found a way to synchronise her questions with my full mouth.

"How is everything, sir?"
Then two minutes later: "More coffee?"
"You enjoyin' that?"
-Masticatus Interruptus.

Outside, a street fair stretches all the way up to 59th. New Yorkers walk around with pretty little kids that look like they were hired for the occasion. Manhattan apartments are so small, most people keep their children in storage.

"Where's little Jimmy?"
"BetterBoxes, South Bronx. Samantha?"
"She's with her grandmother. - Two-for-one deal with HideyHole Inc."

And the waitress returns.
"You doin' okay?"
I'd like to tell her about the bad knees and the dodgy hip and the overall feeling of hopelessness and ennui, but she's gone before I swallow. She drifts away to another table and lets loose a "Hi guys!". - Scrambled egg, grits and southern biscuit get sputtered across the condiments.

I'm listening to conversations. A sad young man who looks like Sal Mineo in Rebel Without a Cause, sits with a fork poised over a plate of deep fried chicken. His companion sips a Bellini and says, "I'm not good with relationships, per se." Or did he say Percy? - Percy looks at his plate and says, "this chicken is obscene" and I imagine a fellating chicken. A chicken doing a Lenny Bruce routine. A chicken making a hand gesture: The chicken finger. - Percy seems concerned by the way I'm staring at his plate.

Meanwhile, an elderly woman with bright orange hair and a pink jacket sits in the window. The sunlight streams in from the Avenue and makes her look like cheap confectionary. She has a heavy gold chain around her neck with links the size of bottle caps. In the middle is a padlock. A big gold padlock. I imagine her chained up in a yard, barking at the mailman. She turns to her friend, a woman with a man's haircut, and says "it was just like Camelot". But I get the sense she has no idea what Camelot was. It might have been a place where you parked your dromedary.

The waitress leaves me a bill with a smiley face circled in the upper right corner. It's a weird smiley face with just one eye in the middle. A smiley Cyclops. I'd like to ask her about it, but she's no longer interested in conversation, now that my mouth is empty.