Triptych

The doorman stood about ten feet off the corner of 85th and West End, a few steps from his post.  He lit a half-finished cigarette.  The blue-grey smoke was like chiffon against his cocoa skin.  His baggy pants were navy blue with double-yellow stripes down the sides.

 

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Staring at the teetering 1-year-old girl, who wore a purple, blue and green sundress, the beige and black-faced pug stood still with bug-eyes.  The girl squealed, pointing at her playmate.  The dog’s owner, the girl’s parents, and two other adults, including a writer, watched.

 

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He slept in an armchair in Starbucks at 87th and Broadway.  Next to his chair were two brown shopping bags wrinkled from use and containing other wrinkled plastic bags, like layers of onion with no center.  His orange and white ball cap hid a face buried in his chest.  His soiled grey pants were rolled up on the outside above black socks and black work sneakers.  Wearing a dark blue rain-resistant jacket, he seemed not to care that it is 80 degrees outside today.

 

Labor Day.

Fix

No way this guy looked like a smoker.

Dusty red hair with a scruffy beard that he wore like windburn, trimmed close, stylish eyeglasses but the type not foreign to computer hackers and - the dead giveaway to straight-and-narrow non-smokers - a blue blazer and khakis.

No way.

Yet there he strode, across 36th Street heading uptown on Madison Avenue and across my path as I sat in the cab on my way to a lunch appointment, the butt just lifted from his mouth, which emitted a thin trail of smoke from his lips, uncomfortably yet unmistakably.

To tell the truth, he looked a bit like the baristas in the Starbucks I used to frequent in North Beverly, Massachusetts, where almost noone smoked, which is why it was such a dissonant moment.  Of course, I used to see Liz, one of the managers in Beverly, out back by the dumpster taking a cigarette break from time to time.  She had sad eyes and navaho white skin like the wall color of old Manhattan apartments, and I rarely saw her laugh.

Speaking of coffee, my buddy Luke the other day took me and our other lunch companion to what might be my new favorite coffee place, The Grey Dog, to its University Place location.  (The original is on Carmine Street.)  Our other companion had had some significant heart issues lately – as in atrial fibrillation where he thought his unit would come out of his chest – so he had been banned by his doctor from having caffeine.  But Luke and I partook, and I must say that this was one good cup of joe.  As for ambience at The Dog, you walk in and there’s a sign saying that laptops – i.e. Long Sitters – are banned between certain hours, and those hours are at the discretion of the management.  It is kind of another dissonant moment when you consider the flat organizational nature of a coffee shop in Greenwich Village next to an ultra liberal university that touts in writing its Top Down Management Structure that Will Dictate When People With Laptops Can Work and When They Can’t.

In any event, the coffee rocked.  I drank it on the way back to the office on the N train and then while editing a document.  I have a feeling the document – also – rocked.

 

photo:  CraigPJ

Make it with Caro syrup

Citarella, the gourmet meat market, is across the street from the Starbucks I usually sit at until 10:30 or 11:00, when it’s time to go home and rack out in my $60/night bed at Hephzibah House.  My friend Carl, whose apartment I crashed in last night while he was out of town, had a gigantor hunk of cheese that he told me was from Citarella.  It was to go along with the chili he made.  The chili smelled good.  The cheese smelled imported and suspect, not something to be married culinarily with chili.

103007scol22.jpgThis is my last week at HHouse.  It has been a good stay; three or four nights per week for the past six weeks.  You can’t beat $60 per night in Manhattan; heck, it costs that much for a movie ticket that lasts 120 minutes.  HHouse has been peaceful, a respite from the din around.

I went to Citarella when the Lovely K and I lived on West 76th Street and tried to get a flank steak to make chicken fried steak, a subject I will return to directly.  Citarella didn’t have flank steak.  They had rabbit.  But they didn’t have flank steak.  Dadgum retrogrades.  Philistines.  So I can’t remember how exactly we resolved the flank steak situation.  I may have waited until we moved to Massachusetts, where they sell flank steak.  I am sure other states in the Union sell flank steak, but this section of downstate New York, called New York City and, specifically, the Upper West Side of Manhattan, apparently does not sell or claim to even know about the existence of flank steak, from which is made a delectable Texas dish that is disdained by Urbanites that would rather eat Bugs Bunny.

I told you I would return to chicken fried steak, and here I shall.  I ate dinner tonight at Brother Jimmy’s Barbecue, on 80th and Amsterdam, a section of the Upper West Side known for bars and loud people from Brooklyn who drink a lot of alcohol here and then fall asleep on the N train headed back to Bay Ridge or wherever they’re from.  I first went to Brother Jimmy’s years ago when the State-Carolina basketball game was on the restaurant TVs, and I must say it made dining an active experience.  Zagat’s calls the place “one big frat party.”  Tonight it was fairly calm – a Tuesday night after the end of the World Series, not a Monday or Thursday night (football) and no other sports news than Grady Little’s resignation today from the L.A. Dodgers.  (A doctored photo of Joe Torre in a Dodgers cap appeared in yesterday’s NY Post…that’s my guess of where he’ll end up.)  It was also quiet.  I ordered – yes, Dear Reader – chicken fried steak, along with candied yams and black eyed peas.  Sweet tea.  (Yes, Luke, they sell it here.)

But I must tell you, it was not like my mother-in-law’s chicken fried steak.  I don’t think it was attributable to anyone’s mother-in-law.  I think it was attributable to some guy; some guy in a sweaty Marlon Brando “Streetcar Named Desire” t-shirt who probably lives in Bay Ridge and takes the N train in to Manhattan, and who cooks this dish he has no cultural appreciation for.  The coating came off like it was glued on with year-old Elmer’s.  The steak itself was as thin as the tablecloth, and just as hard to cut.  My mother-in-law, Ginger, schooled me that you need to double dip it, etc. (don’t ask me how here…I have it all written down and not with me at Starbucks) and it turns out just fine.  Of course, she makes it far better than I do.  But I make it far better than some guy from Bay Ridge.  Somehow, though, “Brother Howard’s Barbecue” loses something in translation.

The candied yams with walnuts were good, as were the black-eyed peas.  The side of pickle slices, the kind the Lovely K likes, were a nice complement to the brown sugar on the yams.  Cornbread:  ehh.  Sweet tea, pretty good, and the server made a point of asking me if it was okay.  I said, Sure, why?

“I made it,” she said.

Did you make it with Caro syrup?

“No…”  Quizzical look.

Gotta make it with Caro syrup; that’s how they do it in the south.

“Where are you from?”

Here.

She smiled and walked off.

photo:  scol22

“Did you know I was related to Lafayette?”

As the B-52s punch their words into my inner ear, “down, down, down…skedubidub…hrrrrr…ahhh..ahhhahhh…Rock Lobstah!” I recall a few minutes ago when a 20-something guy with a crew cut, backpack, and wild look in his eyes walks into the Starbucks on 76th and Columbus where I’m doing my evening news catch-up, drinking the requisite decaf, checking out the Red Sox losing to the Cleveland Indians in the bottom of the second inning live on espn.com, and he taps my shoulder because, after all, I have these antisocial white iPod earplugs in the side of my head that announce, “Please know that I am occupied with a little Alternative Music R&R,” and he stumbles for words, and I think, Uh, Oh, here we go:  This reminds me of London 1985 when I sat in that hotel lobby with brother Jim and college friend Kim and some dude walks in and convinces me that he lost his trumpet – for real, I tell you, and you thought I wasn’t gullible… – and 101507damo_4701.jpgneeds twenty quid (which then was about only $30) which of course I gave him because he promised to send it back to me later to my US home and he even gave me his name and address, which I am sure now corresponded with some ex-foreman at a women’s girdle factory in Yorkshire.  This is going through my mind.  I am thinking: Get ready for the pitch, Man.

But instead he insists he is lost and needs to get access to his Hotmail account and may he log on to my laptop.  He speaks broken English because he is French.   So I consider the fact of the American Revolution and how his country did all those nice things for us.  (After all, since then, the relationship’s been a little…strained…although now there’s a guy in office who might convince the French Language Puritan Nazis to let in such words as “laptop” and “Starbucks” to the rigid lexicon.  So what if YouTube has a video of Sarkozy drunk at the G8 Conference.  President G.H.W. Bush puked on the Japanese Prime Minister, remember?)  We navigate out of my default Windows Live ID screen and away he goes into French MSN and his email account.  He says it’s hard to get to the “web cafe.”

He finds the street address he’s looking for, on West 107th, and asks how far it is.  Walk?  Train?  Taxi?  I ask.  Taxi, he says.  About ten minutes.  He looks comforted, gathers his things.

He does not ask me for money.  He hasn’t lost a wind instrument of any kind.

I am happy.

photo:  damo 4701

Got moxie?

I like the word “moxie.”  Like, “she’s got moxie.”

Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, cites that Moxie is considered to be the USA’s first mass-produced soft drink, dating back to 1876, and created by a man who worked in nearby Lowell, Massachusetts.092907moxielogi.jpg

I believe the first time I heard the word used it came from the mouth of a supervisor of mine at John Wiley & Sons in 1985.  I had started there as an editorial assistant in October of that year.

Dan was the manager’s name, and indeed he probably used it in connection to a woman at the office, for to use it in reference to another man would be…suspect…especially for a guy like Dan, who was from Kentucky and wrote a sports column at UK and “played the ponies” at Belmont, going to Saratoga Springs at least once per summer.  He had an Hispanic girlfriend, whom I think he married some years later, and he once invited me over and served mint julips, which tasted neither too minty nor what I imagined as julip-y.  I decided against drinking them in the future.

Anyway, Moxie was claimed to cure all sorts of ailments, from softening of the brain to loss of manhood and would endow the drinker with “spunk.”  I am not sure that the other well-known beverage producers of today, namely Starbucks for 092907starbuckslogo.gifexample, would claim such physiological prowess.  Yet, Starbucks does claim to know what kind of music you will like, and one barista on the Upper West Side of Manhattan told me recently that, soon, when you walk into a store and have a wireless device, a message will appear telling you what song is playing and how to download it.  I had asked about a rocking song whose chorus sounded like, “Keep on rolling,” sung by a female whose voice was reminiscent of Sheryl Crow but younger.  If you know what song this is, please do tell.  I want to download it from iTunes before it is forced down my PDA’s throat in a few short weeks.

Moxie is still sold in New England, and in 1995 it was declared the official soft drink in Maine.

They still have moxie up there.

Slimebag

At first, I felt like a real slimebag.

A man approached me as I drove up to the curb at Starbucks and asked me to roll down my window.

“I’m out of gas. I’m so humiliated to ask, but can you help me with a couple dollars.”

I’m sorry, was my reply.

I always wonder about these exchanges. I didn’t trust the dude from moment one. He had a vibe that said “scam” all over it. I parked and walked into Starbucks. This guy preceded me and without looking back, held the door open. I paused, then entered and sheepishly said “thanks.”

“Oh,” he said, noticing it was me, “I didn’t actually mean to … help you.”

So now I feel like total sh#@. You gotta understand, I normally take great pleasure in giving money away. My wife’s a saver; I’m a giver. We make a good balance sheet. But now I’ve had the door held open by a guy who I turned down because he had Scam Face on, and he rubs my face in it. Stupidly, because I feel guilty, I remain silent. I repeat in my mind good comebacks, something about my having grown up in New York and getting taken one too many times. Fed up with it.

I order my coffee with him standing less than five feet away. Great. A coffee that would practically get him a gallon of gas, if he indeed needs it.

I sit down and he is milling around the place, looking at CDs, coffee mugs. Then I see him start to walk out, a wad of bills in his hand – where did this come from?! – backed by a bill that was at least a ten if not a twenty. He gets into a car on the passenger side, driven by a young guy, baseball cap on, smoking a cigarette, and they drive off.

I am enjoying my $1.84 coffee, thank you very much.