New York, The U.N., and Meth-French
We arrived late to Grand Central Station, not pulling in until almost
3:30 p.m. and by my watch, that left us just less than 24 hours in New York. Jay and I were downstate for a quick visit with one of our mutual friends, who had flown in from Seattle with his wife. Palmer and Sara were shacking up at the Chelsea Hotel…a place who’s
cracks and crevases were inspiration to the likes of Dylan, Waits, and Ryan Adams, just to name a few. But, being that rates were somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 per night, it just wasn’t in the cards. No, the plan was to stay a night at the Chelsea Center, a small youth hostel located near the Chelsea Hotel, with modest dorm room accommodations for about $20 per night. For that kind of price I can assume that I’ll be sharing the barracks with some drunken Europeans, a couple of hippies, and inevitably at least one smelly guy.
I had been debating going on this little excursion right up until the night before we were to leave. I hadn’t had a paycheck in about 3 months since I’d quit my day job and was trying to figure out a way to make this trip a business expense, but to no avail. In any case, it would be good to see Palmer.
I haven’t seen him since his wedding which must have been 2-3 years ago now. Who knows. Since then, he’s moved out to Seattle to persue a film making career. Maybe he knows something I don’t. Maybe Seattle is on the cusp of being a film town, or he saw it as an opportunity to be a big fish in a small pond (given that he has no experience in film per se, but was a philosphy major in college and has had stints as a custodian and in alcohol retail). In that time he hasn’t changed a bit. When he met us outside of Grand Central he was still decked out in cordoroy pants, a vintage coat and an army cap, smoking a Camel. I’ve always looked up to him because he has in certain ways because he has this inate sense of certainty, even when he’s wrong, he seems right. He knows what he knows,and is pretty stubbon when it comes to trying to change his opinion about anything.
Living in upstate NY, we’ve had the most mild winter that I can remember. It was green and in the 50s right up through the end of the year. However winter finally came and although is barely any snow, the wind reminded you what time of the year it was, a kick in the nuts after stepping outside.
One of the things I love about Manhattan is the joy of people watching. Walk down any block in the city and you can see a huge cross section of those who walk God’s green earth. The spectrum is just so much wider than most places in this country and probably the world. I’ve seen some of the most beautiful women, some of the best and worst dressed people, and of course the occasional crazy guy. And what’s funny is that whether its a man dressed as Superman with his back on a skateboard pedaling down Avenue of the Americas, or your standard run of the mill doomsday soothsayer, most other people on the street either don’t mind, or don’t notice.
I was stopped at a crosswalk near Canal Street when two identical twins came up behind me, and passed me over the course of the next block. They were wearing tight blue jeans, had matching style bubble jackets (one black and one yellow), and looked as strung out as I think I’ve ever seen two people. The bags under their eyes were the color of bruises and they were speaking in a language that can only be described as Meth-French. I couldn’t understand a goddamn word they were yelling to one another and as we
were crossing the street they began slapping each other in the face. Now this wasn’t any kind of lighthearted
horseplay, no sir, they were actually pissed off, walking a few steps, yelling to one another and then taking a swipe. I determined what direction they were heading and immediately made plans to go the other way.
We didn’t have a plan for our visit to New York. Its NEW YORK for Christ’s sake. Something interesting will find us. However, we didn’t want to wait around in the cold for it. So the plan of attack became basically a hunt for
differnet warm places to eat and drink. Our first stop was the Pig and Whistle, an irish pub in the middle of Manhatten. The bartenders were all lovely irish ladies, and the beer selection was similar to what you’d find in a traditional irish pub. What killed the mood for me was the country music playing over the sound system. This wasn’t even good country music, just the new kind of country pop crap you’d expect to hear coming from the radio of a group of guys who were putting down flooring.
During the course of a few pints of Guinness, Palmer relayed a new discovery in his family history. Apparently he is a decendant of the pirate Henry Avery. Avery, (also known as John Every, and “Long Ben”) was born around 1665 near Plymouth, England and served in the Royal Navy as a Second Mate aboard The Charles. The Charles was part of a fleet of privateers who were to sail to attack the Spanish Colonies.
While waiting in La Coruna, Spain for 4 months without pay, Avery convinced the crew of The Charles to mutiny. On May 7, 1694, the crew took over the ship while the captain was drunk and Avery became the captain of a pirate ship. Their flag was one of the first to use the stereotypical skull and crossbones, except that Avery’s flag had the skull facing to the side, not the front. The skull also wore an earring, which actually looks kind of cool, given that skulls don’t have ears from which to hang them.
In any case, Captain Avery renamed the ship The Fancy and plundered the Indian Ocean, most notably getting away with treasure aboard the Ganj-i-Sawai, with an estimated worth of 1,600,000 pounds (1694 currency). No one knows what happend to him although most think that he retired to the West Indies, settling in the Bahamas. Although 6 of his men were caught and hanged at the Old Baily, Avery
himself was never found. Some say he retired from a pirates life and lived out the rest of his years as a millionaire, while others say he gambled away all of his treasure and died in poverty.
We washed down the pirates tales with one last pint and paid the bill, which amounted to what a quasi fancy dinner would cost in Utica, and headed back into Manhatten. The temperature had dropped considerably and we all came to the conclusion that the rest of the evening would be a continuation of eating and drinking, at least until the money runs out. There was of course the small matter of our hostel.
We never made it to the Chelsea Center to check in, however I did speak to a friend of mine who lived in Manhatten and insisted that we stay at her apartment instead of paying for a hostel…a notion that I was most greatful for and most agreeable to. We trudged from bar to restaurant, stopping at a fantastic Indian restaurant in the East Village before settling in at a Spanish bar. This particular bar’s staff was true to the decor and the restaurant actually reminded me of some of the places I’ve been in a Barcelona, except for the fact that the owners were Italian and looked like they had connecions to the mob. I’ve never seen suits that were tailored just right, and they all seemed to communicate through some kind of ESP or sign language, because
throughout the whole time I was there, I don’t remember hearing them speak a word to anyone. They just watched over the clientele as if they were waiting for someone to pull a gun from the men’s room like in The Godfather.
The bar itself only sits about 6 people and the there were more glasses hanging from the rack above than could possibly be used in this small place on any given night, which leads me to believe that the glasses farther from the bar (above my head) have probably never even been used. The three of us walked in to just do a quick shot of whiskey to warm up and then be on our way. However when we ordered 3 Whiskeys, the barkeep served us with large snifters chock full of Jameson. I was not going to like what the bill for these 3 drinks was going to be. The conversation subsided a bit as we slowly sipped our drinks and every now and again Palmer and Jay would step outside for a smoke, leaving me at the bar, by myself. I don’t even really like whiksey, especially not this much and this straight up…but I wasn’t about to just give it away and lose what was probably a $10 drink. No sir. I was going to take my time and finish. At least this would keep us out of the cold.
While the two of them were outside, a large man who looked a bit like Mr. Belvedere (sitcom from the 80s) staggered into the bar. He had on a suit and tie, and looked to me like he had been drinking a bit before
arriving here. I noticed that with each step he took, he kind of wheezed and sighed at the same time, and it was loud…but not so loud that he knew that he was doing it. Indeed, I could hear it…the bartender could hear it, but the gentleman seemed to not hear it or acknowledge that it was HIS body that was producing it.
He introduced himself as Maurice (but insisted that its pronounced “Morris”). Evidently Morris comes to this establishment a lot, as everyone seems to not only know who he is, but also what he drinks, what he eats, and where he likes to sit. He ordered himsef a rare steak with a salad (house dressing) and a bottle of Argentine wine.
Maurice started in with the usual small talk one experiences when sitting alone in a bar full of strangers. The “What are you drinking” and the “Where are you from” has become for me the new “what’s your major” – a safe way of starting the converstaion. I explained to him that my collegue and I were from upstate and were down here visiting a friend who was outside smoking. The conversation then quickly turned to the enormous glasses of straight Jameson that were on the bar in front of me. He was wondering why the hell we would simply order a huge glass of whiskey, and I unsuccessfully tried to explain to him that our intent was to just grab a shot and leave,
but now because of the volume of alcohol in our posession and the reduced width of our wallets, we would be staying to milk this drink for all it was worth.
Maurice worked for the United Nations. Even more astounding was his title. He was the Ocean Affairs Officer for the Law of the Sea Division and office of Legal Affiars. It barely fit on the business card that he handed me. And for the record, U.N. business cards SUCK. For such a huge and (mostly) respected organization and their cards are just not exciting. White background with the little U.N. logo and just black text. I’m not impressed.
When my compatriots returned from their smoke break Palmer downed his Jameson and a Budweiser, and ordered another round before introducing himself to Maurice and immediately going into his pirate heritage story, as our new friend attacked his steak as if he hadn’t eaten in weeks. I was waiting for him to pick it up and eat it like a sandwich.
When he had finished his meal,Maurice asked if we liked tequilla. I don’t, but if he meant to ask if I like FREE Tequilla, then I most certainly do. He helped himself to the glass liquor cabinet adjacent to the bar and took out a bottle of Corizone. We tried to make the barkeep understand that we wanted 4 glasses and due to the volume of alcohol he had poured us for our previous drinks, we would like 2 orders of tequilla split between 4 glasses.
This obviously did not compute and he acted as if he’d never heard of such a thing before. We all tried politely to explain to him in different ways what we wanted, with Maurice even resorting to try and dictate our request in Spanish (did I mention the bartender was Spanish?). When we finally felt like we’d gotten our request through, he filled four glasses halfway up with Corizone, which is exactly how he’d been serving us the Jameson.
I was instructed that to appreciate this tequilla I was to sip it little by little and swish it around in my mouth before swallowing…as task that I did not care to participate in. I’ve always been from the school of thought that tequilla was to be consumed from a shot glass or as part of some other drink, not sipped like a goddamn cup of tea or glass of wine. It was during this drink that I knew that the evening held the possibility that ugly things could unfold.
I slowly sipped my drink while everyone else seemed to quite enjoy the tequilla and then got onto more rounds of Jameson and Budweiser. As the time passed, Palmer became more and more confrontational with Maurice on any kind of issue that they could bring up; piracy, our choices in beverages, live music, and the next place that we should visit to round out or evening. Fortunately they decided to reconcile
their differneces outside over a smoke. But Maurice doesn’t smoke. No, he explained to us that he quit years ago, but he still has an undying affection for the smell of burning tobacco.
So there I sat…by myself, in a Spanish bar in Manhattan, with the same glass of tequilla I’d been nursing for well over an hour, trying to figure out what the hell was going on.
Where was this going to end? How was it going to end? I was tired. Dead tired, and out of money. And outside the window, I was watching my two friends on the sidewalk, talking with an ambassador to the UN, and taking great care to blow their smoke directly into his face as he breathed in, enjoying every second hand breath of Camel Lights that he could take in. It was also abundantly clear to me that the owners of this establishment were not enjoying our company, and with all probability would not want to tolerate it much longer.
I glanced to my right. The restaurant was empty except for a group of three middle-aged women in fur coats cackling about their girls night out and trying to come to a group consensus on whether they should take the time to eat or not. I took note of where the mafia dons were standing, speaking Italian to each other, probably plotting our demise. I wondered to myself if under those custom tailored suits there were glocks just waiting to see the light of day.
It was at that point that another friend of mine walked into the bar to meet up and have a chat. Fortunately she was heading home and I was offered a place to stay, which I gladly accepted. When everyone came back into the bar, I announced my departure and we asked for the check.
To our great relief and surprise, it appeared that our goodwill ambassador had picked up all but $50 of our check. If I’d have known that this would happened I probably would have drank til I was speaking in tongues, like everyone else.
But it was not to be. I left J, P, and Maurice, and walked out into air so cold that it burned when I took a breath, but I was headed for a much needed good night’s sleep, while my friends were left in the care of the East Village and if all went well, the Chelsea