Friday, March 07, 2008

A Bagel Mit Schmeer (The End)

                                Zorro (not his real name, but a better picture than yesterday...)
So, I think I left you with MY WIFE and me ready to head over to her brother's place in Brooklyn. Even if I didn't, let's pretend I did and pick it up from there anyway.

(Parts ONE - TWO - THREE)

After all of my talk about the New York subway system being such a wonderful and well-oiled machine, I now have to bring it down a notch. In order to get to Zorro's place, we had to take a somewhat less-than-direct route. This was because there was trackwork being done on the line that would have taken us conveniently down the block from his house. We were able to get to within 8 blocks, by taking a totally different line, but then we needed to catch a shuttle bus from there.

When we asked an MTA worker where to catch the shuttle bus, he pointed us across the street. However, a woman standing nearby overheard our conversation and told us to ignore that. She said that she was waiting for a bus that would take us precisely where we needed to go and more quickly. She knew this because she was headed to that same neighborhood. She was right. We boarded the bus with her, got off the bus with her, and there we were pretty much at Zorro's doorstep.

(With one glaring exception, which I'll get to later, New Yorkers were unfailingly kind and helpful whenever we needed directions of some sort. In all instances wherein we needed it, help was offered even before we asked for it. The rudeness of New Yorkers is sometimes greatly exaggerated. My personal opinion is that Yankees fans give them all an undeserved bad rep. If I were a New Yorker, and NOT a Yankees fan, I think I'd wear a shirt proclaiming that fact. That way, folks from out of town would know I wasn't automatically an asshole.)

(Oh, OK, I know one nice Yankees fan, so there's always an exception, I guess. Sorry, Barbara.)

We rang the bell at Zorro's. He came on the intercom and said, "Yeah, I'll have two double cheeseburgers, a large fry, and a chocolate shake." Joker. I told him I had his double cheeseburger RIGHT HERE. He buzzed the door and we went inside.

Zorro is - despite that bit of fluff - a very witty guy. Like MY WIFE, he is a punster, all of their family having learned the art at the knee of their dad, who was a master at putting sour looks on the faces of unsuspecting linguistic bystanders. Also like MY WIFE, he is (to use one of my favorite Jean Sheppard-isms) faster than a jackrabbit on a date. Everyone in the family possesses a quick, sharp, gently sarcastic sense of humor. Any extended time spent in the company of two or more of them becomes a genial game of Can You Top This? I love it.

(Of course, having now built up in your mind this air of anticipation, you'll be expecting me to quote repartee worthy of Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker. You'll be disappointed because, while MY WIFE and Zorro uttered enough sparkling gems to fill a couple of pages, my memory for such things is haphazard at best. Too many of my brain cells have been allocated towards memorizing the New York City subway map. Also, my writing skills aren't even close to either Wilde or Parker. Nor to Zorro's, for that matter. If I told you his real name, you might recognize him as having written on a semi-regular basis for The Boston Phoenix when he was living in this area. MY WIFE is a good writer, too, but she's dyslexic, so if she were telling this tale, the lady who helped us get to Zorro's house would have told us to get on the same sub as her, which is a pretty weak joke, but I needed some way to end this digression, so there you go.)

After we chatted for a while, Zorro called for a cab and we then made our way to Peter Luger's.

Luger's is a steakhouse with a mighty reputation. All three of us are of the opinion that it's overpriced and overrated. The food was good, but hardly worth what they charge for it. The ambiance is fairly non-existent, so that isn't an excuse for the exorbitant bill, either. Service was decent, but nothing special. Again, the food was good, but it's mighty hard to fuck up a steak unless you burn it to a crisp. At half the price, it might have been worth it, but our bill (with, as I recall, three beers and two glasses of wine) came to about $220, with tip, for steaks and potatoes. I can't remember if we had dessert. If we did, that's how good it was.

We left the restaurant with full stomachs and much emptier than they should have been pockets. It was our plan to now go into Manhattan and have a drink or two, so we started walking to the subway. The air was cool, but not totally uncomfortable, so the 10 block walk through Williamsburg was decent enough, especially with Zorro and MY WIFE providing running sarcastic commentary on the gentrified surroundings.

I had gotten directions to the subway from the doorman at Luger's. He was a nice fellow and, as it turned out, his directions were perfect. However, at one point we weren't really sure that we were headed the right way. We stopped at a bus stop, which had a route map on a pole, to see if we could figure out just where we were in relation to the subway. As we stood there looking at the map, a man asked us where we were trying to go. We told him the subway.

At this point, if I was a good enough writer, I would be able to describe his reaction. However, I've already absolved myself of that responsibility, so, instead, here is a picture of me doing an imitation of him. Look at the picture as you read what he said to us, and keep in mind that he asked us where we were going. We hadn't approached him at all.

"What the hell! That's just two blocks!"

We walked on a bit and then all three of us fell apart laughing. As Zorro pointed out, there must have been some minimum distance requirement, which we hadn't met, for it to be alright to get directions from this guy. He offered to help us, but when he found out we only needed to go a short way, he became pissed off. Obviously, he liked giving out only convoluted directions and, unless you needed more serious help, he had better things to do with his time.


We rode the subway back into Manhattan. Zorro wanted to go to a very fancy bar in Grand Central called The Campbell Apartment. It was formerly the office of some bigwig with the railroad - named Campbell, apparently - now transformed into a dark-wood-and-plush-seating drinking establishment. Unfortunately, when we arrived there, we were informed that it was not open for business that night. On our way in, we had passed a wedding party having photographs taken, so we assumed it had been rented out by them for the evening.

Now we needed to find another place. Zorro suggested The Algonquin. This definitely sounded like a good choice. It was, at one time, the home of probably the most celebrated gathering of witty minds on earth, The Algonquin Round Table. The membership included Robert Benchley, Heywood Hale Broun, George S. Kaufman, Harold Ross, Alexander Woollcott, Harpo Marx, Edna Ferber, and the aforementioned Dorothy Parker, among other luminaries, so why not us? In our current grouping, we were the three wittiest people we knew.
We walked over to the Algonquin and went inside. It was a pleasantly swank joint, done up in dark wood, with soft lighting, comfortable seats, and a pianist with bass accompaniment softly playing unidentifiable jazz. We were seated at a decidedly un-round table by the maitre d’.

MY WIFE decided to go non-alcoholic, ordering tonic water with a twist, while Zorro kept in the spirit of such a place by ordering a scotch on the rocks. I think I somewhat ruined our 1930’s fantasy when I ordered a mojito, a drink not even invented then - and probably better suited for a room frequented by Hemingway, in any case. However, we still had a nice time filled with good conversation. We saw a round table, but we weren’t sure if it was THE round table.

We parted ways with Zorro in the subway. He made his way back to Red Hook and we made our way back to The Helmsley. The mojito took the edge off the elevator ride to the 38th floor. In keeping with the sort of folks who would eat dinner at 3:45 in the afternoon, we were both asleep sometime before 9 o’clock.

SUNDAY, MARCH 2nd (My 51st Birthday)

I should explain that since our anniversary date of February 29th falls so close to my birthday, we decided long ago to not celebrate my birthday during those years when we have an anniversary. You know those statistics that show married men living longer than single men? I figure in my case taking every fourth year off from birthdays will about equal the projected extra years of life I’m supposed to gain. If I die when I’m 99, I’ll actually be only 83 with this formula. I’m not sure that really makes sense, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

After checking out of the hotel, and leaving our suitcases with a bellman so that we could do a few things unencumbered with baggage before heading home, we went back to The Frontier for breakfast. I ordered a bagel mit schmeer and got it. Victory! Final score: Jim – 2 schmeers in 3 attempts.

We decided to go to church at Marble Collegiate, the former pastorate of Norman Vincent Peale, located on 29th Street in Manhattan. They had a guest preacher that day, the Reverend Peter Gomes from Harvard, whom MY WIFE had wanted to hear for some time. That we traveled to New York to hear a preacher from Harvard says something, but I’m not sure what.

It was worth the trip. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a sermon more than the one delivered by Bishop Gomes that morning. He is an accomplished speaker with a tremendous sense of humor, very wry and dry. I don’t know that I’m the best one to make such a judgment, but I found his theology sound and his insights inspiring. And I have never heard an audience of churchgoers laugh so loud and long as they did at his tremendously humorous asides.

The regular church was outstanding – that is to say, those preachers in residence, as well as the choir and musicians – and the congregation seemed very welcoming. I’ve never been one to praise diversity just for diversity’s sake, but it was somehow heartening to look out over the crowd – we sat in the balcony – and see such a wide mix of peoples in comfortable praise of God. Even in the best of situations, you often see whites sitting with whites, blacks sitting with blacks, and so on. At Marble Collegiate, there wasn’t any section of the congregation that betrayed a particular leaning towards one race or another. It was a dead on pure mix of races, sexes, manners of dress, and whatever other qualifiers you might like to use, and it all just flowed together naturally, folks walking in and sitting without regard (at least so far as I could see) to whom they sat next to. It was lovely.

I’m sure I speak for MY WIFE when I tell you that we were both so impressed with the whole experience that we would probably become members of the church on a full-time basis if we lived in New York. It was, all in all, one of the nicest spiritual experiences I’ve had in years.


We had decided to take the bus back to Boston. I would have rather taken the train again, but the bus was much less expensive. The travel time wasn’t appreciably different, and they both ended up at South Station, so what the hell. As long as MY WIFE was with me, a mule cart would have been enjoyable. We picked up our bags at the hotel and started the journey home.

On our way to the bus station, we stopped off in Grand Central at the Transit Museum gift shop. MY WIFE wanted to buy a few postcards, while I looked for something good to read on the bus. I found a book called Subwayland, a collection of short vignettes about (what else?) the subway, by Randy Kennedy. When I brought it up to the checkout, MY WIFE bought it for me as a birthday present. Have I mentioned how much I love her? Reading material and postcards in hand, we went to buy our bus tickets.

We had some time before our bus. I still hadn’t had any New York pizza – which is the best pizza in the world, outside of The Pleasant CafĂ© in Roslindale, of course - but I knew of a great little pizza place near the bus station. Problem was, I couldn’t remember the name of it or the exact location. I figured I’d know it when I saw it again, so we went looking for it. No luck. So, instead of a pizza place, we ended up at a little dive restaurant called The Trolley Deli. It wasn’t much to look at, but I had a great hot pastrami on a roll, while MY WIFE had a lovely slice of carrot cake.

(Why does carrot cake always have a carrot made out of frosting on it? Are they afraid we won’t know what it is if it didn’t have one? Is it to warn people? “Hey, this cake contains CARROTS! Watch out!” No other cake has anything like that. They don’t have little upside-down frosting pineapples on pineapple upside-down cake, or little frosting peaches [or even little frosting shoes] on a peach cobbler, and there aren’t little frosting ballplayers fielding little frosting sacrifice hits on a bundt cake, either.)

(Man, it’s late, I’m tired, and I think I may be starting to hallucinate. I’m going to wrap this puppy up.)

The bus ride was mostly uneventful. We had a funny driver, though. He was a young Asian guy, maybe Chinese if I picked up the accent right. Soon after we hit the road, someone was making a cell phone call and we could all hear the other end of the conversation as well as the passenger. Our driver got on the intercom and said, “Thank you. I know you have lovely handsome new speakerphone, but please shut off now.”

Well, that made him my hero. Later on, we stopped in Newton to let some riders off, and there was a crowd of people waiting there for some bus or another. They weren’t sure where we were headed because our destination sign said – and I am not making this up – Never Never Land. They asked our driver if this was their bus.

He said, “No, your bus be along in fifteen minutes or maybe tomorrow.”

Then he closed the door and we drove off. MY WIFE and I were sitting up front and we laughed out loud at that one. The driver turned to me, with a smile, and said, “Who know? Could be!”

At South Station, we caught the T and it was on time, pleasant, clean, and everything else good, too. And then… ugh, enough. You don’t need to hear any more transportation stories, I’m sure.

It was damn nice getting back to a bed that wasn’t 400 feet in the air, but I’ve got little hope in the ability to order a schmeer around here and get anything good out of it.

Soon, with more better stuff.

P.S. When I was writing the end of this last night, I took a break to have a cigarette in the other room – the only room in the house in which I smoke – and I took off my glasses, putting them on the chair I sit in when typing. When I finished the smoke and returned here, guess what I did? Yup. Sat on my glasses, popping out both lenses and bending the frames. There’s a joke in here about gaining a shitty outlook on life, but I’m too tired to construct it just now. Anyway, if you don’t like some part of the last 1,000 words or so, and you ask me about it, I’ll blame it on that. It might not really make sense, but that’s what I’m going to tell you and you'll have to live with it.


Michael Leggett said...

Peter Luger's @ Bedford Avenue & Broadway-Brooklyn:

I can remember Williamsburgh as one Big Slum, then the Artists moved into the Area, making it an extension of The East Village in Manhattan;

The Steak is The Best in All Of The World.

Janet said...

I think it was fine writing. I felt like I was right there with you. I may have mentioned before how I love New York. I've been there 3 times, and I have never experienced the famed rudeness. I will have to try Peter Luger's. After I win the lottery.

Anonymous said...

"If I were a New Yorker, and NOT a Yankees fan, I think I'd wear a shirt proclaiming that fact. That way, folks from out of town would know I wasn't automatically an asshole."

That's what the Mets are for.

John-Michael said...

Jim, your "(pure mix of races, sexes, manners of dress, and whatever other qualifiers you might like to use)" was delicious! How I do delight in your voice. And your reference to your joy in a cart ride if with "(MY WIFE)" ... well, Dear Man ... I bow!

lime said...

all i can say is NYC must be exporting all its rudest citizen to PA because among the high influx of NYers moving to my area a high number of them are incredibly rude. not all of them, but enough of them to make me cringe when i hear the accent and brace for the worst.

sounds liek yo uhad a really great time in NY though and i am glad to hear you encountered mostly helpful and kind people. said...

Enjoyed the series Sul, however I'll have to say each is more than one bathroom sitting!

Being long winded myself, I have to say I understand completely.

Buck said...

Well done, Jim! I especially liked the literary references, Dorothy Parker being something of a heroine of mine... the woman is a goldmine of quotable quotes.

Thanks for taking us along on the ride, it was great.

Happy Belated Birthday!!

Jeni said...

The more I read of your posts, the more I look forward to when you decide to put up a series of posts about the same event. Great reading!

Melissa said...

Loved reading this whole series! Thanks for sharing it with all of us.

Happy Belated Birthday...

Oh, and when I make carrot cake, I never plaster a carrot in the frosting!

Shrinky said...

It's the line about even enjoying a ride in a mulecart, so long as you had your wife with you, that did it for me.

You're all right, big fella!


Synchronicity said...

just wanted to stop by and wish you a happy belated birthday and thank you for the kind and supportive comments on my blog.

Lisa Johnson said...

Belated Happy Birthday! It sounds like a great trip. And the carrot cake thing is hilarious! I always wondered about that too. Maybe people used to have surprisingly violent reactions to finding out they were eating carrot cake? : )

Melinda said...

Great series - and I also have to say that (having been in NYC) New Yorkers are pretty great people.

Thanks for the stories - and once again HAPPY ANNIVERSARY & BIRTHDAY!!