Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sunday Memories - River Runs Through It


Starting at the door and ending up at the back wall the counter swirled like waterways you see on picture maps taken from far away ... like the moon. I sat there for years.

Open twenty-four hours a day, it was my refuge into illusion I belonged to a world outside my door. Today Starbucks and myspace does that for my predecessors. But then, no internet, just real living space offering real living bodies I recognized, a favorite spot where I could write or read or stare out the window hoping "he'd" see me, and come in to renew love (he did several times). That counter kept me going.

The two old ladies (the counter guy called them Jurassic Park) fed me coffee which is all I ever bought and once Zina even patted my hand when, staring at a finished love poem that didn't have a happy ending, I started to cry. At 3am, when I couldn't sleep or after a night of futile socializing was afraid to go back to an empty apartment, I was almost always the rare female there, surrounded by men talking non-stop into a personal darkness from the florescent safety of the formica counter -

*** the 4 foot 9 inches cop who insisted the Thompkin Square Park Riots was the fault of only one or two corrupt cops and the guys at the 5th Street Precinct were straight up and honest

*** the Robert Redford look-alike who loved astrology and whose daughter didn't talk to him and in five minutes you could tell why

*** the unshaven, slightly slovenly, plump "theater-something-or-other" with papers sticking out of his beat up portfolio who talked in ferocious whispers to the Robert Redford look-alike

*** the famous artist who sat and looked for who would be his next subjects in his next famous murals (never me even after 17 years of us facing each other)

*** the short-order cook who announced his marital problems while flipping late night food onto the grill and demanding explanation from the counter guy about why his new bride would get so upset after he locked her out by accident. Again. For the third time. And did any of us think he was trying to tell her something because he didn't think he was HE JUST FORGOT!?

Then the owner's son went to restaurant college, renovation came, light fixtures changed, new murals were put up and the counter was amputated into a brief moment of not worth sitting down. The Jurassic Park ladies insisted it would be the same, hugging me on the street, urging me to come back, and I did, briefly. But it wasn't same. The borscht was served in smaller more expensive bowls, the pierogis became Northern California inventions filled with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes and soon Jurassic Park was gone and in their stead were new waitresses who were young and tight and pretty and impatient to the many new diners who thought they had found an authentic East Village eatery because they were treated so rudely.

And soon after that I recognized only one face in the new Christmas mural - a tiny memorial to an old drinking buddy who died of a heart attack on the corner of 7th and B in 1979.

2 comments:

Bucko said...

Change comes in drips and drabs. A bowl here, new waitresses there. You give a good shoutout to the stained coffee cop counter waterways and their denizens.

Did the others you describe continue? Did they scatter to the streets?

It's the recognition of living space living bodies that keep me in this New York world.

c.o. moed said...

No. We all scattered to the wind. For a while I saw the Robert Redford guy on 12th Street because he lived there. But I suspect he got a buy-out of his apartment. The plump theatre-whatever I still see on the streets and in places where one attempts healing but never at the counter which I still pass and peer at. And the famous artist? Oh more famous than ever but now teertoring on passe and the murals now belie the reality that eats at this place.

I've moved onto another counter that is only open briefly but the food is spectacular and these days I don't need to stare at sad writing in public spaces. I do that at work.