Back in NYC for a few days to renew my visa, I am more than 8 hours behind Moscow. I am alone in an alternate reality where I do not work or worry much, able to sit in a bar and catch up with an old friend as the sun goes down outside, as various characters find this dark and cheery place on Avenue B. My glass is constantly refilled, and I’m not even hungry after 20 hours of flying and various airplane meals. My friend is also the bartender.
She leans across the bar at one point, her long blonde hair falling across her face.
“I know you’ve been missing this.” She says.
I nod quietly.
“But, you really aren’t missing anything.” She continues.
That night I sleep at another friend’s house where various cats (including a 3 legged one) walk across my head in the middle of the night. I sleep in a little boy’s bed, using his Star Wars sheets.
When I was seven, my parent’s told me I was half gypsy. It is entirely possible they were pulling my leg, but I believed this so strongly, that when 3rd grade began and we all learned to sing Free to Be You and Me, I jumped onto the desks, spinning and howling as I was convinced all gypsies do. In truth, I have known gypsies in my life and I am nothing like them – but this fantastical 7 year old idea of a wanderer, of a person that calls anyplace his home – this stuck with me. Every time I return to NY, I wander the streets – staring up at windows where I lived lifetimes, leaning into doorways of bars I grew old in, looking for the phantoms of missing stores and restaurants that are gone now. I am looking into a time capsule when I am here, a 20 year bubble of rooftop adventures, of whiskey and 3 am performances for 2 people, of momentary fame, of romantic sandwiches, blind dates with crazy girls, stunning women, bartenders, chefs, neighbors, dogs, cats, parakeets, pumpkin pancakes, success, failure, my windows open in the middle of the night playing ukulele with the low rumble of the buses on Houston and kids playing handball filtering up from the street.
I spent a night in Connecticut with wine loving friends, as mosquitoes bit us in the dark. I could smell the ocean, and fresh cut grass late that night, after their children had gone to bed.
On Sunday I bought various Hello Kitty presents for my daughter in Chinatown, and walked north - eventually stopping at Eisenbergs on 5th and 22nd for a cherry lime rickey and a tuna on rye. The old guy behind the counter asked me for my order, coming back to me after a few minutes and asking me to repeat it, two extra times. The toast was burnt, the lime rickey thick and sour, the pickle limp and salty. In a word – perfect. More than fifteen years ago I shared my first office with a friend, a room so small that when you opened the door, it hit one of the tiny desks we used. At lunch we would pull fedoras on, and run down to Eisenbergs - scarfing down pastrami and steak fries, maybe the meatloaf on Tuesdays. There was another forgetful man then, a frail little fellow with no eyebrows. Even when he wrote your order down on the corner of a brown paper bag, he forgot it. He usually tried to talk us into the fruit cup. He wanted everyone to order just a fruit cup. I once asked him what made the tuna fish so good. He leaned across the counter, dead serious – and whispered.
“We only use the albacore of the tuna.” He said.
My friend and I could not contain our doubt.
“You know.” He said, still whispering. “Just the tuna from the center of the can.”
Today the tuna was spilling out of my sandwich, onto my jeans and the floor, and I didn't care. An old regular next to me noticed, and called out to my counter man.
“You gave him too much, Joe.” He boomed. “What’s a matter with you?”
Joe took a dramatic pause.
“I’m just a boy from Brooklyn.” He said, beaming.
“Me too.” I said. “Me too.”