29 Apr

Liver Lady And Anything Man, part 10

After collecting himself almost imperceptibly, without so much as a shiver, Anything Man turned to Liver Lady. He said, “Please sit down. Thanks for joining me.”

“Why thank you,” Liver Lady said. “Thank you very much.”

“What are you drinking,” he asked.

“Diet Doctor Pepper,” she said. “I don’t want anyone taking advantage of me later,” and winked. And giggled.

“Ha ha,” he obliged, and I thought I would weep. For the rest of the evening they chatted, pleasantly, about who knows what. I was so mortified I couldn’t make eye contact with Anything Man, even to listen, even to apologize. I just pretended to have my shift drink at the bar and chat with Greg, stealing glances at them when I could.

Eventually, The Model had picked at her food enough for it to seem like she’d eaten; she paid and left. The chairs were up on the tables, and the lights had been slowly brightened so that Jose could see the floor for mopping. It was time to go home. Kimberly was annoyed that I had hung around so long, reminding me that I wasn’t making tips for the last two hours since I’d agreed she could close up alone, even though I did help her with the salt-shakers.

But I couldn’t leave. Liver Lady and Anything Man stayed on late into the night, talking and moving around their empty drink glasses, pleasantly like old friends, or a new couple just grown into their own comfort together. Like they’d known each other forever.

The restaurant would shutter within a month because of unpaid bills; first the liquor deliveries would stop, and then the fresh fish, and then Sal, the restaurant’s silent partner who always wore a velour tracksuit and Dolce and Gabbana shades, would start lurking at table seven waiting for Philip the owner, who had disappeared.

I never found out what it was or what happened to either Liver Lady or Anything Man, because neither of them ever came back.

But on this night, I want you to picture it: she is wholly unaware of anything around her now, though he will stare out into the quiet street periodically, an inscrutable combination of looks crossing his face. Maybe he is thinking of The Model, long gone, or of me, or of another person, place or thing – the noun inside his heart that no one else could know. Whatever it is, is inflected with the deep sadness that’s caught in the gracious smile of a suitor who’s finally found his perfect match, and who wishes for a moment he could be someone else, somewhere else, some other time. – (c) 2010, all rights reserved.

27 Apr

Liver Lady And Anything Man, part 9

“By this time Greg was watching, notebook in hand, from the end of the bar. Kevin had come out of the kitchen and wiped his hands on his apron nervously – he only had a minute before he had to get back to whatever he was cooking. Kimberly poked her head out from behind the wait station. The silence in the restaurant was both golden and torturous. And I couldn’t tell anyone how badly I’d fucked up, that Anything Man had meant his act of romanticism and chivalry for the model. Immediately I also couldn’t decide what was more pathetic – that Anything Man would think to buy a woman so obviously out of his league a drink, or that now he was stuck with Liver Lady at his table.

Kevin got it. He came up behind me and whispered, “You sure he wanted to buy the drink for Liver Lady?” before retreating to the kitchen.

Greg saw it, too. He looked at me, he was making notes in his black book about me this time, about me as the clueless young waiter from the Midwest who thought Anything Man wanted to buy Liver Lady and not The Model-to-Be a drink. He shook his head and went back to the bar.

“You can go now if you want,” Kimberly said, dully, and started popping the tops off salt-shakers in preparation to close.

What they all missed was the grace note because they were too busy being somewhere else. – (C) 2010, all rights reserved

23 Apr

Liver Lady And Anything Man, part 8

I went to the Greg, the Bartender, also a filmmaker, and whispered, “Anything Man is buying Liver Lady a drink!”

“Fuck, man, that is perfect,” he said, and made a note in his notebook. He was making an indie film about a bartender in one of New York’s old, authentic, disappearing neighborhoods, and he was always making notes about interesting things that happened at Nick & Eddie.

“I know,” I said. “Maybe they’ll get married.”

“Fuck that is so perfect!”

“I know,” I said.

“Doesn’t it make you love him?” Greg said.

“It makes me love both of them more than I already did.” I said.

“You’re a freak,” he said, and made another note.

“I’ll keep you posted.”

I went excitedly back to Liver Lady’s table and told her, “the man at the next table would like to buy you a drink.”

“Oh?” she said, brightening visibly.

“He says get whatever you want.”

The model-to-be, oblivious, turned a page in her magazine.

“Oh. Oh!” She said, straightening the quilts of her coat. “I guess I will have a Diet Doctor Pepper, then.”

“That’s it?” I said.

“Yes, that’s it. And tell him thank you,” and she went back to the window.

“Anything Man bought Liver Lady a drink!” I told Kimberly.

“Huh,” she said. “Do you want me to close up tonight, I could use the extra few bucks.”

“Okay,” I said. “Kevin! Liver Lady and Antything Man! A match made in heaven.”

“Awesome,” he said. “Nice work.”

Greg put a little umbrella in the Diet Dr. Pepper, and put it in a small glass – tell her free refills so she doesn’t think I’m trying to rip her off, he said – and I brought it to her. She beamed, epically, innocently, thrillingly. I nodded at Anything Man, as if to say, My Work Is Done Here, It’s All Up To You Now, Tiger, and he nodded back and turned around to look.

And when he did the look on his face made me realize what I’d done.

Liver Lady was straightening herself again, unnecessarily, for nothing would make her completely straightened, no amount of primping could hide that showing slip of soon-to-be-wacked that would always peek out from behind whatever veils of normal she tried to erect. She stood, carefully, with purpose, beaming like the sun and walked over to Anything Man’s table. “Aren’t you a gentleman,” she said. “May I?” And gestured at the table.

Anything Man was still looking in the direction she’d come from, to the table behind Liver Lady’s, at the model, who he’d meant the drink to be for. The model turned another page, still oblivious and sipped her drink. Eventually she signaled Kimberly for her check. Anything Man turned, faced me, and I looked down. He looked down slightly, at a loss, and then something happened. (c)2010, all rights reserved.

20 Apr

Liver Lady And Anything Man, part 7

“At 9:30, throwing our evening for a loop, Anything Man came in and sat down, with his usual cheap tweed, and his usual purposefully “enigmatic” smile, along the window, in front of Liver Lady, a few tables up from Model To Be.
By that time, there would be just two of us working the floor. The model was in Kimberly’s section; Kimberly was dour, cute and lazy. Liver and Anything were my terrain.

I was a little preoccupied with keeping Liver Lady happy and so I’d asked her some questions to draw her out, but to no avail.
What have you been up to this week? Not much. How is your niece? Fine. She smiled faintly but her heart wasn’t in it.

When I went to the Anything Man’s table I said, “The usual,” as was our custom, and he said, “Yes.” And I went back to the kitchen to confer with Kevin the chef, who would cook him up something.

When I went back, Anything Man flagged me and I went over.

“I’d like to buy that woman a drink,” he said stiffly, without moving. He was obviously very nervous.

“Oh. Okay,” I said, “That’s very nice.

“Whatever she wants, just, just put it on my bill.”

It made me love him, a little. It made me see that he had a heart I hadn’t given him credit for after all; it made me wish him the best. It warmed my heart that he saw within a moment that he had found someone he could relate to. Perhaps he had a niece also, perhaps they would share stories. Perhaps they would get married and blossom later in life.” (c) 2010, all rights reserved.

18 Apr

Liver Lady And Anything Man, part 6

“Liver Lady was there at her usual 9PM. When I informed her that we had run out of liver, she didn’t take it well, but she did her best to put on her game face; her game face with wrong-colored lipstick, and her hair about to explode and her quilted too-warm blue, fraying jacket. She got the hangar steak instead, and claimed to enjoy it, but a little of the sparkle had left her eyes and even the purposefully date-friendly lighting of Nick & Eddie couldn’t hide it. She didn’t want to chat. She drank more water than usual. She looked out the window, absently, and worked methodically through her meal. Steak on a hot June Wednesday in New York. Mashed Potatoes. Quilted jacket. So much sadness.

“About 9:15 a young woman came in who looked like she was probably a model. As Nick & Eddie was going through its decline, the neighborhood was becoming fashionable, and models or models-to-be, or aspiring models, or models-cum-actresses were starting to inhabit the walk-up studios and cozy $2,500 one-bedrooms in the area. And this night one of them came in and ordered the smoked trout appetizer, and ate it by herself with a magazine in the back corner, along the window, just a couple tables behind Liver Lady. Their aloneness could not have been more different, like an evolutionary chart of marginal craziness in reverse.” – (c) 2010, all rights served.

15 Apr

Liver Lady And Anything Man, part 5

“You can picture the city. 1996: there was no Time Out New York; there was no solo show about a restaurant that was so popular they needed a special reservation line; there was no internet, really, to speak of, and no 9-11. Giuliani was in his first term as Mussolini. Neighborhoods in Manhattan had unmarked borders and no-man’s-lands; you were that much younger; the city was angrier but thawing; everyone had big plans they didn’t blog about it because, well, no one had blogs, and no one knew yet that you were supposed to tell everyone about everything all the fucking time, right? It was still a city in which secrets thrived.

“By June, Liver Lady had taken to showing up at 9 or so, because on Wednesdays, business had tapered to the point where, most of the time, we’d have nothing to do but chat with her and listen to her while she ate her liver, extra onions, mashed potatoes instead of rice, and drank her glass of water.

On this one particular Wednesday, while summer started to become impossible, two things happened: we ran out of liver, and Anything Man made an unscheduled appearance. ” (c) 2010, all rights reserved

11 Apr

Liver Lady And Anything Man, part 4

“There was another regular at Nick & Eddie, that last summer it was open, who we called Anything Man, and he came on Tuesdays. At first we had wondered about him but we quickly stopped. Anything Man was just another weeknight eccentric, and not a very interesting one; another lonely character the city used to reveal more regularly. Anything Man seemed to be in his late 50s, was dressed like a professor who never achieved tenure, or like someone trying to keep up the appearance of sanity, or like a lonely old guy who desperately sought out ways to seem interesting. Maybe he worked at the post office or a bank or a drug store.

The first time he came in he said, “I’ll have anything, surprise me.” No dietary restrictions, he said, the world was his oyster. When whoever his waiter was that time pressed him for more specificity he refused to say, but smiled inscrutably instead. So of course after conferring with the manager we gave him the more expensive of our two steak options. He asked for wine that went well with it and we gave him the fancy Australian Cab. He paid in cash, smiled suspiciously and refused to say whether he liked it. He didn’t read during his meal, didn’t unbutton his old tweed sports coat.

Restaurants design their nighttime lighting to soften the edges off dates, to gauze some of your day from your face, to try and make everyone feel a bit like Sigourney or Drew, if not Anthrax. Nick & Eddie made Anything Man seem pretty close to normal, and perhaps even content. But after three or four Tuesdays we realized he was less than normal and also less than interesting. He twitched almost imperceptibly when he answered a question. His smile seemed plastered-on, utterly unspontaneous, exactly the same each time. We put him into our file of evidence that Nick & Eddie clearly had sunk from its former glory. Even if we wanted to be somewhere else, while we were there we wanted it to be a place people wanted to be, where you had to know someone to get a table on a busy night, where the prices were worth it because you were paying for a little bit of glamor.

So each Tuesday he’d get something different. He started in March, I think, and by the time June came around, we were running out of options, reduced to mixing the sides from one entrée with another, despite Kevin the chef’s protests that the tomato-onion salad was specifically designed for the Angus Steak, and the smoked trout appetizer shouldn’t be paired with the chicken shnitzel and spaetzel. We hoped he wouldn’t notice. He never let on if he did.” (c) 2010, all rights reserved.

09 Apr

Liver Lady And Anything Man, Part 3

“The Liver Lady came in on one of those Wednesdays, because she came in every Wednesday, because Wednesday was the day we ran the liver special. The liver was always on the menu, but on Wednesday it was two dollars cheaper than usual and the Liver Lady was thrifty. She told one of the waiters, who then spread it around, that she had millions to give away when she died, to several nieces and nephews, but she didn’t want to waste even a dollar of their inheritance on overpriced food. The problem, she said, was she had fine, uncompromising tastes. That was why she came to Nick and Eddie on Wednesday, like clockwork, and got the liver, because she knew value when she tasted it.

“You can picture her: thin blue quilted coat that she wore in all seasons; eyebrows plucked and painted on with a few stray stubble hairs visible underneath a layer of pancake; blue fake-jewel earrings to match the coat; unruly gray hair that must have taken a long time to look just this side of nuts; bright, blinking eyes and an rusty brownish color of lipstick that can’t have looked good on anyone.

“And she smiled and she chatted. And at first we were all wary of her because we – with our far-reaching ambitions and our desire to just get done and get home to whomever or whatever was waiting on us, or wasn’t – we didn’t like to be disturbed, or to be brought from our real life, which was not at this restaurant, into the present moment, which was. What was important to us was outside these walls. We didn’t say it, we would never have admitted it, but we all wanted at least a little bit to be next year’s Sigourney or Drew or Anthrax dining at whatever edgy overpriced but admittedly well-done place popped up in whatever newly defined neighborhood that had not yet been discovered.” (c) 2010, all rights reserved

06 Apr

Liver Lady and Anything Man, Pt. 2

“Nick & Eddie was a pioneer in a long line of Soho restaurants that served fancy comfort food made with a lot of fuss, at inflated prices. If you know the original Blue Ribbon, this was started by one of those guys, and occupied the corner of Spring and Sullivan Streets for about eight years. Nick & Eddie served “a great burger” and a “solid steak” and “the bartenders knew their way around a martini and didn’t ask you too many questions if you just wanted to nurse your drink alone.” For a long time it was hard to get a table on a Friday night because movie stars and rock bands ate there; models picked at their fried catfish, moving it around on their plates. It was the mid-90s, and to open a restaurant with a $14 burger west of West Broadway was still a bold move – a “just so crazy it might work,” maneuver. New York Magazine covered us extensively. Drew was a regular. Sigourney. The band Anthrax. We easily cleared $250 a night on a Friday, even toward the end, and without having to deliver anything remarkable, service-wise. To be fair, the food was very good, but the great thing about waiting tables at a hot but “off-the-beaten-path” New York restaurant serving trumped up comfort food at trumped up prices was that you didn’t have to be nice or even good to contribute to the vibe.

But by the time I got my job there, the restaurant was past its prime. Blue Ribbon had upped the ante and lines ran out the door there six nights a week, until 4AM, just across the street from where we watched. While Fridays and Saturdays may have still been busy, even then it was no longer impossible to get a table, and our regulars, while still sometimes including Drew and Sigourney and Anthrax, also consisted of the UPS guy named Yuri who delivered our fresh fish every other day and who brought a different lady there each week so that he could act like a big shot with us—by that time in Nick & Eddie’s evolution he kind of was—and gain proximity credits with his dates by pointing out Drew and Sigourney and Anthrax.

Sunday through Thursday nights were straight-up slow. There had grown, since the place opened, a regular clientele of neighborhood people who came in for this or that dish, to chat with the staff, and who were made to feel welcome. They also, as long as there had been enough models and actors and rock bands populating the place, contributed to the vibe. At that time the area west of Soho (it’s now become part of Soho), was still a neighborhood on its own terms, with vestiges of Italian and Portugese populations still opening sawdust strewn butcher shops every morning and giving $10 haircuts and $5 shaves to people on their way home from work. Drew and Sigourney and Anthrax may have made the trip to eat at Nick & Eddie on a Friday night, but on a Wednesday, in July, when the restaurant was closing, usually at 10:30 after serving a few dozen dinners to a few dozen forlorn couples without a lot to say to each other, and single diners with magazines, and old guys who’d rather have been alone anyway, you could still feel like you were in the city the way it was when it was just New York.” (c) 2010, all rights reserved.