Central Park South & 5th
Chapter Four – Respect Reflected
My cab ride to Bowery Bar on 40 East 4th Street would have been a lot faster if the cab driver knew where he was going, but thankfully for me, I was the first to arrive. I thought I was late since we shot for 11:00pm; the bar did not have a lot of patrons because it was raining outside. I walked in, bought a drink, and sat down in the lounge area past the bar to dry off.
He must have been drinking with his friends, because when Petar walked through the door, he was extremely festive. He was also very wet.
“Zucker, so good to see you!” He had the biggest smile I had ever seen. He walked with his fiancé alongside, followed by three guys speaking another language, possibly Croatian, laughing at something while another was upset. “Were you waiting long?”
“No, only a couple of minutes. I got a whiskey sour and was checking out the scene.” I was also checking out the more provocative side of Bowery Bar’s ‘Naked’ New Year party promo. A nice lined halftone pattern filtered through the image on recycled cardboard paper. It acted double as a coaster.
“Ah, yes, my kind of drink,” said one of his friends in broken English.
“Zucker, these are my friends…”
“Nice to meet you guys.” Their looks were welcoming and friendly, and yet their names escape me upon hearing them.
“And this is Irena, my fiancé.”
“It’s so nice to meet you.”
“Hi, I’m sorry we’re late,” she said it with a cool and casual voice. I expected her to have an accent, but she didn’t.
“Oh, you’re not late, it’s cool. It’s great to meet you at last. Petar’s told me a lot about you.”
She shoots Petar a look, but he cuts her off. “Not bad things, Honey. I told him you worked in Publishing.”
“I’m so glad I can finally put a face to the name.” She smiled and gave Petar and a look. He smiled back and said, “I’ve told her about you too – your writing and your magazine.” I give her an interested look.
“Yeah, I think what you’re doing is really great. Have you been writing for long time?”
“Yeah, since I was a kid.”
“What do you write about?” A lot of this was lost in the drunken happenings of the night. At this point in time, however, I felt accepted in the group. For the next hour or so, we really made the most of an empty rained-out bar garden.
Everything was great, but then the Bowery Bar closed. It was 12:45am, and I called “shenanigans” on the joint for not living up to New York’s “all night” nightlife. They didn’t understand, but agreed that we should move on. I didn’t feel as drunk as everyone else, maybe; there was no stumbling into the cab and no head-hanging on the windowsill.
Seven bucks took us to La Esquina, a reclusive hot spot on 106 Kenmare Street in Soho.
La Esquina is a taqueria that runs all night, offering up delicious tacos and tasty beers and spirits for parties to go the extra step. Doubling as a pick-up food stop for late-nighters on the front, patrons can also walk inside, downstairs past the ‘employees only’ sign, and through the kitchen to a cozy bistro lounge, aptly filled with hipsters and couples who know about the “other part” of La Esquina.
When we got there, there was a group of people waiting for them. They all spoke in accents, and picked out friends immediately upon our arrival, talking in Italian, French, and Croatian amidst English, the language of choice for international translation. I felt like an mono-lingual jackass half-following the English parts to conversations around me, drinking extremely good beer offerings, trying to collect my thoughts in a strange new place and time.
“Let’s take a picture!” Petar had the camera in his hand, standing with Irena at his side. “Zucker, can you take this?”
“Yeah buddy.” I was standing back about five feet at this point. Aiming the camera at them, drunk, I move around to crop the picture. Click! And I capture the two of them. It was like capturing a special moment for them, together, when they were so young and happy. It may be a picture they come back to years from now and smile at in reflection.
“Yeah, that’s a great shot. Check it out.” And I hand them back the camera. They look at it and smile together.
“Thank you,” she said. Petar and I exchange a look of respect and appreciation.
“You’re welcome.” I smiled at them both, happy and relieved that they saw what I saw. I kept on drinking, and I half-connected with the other group we joined.
“I’m a graphic designer,” said this Italian guy who wore big designer glasses next to me, and we started talking about art design. I thought about how difficult it must be for him to see right now with those glasses on. I mentioned my magazine idea, and he liked it. He talked about the work he put up at his college’s gallery recently. I think he went to Pratt, but I wasn’t sure. I talked about the Picasso exhibit I saw in Chelsea a few months back, and how that exhibit was the first of its kind in over fifteen years. We talked about the thought of living in New York, the costs, and the benefits. He was not interested in it.
It was 3:00am, and the group decided to leave for another bar. Some of the new group came with us.
After deliberation and twelve bucks, the group decided on some random bar in Little Italy, and it was just about to call the last round. We walked in and ordered a quick double order of drinks and had introspective conversations with one another as we downed our drinks. At this point, the Croatians were buying me drinks. Neno, one of Petar’s friends, had left his luggage in the taxi he took to the Bowery Bar. Things did not go over well for him; talking to his friends and me about the things he lost, calling the taxi company for lost and found updates, cancelling his cards and such. We bought him drinks that night too since he didn’t have his wallet. He had his passport, thankfully, safely tucked in his back pocket, along with around $200 bucks. Who keeps that kind of cash in their pocket?
“Neno, there is some good to all this situation,” I actually tried consoling him when we were in this last bar, “you’ll get to go shopping!” By that point, nobody cared about anything, and yet he smiled and lifted his spirits. The Italian and his friend listened to us talk, and two of Petar’s friends were chatting up the female bartender, who apparently was from Boston. Petar and Irena were outside with another friend who was smoking a cigarette.
It was raining outside. I joined them to see what was going on.
“I think we’re going to get out of here soon,” said Irena. She was holding Petar, who seemed too drunk to stand. He was still smiling, like a child enjoying the party, and he was getting wet in the rain.
“It was so good to see you Zucker, I’m glad we got to hang out.”
“Yeah man, me too, and in New York of all places!”
“This would make a good story, right?”
“Yeah man, this would make a great story.”
“Yeah,” he looked away with satisfaction. Irena was holding him up as they looked for approaching cabs, and I smiled at her holding him around the waist with his arm around her shoulders. He was bigger than her, but she could handle him. They looked like a great couple.
“I’ll be right back,” I said, and I go back inside, telling the others that people were leaving. I chug my beers and say my goodbyes. They all followed me out though, so everyone began hailing cabs. People in the bar get the message, and in no time, the street was mobbed with people looking to get a ride home. Watching them drift into the night, people dispersed on foot and wheel , and I watched as my friends from the night got in cab after cab.
“Where are you heading to?”
“Central Park South and 5th.”
“Cool, what’s there?”
“Wow, you’re staying the Plaza?
“Yeah, it’s pretty great.” I left it at that. I felt like I mentioned it earlier in the night, but I can’t remember. It’s really hard to explain the extravagance of it all at 4:00am.
“Unfortunately, it’s in the opposite direction to where we’re heading. Are you cool with taking a separate cab?”
“Yeah, I’ll be alright.” They were relieved I had a way home.
“It was great to meet you again.”
“You too.” The doors closed and they sped off into the night; their fluorescent tail lights streaming distance in the darkened streets. The rain was still coming down, and no more cabs were in the area. I found myself alone on the end of a sidewalk between a closed bar and a pizza parlor packed with late night drunks. I couldn’t help but go in and buy some pizza.
“One slice of pepperoni and one slice of bacon chicken, please.”
“You got it.” It was like a factory line, always moving, slowly and surely, looking at all the colorful slices they had. While they had ten offerings on display, I chose my two favorite. I didn’t think when I bought them. They were huge slices, and I was in no shape to eat them both. They had Kiss on the radio, and people slurped away at their soda cups, talking and laughing about things they talked and laughed about in the bars. It was a quiet moment for me, observing the people, trying not to draw attention to my solitary silence.
The pizza was hot and ready and by fortune the cabs were around and vacant. It was a twenty dollar cab ride back to the Plaza, a blurry tour of Times Square and Central Park. I looked out the window with pizza in my mouth as people tried to open my cab thinking it was vacant. Some people were really pissed off that I was relishing the experience so much.
I ended up finishing the slices in the hotel, in one of the comfy lounge chairs that sat at the foot of the bed, next to a small nightstand that had the New York Times and my brother’s Nikon D700 camera laying on it. My brother was sleeping, but woke up when I got back. Our vibrations nearing 5:00am were faint, and yet it did not stop the sky from changing its color from black to blue. I closed the blinds and hopped into bed, falling into a deep, drunken sleep within minutes of the rising sun.
Waking up five or six hours later, I had a light breakfast with my family and packed up my things. I had a train to catch at 1:15pm, and that left me mere hours to clean up and enjoy the remaining time there with my family. They drove me to Penn Station and gave me some money for the Acela Express ticket ($100), wishing me the best on my way back home. I spent the remaining free time I had in the waiting area with a copy of the Sunday New York Times, reading the Book Review, brushing up on styles of writing that were capturing people’s attention. Twenty minutes would go by before I made my way down to the train, back to my everyday life in Boston.