Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fifth Avenue

I usually ate breakfast at a place my mother ate when she was in her twenties before going to work as a legal secretary, (her shorthand was amazing to behold right up till the end). It was called Eisenberg’s Deli, on the west side of Fifth Avenue in the morning shade of the Flatiron Building. It was across from the park where my dogs would run wild during snow storms to chase rats that were driven out of their hiding places in the wire garbage “cans” to escape not all that fast in deep snow, kinda like reindeer, leaving blood trails as the dogs would kill one and bound off to another.

The award-winning English Bull Terrier, Teagan Clive, did not care at all if it was bitten -- its sole finishing hold was to crush skulls, and drag and wag its tail with animated glee while lining them up in the powder. The longer-legged pit, Twombly, had an advantage when navigating drifts and pushing heavy cans over with its massive chest and front legs. The herd instinct did not protect many rodents as it does fish on these moonlit nights, near the long ago forgotten baseball field.

Squeezing into the deli, past the cash register, at the counter stools in the long, narrow store, avoiding coats and coat hooks on your right, I only sat across from Phil, “The Hawaiian” pushing his black glasses up on his nose constantly, ordering the usual fried egg and yellow cheese on a well-toasted bialy and bitter coffee, adding your own milk. I was a regular, and even going back twenty years later and bald, I appeared there in front of him and all his famous head shots on the wall behind him. Without missing a beat, he looked up and said, “Hey kid, how have you been, the usual?” I brought my mother there once later in life to see if it was actually the place she frequented as a youngster and sure enough.

One day in 1979 at about 10:00 A.M., I am crossing 23rd Street and heading over to see Phil. A “bum” stops in front of me and says, “Hey, I know you.” I say, “No you don’t.” He, however, is really happy to see me in his torn, greasy overcoat and one or two matted dreadlocks. Again, “I know you, man.” And now he is blocking my progress, so I stop and say sarcastically, “OK, where do you know me from?” I thought this was just a soft con. He reaches out to shake my hand, all genuinely excited. I extended mine. The words came out, “You Paul Newman!” "No, I’m not," I said. Knowingly, he said, “Yes you damn well is, yessiree!” I moved to the right laughing and said again, “No, I’m not.” He put two hands up to my chest, all nervous and said really loud, “You cool hand Luke!”

I’m about two stores from shelter and he holds my sleeve and pleads with me to wait. I stop, this guy is having a big day in his mind so what else can happen. He says, “Please don’t move” So here I am abiding. “Mr. Newman, please don’t move.” He looks at me and is also looking across Fifth Avenue and it is three full lanes of traffic, and yells, “Leroy! Man, he don’t see me, Leroy!” I could just smell the coffee. “Leroy” again, and grabs me by the arm saying, “Please.” Sure enough I see a black guy in a red down jacket and I cannot really make out anything else descriptive about him, it was far. My guy says while pointing to my face, “Leroy, Leroy, who’s this?” Leroy tucks his head down a notch and looks at me for a half a second and yells back loudly, “That’s cool hand Luke!” He just grins and says, “See, I knew it!”

I lowered my eyes and shook my head side to side and gave him a buck. Only in New York.

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At August 28, 2013 at 5:32 PM , Blogger B.F. Spath said...

More posts like this one, please. I enjoyed the sense of nostalgia and your reflections on the old neighborhood (and the old city which is now gone) in the 1970's and early 80's——it was a magic time...


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