Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Nurse the Hate: Christmas In New York

I knew I had made a mistake the moment I had walked into the restaurant.  Windows On The World was the restaurant on top of the World Trade Center in New York City.  It was a well-known place that served an expensive menu of acceptable “nice” food combined with the best view on the planet.  It hadn’t occurred to me that I would need a jacket and tie to eat here, one of the last bastions of the forced dress code.  At that time in my life I think I had two jackets.  One of these was my “social formal wear” jacket, a gray tweed number that made me look like the youngest professor in America.  The other was a dark blue blazer with gold buttons that provided me the air of one of Thurston Howell III’s offspring.  Neither one of those was in my suitcase.  I think I was rocking a black turtleneck, which I think I thought of as being “dressy” since it was nicer than a Ramones t-shirt.

I would go to New York around the holidays to spend time with my father’s side of the family.  My Uncle Jack and Aunt Rose would always pick an iconic New York landmark restaurant for a pre-Xmas dinner, and in this case it was the World Trade Center.  My Uncle Jack Ford (the source of Bobby Latina’s band’s name) had a murky job in “international shipping” that took him to places like Central America, Eastern Europe, Turkey, Pakistan, and tiny volatile African nations.  As a young man it never struck me as odd that he needed to “ship” things to international hotspots.  He was interesting as hell though.  He was a dry man with a razor sharp wit that seemed to dull his boredom with scotch and flirting with charmed waitresses.   

Windows thought of themselves as very important.  A restaurant like Windows On The World is a great launch pad for every clichéd maître d behavior.  As I approached the host stand to try and ascertain my family’s table location, the maître d looked at me like I was a rodent that had scurried through a crack in the wall.  “May I help you?” he sneered.  Yes.  I am looking for the Ford table?  “Not dressed so inappropriately you aren’t.”  Excuse me?  “Gentlemen are expected to wear jackets and ties.”  I stood there dumbfounded.

Now it probably didn’t help that I had spent the last few hours getting all beered up with some deadbeat friends of mine down on St. Mark’s Place.  I was having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that I couldn’t go sit down at a table because I wasn’t wearing a jacket and tie, something which at that point in my life I hadn’t worn since my First Communion.  I thought my explanation of how I was in town from Ohio and didn’t pack a jacket and tie would hold water, but instead it only confirmed this man’s worst fears that I was a corndog.  (Which I was…) 

My Uncle Jack must have seen my distress and ambled over.  The restaurant employee suddenly became much more human but was still insistent that it was “impossible” that I could join the table dressed so inappropriately.  Here I was thinking my Doc Martins were quite stylish.  This was when an agreement was hammered out between Jack Ford and the maître d.  I would be granted access to “the house jacket”. 

I had no idea such a thing existed!  Suddenly from behind a secret closet door the maître d reached in and pulled out “the house jacket” and tie.  The House Jacket was a blue blazer size 48.  I was a size 40.  It was worn, but to a perfect degree such that it was just this side of shabby but not so much to be immediately detected.  It would have been better if the word “rental” had been spray painted on it, but to a trained eye the effect was the same due to the wear and style of the coat.  It said “we will give you access to our restaurant, but wear this jacket in shame.  Let others gaze upon you, you are retched refuse in a cheap suit coat.”

A brief debate was then held about the tie.  With my turtleneck in the huge jacket I looked like Carl Sagan combined with David Byrne’s white suit in that Talking Heads movie “Stop Making Sense”.  Though the maître d was at first insistent that I wear the tie as this was the regulation, Jack and I finally swayed him to the idea that a red tie with a black turtleneck and blue blazer was completely preposterous.  I looked outlandish with the suit coat on anyway, and I look back now in regret that I just didn’t go all the way and just toss the tie into the mix.  I will tell you this, I turned some heads on the walk to the table.  If I had a Hitler mustache I would have had more than a passing resemblance to a New Wave Charlie Chaplin.

The meal was not that memorable to me.  I have some regret about that as Windows was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks.  I remember the view from our table as being like a computer created movie set it was so impossibly high on the 107th floor.  When I later saw that now famous photograph of “Falling Man” of the man that leaped out of the building on 9/11, I had a pretty good idea of what his choices were that morning.  That is as lose/lose a scenario as can possibly be imagined.  That fall must have taken forever but at the same time been all too short.  Tragic seems too small a word.

We had a glass of port to close out the meal, I believe my first ever glass of port.  I then talked my Uncle into taking us to some place “New York” for a nightcap.  He responded by taking us to an out of the way restaurant bar entered via an alley entrance.  It was dark, with old smoke stained wood walls, brass rail on the bar and a cranky bartender.  It was perfect.  We had more port (a 1977 Dow’s?) and divided our conversations to small clusters.  I huddled at the bar with my Uncle.  Jack told me about a time in El Salvador when the two men he had been there with “on business” had been machine gunned in an outhouse behind a bar where they had been drinking beer.  He had been saved by the dumb luck of having an argument with the bartender about the bill.  What do you do again for a living Uncle Jack?

I left the family when they pulled the plug on the night.  I was young and in New York.  There was no way I would stop this night until I ran out of steam.  I went to join my friends who had told me to meet them at the infamous Pyramid Club.  I had never even heard of the place at that time.  It was a memorable night.  I had never seen anything like it.  The entertainment was a transvestite Christmas Pageant.  The bar was filled with female international models from the agencies nearby.  They all scanned the room looking for contacts and probably guys to give them coke.  The tall slender striking women in that room didn’t even seem like the same species as me.  It was like being tossed into a Vogue Magazine shoot.  Everyone was either a transvestite, in the fashion industry, or both.  I was a Midwestern hick in Doc Martin boots drinking Bud longnecks.  I couldn’t be more out of my depth.  Sample conversation:  Hi.  What’s your name?  “My name is Ingred.  I am from Norway.  I am only here for two weeks and then I go to Vietnam for another shoot.  My boyfriend drives a car in F-1.  I miss him with my soul.”  Oh.  I go to school at Kent State.  You know where that is?  Hey?  Where are you going?

We left after realizing we were the dorks at the cool kid party.  Someone should have just come up to us and said, “Why don’t you come back in a few years boys?”.  We found a place more our speed filled with people our age unable to pay their obscene rent for shared rathole apartments who had pooled their money for cheap pitchers of beer.  Some guy with a mustache played The Cult and Bauhaus on the blasting sound system.  It was really late.  I didn’t even know what was going on any longer.  We met some people.  Two girls and a guy from Boston.  The girls wanted to see the tree at Rockefeller Center.  Five of us piled into a cab.  I remember getting very quiet, unable to participate in conversation any longer.  We pulled up in front of the tree and got out of the cab.  One of the girls kept saying “It’s so beautiful” over and over.  It started to snow lazily.  It really was beautiful.     


At December 6, 2016 at 4:32:00 PM EST , Blogger Not the Kook said...

I wore that jacket to get into that restaurant. I had to buy my own tie off of a street vendor to get in. I still have the tie.

At December 6, 2016 at 5:24:00 PM EST , Blogger Greg Miller said...

I would refer to that now as "a penalty jacket". We had an idea in The Cowslingers about buying a pink cowboy shirt so if anyone (Leo) forgot their "uniform" they would have to wear "The Penalty Shift".

I bet that tie vendor did a pretty brisk business.


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