In the hyper-touristy city of the woo-woo globetrotting wealth elite that Manhattan has become, I find that I have to go out of my way and have some kind of plan involving timing and location in order to find a cafe, restaurant or bar where I can do a little reading or writing or just calmly watch the street life go by. These kinds of places used to be much easier to find in Manhattan. Today, any non-chain place that's not packed and loud all the time just goes out of business.
A Bar like a Church
I walk into McSorley's Old Ale House on a Friday morning about twenty minutes after they open. I've been in here a couple of times before at around the same time but I'm struck anew by the utter peacefulness of the place. There's no TV, no music. It's almost empty. I see only two men at a table in the middle of the front room. This is the state I was hoping to find it in.
Inspired by a conversation with a friend about how specific moments in your life come to be associated with certain songs, and viceversa. Call it the Soundtrack Syndrome. Here's a story of one of those moments.
Song: "Lodi" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Scene: a living room in Oceanside, California
Chuck liked to drink. My girlfriend, Carmen, called him "El Borracho". She was twenty-one, several months older than I was, and working as a live-in nanny to Chuck, his two little boys, and his petite and mousy wife who was about 7 months pregnant with their third child. Carmen was from Tijuana and had no legal papers to work on this side of the border, so under-the-table nanny work was a good way to go. She had her own room in their small 3-bedroom house in a faded 60s-era housing tract in Oceanside, California. It was late spring of 1989.
I was in a local 99-cent store the other day when this familiar kernal of wisdom descended from somewhere in the ceiling:
"Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids. In fact, it's cold as hell. And there's no one there to raise them...if you did."
Thank you, Sir Elton. Thank you.
It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and the look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.
This is the opening paragraph of Raymond Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep (1939). This is the kind of writing that can make you forget you’re reading pulp fiction.
Raymond Chandler was essentially the guy who invented the hard-boiled, world-weary, first-person narrative style that came to define the pulp fiction detective novel genre. Chandler’s protagonist is Detective Philip Marlowe. He’s the kind of character that Garrison Keillor parodies with his Guy Noir: Private Eye radio sketches. (If you want to know more you can go here:
It’s Saturday afternoon in front of Van Gogh’s Starry Night at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. A rotating throng of about 20 people, interchangeable in their giddy & chatty demeanor, swarm around the painting. Most of them are holding up their phone cameras to the work. People take turns posing next to the painting. It’s constant photography.
Is this Starry Night or the baby Panda? Is this a world-class art museum or a zoo? How can I focus on the painting itself when every 5-10 seconds somebody’s head pops up next to the frame grinning back in my direction? (“Oh, pardon me, am I blocking your shot?”)