Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brunch: Giving You The Best That I Got

Brunch is controversial.

If you ever worked it, you will never enjoy it. Inadequately cleaned venues (quick turnaround from Saturday night) and exhausted low-man-on-the-totem-pole servers. Too bright light. Variations on Eggs Benedict, which is already perfect, but better at 2:00 a.m. than noon.

In the summer of 1988 I was 25, had been in New York for four years, found no path. I was about to go to Columbia, to film school. Which should have made me happy. Instead, I was a crazy runner. I'd run from my apartment on 10th Street down to the World Trade Center, touch it and run back. It was super-hot that year, breaking all kinds of records, and there were syringes washing up onto the shore at Jones Beach.

I got a job as a bartender at Cafe Luxembourg, one of the few indisputably cool places in town. I didn't know how to make a drink; I bought a book. You're not allowed to dislike me for this, but I was hired because I was good looking. I didn't have a resume. Cafe Lux was a thing back in the 80s, and all of the celebrities came there. Also, the restaurant ingeniously made every customer sit at the bar before being seated, even with a reservation, so I made mad money. Except for the fact that I lobbied to leave early every night.

In this 90s (temperature) in the 80s (decade), I'd get up every day and write, then go running at noon (the perfectly imprudent hour), then shower and take the hot subway up to West 72nd Street. I'd get myself together in the tiny bathroom, put an Oxford on, tie my tie, and go to work. The cast of Thirtysomething would come in, the night would progress... I figured out that I didn't like to talk to customers, so ran the service bar. Problem with the service bar is that you have to make cappuccinos. Fuck me.

There were three other bartenders. Rod, Phillipino-American, totally on top of it. Mike, handome-ish fellow from some damn suburb of some damn state... not so educated. And Mercedes, one of the most beautiful women I've ever encountered, gorgeous brown skin and gorgeous red hair. She hung with Lauren Hutton. Mean as hell, but liked me.

Anyway, since I was low man on the totem pole I had to handle brunch.

I'm 25, I'm going out, I don't particularly care about this bartending job that I'm quite bad at.... But I showed up every Sunday at ten and restocked the bar for service. Cafe Lux had a small footprint, so the wine cellar was next door, in the basement of a residential apartment house building, to which I had keys. Rod and Mike would leave me notes about what needed to be restocked and I'd go over there, no one awake, and fill up boxes.

There was a clock radio tuned to KISS or BLS. The big song of that summer, after Off On Your Own Girl, was Giving You The Best That I Got. I was tired, man. I'd done something fun the night before, and it was so hot outside. But this song kind of moved me. I was looking forward to Columbia, a good-looking guy in a tie, but I had a dim view of my prospects. Love, certainly, had played a very small role in my life.

Patience was the manager on Sundays, and she rode me. Patience was an objectively good-looking girl from London with a textbook accent and a great short Afro. And, it doesn't need to be added, zero patience. She didn't like my swoopy bangs ("Don't you get spots?), didn't care for my lack of knowledge of French wines, didn't appreciate my cappuccino skills. One time I didn't have a clean white shirt so wore a clean blue shirt -- anyone who knows me knows that I have very nice shirts -- and she tried to get me fired.

Everyone else, more or less, was fine. At about 1:00 on Sunday afternoon, the friends I'd been with the night before would roll in and I'd sneak them free drinks, tricky with that damn Patience and her eagle eye. I had a fraught relationship with one of the crowd, a guy named Mark who was also headed to grad school at Columbia in the fall, and would often make plans to meet him come four. James Levine of the Metropolitan Opera, just down the street, came in every Sunday with some young boy, drinking Kir Royales with Chambord. Many, many Chambord Kir Royales.

Towards the end of the shift, the gay waiters would ask me if I wanted to go with them to the Upper West Side bars. But I was always going to meet Mark, or friends, or... Well, I had a crush on a waitress with two names. Not like a hybrid name, but two distinct names. She'd been born Bonnie and then had changed her name to Erin. Now you'd think you might cast a wider net for the purpose, gone with Consuela or Elizabeth or Odile, but I never really got into that with her. She was pale and an eccentric dresser and encouraging of my advances, but never actually did go to that movie with me. Perhaps comprehending the ambivalence of my affections.

It was the longest hottest summer ever, the length in my mind but the heat statistically confirmed. By late August, I'd get to work and find myself tearing up as I tried to tie my tie. Face to face with the mirror in the impeccably clean small bathroom. And I am not a cryer.

Then school started and I was distracted. My life was at Columbia, and I got happier and happier and happier and happier.

The way that I got into Cafe Luxembourg was through a friend named Mark. (A different Mark; 90% of the people I know are named Mark.) Mark was a beautiful All-American fellow with blonde hair and a big white smile, and liked me, and helped me out with the likes of Patience and the gay-guy waiters. He thought I was funny even when I didn't and had a great low laugh.

Mark probably had to deliver all of those Chambord Kir Royales. Levine would have demanded him.

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