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Wino and Dining in NYC
It was Friday night, and though we’d heard his stories before, we decided we had to test it out for ourselves. So, the four of us (me, Clyde, Toby, and Donny) put on our fancy shoes, took a shot of courage (the 160 proof kind), boarded the D line, and were headed into Manhattan.
We walked around for a while before Donny realized he was leading us in completely the wrong direction; we were headed towards the Empire State Building, not the Central Park area. Nonetheless, we wandered. It wasn’t very cold, there were interesting homeless people about, and the tree at Rockefeller was lit. All in all, a good mix. It got even better when we finally reached a very upscale hotel and walked right in.
The staff was nice to us, they bowed to us, and showed us to a table in their lounge. Donny, debonair that he was, ordered four cups of coffee, and in a short while we were being served rather nice coffee…with silver spoons. I literally had a silver spoon in my mouth. It was a little telling, perhaps, that the four of us had to ask for more sugar packets when the waiters came back to give us a refill, but they seemed to buy it.
In the meantime, we started to get friendly with all the fabulously wealthy people around us and admiring exactly how swanky everything was. At length, we got up (but not before stealing a pen) and began exploring the ground floor.
The ground floor was interesting, though the phone booth, with its completely mirrored walls, was a bit strange. Eventually, Donny suggested that we try heading up to an upper floor, maybe seeing if we could bluff our way into a room. We headed for the nearest elevator bank, and pressed the button to summon an elevator. Immediately, one of the doors opened and a big scary Nigerian man (henceforth B.S.N.) walked out.
“How can I help you, gentlemen?”
“Third floor, please,” Donny stated confidently.
“What for?” Now, here’s the thing. He had a very thick accent. So, every time he said “for,” it sounded like, “floor.” Donny, thinking he’d been misheard, merely repeated: “Third floor, please.”
“What do you want on the tenth floor?” That was the other thing. Whenever he said “third” it sounded like he was saying “tenth.” It made for a confusing conversation, and I could see Donny’s bravado and cool starting to evaporate. I gently tapped him on the shoulder and suggested that maybe we were in the wrong area. He jumped on it. “Yes,” he said, eager for a prop. “Yes, we’ll go meet Duane back in the atrium.” Keep in mind, folks, there is no Duane. I don’t even know if this place had an atrium. But either way, we walked off from B.S.N., a little put out, but nonetheless optimistic that we could just try another set of elevators (we have since realized we were trying to get into a service elevator). Casually, I look over to the mirrored wall on my left. What I saw made me quicken my step.
B.S.N. was following us. He followed us down the stairs through the front lobby, and out the door. We had to be around the corner before we were sure he wasn’t following us. Then, once we were far enough away, we started whooping and congratulating ourselves on bluffing our way into that place, rubbing elbows with the New York elite, and then getting thrown out. My mom, a former travel agent who knows her hotels, was in awe when I offhandedly mentioned that I’d gotten in.
I’d figured we might head home, but just then Donny got a call. His and Toby’ roommate, Benny (all four of us lived in a building full of quads, though only Toby and Donny shared a room out of all of us) was hosting some friends from his native Connecticut tonight, and they were hanging out with a few of our usual entourage at a place in Harlem we called “China Wine”, because it was cheap Chinese food and unlimited wine. And you’d better believe we were under 21.
We hopped a train to Harlem and sprinted a few blocks in order to get there before they started ordering, and were greeted with a long table full of our crowd. Our arrival made it about ten people or so. Donny, an old pro and a regular at this restaurant, began to order with aplomb, getting ten entrées for us all to mix and match with each other. The snag came with the wine. Calmly, Donny tried to order three carafes of white. The waiter, not one we’d seen here before, did the unthinkable: he asked to see our IDs. A few of us bowed our heads and sheepishly said we weren’t drinking, while looking sideways at each other. This wasn’t supposed to be happening. But Donny just smiled and handed over his ID. The waiter looked at it.
“This says 1988,” he said with his oh-so-thick accent. Donny nodded. “So, you under 21,” the waiter continued.
“Well, of course I am,” Donny said coolly. All of us bit back our laughter as the waiter cancelled the order of wine he’d written down, and headed for the kitchen. Not a minute later, the OWNER of the place comes up to our table herself, bearing two carafes of white. She put them down on our table. “Sorry,” she told us, “he’s new here.” With that, we feasted on wine and Chinese food, and eventually the group broke up, bit by bit. Most of them wanted to go back to the Bronx and hit one of the bars.
The four of us who’d gone to the hotel opted to stay behind, and we were joined by our friend from Alaska, whom I shall refer to by her customary nickname among us: Alaska.
We sat in a metro station, waiting for an A or C line to show up (it never did. It was about 1 in the morning, and those lines stop running at this place at about 7). And as we sat there, a homeless man started walking toward us. He was Chuck the Drunken Sage, and I remember him well. He had a bottle of wine, about a quarter of which was still full. He had on a leather jacket, and then another leather jacket over that one, and the outer one had a lot of fringes. Also, he had a leather cowboy hat with hawk’s feathers sticking out of it. I guess the man didn’t like cows. In any case, he came up to us and started talking, as random New York winos are wont to do in situations like this. He began telling jokes. They were funny. Some of them were stolen, word-for-word, from famous routines, but nonetheless they were funny, we were a little out of it, and he was moreso. Then, the jokes segued into something else entirely.
Chuck the Drunken Sage started to wax philosophical about the nature of the world, about New York, about everyone’s place in the universe, and karma. He saw Alaska sitting in Donny’s lap (they’re both rather physical people), and like all homeless people that see a guy and a girl together, assumed they were young lovers. With that, he began to assure them that what they had was no coincidence; it was meant to be and their future looked bright. Me, Clyde, and Toby, since we actually knew them, had to bite back our laughter.
He gave us such philosophical gems as, “Never count the bubbles in a bar of soap.” I didn’t know what it meant, and I still don’t, but at the time it blew my mind and I pronounced it brilliant. I listened as he went on, and something started to irk me. Then, it hit me: “Holy shit,” I thought. “This guy is speaking in rhyming iambic pentameter.” Chuck the Drunken Sage was acting like Shakespeare himself. When he finally got around to asking for our money, I think we collectively gave him about ten bucks. And let me tell you, he deserved every penny.
We finally got in at about three. Clyde, Toby, and Donny all lived upstairs, while I was on the first floor. As we split off, I thought really hard to myself, and then asked Donny, “Did all of that shit really just happen to me in the same night?”
“Wait til finals are over,” he said. “I’ve got another idea…”
Does Donny know the Feinbergs?