Wednesday, October 18, 2017

New York City | Lefsetz Letter

It’s cold here!

When I left L.A. it was nearly ninety. Right now Dark Sky says it’s forty nine, and it feels like it. I put a fleece over my short sleeve shirt and the wind was blowing through my arms on the way to Halal Guys.

We’ve all got our pilgrimages. I don’t want to sit down and eat dinner at ten p.m. And I’m not a room service guy, I’ve never had a great room service meal. But I love the dives. The carts. My belief is you’ve got to eat to the best of your ability! No, that’s not right, that’s not clear, all I’m saying is you’ve got to get the best at the price level you’re at. No, that’s not right either, what I’m saying is everybody can live like a king in certain genres. We can all afford the best chocolate chip cookies. And go to In-N-Out instead of McDonald’s. The key is to be at the zenith of your chosen genre, and sometimes that genre is something everybody can afford.

Like Halal Guys.

I go every time I’m in New York. God, the only restaurant I know open til 4 A.M. in Los Angeles is that Thai dive on Hollywood Boulevard, east of the freeway, and the Pantry is open 24/7, but beyond that, not much. Whereas here in Fun City they expect you to wanna eat long after midnight. And I won’t say the line at ten was as long as it is during the middle of the day, but there was a line. And the guy taking the order had a big wad of cash, right there in the open, as if he was saying MUG ME! But ever since Giuliani the city has been safe. Not sure I’d endorse his methods, but Bloomberg made it even better and now it’s on the tipping point, will it go downhill once again? Elayne Boosler had that great joke, about her date asking if she wanted to go for a walk by the river. She said if you’d told me before, I WOULD HAVE LEFT MY VAGINA AT HOME! Elayne was the equal of Seinfeld and the rest of the men, she just never found the right venue, other than standup. Funny how you can remember a punch line, but the point is New York used to be unsafe. There were places you never walked, never mind after dark, and it is dark, it’s that time of year, when the sun goes down right after work and you know the winter is coming. Put on Joni Mitchell’s “Urge For Going” to get the feel.

And when I went to college in Vermont October was bad and November was brutal. When it was cold and gray and rainy, before the snow came. And I’m not sure quite why you snow-haters live in this environment, but there are many appealing elements.

Like the guy taking the order who expected me to know what I wanted. There are no questions in New York, they betray the fact you’re a newbie, that you’re not up to speed, you’re supposed to know what you want, it’s all hustle all the time and if you’re not plowing ahead, you’re falling behind.

And it used to be they asked you if you wanted sauce, now there are a zillion squeeze bottles on a rack on the side of the cart. And, since I was getting my chicken and gyro combo to go, they threw in some squeeze packets of white sauce. They literally said WHITE SAUCE! It’s the ethnicizing of America, salsa outsells ketchup and even babies have rich palates.

So I squeezed some white sauce on myself and then sauntered back to the hotel. And nobody walks in L.A., but if they do they’re a king, they have the right of way, I don’t know what the law says in New York, but it’s every man for himself, you’ve got to be totally aware. Who cares if you have the right of way, that ain’t gonna help you much when you’re dead. So you’re never quite sure when to walk and when not to. Everybody jaywalks and the cab drivers are so busy getting to where they’re going that if you live in California long enough, you’re confused.

I used to live on the east coast. Came to the city all the time. But you had to be hyper-aware, on high alert at all times, for fear of muggings, crime, even my mother had a necklace ripped right off her neck, in broad daylight.

But as I was walking past the skating rink, which my ex insisted we glide upon, I know no native who has otherwise partaken, a feeling came over me, that this time was different, that I was finally an adult.

And the great thing about New York is no one’s famous. Oh, you’ll see a face here and there but it’s not like L.A., where you’re guaranteed to see celebrities at certain haunts. And there are so many ethnicities and races. A family was riding down the elevator with me and I wondered where they were going at this hour, then they started speaking Spanish and I got it, that’s a late night culture. And I saw beturbaned men in Rockefeller Center. As well as some tourists watching the big screen, you come all the way from the hinterlands to watch television, what’s that about?

And L.A.’s all entertainment. But the rich in NYC could be in finance, a lot goes on behind closed doors you never know.

And Wendy Waldman’s “Wind In New York City” is playing through my head as I walk through the concrete canyons. And I get back to my hotel room and it’s baking, that’s how cold it is outside, and then I break the seal on my Halal Guys dinner and…

I take a bite and then cannot stop. The chicken is moist, the meat is roasted the way I like it, it’s crisp on the end, but the reason it all comes together is that damn white sauce.

So I’ll probably be up for hours because of the damn time change.

And then tomorrow I’ve got lunch and a gig, and I’ve learned that the key to travel is to stay busy, life is just about people, and I’m lucky enough to know someone seemingly everywhere I go so it’s less about place and more about party but the truth is there’s only one New York, and every time you come back you ask yourself why you ever left.

“Urge For Going” (the original, Tom Rush definitive version)

“The Wind In New York City”


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