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Rise of the Fall Café


June 20, 2003

I’ve become an anonymous regular, three weeks in to New York. The Fall Café in Brooklyn now knows my face and buying habits, if not my name. But things aren’t always as they appear. My kid behind the counter, the workingman’s Jack Black spinning his mad Chili Peppers mix, has a darker, more complex side. “I’m not sure I’ll take the Manhattan position,” he confesses to an in-the-know patron, “because I’ve got some assets I’d just as soon keep hidden.”

Assets? Maybe I’m not qualified for the night shift position after all. Best to stay on this side of the counter and espresso machine.

Everybody seems connected in this city, or amazingly competent at faking it. A friend told me his story of arriving and calling up an old school buddy, someone he’d known for some time. He asked if he wanted to get together and the friend chastised him for calling unannounced. “Hey, it’s Saturday, man,” his pal told him. “You can’t just hit me blind like that. I got things to do. I gotta take care of my laundry.”

Perhaps I’m beginning to understand. The laundry facilities are lacking out here, compared to California. It has something to do with the dryers; they’re all made in New Jersey, circa 1940. Little stuff like this throws you when you move to a new place. The bars stay open late but the supermarkets close at eight. You go to separate stores to buy beer and wine. You have to know where you’re going before you start going there. You have to have a plan.

I’ve never been a great planner. Churchill said “of all things that men do, none is quite so useless as planning.” But I’m fairly certain he never lived in New York. Personally, I could stand to get a bit better with the whole “two steps ahead” thing. Even when plans don’t come to fruition, they give you reason to get out the door in the morning. I’ve never had a great math mind, and even making simple lists has been exceedingly difficult. I’m forced to start with a separate list, reminding me to get going on the main one.

Skies have been mostly gray over New York since I arrived, a bit of an anomaly for June, apparently. The weather made the front page of the New York Times today. “New York has had rain on 27 of the last 50 days,” the paper pointed out, “affecting business and moods.” Of course I’m certain that it’s related to my arrival and, in fact, I prefer it. Better to let my eyes adjust slowly to the light while my brain catches up. The first week paranoia has subsided some, but now I’m worried what I might have done in that state of mind.

It’s all about transitions. This occurs to me, jogging one morning down Court Street toward the Promenade, listening to the Stones on my MP3 player. I think how great it would be if life was a Charlie Watts drum fill: all compact, jazz-cool, and always on the exhale. But without the stuff on either side, there can be no fills, no tension-relievers, and no sublime revelation. So stands New York, always ready with the next tense moment, begging a graceful transition.

The Jack Black kid hurries out the café door, a plastic shopping bag of CDs in hand, leaving a Beck tape playing for the next shift. I much prefer it to the Chili Peppers mix. Maybe he’s rushing off to the Manhattan gig, mindful of not showing his cards or calling attention to hidden assets. Or perhaps home to masturbate. Everybody’s got somewhere to go and I’m just trying to finish a sentence. I think I’ll give it another week.

2003 Rick Monaco All Rights

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