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Gowanus Perspective

Root Canal

August 10, 2003

Remember- two hands going all the time guys-always holding a bottle.”

“Cliff- what kind of garnish is that Amaretto Sour going to get?”

Joe Montana has been bumped from all-time hero on my list and replaced by Tom, my bartending instructor.

“Why do you think they serve pretzels and peanuts in a bar guys? You think they do it because they’re nice? No. They do it because they want you fuckin’ thirsty.”

“Rick – what’s that pineapple doing in your Madras? Think guys, think.”

Tom has taught me the importance of balance- weighing all things and proceeding in reasonable, efficient order. If you’re making a Madras and a Bay Breeze, grab your vodka and cranberry first because they are going in both. You can’t think about your orange and pineapple until you’ve got that much done. This concept resurfaces later when I move boxes from my Carroll Gardens sublet to the new one in Park Slope. Why fit four on the subway tonight and two tomorrow when I can go three and three? It doesn’t make good sense.

I pass the actor John Turturro, toting my sensible three down 8th Avenue to the new apartment. I’ve heard he lives in the neighborhood, as do Buscemi and Keitel. Turturro is on a cell phone, oblivious to my profuse perspiration. I catch one bit of the conversation- “He’s getting all the blood tests,” he tells the other party. “Has to be done.”

It’s not the heat – it’s the humidity.

It’s taken me until this summer to appreciate this sentiment. August has brought a new, sticky twist to the weather. Percentages have climbed to near 100% and held. I thought I’d already seen the heat. It’s like spending a career timing Nolan Ryan’s fastball and then discovering he’s got a knuckler. Like relaxing mid-field before the whistle and being reminded Ronnie Lott’s playing free safety. New York’s weather waits, times and hits hard. I’ve now more words for “sweat” than Eskimos do for “snow.”

That’s the thing about New Yorrrk, maaaaan…” Kelly tells me, you’re not really here until you’ve got some of it on you.” I met Kelly last month, sitting on a bench outside the Fall Cafe. He overheard my cell conversation and picked up that it was my birthday. “Happy birrrthday maaaaan,” he said, peering over clip-on shades and extending his words like Mickey Rourke in Barfly. “Mine was last week.”

Kelly’s filled me in on a good bit of local customs and folklore and put my mind at rest about not having storm windows in my new place on “the Slope.” You got steam heat, right maaaan? Don’t worry about it- that sucker will be blastin’ so hot, you’re gonna have to leave the windows open.”

Kelly has a way of putting one’s mind at ease, even if you suspect he’s talking out of his ear. The fact that I’m looking ahead to winter insulation in the middle of 100% humidity speaks volumes for my need to inject a healthy dose of his perspective. “You got a minute?” he asks as I sit reading the Times sports section on a Sunday afternoon. I tell him I’ve got six months and we walk a few blocks down to the Gowanus Canal, the center of a thriving manufacturing center in the mid 1800s which relied on barge services. The canal today is a stagnating cesspool, easily qualifying for my top three all-time most disgusting bodies of water. Kelly points out a house he claims Al Capone lived in as we head for the Carroll Street Bridge, overlooking the canal. I mention an article I read in a local paper about a group of urban divers who actually suit up and go in to the Gowanus. Suddenly, Kelly becomes serious.

Hey maaaan.. Don’t ever go in that water. Hear me? Don’t you ever go in there.”

I think about the gravity of this admonition the next day, killing time before my bartending class. Surely he couldn’t have thought I was considering a dip in that sewer. “Broadway in Bryant Park” is playing, with a variety of performers for the lunch crowd, and I wander among office workers taking in another typically outstanding, free, New York City weekday event. To my left a man directs a bomb-sniffing dog around rose bushes. Two cops stand guard, smiling and chatting with the crowd, while toting large automatic weapons. It all happens at once here and in the moment, with equal parts appreciation and conviction. Of course I’m not going in that water.

2003 Rick Monaco All Rights

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