Friday, September 09, 2005

That day again.....

It took till just now for it to hit.......We are so busy we don't have time to register pain or exhaustion, much less the date.

It wasn't until Amanda handed me a book from her mom: "So Many Enemies, So Little Time" by Elinor Burkett. They said to read the acknowledgments.....Whatever.... Elinor Burkett sounded familiar, but I couldn't place her.

In Acknowledgments it says: "This book bears the indelible stamp of four extraordinary men whom I must single out in gratitude. The inimitable Robert Jones turned me into a writer of books by refusing to allow me to complain......"

Oh....THAT Elinor Burkett. Ellie.

Four years ago tonight I bitch-slapped her. How time flies. I had flown to New York in the middle of the Stanford class for my brother's wake. He had died at 47 of lung cancer.....the black lung of the publishing business (he was editor-in-chief of HarperCollins). As we emerged from an emotional family dinner at Sandro's on Ninth Avenue, the first thing Ellie did was fire up a cigarette and blow smoke in my face. So I hit her.....and knocked the cigarette about four blocks.

Excerpts from the rest of the 24 hours: This is highly personal, and probably won't make sense until heavily edited. Next month.

Brendan and I went downtown to Rob’s apartment............

I suited up in the hotel room (HoJo’s at 50th and 8th).....My suit was stolen from Rob....but at least this time it had been retailored (somehow Rob’s legs were even shorter than mine).......Brendan, Pat and Chelsea were all there, getting ready......and Marci and Steve and the boys across the hall......We had a bad lunch and a lame beer at noon in the HoJo’s restaurant.....the whole famdamnly went back up......I drifted back down 50th St......I felt completely dislocated…..time out of mind, or mind out of time. Twenty hours of traveling on the red-eye….forget the shock of Rob’s death. Still, on 50th it felt like normal. I was struggling to deal with all of it......my favorite city.....my favorite street…..I felt as if the heart had been cut out of it.....I had deeded my share of it to Rob.....and he had gone away with it....And then there was my heart…….

It was August hot, of course, even for September…….and humid…and blazing bright. It was an effort to breathe…..I felt crushed……..a huge weight on my lungs and heart……actually crushed, like one of the multitude of paper bags littering the street. It was unbearable.

Oftimes I feel like some kind of Guinness Book junkie.....’’Look what I can do that no one else can!’’.....completely missing the point that no one else would care to, of course: Long hours, weird situations, pouring everything into a couple of meaningless minutes that no one will remember: my shoulder dislocates and I finish whipping the eggwhites for the souflee, and somehow serve it, smiling in tuxedo......burning hillocks of poison oak in 100 degree heat, in jumpsuits with regulators and pitchforks.....and then saying fuck it and tossing the regulators and charging the 50 ft toxic flames......sobbing into the 32 egg pate á choux, as the third wooden spoon snaps.....and I am only at 16 eggs......hopeless, futile punishment for someone who already has an infinite capacity.......’’Ras le bol’ in French: the bowl is now full.

Nothing compares.......50th has so many memories for me: Twenty-three and fresh back from Europe in a different stolen suit: Etienne had promised me jobs......and promised to meet me at Tout Va Bien, or Cafe des Sports, or Rene Pujol......didn’t matter: he was driving from Ithaca in his Impala wagon......and he can’t drive. An accident or incident each week......hours.......no: HOURS......of waiting at whichever bar......speaking bad French, trying to nurse one pastis and one cafe filtre from 11am to 3pm.....At Tout Va Bien, Carlo was always cool......Nina was always bitter, and the guy at Café des Sports was as well….The whole block goes back to the days of the big ships at the docks four blocks away: stevedores, stewards, cooks, sailors on the French lines….and everybody else’s….but some of them were trying to put that behind them .......’’Aucune pitié pour les canards boiteuse”…….’’ I was definitely limping: no money, no work, not much hope of either........Occasionally, when I had the price of two drinks (raiding Dad’s commute money while he was in the shower)......I would charge the frozen winds of the French ghetto for a while......dodging in doorways, pretending I was a citizen…..maybe Sam Goody’s……the lobby of the Time-Life building......before cruising back to the wait and the warmth........And then, after Etienne showed it got really brutal....... we schlepped for hours around the kitchens, dining rooms and bars of the city.....long past midnite.....long past dawn…..playing obscure games involving torn matches.....the sailors at the next table took offense.......the first time I saw a knife driven through a man’s hand as he reached unjustly for a pot........

When I worked at the Colony......and Jane was at the Marriott on Central Park South....I would walk over and pick her up at midnite.....we would walk the eight blocks south for a bite and a calva at Tout Va Bien......Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner would be there......We would speak French.......Mimi the Swiss coat check queen worked for me....and we were heroes.......we were making serious business.......On my days off.....hours off.....I would come and work with Serge......just to see what the deal was with the tete de veau.....and the hot vinaigrette.....and the cuisses grenouille….and the escargot. Or nights off..... the late French movie at the Elgin, or a double Truffaut bill and a bottle of Hooper’s, to fall back by 50th in taxi after for more Calva and conversation......Or, after Jane, sleazing in with Gabrielle and everyone knowing I had taken a hit below the waterline……and going for the 50th St version of the Mile Hi Club in the back hall uni-sex bathroom….

Much later, when Dylan was born.....he was 48 hours old….coming in for lunch.......the waitresses whisked him away......and brought us champagne........Rob and Jane and Brendan and Conall and I........Conall was two.....not too young for champagne at the birth of his brother.........They always set up everyone at my table for champagne, regardless of age……We didn’t see Dylan for an hour.......Fat, jolly waitresses that had probably started there the year I was born......That had started the year I was born……..

And returning with Brendan on New Year’s in ‘99......Mimi in fine form.......snubbing the African ambassador in his perfect suit.......gut punching Treat Williams for his presumption and bad French.......Jean Claude sabat-ing the bum in the street between seatings.........only a little blood on the tux.......Aucune probléme.......

And the ulitimate dinner with Rob......Young Scarsdale chick checking out Brendan.......the waitresses hovering and oohing and ahhing over ten year old Dylan......pouring champagne for all, even Dylan.....Scarsdale glowing green.....Mum and Pops glaring........Rob lighting a cig and telling Dylan: ‘I’ll give you $50 if you take a puff......’ I am blocking.....but I would like to believe Dylan did hit it.........Mass hysteria in Scarsdale.......

And then the food going bad: cuisses grenouille still frozen inside the breading........fucked venison.......a long retreat……Mimi dying after getting run over for the second time by a gypsy cab on the street in front…..

And then the new kid Jean Claude bought in (Carlo and Nina still come in and hang around every day, even though they sold out twenty years ago.....After Rob died in August.......we stayed at HoJo’s and the whole famdamnily ate.......David had snails.....and Chateauneuf du Pape.......and Calva......and champagne, of course…….and it wasn’t bad......Long after it was late and right......Conall and I returned........had calva and champagne at 3am........talked to the new kid......Jean Claude.and became royalty again after two stories.......

So…….A month later.......2pm.........again in stolen suit.....this time from Rob......I walked aimlessly up the street ......absolutely hammered under the sun……struggling to contemplate ‘The City’.......and ‘The Michael’.......without Rob......and what the afternoon would bring at the University Club. Right at home among the host of Eighth Avenue Loonies, tears formed and fell from my eyes........oh, god......not on this block: pre Giuliani this was Transvestite Heaven......tears meant tears in the stitches most likely.........or a beating from the pimp…….

As I pass Tout Va Bien I glance down the steps.......Jean Claude bursts from the door........he grabs my arm......’’Qu’est-ce qui se passé?.....You look like you need some champagne.........Viens avec……’’ And drags me down to the bar.........leaves me with two calva, and two champagne, and races away.......a famous, famous chef (Daniel Boulud) comes in, sits next to me and interviews a page for his restaurant….$4k per month….subsistence wages, no doubt)......and eventually orders tete de veau......so old school it is almost a joke…...JL disappears......His kindness is instinctive.....reflexive......Water put back in the well…..I have no check.......so, eventually I just leave........he knows that I will be back......and I know that he knows how much I appreciate his kindness.......It is beyond money......it is what we do.........C’est le milieu..........the water in which we swim.......And he accidentally saves my life.

And on to the wake, at the University Club on Fifth and Fifty-Fifth. Where I stuck my head in the lounge, and the social perturbation was such that every octogenarian mogul snapped around at the insult of the unwashed venturing into their sacred space. We were in the back.

The speakers killed me. It was heavy artillery: Ann Patchett, Denis Johnson, John Colapinto, Armistead Maupin, Oscar Hijuelos, Russell Banks, Ann the New Yorker editor……Ann Patchett told the story of growing up in Kentucky in a house with a million kids, and how her mom tended them. Each kid knew they were loved, and knew all the others were loved, but each kid knew she was loved best……even though she knew that each of the others thought they were loved best, she really was loved best. That’s how Rob was……And Armistead Maupin standing up indignant saying: “No, he really DID love me best!”

And I wept through all of it…..And like Stevie Ray Vaughn, the sky cried too…….Rain pounding the windows behind the speakers. “The sky is crying…..”

Then the reception at the publisher’s penthouse: books double stacked on the shelves, like mine. And the proto-typical New Yorker: “You only do ORGANIC food? Grotesque!! You mean like kidneys, and thymus, and livers?” Organic, not organs, lady……..

And back to Sandro’s…..and finally back to Tout Va Bien at 1am to say thanks. More Calva and champagne with Brendan and Chelsea, a big overtip, and back to HoJo’s, dead drunk.

Five am wake up to make the 8am flight from Newark. 4am the urge hits and I must pee. I stagger from the bed, hit the door and try to focus. The door slams and I am in the hallway! Stark naked. I turn in circles: “What the fuck?” and pound on the door to get back in.

Wrong room. The woman who answers, rather than calling the police, says: “Wow! The guys from the service are getting older and whiter, huh?” Naked sprint to the elevators for a house phone to call Brendan to open the right door.

At five am, the front desk has had enough, and fails to wake me. I miss my cab, miss my plane, and miss the opportunity to take Flight 93 into history. I wind up flying JetBlue over the Towers just as the second plane hits.

Thank you, New York for saving my life……but forever I cannot separate the Towers, Rob’s death, the weeping sky, Jean Claude and the Calvados…….and my supposed salvation.

How could I forget?

4 Comments:

Blogger Linda Johnson said...

A fantastic blog. Keep it up. Here's a subject that interests many; how to buy & sell everything, like music on interest free credit; pay whenever you want.

11:18 PM  
Blogger Gabe Rosen said...

Mr. Jones - this is fabulous stuff. Moving, inspired, vibrant, surprising. Just like your menus. I got turned on to your blog just tonight, and I'm hooked. May it all continue.

- Gabe Rosen

10:58 PM  
Blogger tom naka said...

Help! I am lost. I was searching for indian restaurant and somehow ended up here. How that happened I don't know, however I do like your Blog a lot. Would you mind if I add your Blog to my favorites page so others can visit?

9:10 AM  
Blogger clandis said...

Considering bank free military sperm ? You'd do better by checking out Fee Free Bank .com . At least a $25 bonus for opening a new account, with bonuses as high as $1,500 ! You save more and get a higher interest rate to make YOUR money work for YOU.

10:48 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home