BK and I meet for brunch. We are both flighty birds about town so the occasion for just the two of us to hang out is rare. We meet at The Wayland, a rad spot in Alphabet City that's decorated with exposed brick, books about blues music and portraits of someone's great-great-grandfather nobody ever knew. The tables are thick and wooden and we sit on stools staring at each other, talking about writing, dating, and wherever those twains might meet. It's cooler for a summer day, and the open windows don't make me feel like I'm going to die. BK is halfway through his iced coffee and already he's talking faster, but my pace is much slower. It's one of the few days off I've had since I started working weekends, and I feel myself breathing. I order what the restaurant calls Sausage Bread and Eggs, and really this is the best name for it because that's what it is--thick, crusty bread filled in the middle with ground sausage bits that melt into you mouth and into the yolk of the poached eggs when you break them open. I dip the bread and egg combo into the ricotta/olive oil mixture it's served with and I taste Saturday. I will be back.
After brunch, we walk over to a mural, an alphabet assemblage of street art BK has been wanting to see. As we walk there, a man shouts to me, "Look at this beautiful Jewish girl!" and BK and I both become palpably uncomfortable but don't say anything for a few seconds.
"How did that make you feel? I'm sorry that happened." he says after those seconds pass. "Should I have said something?"
"Uh, no," I said. "I wouldn't have known what to tell you to say." And really, I still don't. It bothers me more to be called out for my ethnicity than my visual appeal and I don't know how to voice that. Why can't I just be beautiful?
We arrive at the mural, which is bright blue painted on brick and shutters and wraps around a streetcorner. From what we can gather, several different artists have collaborated to do different letters of the alphabet in their various styles. We consider each letter carefully as if we've just wandered into a gallery. I like the letter "L" the best, which is formed from a pink leg leading into a pink ankle leading into a red sneaker.
Heading up Avenue B, we stop into a new vintage spot BK has found, the East Village Clothing Collective. It's two floors and independently owned by three ladies, each of whom has a distinct style and a distinct area of the store. The vintage sunglasses are inexpensive ($5-8 each) but the silken Twisted Sister jacket is less so ($100). There are funny polyester cowboy shirts and paisley dresses abound, and The Stray Cats play on the sound system. There's a room with vintage Gucci heels in it that has portholes for no reason and a room in the back where they set up air mattresses and do movie nights for free.
Time has ticked by, and shortly I must be on my way. I am heading out to New Jersey for the afternoon to visit SJT's family home.
I arrive at Penn Station with plenty of time to get the black tea with milk and Splenda I want so badly, but I am nervous, without reason, that I will miss the train. I don't take NJ Transit often and I know trains always (for the most part) leave on time. I get on the train and transfer at Newark Penn Station which, I must say, is the most disgusting place I have been since moving to New York. The length of the stairways smell entirely of piss, and the waiting areas smell like body odor. I moved through each of these with great speed and fear of vomiting and was rewarded with my train to a place called Netherwood waiting for me on the other end.
SJT picked me up in his car, which did not look too much like it belonged to him save for a Renata Tebaldi box set in the backseat. SJT, a self-described "opera queen" named his car Monserrat Caballé, hoping that it, like her, would have a long, illustrious career (he made the mistake previously of naming another car after the singer Leyla Gencer who had a tragically short career; he crashed this car into a tree). On the way to his home in South Plainfield, which he describes as "rather gay," he points out to me that the area was once known as a location for country homes for those living in the city. We pass gorgeous tudor-style mansions that support this. We pass a cemetery on our left where SJT tells me Dudley Moore is buried. "When I was in middle school, I didn't know who Dudley Moore was, but I did know who Liza Minnelli was and I knew they were friends," he said. He was delighted that, upon Moore's death in 2002, the divine Ms. Minnelli would likely be in his very hometown to attend her friend's funeral. Though SJT could not crash the funeral to see her, he did go visit Moore's grave the next day to stand where Liza had possibly stood and take in her "Liza-ness," as it were.
We turn down one street and then another and then SJT drolly quips, "And this is the Burger King," before turning into his driveway.
A crowd of people has already gathered, and we sit in the grass and on lawn chairs in his backyard. It's not too hot, and the grass is cool on my feet.
"Would you like to sit in a chair like a real person, Elyssa?" SJT says to me.
"Oh, no thank you," I say, smiling, because how often in New York do I really get to sit in the grass and look up at the sky?
For an appetizer, we eat chicken and tomato salad made with items fresh from the garden/orchard we are staring at as we eat. During this time, we are invited to remove any books we like (for the most part) from SJT's room: soon he is leaving for Eastern Europe, a months-long tour of his own design. From a hot room decorated with kelly green spongepaint, I remove We Were The Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, Ada, or Ardor by Vladimir Nabokov and The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross. Other people choose Pushkin or Thomas Hardy or a variety of choral selections SJT had amassed over the years that no longer held interest for him. I return with my haul and sink deeper into the sangria AnSha has made, a peach and rosemary elixir she serves from a Mason jar. She has just moved to Williamsburg--I joke how well she seems to be assimilating and we laugh.
SJT's mother has prepared a feast for us this evening, and shortly I stuff my face with what's easily the best lasagna I've ever had. I'm not a regular pasta eater generally and I don't come from an Italian household, so I don't often have the pleasure of having the dish, much less homemade. It melts in my mouth, as do the Penne Vodka and Sausage and Peppers. I eat enough of everything so when I go home to my empty refrigerator I won't even notice for the entire week. Everyone drinks more, sits more, laughs more. We eat sliced peaches from the garden with Friendly's vanilla ice cream for dessert as the sky turns first to a peachy pink, then lavender, then powder blue, then black.
It is time to leave, and SJT and his mother take AnSha and I to the train. NJ Transit is brimming with people heading into the city for a big night out: they wear tight dresses or jeans and some even wear Hawaiian leis, spangled tops and button-down shirts. And AnSha and I can barely stay awake. We lean our heads against the window as we leave first the Metropark station, then the airport, then Newark Penn, and finally arrive back in Manhattan. I find my way home dreamily by 11pm and fall asleep. Who needs to go out when you've had a day like this?