I’d never seen
fish fight before, but there they were in a fishbowl on the bar counter. One
red, one blue (how patriotic), each about the length of my index finger, undulant
and groovy, billowing their elaborate peacock fins, suspended there in the clear
Watching fish fight
is like watching extreme fighting, or a street fight. The violence occurs within
those split-second, banal intervals in which violence tends to occur in real
life. It’s rarely exciting, and there’s rarely more than a couple
blows exchanged. There’s just a meeting of two bodies on a sidewalk, and
then, before it’s even registered itself on you, one guy’s sprawled
and looking up at gray Lower East Side sky and the other guy–nondescript,
in a colorless coat, you couldn’t pick him out of a lineup if they paid
you–is moving through the crowd, growing distant, sucked back into mundanity,
his head down, his hands in his pockets.
The fish were kind
of like that: violence not as spectacle, but as something that just sort of
happened, violence as queasily titillating fact rather than unfolding spectacle.
The bar’s tiny and warm, there’s just a small crowd of us, there’s
a late-night dorm-room atmosphere in the place, everybody’s guard is down,
a good energy–and the two fish, floating within inches of each other, but
at different latitudes and their lippy, dumb little faces pointed in different
directions–and then there’s this almost imperceptible flash of motion
in the water and adrenaline pumps through your body and–
everybody groans, and the fish float motionless again, quick as a blink having
returned to their previous positions, staring into space, moving their lips
and bugging their eyes, almost as if they were ritualistically avoiding each
other out of respect for the horrible implications of their death match. Or
else they resembled two portly MPs avoiding each other in the bathroom between
But it’s no use
ascribing human qualities to a fish. Because fish are dumb, dumb, dumb beasts,
fit for wagering on, maybe, or frying in cornmeal, but little else.
Red and blue confetti
drifts down through the water–ripped and torn scraps of fin.
I’d missed it
again. Another spark of motion, too fast to see, the fish darting at each other
and taking quick sharp bites–and then they were flapping their lips in
their respective corners again. The lanky guy behind the bar laughed, his face
lit up by the many candles that flickered around the snug little place, and
that littered the bar along with the bottles. He looked around at the crowd
across from him, all of the people sitting or kneeling on stools or standing,
making sure they were enjoying this. It seemed as if he owned the place, and
wanted to make sure we were having a good time.
place a wager?" someone joked.
Meanwhile, we leaned
over the bowl in wonder, our eyes wide, our bodies drifting against each other.
I smelled clean girl-cotton and powder, and everybody’s face was flushed
and pretty in the candlelight.
we groaned, and confetti filled the world and I disentangled myself from a tangle
Down at the other
end, Sarah talked to an off-duty bartender, the two of them leaning into each
other, sitting catty-corner at the edge of the short bar. I fit myself in between
them. We were both pretty looped, Sarah and I, filled with beer, wine and then
more beer. This warm indigo and candlelit place is a good secret for late winter.
Walk in and look straight up the back wall and you’ll see there’s
this crazy cozy little loft-level up there, with all sorts of junk up in the
warm swirling shadows, and it’s nice, you’re in some homey fun-place.
she said–of the fish, it took me a moment to realize.
I laughed, and also winced, and I guess she understood, and bottles of Sierra
Nevada continued to appear in front of ourselves and we talked about real estate,
(Ate earlier that
night at Rose Water, that newish place on Union St. in Park Slope. Tiny, about
the size of your living room, with these gorgeous lime-green walls, though they
might have been aquamarine, or something else. Excellent food–a Park Slope
restaurant fully as good and casually elegant–as I learned to say in restaurant
reviewer’s school–as al di la, and populated by the kind, stolid thirtysomething
women of Park Slope, gentle and I hope happy at their tables unshared by men.
Park Slope is a city of women, a gynocracy. What men there are wear sandals
and push strollers with awkward splayfooted gaits.
The service at Rose
Water is very kind. We drank Gavi, and ate fattoush and lentil soup and I ate
this amazing roasted wild striped bass. This fish had no fight in it. I consumed
it. It had nothing to say.)
We walked homeward
up 5th Ave. from the bar. Head along empty 5th Ave. late on a sullen late-winter
night and it’s almost beautiful the way the taverns glow. This huge layered
rusting baroque heap of a city, through the infinite paths of which you can
chart your own course, you can keep moving, you can experience an incredible
feeling of freedom and propulsion and capability and power, whenever you muster
the energy for it.
Got a cab somehow
and rode up to Sarah’s new place in Windsor Terrace across the street from
the park. High ceilings and bright light and unpacked boxes still stacked up
on the newly varnished floor and Sarah walking through the rooms, drunk and
talking to her boyfriend on the cordless, and the smell of paint. Then I walked
home alone back to the Slope, past the movie theater, through brown and blue
streets. The forest of the park, amber smudges from lampposts and late-night
restaurants, stoop, bodega, bodega, bar.
787 Union St. (betw. 5th & 6th Aves.), Brooklyn, 718-783-3800.
One night a couple
weeks ago I walked all the way down to the East Village from our offices up
here near FIT with a coworker, who abandoned me at 14th St. and vanished into
the hole that leads down into the Brooklyn-bound train.
"Enjoy your B-strolling,"
she sang, and then she was skipping down into another dimension, into secret
tunnels. So I was left alone.
I slid my way down
Ave. B, hewing close to the buildings as if it were necessary for me to maintain
contact with their materiality, with the reality of damp East Village brick
and stone. As a point of reference, sort of. In the weird abandoned city. And
I kept thinking the word nighttown, getting off on that idea, as if I
were less in a real city than in some perfect approximation of it, as if I’d
wandered onto a soundstage somewhere (SOUNDSTAGE B: DEEP EAST VILLAGE), and
I was the only one on it, besides a couple extras, and the tenements hulked
down over the ice-buckled streets and the indigo sky throbbed over Brooklyn.
Light spilled from the foggy bistro windows, and from some distance that I couldn’t
quite figure Bob Dylan drawled It’s all over now, baby bluuuuuue,
wheezing and droning and rasping, as if some abandoned record player had turned
itself on in some empty building and set this music to drift out a broken window
and across the still world.
A couple Hispanic
kids congregated under the eaves of a building. A big middle-aged guy lumped
out from that place Rue B, holding a cigar whose tip glowed against the deep
night, and stood watching a car fit itself against the curb. It was a rusty
old dinosaur, lumbering against the curb, looking for a perfect 6-inch margin,
a brontosaurus trying to play it gentle. I watched the cigar watch the car,
which shuddered to a stop.
"Yo, I can park
The cigar waved, a little signal fire in the night. "Back it up a little,
back it up." And the car shook back into life and inched backward, finding
the right proportion, finding its own little space in this nutty hyperreal night.
And then if you walk
into Guernica–down there closer to Houston St.–the atmosphere changes
and everything’s different. What is this place? It’s a restaurant,
but it’s got that lounge decor and vibe. You know, moody lighting shining
out from behind banquettes, and the bar’s not straight, it’s squiggle-curved,
like someone’s scrawled it arrogantly across the room. Everything’s
glossy black and high concept and cheaply dramatic and too stylish and as cold
and hard as the techno they’re pumping out, as cold as the appraising eyes
of the leather-encased bartender chick as she cards you (honey bee, I’m
29, every minute of those years is etched into my face, come on already),
as cold and hard and self-conscious as a cocaine jag.
Nor was the food so
hot, and it was sort of expensive (and I’ll tell you all about it sometime),
and in all ways it was an experience that made me rue going in there, underdressed
in my trousers and shoes, a fat novel under my arm. Then the place began to
fill up with cocaine guys–you know what I mean–and I was sitting there
at the bar with my shrimp cocktail and my something diablo and my fat novel.
And I thought, Jesus, this is the sort of place where you don’t want people
to know that you like to read. They’ll go stand on the other side of the
room and make faces at you.
Paid the bill and
bailed out into my familiar old blue, wheezing, ramshackle, tenement city, which
fits around my body like an old leather garment and where none of the lines
are really straight and cold-cracked streets somehow look soft to me, and welcoming.
Guernica? Check it out if you want, but don’t blame me. And hurry, because
I bet the dying economy smashes it like a grape.
25 Ave. B (betw. 2nd & 3rd Sts.), 674-0984.