Glad Tidings Ease back
from New York
in your seat on the Hudson Line on the charged, brilliant, freezing day before
Christmas Eve–the train screams upstate along the iced-over river in a
sanctifying rage of whipped-up snow, under a blue sky into which the cold has
seared a new purity–and who’s sitting across the aisle from you, reading
a quiet New Yorker, huddled like a Westchester burgher, but M.
That’s a good thought.
Like that novel, the first Soul Coughing album–and the second Soul Coughing
album, for that matter–is a wistful, yearning, already-elegiac evocation
of an NYC bohemia you might have belonged to; or wanted to belong to; or that
possibly even existed. I told Doughty what my friend had said, and he doubled
over–almost fell out of his chair. (The musical gentleman himself, stricken
with angina pectoris on the Hudson Line, amongst residual businessmen and the
fleecy kids stowing their kits homeward from college for snowy Briarcliff vacations.)
A year ago, last December, I’d watched Soul Coughing move an overpacked
Bowery Ballroom, a tribe undulating in a womb of heat, bass, weed, sweat, comporting
itself organically on the edge of suffocatory disaster, according to some scary
But that was, like I said,
a year ago, and now here we were, the two of us–two real cool guys, I’ll
tell you–moping homeward on the commuter train toward the pudding, or whatever
it was our mommies had prepared for us this Christmas, each of us possessed
of ungainly adult woolen headgear. To guard against the sniffles, and the Hudson
I was pleased when Michael
Jordan’s: The Steakhouse (what a name) opened on Grand Central Terminal’s
Vanderbilt Ave. Terrace, because it meant that there now existed a bar at which
one could reside while one waited for a train, and from which–and this
is what differentiates it from the brine-smelling old tavern attached to the
Oyster Bar downstairs–one could overlook the Terminal’s main floor,
which buzzes with a great optimism, with a cosmopolitan energy, these days.
Snuck onto a stool one day after Christmas when I was passing through, and ordered
an Irish coffee. I’d never had one, and it seemed seasonally appropriate.
Besides, I was swaddled in the correct tweedy woolens, lacking only a shillelagh
to fulfill a momentary fantasy of myself as some picturesque old son of a bitch
in Dublin, issuing lachrymose poetical effusions about, aye, the birds of Aengus
and, yea, the heirs of Uladh amidst ye cairns, and scurrying into the street
periodically to cudgel Ulstermen.
But the Irish coffee sucked,
hard. I was expecting a low-key drink for a snowy night, a drink in the presence
of which I could feel nostalgic and melancholic–the year’s ghosts
fluttering around me there under Grand Central’s great starry whispering
barrel-vault. Instead I was shoved a wine glass full of hot Jameson-laced coffee
into which a sourpussed bartendress dumped a cloying dollop of whipped cream
and squirted a kelly-green jizz of creme de menthe. It was emasculating.
The bar reached up roughly
to my chin. I should have asked for a phone book to sit on. I had figured that
the bartender would float unsweetened heavy cream on top of coffee in a regular
coffee cup. The coffee was topped with a maraschino cherry, no less–a humiliation.
The sugar occluded the taste of the booze.
I should mention the throng
at the bar, four deep. A densely packed herd: we should have all climbed inside
the circular bar, and called ourselves the Vanderbilt Terrace Cattle Co.
(Michael Jordan, Prop.). The usual dense crowd dynamic was at work: weird miscegenations,
conversations that shouldn’t have happened, shared air, some guy with a
Rolex–apparently he was from Missouri–doing weird stuff with a cocktail
straw to my back. I’ve been yearning recently for Dinkins’ New York,
that doomed city of depopulated vistas, the boulevards surreal and ghostly on
afternoons, empty barstools like riderless horses, furtive gray figures skulking
in autumnal Central Parks with no people in them, a seedy amber city winding
down into extinction. No more.
Michael Jordan’s: The
Steak House, Grand Central Terminal, 23 Vanderbilt Ave. (44th St.), 655-2300.
coincidence that bludgeon your skeptic’s faith in disorder–the way
you’re home at your parents’ for Christmas and, messing about your
childhood room, you pull that particular volume from the shelf, for the
first time in years, and it’s inscribed ("Autumn 1992") from
that college girlfriend–
Next scene, 22 minutes later:
in which you’re rustling bottles of wine up from the basement to accompany
your mother’s herb-crusted rib roast, and a cloud of dust in the old house’s
basement generates, in its dispersal, a flash of ruby-red bottle light against
the inky subterranean darkness–
So the bottle, a 1990 Chateau
Pavie, was from her, too. (Shards of the past scatter around you like rain.)
And I’ll tell you one thing–all those years of sitting around do,
in fact, do wonders for a Bordeaux. Ninety-eight percent of what’s said
and written about wine is absurd–all that attention paid to effects that
are probably imagined. But it must be recorded that the power of this bottle
was no joke. Research into the history of the early 1990s (I checked an old
diary, an awful experience) reveals that the bottle was given me in 1993, presumably
for my August birthday. So it’s been sitting in my parents’ basement
for seven years, ripening, plumping up–stealthy, stealthy. It threw a sediment
when we poured it; it glowed with that dark-purple blackened color that defines
mature Bordeaux. I’m sure that under optimal conditions–that is, an
even and eternal 55 degrees–a first-growth Bordeaux from the great vintage
of 1990 would have lasted even longer, decades more. But my parents’ basement
heats up, if only relatively, over the summer. I guess the bottle "cooked"
down there during successive heat waves, and its aging process was speeded up.
Anyway, the wine offered
the best experience I’ve had with wine since my 25th birthday, which I
spent as a guest at an old beach house on the Oregon coast. The huge fireplace
that day hissed and roared; the cold wind whipped up off the Pacific. We dragged
up cases of wine from the basement, dusty and grinning, swigging beers, and
inspected them. Firelight, and the house had been in the family for a hundred
years, and what bottles were down there no one really knew. Three of the bottles–I’ve
forgotten the chateaux–were from 1971, which happens to be my vintage year
as well. One bottle was corked and rotten, but two were great.
Roasted a leg of lamb and
ate–the four of us–at the scarred wooden table in front of the picture
window overlooking the sea of holly bushes, and beyond that the beach, and beyond
that the sea. It gets pretty cold on the coast of Oregon, even in mid-August.