541 Amsterdam Avenue (at W. 86th St.)
Recently it occurred to me that my hallucinations might be caused not by vegetarian protein deficiency but by late-stage syphilis. And so, on a white-gray afternoon, I walked into the Riverside STD Clinic located in a fortress of a building whose aesthetics as a beacon of public health compare favorably to its Soviet counterpart—but otherwise are soul-killing. The waiting room, where I sat five rows back, was the color of spoiled cream, and the floors were that flecked brown linoleum that is the wretched base of so many public grade schools across America. Like Christmas decorations in hell, someone had tacked a few bright plastic butterflies to the wall. I sat watching a ceiling-mounted television on which Whoopi Goldberg expounded on prophylactic sex.
Suddenly, a movement entered my field of vision—like an exotic bird swooping so fast that you’re left to wonder if it was real. Then it happened again: She turned and glanced three rows back at me while twirling her long, dark hair around two delicate forefingers like squid ink spaghetti.
Her opal eyes could pierce the atmosphere and blink communiqués to other planets. She was svelte, buxom and trouble: The kind of woman you would still stand near if your lap were dripping kerosene and she was holding a candle.
Then a nurse waved the heart-crusher into a small room and closed the door, leaving me to grieve what promised to be a week of excoriating self-abuse. I stood up before my number was called and was light-headed. I probably should get lunch, I thought. I didn’t know if the test would entail a piss cup or a horse syringe, but I figured I needed some sweetener in my blood before showing them I got less sugar than a shot of Angostura.
I walked down Amsterdam Avenue and swung open the door to Barney Greengrass, the Upper West Side’s “Sturgeon King.”
I stepped past the fishmonger display to the tables in the back room, where wallpaper juxtaposes yellowed scenes of New Orleans’ French Quarter in a diner that otherwise has more in common with a Woody Allen film.
The upholstered chairs were the color of butterscotch pudding. I sat down in one and ordered a glass of cold borscht ($3.75 for a medium), which resembled a frothy, pink beet milkshake more than soup. I followed it with red salmon caviar and sour cream ($14) and soon was exploding little, glassy, seawater-filled beeballs between molars.
Boot heels clicked against the floor like rollercoaster cranks, and I felt my stomach rise to my tonsils before looking up. She was wearing a fitted jacket of red silk and gold dragons and a Pharaoh’s Daughter’s smile.
The half of my brain still functioning recognized she was mouthing, “May I join you?” She was smart to not wait for an answer.
“What’s your name?” I managed.
“Esastia Havoline,” she said.
I asked if she cared for caviar.
“I’m vegetarian,” she replied
“Not even eggs?” I said.
“Not if they had to kill the chicken to get them. You know roe removal isn’t a surgical procedure, right? Since I’ve been with Albey, I couldn’t possibly be responsible.”
She ordered pumpernickel toast ($2.50) with a slice of preternaturally red tomato ($1 extra).
“Where else but Greengrass can you get a good tomato in December?” she asked.
I noticed how much time had passed since our medical visit and asked her, “Did you go to freshen up just now?”
“Albey needed a walk,” she said.
“That’s your K-9 or lover?” I asked.
“Both,” she said. “I was shooting a video in Oslo with a fellow who would be billed on the box, quite speciously, as a ‘10-inch depraved cheating husband’ and an elkhound. It was Albey who took my love.”
“The elkhound?” I asked.
“It was the most profound joining of my life,” she said. “To be made love to in a way society hasn’t prepared a man. We’re still together.”
“Then why the clinic?” I asked.
“Jealousy,” she said. “I lost my head when I saw him sniffing around a Dalmatian last week….Bitch.”
“You’re vegetarian because you sleep with dogs?” I asked.
“For some people,” she said, “animal-kind is separate from us and can be treated like so much meat. But it’s wrong to love an animal, they say.”
I let her continue.
“They think I’m debased. But would you say a woman is wrong to find pleasure with a dildo? Where in the natural hierarchy does our species exist so that we have evolved away from animals enough to countenance eating them but not sharing affection, physical joy? Either they are objects like pieces of plastic and you may do with them whatever you please, or else they are like us and cannot be cannibalized.”
“So any way you cut it, Miss Havoline, I can fuck the dog,” I said.
“You’re not his type,” she said.
I sipped my Pepto-colored borsht and thought how never before had I so wanted to own four legs.
Read more reviews of vegetarian eats at Whorebivore.com