Sunday, July 09, 2006

new york moments


well I finally made it back to los angeles and the happiness of finding my friends (and car) in good hearts is a gift that grows as I begin to settle each day. but I will miss new york and the people I will temporarily not see. unlike la with our car rooms, this city with its subway and constant walking encourages interaction with all types of people. I know I’ve forgotten more of these moments than I may get all year in la but here are a few.

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it’s pretty common to get on a subway car and have unexpected entertainment. a super skinny black guy with long dreads under his baseball cap tried to sell a ratty cardboard box with a sharpee “x” on it saying it was the newest sony “x box”. he then busted out a keyboard and started to jam but in one of his crazy movements dropped it to the floor. he immediately picked it up and started kissing it apologizing to the instrument. after which he took a bow spilling all his dreads completely off of his head! they were fake & attached to the ball cap!

another time a mariachi band came on with full horns and a standup bass and danced out a tune until they got off on the next stop. I really appreciated the giant metal Mexican flag belt buckle one of them had on.

exiting the subway one day my friend scott heard a subway cop singing black sabbath’s “war pigs”.

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after seeing the Leonard Cohen documentary “i’m your man” my friend aaron and I wandered the humid night into Washington Square Park. now this is a definite ftx location when I return. with it’s beautiful archway and two dog parks it seems like a place that new yorkers go to and not just tourists. during the day i saw kids taking spills as they learned to roller blade while musicians of all types would wander up to other musicians and just begin to play. that night after declining numerous casual attempts to sell us weed we came upon a small group of random people playing music. their clothes were thin from age and and seemed to be an afterthought as the threads trail-mixed together from the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s. it was late but people were there with their little kids dancing to the sweaty melodies.

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I was fortunate enough to go see in new jersey the last two nights of bruce springsteen on his 19 member pete seeger band tour. it was a true celebration of old time big band music that had its deep roots traveling as far as Irish protests to Louisiana celebrations. the band was filled with a whirling rich sound of trombone, tuba, banjo and 16 others! I arrived the first night early to see the parking lot FILLED with barbeques and pop-up shelters. I got out of my rental car and was immediately invited to sit down and have a drink as fans from jersey and dc told me their springsteen stories. the sky went east coast dark as the black warm rain poured down around us as the smell of burgers and hot dogs floated up to greet it. when I went inside the open air venue I found cheese steaks and dunkin donuts. I found pizzas and carvel ice cream! it was a true homecoming for this jersey boy. as I dripped rainbow sprinkles from my vanilla cone onto my brown boot I listened in as a young father in a white and blue baseball cap kneeled in front of his five year old son. “this is a big deal… bruce springsteen is a big deal… it’s not a small deal, it’s a BIG deal.” to which his little boy replied “it’s a BIGGGGGG deal!”. I remembered being an 8th grader and saving my paper route money to go see the boss for my first concert. I guess sometimes the small things that define us last longer than the bigger ones we think will. I ended up on the 2nd night with a 7th row seat. the smiling lady to my left was well in her 80s and danced the night away laughing out “more! more!” while the electrified jersey crowd boomed out “bruuuuuuuuccccccceeeee!”. I guess that dad was right, it was a big deal.

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I like cheese.
that may be an understatement.
my dad was a huge fan of pizza. my mom always would say that she should have known it from the start since he took her for some pie on their very first date. I’ve been told stories by his friends that when he first moved to America after leaving India and Canada he drove across country with pizza in his glove box. that may seem strange to you but it makes perfect sense to his son. you never know when you’re going to need a good slice.

enter my new good friend henry cline. henry is from Brooklyn but now lives in LA. he took it upon himself to generate a list based on internet research and childhood memories of what may be some of the best pizza in nyc. we would take this list to the the restaurants and eat a basic margarita pie (we both agreed the best example of a pizza is to start simple with just tomato, cheese & basil). after eating we would write our review on my now sauce stained list. we went to lombardi’s in little italy and grimaldi’s under the Brooklyn bridge. I made repeat visits to patsy’s in harlem which I truly believed was the best one yet. until serendipity stepped in.

messrob, scott, henry, angela, debbie & I were all to take the subway down to coney island and try totonno’s. but the timing got all screwy and it ended up just being mes, scott and myself. after 40 minutes or so of subway travel (for $2!) we walked to the restaurant only to discover it is closed on mondays and tuesday! we wandered to the boardwalk and had some cardboard called pizza and I sat glum and bummed. eventually debbie and angela showed up and we made plans to head back home. all this while henry kept sending me text pictures to my phone of this other pizza place in Brooklyn he went to called di fara. I called him and he insisted that I not miss out (but later told me he was apprehensive to be pushy in fear that I would back away). I was so let down by the whole pizza experience of that day that I told him maybe some other time. our group hit the subway of which there are many different lines (Q, D, etc) and many cars to each train. stop after stop passed by until finally the doors opened and without one split second of hesitation, henry WALKS on to our car, hands me a box and says “here’s your pizza!”.
it was complete and total luck that he got on the exact same car on the exact same line at the exact time! we reheated up the slices that night and it was incredible. so messrob and I headed back the next morning at 11am to be the first in. Di Fara’s is run by Mr. Dominick DeMarco who has been making pizza for over 40 years. I say this in all sincerity, I have never met a more dedicated artist in my life to one thing. his store is on J street just off the Q line. it is small and hot and the greasy yellow walls are covered in newspaper stories on pizza. (one of which quotes mr. demarco as saying he has “only dropped two pies his whole career…. but I’ve burned quite a few!”). there is an old tiny radio hidden under the counter playing Italian music and the entire shop is coated in flour and cheese. his son works with him and is only allowed to fold the pizza boxes and cut the toppings. (when we asked him to put our pizza in a box he replied “I’m not allowed to touch it!”). Mr. DeMarco does all of this without ego or hostility, it’s just a man who is what he does so much that it would be less for him to hand anything over. each margarita pie is lovingly made with: weekly flown in buffalo mozzarella cheese from italy, italian olive oil is spiraled onto the dough, oregano that is still on the branches (you SCRAPE it off!) and fresh basil that he cuts with scissors over your pie. he always asks if you want extra cheese and if you do he takes out a huge wedge of fresh parmesan and grinds it in an old steel shredder. he takes a clump and just tosses it on. within two slices your paper plate becomes see-thru from all the oils. he only closes three days a year and his wife’s name is margarita!

when I took my first bite I was and still am completely overcome. I felt lightning and electricity run up my arms! it was like nothing I’d ever experienced – true love in pizza form. I humbly shook his hand as I left (which left mine coated in flour) and told him I would be bringing my car here next year. that it would be an honor to have him take a picture in front of his shop with her and a pizza on the hood. “oh! it must be a special car.” to which I replied “yes, a 72 chevelle”. “aahh, a good car. a good car. I used to have a fire engine red 50’s cadillac. when I started her up she sounded like a rocket ship!!!” to which I answered “really!! mine sounds like an earthquake!!!” and that was it, we were in sync: pizza guys / car guys. until next year Mr. DeMarco.

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there were times last year that I felt that if I got hit by a flaming meteor not only would it be expected but I could check my watch and know whether it was late. everything was possible especially if it meant my downfall. these days I feel like I’m a bag of broken glass walkin around town, gradually tearing at the seams of the bag, threatening to fall and break some more. a week after ftx in central park I went by to look at the place one last time. I know what we did there was good and I wanted to see if I could feel some of that again. the skies were grey and missing that ‘abundant sunshine’ but it was a peaceful moment. I sat in front of the lake steps where the rowboats had approached and listened to my ipod. In time I noticed a lady had sat next to me with her dog. they were watching the wind etch the water like rain and her pup was fascinated by the turtles who would rise and fall just under the surface. I didn’t want to interrupt their quiet but I missed my friend daisy so much that my eyes would quickly glance at the pup hidden under my sunglasses. I noticed that her dog looked different on the surface than ms daisy but if I went to where the turtles were I saw that the light in her eyes and her wide brimmed smile were exactly the same! in a small amount of time all three of us were talking and laughing. I explained to the woman that those weren’t turtles but just underwater dogs tempting the poor water frightened pup with dreams of kibble and a green lake that was actually gravy. I told of the french toast just one week before and both girls regretted missing it. in a short amount of time I got to hug and hold the dog feeling better and better about what this year might amount to. (a doggie recharge!). when I asked what her pup’s name was the lady replied “faith”. I smiled and laughed out loud at how that works.

a moment before i had a little less. a moment later a little more.



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2 Comments:

Blogger just said...

shyam,
thanks for visiting my blog! it was great fun to find that making french toast is not just something you do for burning man. did you notice in the burning man article i posted to my blog that i specifically mention eating french toast on the side of the road! what unexpected bliss!

it's cool, too, to hear tell of your experience seeing bruce springsteen. on our way to burning man we had the radio playing and a bruce song came onto the radio and my travelling buddy, a techno girl through and through made to change the station with a look of distaste and i shouted, "no!" and made her leave the song playing. i explained that from where i come, bruce is truly the boss. my mother used to refer to him as the second coming of christ, which i thought was a little overzealous, yet i must say that the crowd was full of nothing short of religious idolatry and devotion the times of seen him live. never before had i seen a crowd of 60,000+ literally shake the foundations of the old three rivers stadium in pittsburgh until the boss came to town.

anyhow, thanks for sharing, and i encourage you to come back to your blog. you tell great tales! hope to see you at burning man next year, and keep in touch!

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