Street scene from This Isn’t Happiness.
A couple of nights ago I got on the BX 7 and said hello to a driver that I didn’t recognize. It was rush hour, the bus was crowded, and the driver, who looked to be in his mid-fifties, drove in fits and starts, with a heavy foot on the break. It was enough to make you sick to your stomach, one of those instances that made me appreciate competent drivers.
I appreciate good workers in all walks of life–I’ve talked about my old barber at length in this space–which is why I make it a point to say “thank you” to the motorman–or woman–on the subway as I leave the train. I dig professionals. Who says “thanks” to them, after all? And yet, they help get us where we need to go. I always appreciate people who are professional because that’s what I aspire to be–though I don’t always succeed.
That in mind, I went to Resto, a Belgian-influenced restaurant on 29th street, with an old pal last night. I’ve been meaning to go for a minute now, mainly to try their hangover pasta, a dish that comes highly recommended. Unfortunately, they don’t serve it for dinner, but any disappointment I felt about that news was overshadowed by how we were greeted by the wait staff. It was early in the evening and only a few tables were filled. It seemed like a free-for-all in terms of who would wait on us because we were approached by three different people in quick succession.
The first dude hovered over out table. I said hello. He ignored me and asked if we wanted tap or bottled water. He left and was replaced by another guy who I said hello too as well. He said hi back, which was an improvement, but then he stumbled through the specials which I had to prompt him to share with us. When he left my friend said, “Dumb and dumber.”
“The food had better be good,” I said.
Then came the third waiter, a brunette, maybe in her early thirties, wearing the Resto uniform t-shirt with the slogan, ”Funny, She Doesn’t Look Flemish.” She asked if she could help us with anything on the menu. Relieved, I asked her question after question and then asked her to recommend a salad. She didn’t hesitate in suggesting a raw kale salad with toasted almonds and brown butter vinagrette, “I get it every time I come here to eat.” She explained that the kale was Tuscan kale, not at all the tough, dark green that we eat cooked. Since that looked like the last thing we’d order and it was the first thing she suggested, we ordered it.
She introduced her self as Lou Ann–it was something with a Lou, I think I’ve got it straight–and answered all of our questions thoughtfully and directly. She was assertive but not a hustler–and spoke to us in a plain, engaging manner. I told her that we were happy to have her helping us after the first two dipshits and she assured us that she’d be our waiter for the rest of the meal.
She was right about the kale salad. The greens had a slightly coarse, pleasing texture, and they were tender, without any bitterness. It was very simple but outstanding. We also had the deviled eggs, served over a fried pork toast, the most popular starter in the place according to Lou Ann. They were sinful but too heavy for me, a little greasy. One was enough for a taste.
I wanted to try dessert but there was no need. I resisted the urge to try the waffle ice cream sandwich or the apple crumble pie served with gingerbread ice cream and salty carmel. (Salty carmel? Drool.) I had a satisfying cup of tea instead and my pal ordered a regular cup of coffee that he said was so good that he’d come back just for the coffee. On our way out I interruped Lou Ann as she attended to another table to tell her that she was very good at her job. I hope her bosses notice–along with the more than tasty food, her service–attentive but not intrusive–helped make for a warm, pleasant evening. A reason to go back, for sure.
Which I will do, for the Tuscan kale salad and a stab at that hangover pasta.
A few months ago I eagerly read Adam Hochschild’s celebrated book about the early days of the Belgian Congo, King Leopold’s Ghost. It is an evocative and engaging read. I was stopped on the subway twice, exactly one week apart, by women saw me reading the book and who were compelled to tell me how much they loved it. I have my own reasons for appreciating it–my mother spent most of her childhood in the Congo–but I think I admire Hochschild’s first effort, a memoir, Half the Way Home, even more.
Hochschild’s father was an industrialist. The family fortune was copper. They were plenty rich. Hochschild’s memoir is beautiful–empathetic, not vicious. It is written in the kind of clean, direct prose that I cherish. Everything is carefully considered and focused; I was often struck by what seemed to be left out, how many choices must have been made. There is no fat, no rambling digressions. The imagery is vivid and precise.
Here is a small sample. Hochschild describes being a boy at Eagle’s Nest, the family estate in the Adirondack mountains.
Bed. The time seemed endless, suspended between waking and sleep, between water and sky. Sometimes a guest played the piano, and from my bed I could hear the music echoing out across the smooth surface of the lake. Occasionally, if I woke later in the evening, I could hear the splashing and laughter and voices from the dock which meant that some of the younger guests were taking a furtive late-night swim–something out of the question during the day. Those sounds, too, merged in my mind with that of the music on the water; they seemed an image of promise, of something yearned for but undefined, of the existence of some fulfillment in life that was denied me. It was as if all year I had waited to come here for the summer; all day I had held my breath waiting for some magic moment, and now I saw only its sign; the secret remained locked away.
As I drifted to sleep there came the sound of a solitary outboard motor going slowly through the lake, a boat taking a lone fisherman home at the end of the day. Perhaps he looked up as he passed, and wondered what went on in the dark-browed houses among the trees. Then the hollow cry of a loon, the loneliest of all birds. And the calls of half a dozen other birds, whose names I did not know but whose sounds I will remember until the day I die. And just as the day ended, so did the week, with Father going, and the summer, with all of us leaving Eagle Nest, and finally those summers themselves were no more; their character gradually changed, and the exact moment that happened cannot be pinpointed, any more than you can mark the exact moment you fall asleep.