T Minus 40: Downward Facing Scotch

Sometimes you just know that you’ll be together forever… real friends rule!

I met up with Liz for the sole purpose of going to a our favorite vinyasa class at that place on Amsterdam and 78th. The spot where we inadvertently took a class with Cynthia Nixon once. It must’ve been before she moved to Brooklyn. The late spring weather was cheerfully bright and sunny and I had recently left my job managing my stepdad’s recording studio in Times Square. Digital recording technology was on the rise and in the wake of September 11th people wanted to stay close to home, so by 2003 the studio business had changed forever.  I didn’t see my place in it anymore.

I was trying to fill my days with endeavors that would help me get back to acting, which I had put on hold at some point while wearing the career woman hat. I had taken yoga as movement class during summer session back in my Tisch days at NYU, so I figured it would help me keep loose (and sane) as I navigated through the painful process of auditioning in New York. I was also taking acting classes at HB Studios in the village. I was still singing with a wedding band in Jersey on the weekends, but it had been over a year since my last performance at The Bitter End.

Liz was living in Inwood and working as a bartender at Friday’s in Times Square. I was still living on West End Avenue and 94th street and was about a year away from my first job behind a bar. Our routine was to meet outside the 94th street entrance to the 96th street station at Broadway and walk together from there. So we met on the corner, mats in hand, yoga pants on.

Liz has been my best friend since we met Freshman year. We just clicked. Sarcasm, brown liquor and the New York Yankees were our shared loves. She’s always been there for me. She let me cry in her lap the morning my dad called to tell me he had moved away without saying goodbye and she was the first person to whom I could admit that I was in love with Yves. When we roomed together sophomore year, our room was so small that our beds were less than five feet from each other and we had the majority of our classes together. Our place was always a mess, but it was our mess.

One time when I was particularly broke, Liz came home to find me doing my laundry in the tub and instead of getting mad she laughed at me. With me? No, probably at me.

We’re still not sure which one of us broke my giant light bulb pendant lamp during our indoor volleyball tournament. I loved that lamp.

We shared one computer and took a class together that required that we each write a 30 page paper on the 1960s. We had the whole semester to do it, but we (of course) put it off until the last week of fall term. We spent over 72 straight hours typing in shifts at the computer. We ordered food in. We subsisted on pizza and peanut M&Ms. One pizza in particular was on the floor of our dorm room for like two days. We just went to the box and grabbed a slice when we were hungry. Breakfast, dinner, whatever – it didn’t matter to us. On the third night of our write-a-thon we began an M&M war. Pelting each other from across the room with the colorful chocolate treats until we got bored and ultimately started chucking M&Ms at passersby from the window of our 4th floor cell. We would chuck one and duck and crack up laughing. I think we may have been on the verge of insanity. While she slept I typed and vice versa, until the due date. If you find a friend you can get along with under those conditions and still have a blast hanging out and goofing around with, you hold onto them forever. She is the closest thing I have to a sister.

That gloriously unclouded morning we greeted each other in the usual way, but I instantly knew there would be no yoga.

I am so not feeling this today, I’ve been working my ass off since I quit working, was my greeting.

You want to blow it off? I worked until 5am, I could skip.

Liz is a very go-with-the-flow kind of person. I knew it wouldn’t take much convincing to get her to ditch class. We had learned how to listen to our bodies from practicing yoga and today our bodies were telling us to take a break. I’m not sure if one or both of us were hungover from the night before, but we decided that day-drinking would be the course of study for that sunny Wednesday.

We made our way east to Amsterdam through the matrix of nanny-led baby strollers and dazed and confused restaurant workers that littered the streets of my rapidly gentrifying Upper West Side neighborhood.

On Amsterdam Avenue between 94th and 78th streets there were no less than 300 bars. That may be an exaggeration but, point made. We ambled down the avenue, offering each other running commentary on our fellow Manhattanites for several blocks before we chose. We didn’t want a spot where we might run into any of Liz’s work friends or people we knew from the neighborhood, so we chose the darkest, saddest, most Irish looking old man bar we could find. The Snug.

As we walked in we knew we found the right place to disappear for a couple of hours. Mayor Bloomberg’s historic smoking ban had recently been enacted and the smell inside the average watering hole had gone from bad to worse. A combination of stale beer, vomit and an ashtray full of Marlboro butts was what greeted entrants as they crossed the threshold of a bar in the early days of the ban and The Snug was no exception. The stench made you wonder if this new “clean” air was actually more damaging than the second hand smoke. I was still a Camel Light addict in ’03 and often had to split my time between the inside the bar action and the completely different world that existed in “smokersville” on the street. Entire relationships unfolded out there. We were a brotherhood. We had been forced out, evicted from our bar stools, punished for our admittedly disgusting habit.

There were exactly three patrons inside The Snug at 11:30am and they were actively ignoring each other. They were mainly focused on the OTB feed and their brown liquor. Each of them was old enough to be our grandfather. One of them may actually have been a ghost. As we approached the bar one of the old men half looked up at us, but then went right back to betting and drinking. The bartender greeted us wordlessly. I ordered a Jim Beam on the rocks and Liz went for her favorite old man drink, a Rusty Nail. We chose two stools near the middle of the bar and settled in.

I don’t remember feeling guilty. I was 26 and things were in transition. It felt so good just to play hooky from life for a day. We sat in that old man bar for a few rounds talking about our latest exploits, wins and losses alike. We managed to bring some lightness into the joint, although we didn’t intend to.

We may not have made any progress down the path of the righteous, but the road to enlightenment is clearly not a straight, flat, superhighway. It’s a back road that meanders through the countryside. It’s good to have a friend that doesn’t mind taking the long way.

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