Our Young Hero Drinks in High and Low Places

My heart wandered without direction, untethered and searched up and down Manhattan for safe harbor, usually without success.


September 23, 1993

I met Jennifer at the Algonquin for drinks. I love that place. I like taking out-of-towners there. If it was good enough for Graham Greene and Hemingway, it’s good enough for Ohioans. An odd thing happened. An older waiter—not the one who served us—walked up to our table and stood over me, looking down. He didn’t say anything for a while. It was uncomfortable. Finally, I said, “Can I help you?” He asked to see an ID! He wanted to make sure I was 21! It’s dark in there, but not THAT dark. What an idiot.

I can’t get past the fact that Jennifer graduated from Yale. She’s way smarter than I’ll ever be. What am I doing with her? We talked about our families. Or something. She’s fun. She seems game for anything. Last week, we went to a Freddie Jackson concert out on the pier. As far as I can tell, we were the only white people there. I mean…there must have been others. But I didn’t see any.

We were sitting the in bleachers off to the side. I was fumbling with my keys and accidentally dropped them. They bounced down onto the pavement beneath us. Jennifer said, “I’ll get ‘em!” and before I knew it she was crawling between the seats and down the scaffolding to retrieve them. We were up about 15 feet. While she was climbing back up to our seats, a big black woman sitting next to me leaned over, nudged me and said, “She’s a keeper.”

Yes, I’m sure she is.

We walked out of the Algonquin. She turned left to Grand Central, I turned right towards Times Square. I crossed 6th Avenue, turned around and walked right back into to the Algonquin. I got on the payphone and called Bonnie. I wanted her to come meet me at the bar or invite me over. Preferably the latter. She shocked me with the news that she’s got some guy living with her. She made a point of telling me he sleeps on the sofa. He’s an old friend who is in a crisis and needs a rest. I can’t believe how much I care. I care!

Instead, I met Cindy at Nightingales down on 13th and 2nd. We drank and shot pool for a bit before she had to leave to meet her scary lesbian friends. She was in a foul mood because she gave herself another shitty haircut. We played teams with some guy who was a Lower East Side cliché. Full of pretension and manufactured anger. He said his name was Evil and he wore a skull ring. “Hey, Evil, it’s your shot” got stuck in my throat a few times. While waiting for his turn, he’d pose with his pool cue and smoke in an overly-dramatic fashion, like he was a model in the middle of a location shoot or a tragic character in a bad Tennessee Williams play. When he shot, he’d rest the cue on the side of the table and only use one arm. Idiots uptown. Idiots downtown. I’m surrounded.

Cindy left so I sat at the bar. That hippie barmaid who was always mean to me isn’t there anymore. The new hippie barmaid is much more personable. There was a pretty blonde sitting at the end of the bar writing, but I was too nervous to say anything to her.

Margaret was just here at my desk and I worked on her resume. She’s so pretty that I might be able to overlook her unrelenting unpleasantness. There was a lot of standing over me unnecessarily close while I worked. Her long, red hair cascaded down onto my shoulder. She said it’s too bad I don’t have a car because then we could hang out on weekdays, but I’ll be damned if I’m buying a car just for that. She smells nice. Her blouse hung open a bit between the buttons and I could see the outline of her breasts. She’s even prettier since having her nose done. How do I get my hands on her? Other than buying a car, I mean?

The third grade had an assignment to write a poem based on a color. 8-Year Old Daughter was given red. Hang in there for the Flannery O’Connor ending.

Red is…
Red is a grape tomato ripe from the patch.
Red is the sunset on a cold fall night.
Red is a strawberry so juicy and ripe.
Red is Christmas with the bells ringing.
Red is blood on a child’s arm.
Red is…

I didn’t see that coming. Jesus. She’s just a kid. It’s even more macabre when you see it in her own handwriting.


FullSizeRender (1)REALLY, Marriott? You’re going to do that to me? What a bunch of chintzy pickpockets.

71 thoughts on “Our Young Hero Drinks in High and Low Places

  1. Love these stories about the old days. Although I have to give you credit. Unless it was an audition or a play, I rarely made it above 14th street.

    • It’s a big town. There were loads of fun places although, I have to admit, 23rd street was typically my northernmost limit. Do you remember Nightingales? They had live music. I used to see my musician friends play there. It’s gone, of course. I don’t know what it is now. Probably a Duane Read or a Starbucks. Is that bitter?

      • Of course I knew Nightingales! It was across the street from where I lived. I was on 2nd ave, between 10 and 11th st.

        Not bitter. Just sad. So am I.

      • 2nd Av btw 10/11 was (and still is) prime real estate. The flats are small. Some of them are dank. But when you step outside your door, you’re on 2nd Avenue. Not much better than that.

    • I was so blue then because I didn’t have anyone. But when I look back in these journal entries, I see that I was quite busy and having a grand time. Too bad I didn’t notice until decades later.

  2. Your journal entries never cease to impress me. You had some weird friends- real characters for sure. You did have a varied and quite entertaining life and as you have written you did not realize how good things were. But that’s life. We never appreciate things that are right under our nose until it’s all over.

    I think your daughter has some talent. If she’s interested, I say nature and encourage that talent. The poem is way better than what most adults could have written.

    • It was a pretty good time, although at the time I failed to realize just how good it was. It never amounted to anything solid but I wasn’t bored. And isn’t that one of the main goals in life? Don’t be bored? It’s one of mine.

      I was pretty pleased with the poem—especially the bit about the cold fall night—but that last stanza threw men. Where did THAT come from, I wonder?

  3. Oh yes, I see you were quite busy with the ladies even without a car. 🙂 These memories are gold and to be able talk about the past like this with everything so changed. It’s great you’re recapturing them here. I agree with Carrie. Stephen King watch out! I rather enjoyed her surprise twist at the end. My eight-year-old is constantly shocking me.

    • I was no gigolo. I was always just a chaperone. Many of these women wouldn’t get involved with me on an intimate level. But I appreciated their company and was glad they’d spend their evening with me. It was good practice.

      Ha. Carrie. Stephen King. I see what you did there. Well played.

  4. I totally did not see that coming. I mean, seriously, 17 bucks for a day of Wi-Fi?
    As for the first part of the post, why, you’re a regular Don Juan, Mark. 🙂

    • I wish I’d been a Don Juan. I was grabbing at anything and usually wound p with a fist full of air. It wasn’t as glamorous as it looks, but it wasn’t boring.

      That thieving Mariott is the Long Wharf in Boston. Serves me right for staying in the tourist zone.

  5. Your stuff is deep Mark – fascinating in its gritty reality.

    You and your daughter seem to have an emotional link – or at the very least a similar understanding (allowing for age and world view) of life.

    Red is a grape tomato ripe from the patch. > [ Jennifer ]
    Red is the sunset on a cold fall night. > [ Bonnie ]
    Red is a strawberry so juicy and ripe. > [ Cindy ]
    Red is Christmas with the bells ringing. > [ Margaret ]
    Red is blood on a child’s arm. > [ “I was so blue then because I didn’t have anyone.” ]

    Red is Love.

    Brilliant Mark.

    • Holy cow, Paul I didn’t see ANY of that until you pointed it out! Nice work! That’s the most thorough and true analysis of two separate and supposedly unlinked ideas I’ve ever seen. I assure you it was unintentional. It goes to show you that there’s always a program running in the back of your mind that controls the forefront of our thoughts.

    • I had such a wonderful time, even when I was feeling lonely and blue. I’m glad I kept these things because, honestly, I have a terrible memory and I would have forgotten all of it.

      I’m proud of my daughter. A little worried, too, if I’m being honest.

  6. Did you get your hands on Margaret? From what you wrote I’d say your chances were better than even. I suspect your daughter was just recalling seeing blood on a child’s arm. She expresses herself pretty well for an 8-year-old.

    • I never got my hands on Margaret OR Jennifer OR Cindy. I never made it with the hippie barmaid or a strange blonde sitting at a bar. It was mostly a string of failed attempts. Ain’t that love?

      That kid reads like crazy. It must be having a positive effect.

  7. Glad i do not have the technology to go back in time – i was ignored by so many men like Young Exiled…. If Old and Crunchy Daisyfae had a time machine, she’d go back and bitchslap the lot of you! 🙂

    Perhaps your daughter has the makings for a future chap book?

    • You’re not crunchy! 😉

      Look, I never made it with ANY of those girls mentioned above. I might have gotten my foot in the door, but it was usually was slammed shut in my face as soon as I pulled it out. I should start posting the lonely lamentations. They make for dull reading but the offer balance. Thus far, I’ve spared you guys.

      I should make a chap out of that poem! That’s an excellent idea. I might just do it.

      • It’s not always one-sided. In younger days I’ve been what I think is now called a play-date, in that it was for company only, no sex involved. Theatre, dinner, laughs.Mind you, if Ms Daisyfae wants to do me a favour to slap one or two meanies…

      • I have a serious question. Did you pay your own way on those play dates? What were the rules? Most of my dates were play dates although that was not my intent. It’s just how things shook out.

  8. if i had kept a journal when i was in my twenties, it would have been all about being pregnant, nursing a baby, moving to ohio, being alone, being pregnant, nursing a baby, dealing with a toddler, never being alone, being pregnant, nursing a baby, dealing with 2 toddlers, wishing i was alone…pretty much sums up my early 20s. 😉 love the poem! she’ll keep writing, i can tell!

    funny thing re the marriott, at first i thought it was an ad on your page, and then realized it was a screen shot! here’s my deal with hotels, they just have to have wifi because the MITM has to have access all the time, even when we’re on vacation. *jesus wept* so, according to the accountant, it’s a business expense. yeah, sucks to be me, right? xoxoxox

    • You are a lean, mean, breeding machine. Well done. Look at that fantastic krew that sprung from your loins. It wasn’t all for naught!

      I never minded being alone. I think that’s why I got married and had children MUCH later in life than most. I got used to it. There’s a constant party going on inside my head so I didn’t rely on anyone to amuse me. I did the job myself.

      The nicer the hotel, the more expensive the wifi. It’s crazy. When I stay at a cheap-o Hampton Inn, the wifi is FREE. As is the breakfast.

      • 🙂 ya think?

        re the hotels, i always try to book hampton, la quinta, or that sort BECAUSE they have free wifi/breakfast. then, i can rationalize having expensive dinners! oxoxox

      • You can’t beat those Hampton Inns. They have great Belgian waffle irons. And they have suites, too, which is important when it’s time for the 8-year old to go to bed and I still want to stay up and watch TV. They put out a plate of those giant corporate conference cookies at the check-in desk.

  9. I’m re-reading Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler. It’s a disheveled mess of a book, like its narrator and author, but funny as hell, especially if you get the digs at Montreal, Toronto and Quebec/Canadian “culture.” A good chunk of the first part is set in Paris in the fifties, with ex-pats striving to be ex-pats in the twenties. Richler includes excerpts from some of these artists’ journals, and they’re pretty much about making art and getting laid. In other words, genuine.
    Love this, as always.

    • Thanks, Ross. Sometimes I read this stuff and can’t believe it’s part of my distant past. Who was that guy? And why couldn’t he close the deal? The signs are obvious. He’s getting the go-ahead but he never steals a base. There’s nothing worse than a lost opportunity. They’re fun to read. I spare you guys the moaning and complaining, of which there’s PLENTY.

  10. COLUMBUS! that’s where 2 of those babies were born!!! also, the very first time i lived in a place that had real winters. but, i also had time in paris during the winter, much later on, of course.

  11. WOW. That is quite the poem! And you were quite the player! Why not cram a weeks worth of dating into one evening? HAHA. Evil. I was sitting nearby laughing at him. Or I am the hippie bartender- the nice one though- not the mean one….

    • I was most certainly NOT a player! Those girls never threw themselves at my feet. Please. Bonnie did a little bit but that’s about it. Plenty of long, lonely nights. A+ for effort, though.

      I should make a broadside out of that poem. I love it.

  12. Sometimes your stories seem too private to be posted here, but I guess that’s what is so interesting about them! I’ve often heard you say you don’t know anything about parenting, but reading what your daughter wrote proves you wrong. What your daughter wrote can only come out of an intelligent, expressive child – and that is a direct reflection of you, her dad. She’s never to young to start journaling, right?! BTW – game 5, 7pm Cavs/Bulls is tonight – can’t recall if you’re a Cavs fan. 🙂

  13. I’m not going to attemp to analyze this like Paul’s line-by-line because, well, Paul’s line-by-line.

    But the kind Canadian did leave me this morsel of broad comparison, Mark.

    Your marvelous 8 year-old-daughter is obviously as much into observing and interpreting her surroundings in that poem now as you were into soaking up and telling yours to the journal then.

  14. Excellent, enjoyed all of that. Margaret sounds like Denise, my old work colleague. Denise used to stand over me sometimes as she read something out to me and the lightest touch of her ginger hair on my shoulders would be a kind of agony of repressed lust and pleasure.

    I liked the poem, although I was a bit confused about why everyone, including yourself, wasn’t baffled by the last line, which on this rubbish dim monitor and these degenerating eyes, I read as “Red is the blog on my arm”.

  15. This intricate dating and memory of scenes from the past were so interesting. The poem is strange but I did wonder, as someone may have mentioned this, I used to pick scabs, maybe a simple reason for blood on an arm? Even a mosquito bite may bring a drop of blood. Perhaps not so macabre? We can only hope and wonder at what she was thinking. Hope you will let us know if you found out anything for her motivation to include this! 🙂

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