A man of refinement finds himself disappointed with the world around him. Very disappointed.
A Sorry State of Affairs
Strolling towards the elevator, he was comforted by the paisleys that spilled out over the forest green velvet cut pile underfoot. They seemed somehow overstuffed, always just about to burst. He chuckled. Pregnant paisleys.
Some might think the carpets dated, and of course there had been a time when a visit to his neighborhood might have left anyone with the notion that the mayor of New York had issued an edict regarding floor covering for all of the finer buildings on the Upper East Side, but he always thought of them as a nod to a more earnest time.
Not that he needed much comforting this afternoon. He was very much looking forward to the events of this evening. These little gatherings always left him revitalized, sometimes for weeks. They could be such fun.
A spring came to his step as he exited the elevator on the eleventh floor and headed for the small fitness room. He liked to put in a few miles on the treadmill before nights like these. And besides, as he was getting along in years, as he liked to say, (although he had to admit he liked to say this largely to be contradicted by younger company) fitness was becoming an even greater priority. He’d always taken pride in living his life with vim and vigor, and he wasn’t willing to cede any part of that to the sands of time quite yet, whether he was at the midway of his sixth decade or not. Besides, there was usually at least passable fare at these kinds of things, and if he was to be decadent he wanted to earn the right.
Two hours and fifteen minutes later he was locking the door of the modest but well appointed two bedroom apartment he had inherited after the passing of a very kindly acquaintance over twenty years before. Pausing on the way to the elevator, he gently shouldered his valise and secured the lock of the fire door with a piece of tape, insuring that later in the evening the hallway would be accessible from the staircase if need be. He hoped that wouldn’t be the case.
The twenty five-floor trip to the lobby gave him a chance to take stock of himself in the elevator’s floor to ceiling mirrors. A shock of white hair that anyone would have to agree was better described as mature and perhaps even distinguished than aged sat well with the slight tan he still carried from a wonderful week in St Bart’s the month before. Crisp blue eyes and not too much of the dreaded “turkey neck”, as he believed they were calling it these days, under the chin.
“Still not too hard on the eyes, I don’t think.” he declared, and he smiled when his reflection winked back at him.
A white shirt might have been a questionable choice for an evening like this, but soon he would be as pallid as the rest of the city, so why not enjoy what time he had left with a little color to him? You only live once. Besides, as far as he was concerned you really couldn’t beat a crisp white shirt under a camelhair topcoat. A pair of modestly plaid grey slacks gave way to a pair of alligator loafers. Just a touch of panache to round out the ensemble.
It took only a few moments to hail a yellow cab to the curb under the fringed green awning, in spite of the late rush hour traffic, which had just started to relent. He took this as a sign of good things to come and spryly hopped into the back seat. The driver was less than thrilled at the suggestion of taking the tourist’s route to Greenwich Village at this time of night, but after a bit of cajoling and the suggestion of a handsome tip upon arrival, he more or less happily agreed to accommodate.
Seconds later they were slowly but steadily gliding down Fifth Avenue. On his left, just up Seventieth, he glanced the façade of the Frick. On his left tourists were trickling out of Central Park before dusk gave way to night.
He had lived up here long enough to easily distinguish the South Americans (mostly wealthy Argentines and a few Venezuelans) and Europeans from the Americans, although these days that was hardly a challenge. The foreigner tourist dressed as if it still mattered. The Americans seemed to dress as if en route to a potluck dinner in Duluth.
A right turn at The Plaza brought them to the southern end of the park, and they plodded across Fifty Ninth, slowly weaving their way through hansom cabs and traffic-dodging tourists until they could head south on Seventh Avenue and past Carnegie Hall. He was reminded that it was nearly time to make his annual pilgrimage. While he took most of his musical culture in at the Met, he had a soft spot for the Christmas season and Handel’s Messiah did the trick every time.
Voluntarily skirting across Fifty Fifth Street to take Broadway downtown would normally be a commuting death sentence, but there was no hurry. If fact, he was becoming more energized as he took in the city and prolonged his anticipation of the evening ahead. As the cab’s path split the heart of the Theater District, he lamented the state of modern Broadway. He had given up on big theatre years ago, but still remembered buying a ticket to productions with heart and actual human drama. These days any play that could possibly challenge a theatergoer would be rode out of town on a rail before it saw it’s second week. If you didn’t fill your musical with songs about bodily functions or populate your stage with a hundred caterwauling ocelots you were never heard from again.
Times Square was one place that didn’t make him long for old New York, even a lick. He didn’t miss the peep shows and hustlers, the pimps and runaways and filth and wanton and wayward souls. Now it was lit up like daylight by dozens of massive of undulating screens, not a shadow to hide in. He had to admit it was a bit impressive. Not that he had much use for the new Times Square, with it’s Disneys and Bubba Gumps and souvenir stands, one on top of another. It was really all just a newer depravity, really.
At least it’s pretty, he thought.
His driver would have to negotiate several more blocks of mind-numbing congestion, but in no time they would be gliding through a much less seedy Chelsea than the one he had know in his youth. Boys still cruised boys, but they did it beside families and thirty-something heteros, the new mix of the neighborhood.
The sidewalks seemed to be populated almost exclusively by disembodied heads, weaving around each other, faces illuminated by tiny glowing screens. It seemed that everyone out there, almost to a person, was buried in his little online world, navigating the streets by some sort of trance-induced sixth sense. He wondered what it would take to rouse them. Would they be so quick to accept their obliviousness if they knew just how precarious their world was? That it could end (Poof!) in an instant? Sometimes these people were aliens to him; he felt like he might never understand them. But then again, did he really need to?
At Fourteenth Street and Seventh Avenue he paid the fare and gave the driver an extra twenty dollars for being so indulgent of his sightseeing. There was still a good walk ahead, but it was a nice night and he could use a little time to clear his head and calm his nerves. Experience had taught him that he had much more fun at these things if he didn’t start off in such an excited state. Besides, it made people nervous, which was the last thing he needed
They had started with an Argentinian, a Malbec, which had been surprisingly rich for being so reasonably priced. He had found that too many of these kinds of things set the bar so low to begin with that he couldn’t even enjoy the rest of the evening. And while he understood that starting slow was intended to make one appreciate what was to come all the much more, it was less than effective if he couldn’t get the taste of some plonk out of his mouth and enjoy a nice Semillon or a Grand Cru Bourgogne. But the Malbec was a good start, a nice “dinner party quaff” the gentleman with the waxed moustache and the suspendered wool slacks had noted, and he could imagine it being just that for some. Not for him, but for some.
From there they moved on to a very appealing, if somewhat pedestrian, Cabernet Franc. Just enough spice, he thought, and the young lady from editorial at the fashion magazine had agreed, as did the young man she had arrived with who was dressed very much like an haute couture lumberjack but would prove to have quite the oenophiles vocabulary in addition to an excellent nose. It occurred to him that the young man might present a challenge, but when the time came he would be dispatched with barely a whimper, as he had found so many of these cross-fitted poseurs are, never before having asked their sculpted physiques to do anything but fill out the shoulders of a vintage checked flannel shirt.
Next came a silky Pinot Noir. It was paired wonderfully with an exquisite amuse bouche, a little torchon of foie gras on lightly toasted brioche. When he remarked that the wine drank “typically Burgundian, in all the right ways”, the room tittered in agreement.
By now he had them eating out of his palm and had truly begun to enjoy himself. A Barolo who’s vintner’s name he did not recognize (a very rare happening) proved to be exquisite. It was presented alongside a mouthful of truffled carpaccio. “I could enjoy a plate of this (he motioned to the carpaccio) and four of these (he held up his glass) and call it lunch!”
“Oh Lyle, you’re so bad!” It was the thirty-something brunette who an hour before had explained to the room that she would be “blogging” the tasting, and no one should be bothered by the flash photography. This had concerned him at first. ‘Why bother tasting if you’re not going to taste?’ but she had closed her laptop sometime between the Cabernet and the Pinot Noir and seemed to really be enjoying herself. He was so pleased. He reminded himself to not to leave without her camera.
The last glass was his favorite. When they brought out a 2009 Chateau de Fargues Sauternes, each served with an individual crème brulee tartlet, he was impressed. And when the gentleman with the waxed moustache (his name was Jeff, they had established, and Jeff lived in a neighborhood in Brooklyn Lyle had never heard of) stood to give a toast and mentioned him by name (not his real name, of course) he was truly touched.
Now, standing in front of the bathroom vanity scrubbing his cuticles in a sink half full with bleach, he was in a state of utter revelry, reliving the way the Barolo leapt from his tongue to dance with the raw beef, and how that last sip of dessert wine had lingered on the back of his palette for almost the entire ride home. And the looks of surprise on their faces when he had walked across the room and flipped the lock on the exit door.
Yes, he was so very excited to share all of this with….well, with everyone.
But then he noticed the fine red dots that had fanned across the right cuff of his Thomas Pink shirt and knew the Tweeting would have to wait. A fine shirt was nothing, after all, without it’s cuffs.