I spent the better part of yesterday writing in a coffee shop on Avenue A in the East Village. In the front it’s an eco-general store called Sustainable NYC, and in the back it’s a coffee shop. The coffee area has a terrific seating area that feels more small-town than big-city, and the barista reminded me of an old friend.
I was covered with snow when I got there, so I hung my coat and hat to dry, and assessed the space, which had everything I need for writing: a sturdy table, a solid bench, and ambient light. Add to that a three-prong outlet right behind my knees, speedy wifi and a gal willing to keep me in chai lattes (then cups of coffee and a peanut butter and banana sandwich) and I was ready to throw it in park.
There was nobody sitting back there, so I stretched out, and it was a great place to work except for one thing: I was freezing. There was a draft from the window behind me and the front door was being repaired, which on a damp day was kind of a nightmare. But I loved the space so much and didn’t want to leave, so I did the only think I could: I bought an Eco-Flash Dance sweatshirt. It’s pink. I love it.
But this isn’t even the story I want to tell: the story I want to tell is about how I wound up on the west edge of Alphabet City.
I met John online (through a writing forum) in 1997. Joyce Maynard’s Domestic Affairs Discussion Forum predated Facebook, but created a similar type of sharing/virtual conversation. Many of the contributors in that space became a bit like family, and Joyce nurtured (and sometimes scolded!) us like a mother. Joyce and I became so close, in fact, that she officiated my first wedding. But digression is my curse, and that is definitely a different story…
John and I recently reconnected on Facebook, again thanks to Joyce, and it’s been fun rekindling our old friendship. Life moves so fast, but then it snaps and rewinds on us when we’re not expecting it. College students from the mid-1990s and earlier: Remember microfilm breaking free from the reel? FWAAAAp! Start over…..
New York City moves so quickly, so close-up, and sometimes when I’m walking or running on the street a song plays through my headphones and suddenly I’m in a music video shot with low-angles and time-lapses and other techniques used to depict both tension and tranquility. The truth is, I’ve felt like this before—the seeing myself from outside—but my soundtrack varies depending on my backdrop. Move over Gillian Welch, I’m in Lady Gaga territory now….
Because, as Brene Brown says, the most powerful words we can hear when we’re struggling are “me too,” I asked my Facebook friends the following: “How often do you feel like you’re in a music video? What’s your soundtrack?”
The answers rolled in and were fun, but John, who lived in Brooklyn in the 1970s, and who hung out in the East Village on days off, sparked a conversation. His song was “Waiting on a Friend” by the Rolling Stones, and he told me he used to go down to St. Mark’s place and eat a bagel on the very stoop where the Stones filmed that video. I love that song, and sent that exact video to a friend a few months ago when she needed a pick-me-up, telling her, “Have yourself a morning dance party.”
John went deeper down memory lane and I gladly joined him. I mentioned Union Square, and he launched into a story about how he and his wife used to go to a restaurant called Z—a casual Greek place—and that it was where he and his wife discussed that they we were going to get married. He said “It was so obvious to us that there was no proposal…just a discussion.”
I love this.
There’s so much power is knowing and trusting, yet so many of us second-guess our way through life and then are disappointed (and sometimes angry) when things “don’t work out” and we wish we’d trusted our gut. I’m realizing that if I’m asking a lot of questions there’s often a reason, and if I’m looking to other people to answer my questions I should be doubly leery. In truth I think there’s usually only one question to ask: how does this make my heart feel?
When John and his to-be wife had “the discussion” he was eating moussaka, and I love that he remembers this. Thirty-six years later he’s still married, still loves moussaka, and still misses NYC. I told John that my parents used to take me to a restaurant called Z when I was little, and thirty-six years ago I was three. He mentioned the eyes of the little Greek kids, and it goosebumped us both to think maybe we were there at the same time. It’s not impossible; nothing is impossible.
Knowing I’m in New York right now taking care of my grandmother, John asked me to take a picture of 96-98 St. Mark’s Place, and of course I said yes. It was snowing yesterday, and though it was beautiful coming down the streets were a slushy mess. I’m currently working on a deadline for this book, and a just-for-fun fieldtrip on a messy day shouldn’t have been on my activities list, but I had faith that a walk to St. Mark’s place would land me in the perfect spot to write.
When John gave me the address I didn’t realize it was one of my favorite blocks in the city: St. Mark’s between 1st Avenue and Avenue A. It’s across the street from East Village Books—a dusty old shop you step down to enter—and a few houses down from Manhattan’s oldest tattoo shop that advertises both cappuccinos and tattoos, and yes I’ve wanted to go in there for some of each. Yesterday I finally went in, but didn’t get anything—not yet anyway—though when I pull the trigger I think that will be the spot.
John wrote the address as 96-98, which I discovered are two separate buildings. I took photos of both, and when I got to the coffee shop and pulled up the video I confirmed it was filmed on the stoop of 96 St. Mark’s Place, though 98’s stoop is less bunked up with trash cans. I love them both.
Here’s that video. (That’s Peter Tosh on the stoop):
And this at its belly:
Just up the street they have this together:
I think I’m starting to love New York…..