Another Friday Night With Ron
(Maybe more pictures to follow)
It was good, and aye lucky too, that Ron and I managed to meet up since we never specified a location. I tried calling and emailing but it was sort of useless since Ron is like me in not wanting to or needing to be connected to everyone all of the time. If you want to find me when I'm away from my office or my home, you need to pre-track me because I can establish by-points and waysides where I might be found at certain times, and if we make arrangements, I will be there. Now that Ron's retired, he is out and about a lot, but now he's available to meet earlier in the evening than a half-hour after the store closes.
I carefully re-read the emails confirming we'd meet and what he said was he could be "there" by 5:15 or 5:30. But where was there? The weather being exceptionally ideal for sitting outside, I made an assumption - and my friends know how I hate to make assumptions - that we'd meet at the Flatiron Plaza on Broadway.
Weather like what we have that night is to be appreciated one afternoon and evening at a time. It was the sort of weather that encouraged activity: it was not so warm or humid to make all but the most seriously strenuous exercise doable, yet not at all cool so that it was ideal for simply sitting and chatting. There was a breeze, too, but not too strong.
Ron arrived around 5:30, and despite his saying otherwise, he seemed energized. Leaving behind the world of regular full-time work weeks in the bookstore and I don't k now how many hours every week writing, editing and putting together archives, he now had time to work on his projects without worrying about the shop, too. As a person bearing the unbearable torch of literature and literary endeavors for the sake of creating new and good work, he is trying to see two books from manuscript to print, planning the next anthology, this one on places that were that are no more. There is a world of that in my own writing.
Ron's work is descriptive, evoking its mood and its impact through a combination of emotional restrain and details of place, time and character. Things happen but there's an importance about where and when they are happening, even the feeling they couldn't happen elsewhere or elsewhen. Ron's work is non-transferable. Whether set on a hilltop lover's lane, an East River Island or a disused and tired industrial landscape, you always know where you are. His recent short novel, The Plastic Factory, is worth an evening or two to read. I guess it's sort of funny - not in a ha ha way, but in a way that leaves the reader who knows Ron bemused - that Ron writes tougher and less sentimental than the man.
Early Summer, temperate weather and Friday night in Manhattan combine to bring people out, and to keep the mood relaxed. watching people, editing a photograph to make it right for the story it illustrates and talking literature, writing, editing and the arts made time simply fly by. The people around us were, in most respects, very much like us. In pairs, trios and quartets, they walked and talked, they sat at tables in the plaza chatting, people watching, some waiting to be joined by others, a few alone. Undoubtedly, a few wondered what we were about as we worked at my laptop - we were looking at some of my photographs, Ron commenting on the ones he liked and me on the ones I didn't, interrupted when I took up my camera to focus on someone, some people or something that caught my eye.
Ron and I decided when it was time for a drink to seek out a neighborhood dive bar. I suggested the Old Town on E. 18th St. We strolled down Broadway which in that stretch could be renamed Narrow-way. I mentioned the Andy Warhol monument. Ron hadn't seen it, so we contented one block further. Ron didn't comment on the shiny aluminum clad sculpture, I did, mentioning the shopping bag and the SX-70 camera. Ron, glancing around, pointed out where the photographer Neil Winokur used to live. We both worked with him though our tenures at the Strand didn't overlap.
There was an electric piano set up in front of the statue. A young Asian boy, maybe seven or eight, was furiously playing Mozart's Rondo all Turca from his Piano Sonata K. 331. He was cute, in a blazer with a bow tie with a green dice with white pips pattern. It looked like it was made of actual pastil dices. It was pretty amazing that he was playing as fast and as well as he was because his father was hovering. Ron noticed that the father was encouraging the son in a less than gentle manner. In fact, Ron thought the man was all but terrorizing his son. I wasn't so sure. What I saw was the boy playing fast and loose with Mozart, glancing up at the people who were watching him.
We sat at a corner of a table and we had our drinks. We looked at the people. Ron, observing a woman in her twenties, slender, attractive and well dressed, wondered whether she she knew what she had. I thought she did and I told Ron. He observed that she was in a city where the competition to stand out was great.
Our next stop was around the corner at the St. Mark's Bookshop. We name for the back of the store. Ron wanted to talk with Margarita Shalina, the events manager, but she wasn't in. We browsed the bargain table. There were some choice items. I selected a book by Umberto Eco, a recent book of poems by John Ashberry and four paperback volumes of Samuel Beckett's writing, which I'll give to my daughter. Ron bought some of the Beckett. I love remainder tables. All those years browsing books at Colosseum, working at the Strand, and Daedalus doesn't keep me from buying books before they're remaindered, but the bargain prices get me to buy books I might've missed or passed when they were still retail price.
At the register was an artist Ron knows, either from The Gathering of the Tribes or from the St. Mark's Bookshop. Her name is Janet Bruesselbach. She has a book out and the shop carries it. We looked through it, at some of portraits she's done. They were quite nice, an made me think about the time it takes to create one. I asked her how long a person has to sit when she's working. She told me it was about three hours. I know I'd have trouble posing for that long and said so. She told me that three hours is fast. I watch people for a moment and try to capture them in a snap. Photography is a very different beast from painting. We agreed on that. I got a couple of photos of her working behind the register. I'll go back and look at the book again.
We continued east on East 9th St., heading for Veselka for dinner. From Third Avenue east, the street's become a little Japan or Tokyo. There's a few Japanese restaurants and bars that cater to a Japanese crowd. On Friday night, all the bars were busy, and the crowds were mixed regardless of theme or target audience. Almost everyone was well dressed, most were in their 20s and 30s, some looking like they students or Silicone Alley workers, some looking as if they came from the office, and they mostly seemed ready to party. It wasn't late - maybe 8PM or so, but that part of the city was alive with activity. Ron and I both noticed and commented on the changing neighborhood. It wasn't the bad old 70s anymore, when garbage on the sidewalks and derelicts in the doorways were more common, or at least more noticeable. And it wasn't the 80s with the punk scene side by side with the junkies, the poets, and the last of the hippies hung out on the stoops and in front of the bars and clubs. The Odessa was gone, as were other solid but inexpensive places. Veselka is good, but it's almost too shiny and upscale to feel like an old Ukrainian diner where you can get pirogies and Ukrainian kielbasa or a hamburger and fries. The restaurant was crowded and it seemed that most of the customers were either students - the area's become a student ghetto with NYU, New School and Cooper Union dorms dotting the area - or parents visiting the school, sitting there with their child. At the table on one side of us was a mother - perhaps in her late 40s or early 50s, very stylish and affluent and looking like she was in from Fairfield County, CT or Bergen County, NJ, with her daughter who, while not scruffy, looked the student part.