by Paul von Zielbauer
(Continued from last week’s blog post)
So I’m sitting at Denny’s Steak Pub – an island of working-class Caucasians floating in a sea of beer and surrounded by working-class South Asian immigrants, in Brooklyn’s Kensington neighborhood. The kind of place that can’t be bothered to change its sign outside even though it hasn’t served steak or any other food since “the 1980s,” according to the bartender, who appeared to be speaking from first-hand knowledge. The kind of place whose TV set, behind the bar, had blown its picture tube around the time the bar’s last steak was served.
In short, the kind of place where everybody knows your name…except mine.
“Who dafucks dis guy?” said the extra-large figure behind me, bumping my chair. I hunched over my lamb gyro on the bar and gave him a quick glance. The man bellies up to the bar – quite literally, as his pear-shaped body is theatrically large – and looks at me. Then he claps me on the shoulder.
“How ya doin?” I said to him, firmly but friendly, with a mouthful of lamb from the joint next door. Friendly but firmly, because when you’re the only non-hoodie in a down-n-deep-Brooklyn bar, you gotta meet the inherent challenge of “Who dafucks dis guy” confidently but without A) appearing like a tough guy or B) showing undue frailty.
The large man – 6’2”, white, 50ish, glasses – offered his enormous right hand, a catcher’s mitt of a hand; we’re talking a Christmas ham of an hand. Which I accepted with a newcomer’s nod.
“I’m just kiddin’ ya!” the guy said, leaning close enough to smell the bite of Maker’s Mark on his breath. Another clap on the shoulder. “What’s ya name?”
“Paul,” I said, shouting slightly, without being sure why.
“Paul, huh?” The man said. As if “Paul” was perhaps code for A) lost social worker or a B) gay cruiser. “Where you from?”
“Well, I live in California now, but I’m in Brooklyn because I’m heading up to the Adirondacks, upstate.”
“Adirondacks?” the large man, eyebrows arched, turned and repeated to the bartender, Jimmy. Jimmy shrugged and nodded at the same time – a Brooklyn way of saying, “not bad” and “whatever” all in one gesture. “Whaddya doin’ there?” the big guy asked me.
“Scouting a new expedition for this company I run. We create expeditions that include an ass-kicking adventure and a volunteer project that we do for a local community in need.”
“Dat’s amazing,” the guy declaimed. “Jimmy, didja here that?”
Jimmy shrugged & nodded: Whatever.
“So you must be in pretty good shape, then, uh?” the guy said. “You some kinda mountain climber?”
“Not really,” I said.
At this point, I wanted to eat my dinner out of my styrofoam container and drink my Stella and watch what remained of the Rangers playoff game against the Washington Capitals.
“That’s really cool,” the big man said, not really pulling his whiskey-n-water eyes from me. “I mean, I could never do that,” he added, gesturing one of his mitts toward the girth. “I’m not in shape!”
My turn to smile & shrug. Whatever.
He wandered off to talk with someone near the pool table. Jimmy the bartender said the guy had been there since 11am, when his overnight shift ended and was on a familiar bender.
To my left, a bald old man in glasses was arguing Obama tax policy with an inebriated middle-aged woman. A few barstools to the right, a young guy with a trendy Brooklynesque beard was commiserating about how good the Miami Heat were compared to the punchless Knicks.
This place was a classic. I felt the spirit of Charles Bukowski blow in from the sidewalk (escorted on a pillow of Marlboro exhaust). The Rangers lost.
Tomorrow I’d drive north, into the Adirondacks wilderness, and explore the other side of New York State.
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