“Sweet heavens, I need booze,” I whisper to my friend Angela on the phone.
“I just spent 13 hours copyediting. And now”—I look around the fluorescent-lit office, where red-eyed drones are mingling—“they’re doing Jäger shots.”
“Come to Greenpoint,” replies Angela, a perky Ohioan who toils at a medical-advertising firm. She sexes up rheumatoid arthritis medication. “We’re at the Diamond.”
Oh, joyous jelly beans, The Diamond (43 Franklin St. betw. Calyer & Quay Sts, 718-383-5030; B’klyn)! This cute Greenpoint drinkery combines two of my passions: microbrew beer and grandpa-appropriate shuffleboard. When my retirement arrives, with liver spots and dementia, I will so kick AARP butt.
“I’ll be there in a jiffy,” I say. Since my fellow wage earners are transfixed by liquor like snake-charmed serpents, I easily slither away and descend into the subway. F train. L train. Twelve minutes walking. There—the neon diamond glows like a firefly.
Angela and I embrace. After utilizing words like exhausted and stab, I excuse myself to self-medicate. An older-skewing crowd rocking dark jeans, low-cut tops and button-downs—and jobs that help ’em afford $6 brewskis—throngs the half-moon bar. The Diamond’s chalkboard-written selections are separated into sessions—lower alcohol—and strong, sobriety-annihilators like my pick, the Smuttynose IPA. The New Hampshire beer’s floral notes meld with bold maltiness, creating a sipper that rapidly sands my rough edges.
I find Angela manning a picnic table outside. We’ve been friends for nearly a decade. In our early NYC days, we hungrily explored dive bars and dirt-cheap dumpling stalls, staying out until the sun licked the horizon. My tastes have remained disreputable. Hers have molted into something fancier and increasingly foreign.
“When are you going to buy an apartment?” Angela asks.
“You should get pre-approved for a mortgage. In late 2009, I think the market’s going to bottom out.”
My idea of bottoming out, I suppose, is far different from Angela’s. “I need another beer,” I say. I buy a summery Southern Tier Hop Sun.
“When did we start caring more about mortgage payments than partying till dawn?” I ask.
Also inevitable is my next beer, a can of bitter, creamy Dale’s Pale Ale ($5). I try playing shuffleboard, but a bald man is combating a bra-less blonde.
“Shoot again,” he coos.
Tonight, it’s apparent, will bring zero pleasure. I cut my losses at Cinderella time and bid Angela good-bye. Like numerous New Yorkers, we make future plans we’ll break. At a bodega I buy a 16-ounce Zywiec beer—light, Polish and a buck-fifty. I hail a car.
“Where’s Crown Heights?” the driver wonders. “Today is my first day.”
“Wow,” I mumble. I’m oddly elated to take a cabby’s virginity, before insolent passengers, costly gasoline and paltry pay wreck him. I crack my beer and get cracking. “Take the next left.”
“Thank you,” he says, following my instructions with Golden Retriever obedience.
“So how’s your first day?” Small talk is one of my unavoidable tics, like biting fingernails or sniffing dirty socks.
“Brooklyn, it’s…big,” he says, like someone in awe of a 6-foot meatball sub.
“Where are you from?”
“Connecticut. I drove a car there.”
“So why come to New York?”
“It’s a long story.” He sighs and scratches his head.
“We have time.” Even a long-winded story’s better than 1010 WINS’ news-radio blather.
“Well, my wife and I had problems, and she’s always wanted to move to New York,” he starts, his voice trailing off. “So she left me. And then moved in with her sister in Greenpoint.”
“So now you’re living with her?” I ask, hoping for a Hollywood ending.
“No. I’m with my cousin. My wife doesn’t know I’m here. I just came to New York three days ago. I want to get back together with her…but I don’t know how. Take a right?”
“No, a left.” Silence. I sip my beer and chew his confession. Few men admit to weakness; even fewer admit to failure. It’s a symptom of our haughty hubris, which never lets us ask for directions even—and especially—when we’re irreparably off-course. But my contrite driver is requesting a road map to redemption. Sadly, he’s chosen the wrong cartographer. Just because my mouth functions doesn’t mean the words work.
We arrive at my bedraggled brownstone. “Nice work,” I say, tipping him $3. “It only gets easier.”
He turns around. Our eyes connect. His are Hershey’s brown and watery, filled with far-off longing. “I hope so,” he says. I nod and walk inside, eager to steal some dreamless sleep before tomorrow’s first harsh light.