Gut Instinct: Tiny Bubbles, Big Joys

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I was strolling down the quiet brownstone block, my bag bursting with farmers’ market mint and kale, when the brakes banshee-screeched: “J-o-o-o-shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” a man boomed, stretching my name like a rubber band.

Smack in the intersection sat an openbacked truck. It was laden with splintered wooden crates of clattering seltzer bottles, lashed to the vehicle with little more than optimism. “Hey, Ronny,” I said, greeting my friendly seltzerman.

“How’s it going?” he asked, blocking the street. “Great. Just bought some veggies.” I pointed to my leafy kale. “So, I’ll see you Wednesday for the delivery. And Josh…” Ronny said, trailing off. “I owe you an extra five dollars.”

“That’s right,” Ronny said. He ground his gears and rumbled off, a loan shark reminding a deadbeat to pay up… or else. Or else there’s no more nose-tingling seltzer, a return to the Dark Ages of dull tap water. I owe my effervescent Renaissance to

Ronny Beberman, aka Ronny the Seltzerman, aka Seltzer Ronny. For nearly 40 years, Ronny has risen pre-dawn to deliver seltzer to the thirsty citizens of Brooklyn. He fills his hand-blown glass bottles, etched with forgotten firms’ monikers, with triplefiltered, champagne-bubbly water from Canarsie, Brooklyn’s Gomberg Seltzer Works.

It’s the last of its kind. So is Seltzer Ronny. He’s one of a half dozen bubble merchants plying his dying trade. Ronny refuses to advertise, instead letting his rattling truck serve as his mobile billboard. It’s an attention-grabber. One afternoon, I was idly biking when Seltzer Ronny clattered by. It was as if a wormhole had opened, allowing the past to intersect with the present. I pumped like legs in pursuit, my hare-quick bike quickly catching Ronny’s tortoise truck.

“How do I get delivery?” I asked grayhaired Ronny, a wiry man with ropy muscles and bowlegged walk borne from hoisting 60-pound crates. He rattled off his numbers. I dialed them that night.

“Who is this?” Ronny asked, as if I were a crank caller. “How’d you get this number?” “Uh, Josh.You gave me your number.” “What do you want?” “What?” As I later realized, Ronny is hard of hearing.

“Delivery. I want seltzer delivery.” After enough haggling to impress a Moroccan merchant, we reached an accord: For $20, he’d deliver 10 bottles of seltzer every two weeks. “I’m not bringing them upstairs,” he said, consigning me to a biweekly dose of pleasure and pain. The pain was mule-ing 60 pounds of liquid, glass and wood up two flights of stairs, a wheezing endeavor that left me as breathless as a pack-a-day smoker. The pleasure was the seltzer: Unlike plastic-bottle seltzer, which loses carbonation the instant it’s cracked, vintage bottles retain their fat bubbles for up to a month. Half-filled or nearly empty, the seltzer retains its violently agreeable effervescence.

Ronny’s seltzer was rapidly integrated into my daily routine. Come mornings, fridge-cooled seltzer cleansed my tongue’s nighttime fur. Seltzer sat at my dinner table, classing up even greasy General Tso’s chicken. Seltzer settled my stomach after too many 25-cent chicken wings at Greenpoint’s Habitat (Tuesday nights) or $4 whiskey-and-Schaefers at International Bar. Seltzer soothed. Seltzer calmed.

Seltzer was a pain in the rump. My helter-skelter work schedule meant I often missed delivery day. So the duty fell to my underemployed and overly drunken roommate. But his till-sunrise binges ensured he often slumbered through the apartment’s buzzer, an ear-searing bell apparently stolen from a firehouse.Then the call would come. “Josh, it’s Ronny the Seltzerman,” he’d begin, pushing those guilty buttons parents know so well. I wanted to explain my roommate’s addictions, his irresponsibility that was hammering a permanent wedge into our relationship. But this was my seltzer man, not my confidant. He wanted my money, not my excuse. I’d say sorry five or six times, before urging Ronny to ring until he roused my substance-abused roommate. The calls came often. Upon returning from a months-long overseas voyage, I checked my phone messages. Both of them were from Ronny, urging me to call him ASAP—provided I found a payphone in Mongolia’s dusty Gobi Desert.

That roommate soon absconded, replaced by my girlfriend.We’ve taken our relationship to the next level. And now, after nearly four years, I’ve resolved to deepen my relationship with Seltzer Ronny: I’m going to give him the key to my front door, letting him deposit the seltzer at his leisure. It’s a bold move, sure, but I’m ready to make a deeply carbonated commitment.

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One response to “Gut Instinct: Tiny Bubbles, Big Joys

  1. Oh, this makes me nostalgic! I used to get seltzer from Walter the Seltzer Man. But that ended when I moved in with Peter, who makes his own seltzer. (We actually had a side-by-side blind taste test, and it turns out I liked Peter’s bigger bubbles. So to speak.) It is just not as nice as having it delivered, though. Then I felt like I was participating in keeping Old New York alive.

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