I only met a girl once in a bar that I actually fell hard for. It was the bar at El Quijote, which was a restaurant attached to The Chelsea Hotel. The restaurant itself is great and underappreciated by the foodies who love to go the latest momofukos or wherever the latest hip restaurants are. All of the waiters have been working there forever, and in a weird sort of inbreeding math that I could never figure out, all of the parents of the waiters and staff had at some point worked there. I would go there when I was sick with the flu and could barely move and I would order the hottest soup possible to warm me up. I would also sit at the bar at night and read and drink until I practically fell asleep at the bar. The door in the back went straight into the elevators at the Chelsea and within minutes I could be asleep in my bed.
She was with somebody else but it seemed like they barely knew each other and he was going back and forth between her and some other party at the other end of the restaurant. We began to talk and in one of those odd eclipses of nature that seem to happen once or twice in a lifetime, I guessed her last name right there at the bar like I was a psychic. She said, “you could never guess my name”. She looked Jewish and I thought of a Jewish-sounding name that had a curse embedded in it. “That’s it!” she said. “How did you guess that?”
Actually, I lied a little bit. I met someone else there about eight months before the girl above. It was exactly 15 years ago today, Christmas Eve. I was seeing someone who had kicked me out of her apartment after a horribly personal argument where she ended up crying and I had narrowly avoided a black eye. There was a girl at the bar who I had seen many times before. She lived in the Hotel as well. She had short blonde hair and would often stand at the bar instead of sitting, even if the bar was empty. This one night, perhaps because it was Christmas Eve and the world shuts down for a little bit, I had nothing at all to lose so started talking to her. Somehow it got around in conversation to the fact that she couldn’t sit down. “After a day of my work, you’d understand. I can’t sit.” She told me of what happened to her earlier in that work day. A client came over to her apartment with a bag of groceries. Fruits, whip cream, chocolate, I don’t know. Everything that people can eat. She took off her clothes and he poured the food over every inch of her body while she was standing up. Then he took a photograph of her and turned away from her while looking at the photograph.
When you hear someone, almost a complete stranger, telling you a story like this, what do you say? Do you say, yeah I had a weird day at work also. I just sit there. I wanted to hear more but there’s nothing really to say.
After he was done, she told me, she wanted him out as quickly as possible But she gave him a vacuum cleaner and told him to clean up while she showered. Which he did. “My whole room was spotless,” she said. “It was cleaner than before he got there. And he gave a good tip. Cheers.”
It was Christmas Eve but for whatever reason, the bar was starting to fill up. “Wait a second,” said the guy next to me as if he’d been participating in our conversation all along, “did you say you did that for money?” This guy was fascinated. “You mean,” he said, “I can pay you right now and within ten minutes I could be having a sexual experience.” He was clinical. Like a scientist. At that point I was thinking about the fight I had earlier with my girlfriend at the time. I wish I could tell you what we were fighting about but despite what I tend to reveal here, this one was far too persona I and sitting there listening to these two negotiate made me both embarrassed and melancholy. I paid the bill and left. The other guy took my seat.
But back to the first girl. The girl with the last name that had a curse in it. I called her the next day after I met her. “Oh everyone has a web development company,” she told me, clearly not interested in the Internet or anything I was doing with it. Who needed the Internet? For a short time she ended up working for me on and off. During one of those times I tried to kiss her but it was one of those kisses where clearly the other person was not interested. I remember calling her on Valentine’s Day but she said she’d call me back and she never did.
I’ve had lots of things happen to me at El Quijote over 15 years. If I were to count the number of stories that were worth telling it would easily be over thirty or forty. Some bad, some good. Two years ago, I met a girl there that was the first date I went on after getting separated from my wife. She told me her job was to keep track of the various terrorists based in New York City that were allowed to run free. She worked in some branch of the New York Police Department but, “I’m not a cop.” Her group would tap phones, follow the people, and do whatever it took to see if something was going on. “Everyone who is still left in Guantanamo Bay is a hard-core terrorist,” she said. “If Obama releases them they will all commit future acts of terrorism.” I wanted her to tell me more stories. Secrets. “I work right near here,” she said, but wasn’t allowed to tell me where, not even what block. My only thought then was that if we ever had a relationship I would never be able to find her during the day.
If you ever go there, order the skirt steak. Or any of the rice dishes. The place has red checkered tablecloths, like something old-fashioned and certainly uncool. The first time I went there I was so pleased at the find. But sometimes when you have such experiences in a place it might be best not to go back there anymore. The karma is too thick and you can end up dying from love.
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