October 11, 2012 | by Alia Akkam
Liquor has never touched my Middle Eastern father’s lips. Or so he claims. In the late sixties, when he lived a spell in Munich, embarked on spontaneous sojourns to Italy, and dated a Finnish broad named Helvi I once saw in a faded wallet-size photo—activities that made him sound so much more alluring than the stern killjoy I remember—I like to think he nursed a few carefree beers just like any lonely expat. When he made his way to New York a few years later, renting a dingy studio on the upper reaches of Broadway, when he was still the man my mother fell for—an Arab version of Adrian Zmed with a rustling gold chain around his neck and swarthy looks that back then meant you were handsome, not a possible terrorist—he used to smoke cigarettes, my mother tells me. Perhaps he also took nips of whiskey from a flask.
But the only father I know, the real one, returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia when I was eight years old a sudden gung-ho Muslim. He was no longer the aggressive moderate who was content with me just saying Bissmilah at the start of each meal. Now, every moment he wasn’t holed up in a Hilton for work or stuffing fried eggplant into pita bread at the dinner table was spent hunched over a miniature Koran, recapturing the lost Islam of his youth, of his family, of the native Syria he hadn’t called home for more than two decades.
Freshly brewed mint iced tea. Distilled water from the Poland Springs gallon bottles that lined our laundry room. Dr. Pepper, when its effervescence became a salve for the wheezing that permeated my bronchitis-ridden childhood. These were the beverages welcome in our teetotaler home. Although my mother, a Catholic girl from Queens, didn’t have religion propelling her consumption habits, she harbored something worse: distaste for even innocent bubbles. “Champagne burns my ears,” I remember her whining—and she rarely invited company over for anything more than a cup of Earl Grey.
September 17, 2012 | by Dave Tompkins
The half-mouse—the good half, the half equipped with a smell memory validated by neuroscience, the half mortally known as the half that never saw it coming—shot across the kitchen floor, headed due west with a decent but final glimpse of the front yard. The back half landed somewhere near the sink.
My brother had split the mouse in two with a nine-iron. According to witnesses at the scene, the creature’s separation was cartoonishly neat. I recall thinking this was a flawed method of pest control for someone with no short game to speak of. The linoleum gopher hump that rose from my grandparents’ kitchen floor—a distortion from water damage—did place the moment in a Goony Golf warp. But from my understanding, the murder was more reflex than act of cruelty. It wasn’t like my brother teed up and put the mouse through a window. (I imagine a similar instinct overtaking him the time he allegedly potato-slammed a palmetto bug on the kitchen counter, knocking it out of its exoskeleton, quivering.) He just grabbed the first thing within reach—a legendary chemistry teacher’s nine-iron—and let the mouse have it. Having once hurled a toaster oven at a cockroach, I can relate.
February 6, 2012 | by Chris Wallace
This is a story about the life and death of a Hollywood icon—much of it myth, uncorroborated hearsay, and patchwork nostalgia, but it’s all how I remember it.
In its day, which is to say from around 1996 to 2003, Les Deux Cafés was the brightest starlet of the Hollywood nightlife scene, and like many of her sexy habitués, she was famously unpredictable, hauntingly seductive, and seemingly hell-bent on her own destruction.
Hidden in a nondescript parking lot, behind an unmarked steel door, the “the two cafés” girded a pair of Provençal-style gardens dotted with mosaic-top tables and dripping with night-blooming jasmine and eucalyptus. Around the old magnolia tree dropping its leaves on the slate slab floor, past the mobile garden bar (and tables 20-23), you approached the main house through the patio—an elevated porch, covered by a canopy of grapevines and three species of Japanese wisteria, and heated year-round by an outdoor fireplace. These were the most coveted tables (numbers 50-62), each of them handmade glass-tile arabesques—where Al Pacino shot double decaf espressos and Six Feet Under shot episodes, where Tim Roth and his family ate most Sunday nights, where Heath Ledger, Djimon Hounsou, Nicole Kidman, Ridley Scott, and David Lynch ate Hama Hama oysters and drank Veuve Clicquot on quiet nights, and Lenny Kravitz and Bill Murray chopped it up and table-hopped on the busy ones.
Inside the house, a two-story white clapboard Craftsman bungalow, you came to the walnut-paneled banquettes (tables 70-101), where romantic couples would be getting engaged. The House, which was placed on a trailer and moved several blocks to this site, had reportedly belonged to James Cagney in the thirties. Designer Paul Fortune—who, after his masterful work at Les Deux Cafés, would famously revamp the restaurant at the Sunset Tower—hung his own portrait of the actor over the indoor fireplace.
Behind the house was the cavernous kitchen, and down a long, poured-cement corridor, past the bathrooms where TV stars did cocaine, was the Trapeze Bar—a jazzy, high-ceilinged modernist boîte where, long after the California smoking ban, performers still puffed through their sets, and, right after the Grammys, Puffy would dance on tables and buy out the bar’s collection of Krug Clos du Mesnil.
But, though the café was Siren-song beautiful, the real draw—what we lurch for with the electromagnetic descriptor vibe—was felt more than seen. The service was abysmal (infamously, and intentionally so), the food was okay, but the scene ... the scene was the thing. It was lost on no one that the garden tables were arranged as an amphitheater, the better to watch everyone else. Owner and guiding spirit Michèle Lamy casted the staff more than hired them, and, consciously or not, we all performed in her play. Read More »
January 3, 2012 | by Aaron Gilbreath
If someone had asked my granddad where he got the chaps in this photo, he might have replied, “At the gettin’ place.” His speech was rich with colorful phrases. To him, a convincing salesman was someone who “could sell eggs to a chicken,” the relationship between a person’s actions and character best summarized with “Whatever’s in the well comes up in the bucket.” And when dismissing someone unsavory, he preferred the placid “Let ’em peck shit with the crows” to a crass “Fuck them.” So many of his sayings reflected elements of the hardscrabble, rural world that shaped him.
The gettin’ place in this picture is a roadside stand in Apache Junction, Arizona. Largely known nowadays for its scenery and suburbs, back in 1947, Apache Junction was a fringe outpost east of Phoenix with a few cafés and tourist traps along the highway. Signs announced: Postcards! Indian jewelry! Pan for gold! Read More »
December 26, 2011 | by Sadie Stein
Over the weekend, in preparation for Hurricane Irene, I moved clothes out of the back-room closet in our Brooklyn apartment, which in heavy rain has been known to leak. I moved coats and a few vintage pieces I never wear but which seem too peculiar to throw away. And I moved the large silver garment bag I’ve carried with me to six apartments in as many years.
You see, when I was twenty-four, I had a wedding dress made. It was—and remains—a beautiful dress, the sort of garment for which “confection” is actually an apt description: sheer Swiss dot overlaying pale pink, a voluminous crinoline, a tea-length skirt. The effect was a bit Funny Face, but not so bridal that I wouldn’t, as I told everyone at the time, be able to wear it again. Where I would have occasion to wear such a dress again was an open question. But when I was married, surely, this question would resolve itself like so many others.
From the get-go, I knew I wanted Mary to make the dress. I’d been pressing my nose against the glass of her Lower East Side shop for the better part of a decade and relished having an excuse to walk through the door into the tent-striped interior, which smelled strongly of Votivo’s Red Currant candle.
Mary was a strong-minded and somewhat intimidating figure whom I quickly grew to revere. Tall and imposing, she was generally black-clad, sporting a feathery twist of hair, red lipstick, and a pair of severely stylized glasses. She said I was the easiest bride she’d ever dealt with; I think I may have just been so young that I was easy to push around. That, and I didn’t have an interfering mother. My mom, who came with me to only a couple of the numerous fittings, was out of her element in the fragrant, feminine space and deferred instinctively to the designer. I didn’t want to prolong the process. I was uncomfortable with someone lavishing so much of her time on something for my express use. Read More »
December 12, 2011 | by Thomas Beller
The streets are covered in snow. The wind whips harshly, a blizzard’s aftermath, and in the laundry room in the basement of my childhood building, I find a neighbor pulling clothes out of the dryer.
She is distracted when I say hello, stares at me unrecognizingly. But then something clicks and a shaky stream of lucidity pours fourth. She asks after my mother, my wife, the kid. And I ask after Gary, my old babysitter, who used to take me downstairs to their apartment on the C line.
The building has four lines of apartments—A, B, C, and D—and two separate elevators. The C line, facing east, gets the least light. It shares the landing with the D line, which overlooks the river and gets the most. Through a door, down the service hallway, and through another set of doors, and you are on the A-B landing, where I grew up and now return for the holidays.
In the whole building, these days, there is a slight tension, the old guard and the new. Anyone who has come in during the last decade spent a fortune to be here. The old guard are certainly not have-nots, but they come from a different world. They march with dignified postures in and out of the lobby, nodding to the doormen, almost indignant at what their apartments are worth, the strain of the contradiction playing faintly on their faces. Read More »