Chowdah

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01/17/2013

Neighborhood: Grand Central Station, Midtown

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Last week my boss Manny hated me. The business was slow on 47th street. I had been hired part-time to help my replacement H-Love, but neither of us had made a sale between Xmas and the New Year.

“I feel like I’m running a charity ward. The two of you are about as useful as a broom.” Manny stated in half-jest, as I set up the window.

“Don’t worry, you’ll be rid of me soon enough.” I would be laid off once his son Richie Boy returned from a Vermont ski trip.

“You haven’t done a day of work since you came here.” The 80 year-old diamond dealer was meaner than normal, but we had been friends over thirty years and our weaknesses were well-known to each other.

“The same could be said about you. All you do is shift papers from one side of your desk to the other and insult customers.” I looked over to H-Love. He shook his head. Waking a sleeping dog wasn’t his forte, but only this morning he called my main diamond broker a ‘gonnif’.

“These papers run this company.” The Brownsville native slammed his palm on the bills, bank statements, and memos.

“Everything you’re doing there couldn’t be done in a minute on a computer.”

“I made this business before there was a computer and I will outlive the computer too.”

“I hope you’re right.” Manny and I went back to 1978. Our best years were ebbing on the tide of the 21st Century.

“Right, only one thing is right and that’s one and one makes two.”

H-Love rolled his eyes and I shrugged my apologies. Manny was on fire. His kvetching veered off the tracks. “You’re useless. You’ve always been useless.”

“Like the time I sold a ruby for a million dollars and you stiffed me for the commish.”

Yiddish vindictives spewed from his mouth.

I went to the closet and got my cashmere coat. It was warm. The wind outside was cold.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“To get my lunch.” I waved to Eliza Randolph. The elegant brunette was Manny’s partner.

“Eliza, you want some chowdah.”

“Chowdah from wheah?” Eliza had attended UMASS-Amherst.

Richie Boy had once hoped that the two of us would become serious, so I could have been his partner. Her father was glad that nothing came of our flirtation and in many ways so were we.

“The Oyster Bar where else?”

The Grand Central Terminal institution had the best clam chowder this side of Boston’s Route 128.

Manny made a face. His mind had calculated the distance between our store and the Oyster Bar.

“I pay you to work, not gallivant around town.”

“You want to buy me lunch?” I already knew the answer.

“What for?”

“Then I’m out the door and don’t worry, Manny, you don’t have to pay for a thing.”

“Don’t get me nothing either.”

“Who said I was in the first place?”

“The chowder there tastes like old man’s underwear.” The old man liked putting in the ‘zug’.

“More like that from a young girl, but you wouldn’t know anything about that.” I had learned from him how to make someone feel bad, but I left the store muttering under my breath.

Our daily tete-a-tetes were wearing on us.

Manny was deaf and I was grumpy.

His present state was my future destination, although my version of his age was set in Thailand at a teakwood farm bordering the Western Forests. I indulged in this delusion on the 10 minute walk to Grand Central, ignoring the slow-moving tourists. Without them the city would be as empty as the New York of I AM LEGEND.

I turned off Madison onto 43rd Street. The syringe spire of the Chrysler Building gleamed in the winter sun. I was used to the sounds of the city, but not dogs’ barking.»

There was more than one.

The MTA cops had gathered their explosive- and drug-sniffing hounds to the Metro-North terminal to guard against a terrorist attack.

The shepherd at the entrance to the terminal eyed me with suspicion.

A half-joint stunk up the back pocket of my trousers. The dog growled and his master clocked me as harmless.

“Nice doggie.”

“He ain’t a doggie.”

“Doggies are cows, right?”

Same as all these cops.

All of them wanting to be a hero.

All wanting to stop someone from doing that something stupid.

I smiled and descended into the terminal. Passengers were hurrying through awe-struck tourists from Shawallagah, PA. I might be older than most of them, but I still was impressed by that great open place and surveyed the crowds for anyone who might damage it or the people within the terminal. My inspection gave GCT an all-clear visa from the danger of terrorism. I entered the Oyster Bar and sat at the counter.

I called Eliza from inside the restaurant.

“Anything other than Chowdah?”

“Chowdah be just fine.”

I ate my chowdah with haste. I don’t like making a woman wait.

My counter mates were from the UK. His wife had a big diamond. I told them about working on 47th Street.

“We ain’t buying no diamonds.” The husband was adamant on this.

“He spent a fortune on this rock.” His wife brandished her stone. It glittered in the dim light of the Oyster Bar. 

“Having a good time?”

“We love New York and loved the Oyster Bar. In fact we feel safer here than in London.”

“I got robbed in Soho last time I was in the Smoke.” Somebody had picked my pocket.

“We come from Plymouth.”

“Nice town. I’ve stopped there a couple of times on the way to Cornwall.” I had friends up west. They didn’t know them.

“If you change your mind, stop by our shop. It’s only five minutes from here.”

“Maybe.” His wife smiled touching his thigh. Diamonds were a girl’s best friend.

“Cheers.” I sopped up the last traces of chowder with a small roll and paid for my chowder and three to go. I hurried through the underground passages of Grand Central Terminal to Madison Avenue.

There were no dogs at the exit onto 45th Street.

“Five minutes later I returned to work with the chowder.

“Chowdah, Bobby?” Eliza loved saying this. The words brought back her youth as a co-ed in Massechusetts.

“Chowdah and it’s pipin' hot.”

Eliza was so happy to receive her chowdah that she kissed both my cheeks. H-Love sat at his desk with his.

“What about me?” Manny looked at me with disappointment.

“Sorry, Manny, but you said no.”

“I didn’t say anything of the kind.”

“Maybe next time you’ll be lucky.”

“This is wicked chowdah.” Eliza liked to rub it in.

“Just the way you like it.”

Manny muttered under his breath and I said, “Just kidding, Manny.”

He smiled with triumph. I was his shabbath goy.

“Incoming,” H-Love said, as the English couple entered the exchange.

“I met them at the Oyster Bar.” That meant they were my customers and the commish would be 25%.

I motioned H-Love to sit. We worked the sales 50/50 and sharing was always for the best in these hard times, especially if the chowder was from the Oyster Bar.

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