Saturday Morning at Puffy’s

by

02/17/2002

81 Hudson Street, new york, ny 10013

Neighborhood: Tribeca

A few drunk men standing around the television in Puffy’s Tavern on a Saturday morning is not that unusual for the historic watering hole–back before when Tribeca became DeNiro-ified, a man “Puffy” opened his bar at the corner of Hudson and Harrison at 6 a.m. and closed it at 4 in the afternoon so the local blue collar types could have some liquor to help them get through the daily grind. But this Saturday, December 2 was a bit more special–the Army-Navy football game was being played, and Puffy’s old faithful was there with a few extra bells on to root for whatever branch they served in. The game began at Noon, and by the time I got to Puffy’s at ten to twelve, the handful of Puffy’s regulars were already at the end of the bar re-hashing their old service stories. I was there for a different reason to watch the game: I bet on it; Army had to win by three points and I would win $200.    

Apart from the five at the end of the bar, two yuppies who probably lived in the lofts across the street, and the grainy, sweet barmaid in her 60s behind the counter who loves flirting with the old gents, the beautiful bar was empty. I ordered a pint and took a seat at a table up against the back glass window to monitor my investment with the usual amount of nervousness and muttering about missed field goals and fumbles and stomach cramps. I usually sit alone with my beer or scotch to watch the games, not wanting to talk to anybody or subject anybody to my moodiness determined by the course of the game. Still, I like going out to watch the games instead of staying home so that I trick myself into thinking that I’m out enjoying the day instead of lounging around the apartment.    

I witnessed one of the worst played football games of the year. The two teams were a combined 1-19 record. But this was a game of pure emotion, when records and the past didn’t mean anything, where pride and even patriotism were the driving forces, unlike in most of the professional games. The more I watched, the more I became frustrated with my investment.    

But as I watched, I became more and more interested in the conversation going on in front of me. For these 5 veterans, the game meant a lot more than my $200. I speculated how much $200 means to them, compared to me, then about how much the game meant to the them, compared to me. More important, on both counts, I can safely guess.    

The guys at the bar were getting more drunk and less interested in the game–their conversation turned toward memories, from high school to the military to when they were married. They’d look up at the screen and only comment after a big play, or a score, but their celebration was still genuine and happy, and then they’d forget what they were talking about. My frustration softened watching the game, and I became far more interested in watching this neighborhood scene of old friends relaxing together on a Saturday in Puffy’s–Army-Navy game or not.    

Army lost, but I had become more concerned with something else that afternoon: the camaraderie of 5 men drinking together on a Saturday morning through afternoon made me feel jealous and lonely. My discontentment with life was never so acute, as the protective coating of the weekend started wasting away and I could already hear the menacing whispers from Monday telling me I’d better get my act together. Outside, the fashionable were walking in next door into Zutto, an eclectic Japanese restaurant, and the kitchen staff at one of the fanciest restaurants in Manhattan, Chanterelle, across the street from Puffy’s, were arriving to prepare another 5 star meal. The calming, if not sleepy buzz of Puffy’s droned quietly behind me, and I thanked God for it.

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