Told Between Puffs, December 2015
Loath to leave the cloistered, wood-panelled den of his dear Morningside Heights residence, Verily gingerly stepped over a crawling toddler—that miserly screaming, V.V. thought, must be from Jersey— and exited his towncar, bidding his driver, Parker, farewell with a slight, dignified wave. Immediately doubling at the waist and pulling the collar of his herringbone topcoat above his eyes and aquiline nose, V.V. instantly regretted asking dear Parker to drop him here, at the foul heart of Times Square, as opposed to the New York Center for Fiction, his destination a few blocks east. I can be a man of the people, V.V. had thought as they wound south along the Henry Hudson Parkway, before sending a quiet blessing to his hero, Robert Moses. But these filthy fanny-packed masses ….
Clutching his tan attaché case to his heaving breast in protection, V.V. trudged down 47th Street, hoping that the evening’s itinerary—some Indian woman called Jumper or Juniper in conversation with the English translator of the esteemed Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels—would make up for the drudgery of making it to the venue.
However, standing under the crimson flag for the Center, V.V. was aghast. “Event location changed to the Center for Jewish History?! Egads!” The evening, V.V. feared, was shot to hell.
He would have to drown his frustration in good company, and not wanting to make Parker brave the idiotic, I <3 NY-swaddled frenzy of midtown, V.V. made for the Columbia Club.
V.V. pulled his membership card from his calfskin leather wallet and shuddered in horror at the iniquity of presenting it to the vile orange and black of Princeton. We own New York, he hissed. How is it that we must rent from these carrot-colored cretins? V.V. walked into what amounted to the lobby of a roadside Best Western. The mediocrity did not end there.
The menu for the Woodrow Wilson Dining Room (V.V. resisted the urge to hurl spittle at the sign, muttering Hamilton’s name under his breath, face darkened by the thought of Wilson’s fellow Princeton alum Aaron Burr) was insidiously chatty. Settling into the dark wood chair, V.V. glowered at the placid face of his waiter and inquired about the Tuscan kale salad, featuring Bermuda onions (“Named so because they get lost?” V.V. enquired, acidly) and a bizarre variety of goat-slash-sheepsmilk cheese. “Halloumi?” This was almost as bad as the Jumper lady.
“The greens are gently massaged in vinaigrette, then tossed with pine nuts and finished with some lemon zest,” the waiter intoned. “But perhaps you’d be interested in the heirloom tomato salad with micro arugula spears.”
“Damn you, just bring me a steak,” V.V. hissed, tossing his menu across the empty dining room.
“New York strip, hanger steak, Wagyu, filet mignon, t-bone, or cowboy cut, sir?”
“Cowboy steak? You know what, I’ll have the hidden fjord salmon,” V.V. said, defeated. He could at least delight in the image of beleaguered men in pristine chef’s hats prancing through the Norwegian wilderness, searching for fish, cleaver in hand.
Prepared for the oncoming onslaught of bland, soggy-skinned salmon, V.V. watched his meal arrive with trepidation. Dipping his spoon into the pale green sweet pea risotto, V.V. raised the silverware to his mouth cautiously. It was … divine. The pea tendrils married perfectly with the earthy morels, the tender flesh was delicate and fresh—even the beets were good, the beets! V.V. drifted off to slumber in the barely-better-than-EC-couch in a sated stupor.