I was up from Florida this past week for a brief stay in East Hampton and then into New York for a rainy weekend. OMG do I miss Florida on a cold rainy day. On Saturday the skies cleared enough to go ahead with the usual routine – haircut and shave at York barbershop, breakfast at Neil’s on the corner of Lexington and 70th Street, and finally “happy hour” at Shakespeare & Co. bookstore to browse for works by Elizabeth Hardwick. I have been reading Robert Lowell, the poet, and now have expanded to the other writers in his circle; Hardwick was his second wife and an acclaimed novelist and essayist. Lunch with my pal Jay was scheduled for early afternoon at The Mansion diner on the corner of 86th and York Avenue, near to Jay’s apartment. We arrived to find the restaurant closed, the front entrance obstructed with equipment for a movie being filmed on the block. Only in New York! Jay recommended we go across the street to Tal Bagels. A traditional New York bagel shop is a unique restaurant experience. If you’ve never been to one, basically it is an “appetizing” takeout with all kinds of fish—smoked salmon (“nova” or “lox”), whitefish, gefilte fish (not really a fish), smoked herring, pickled herring and pickled herring in cream sauce. There are all kinds of salads, such as tuna salad, whitefish salad, egg salad, fruit salad. Then the cream cheeses: plain, or with vegetable, or with nova, or cinnamon raisin and even tofu non-dairy. And deli galore, from corned beef to roast beef to tongue. Everything to go on a bagel. Aside from the bagels there are flagels – flattened bagels, and bialys, a type of roll with onion or poppy seed, and rugelach – a sweet roll with nuts and chocolate.
The line to the counter at Tal’s ran out to the sidewalk but it was moving quickly. There were a few tables inside for those like us who came to “dine.” Jay took a seat to hold a table while I took to the line. You must be fast and ready to respond to “Whata ya want mista?” I was studying the menu and lost my place in line. Quick to recover I ordered, paid, and awaited the omelet with a toasted sesame bagel on the side for me and the lox and bagel for Jay. Back in my seat, I felt someone brush past me. It was an older man walking carefully toward the counter. He held a long white stick with a red tip. At first glance I did not realize that he was blind because he was wearing reading glasses. He turned to face me and said, “Pardon me.” “No problem,” I responded. I watched as the man behind the counter handed the blind fellow his order and took two five-dollar bills for payment, no change. Apparently, he was a regular. As he managed to make his way out of the deli I got up from my seat and touched his elbow. “Can I help you to the door?” I asked him. He nodded and I gently held his elbow, guiding him. We walked together to the exit, and I offer to assist him down the stairs to the street. “No thank you, young man,” he said. My youthful voice obviously misled him into thinking I was not an 83-year-old bagel eater. I took it as a compliment. I went back in to finish lunch with Jay as it started to rain again.