Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Hog Pit

Restaurant staff is moving furniture around us. A couch floats over people's heads, carried by a pair of tall waiters in black. Discussion's breaking up anyway. The suggestion to continue the party somewhere else rises up from several quarters. Where to though?

Personally I'm all for any place that offers one:enough quiet to make holding a conversation possible and pleasurable, two: coffee by the potful, three: proof that I'm still in New York City.

The group decision's a place that doesn't sound as if it's going to supply any one of the three---a barbeque joint on the corner. The Hog Pit.

If I'd had a guide book handy I'd have known for sure I wasn't going. Country Western music on the jukebox, a little piece of the good ol' South, a honky-stomping air? But even without advanced warning like that, the idea of pulled pork at this hour is less than appetizing. I start making plans to kidnap the company I most want to keep and make a dash for the first place that looks like Edward Hopper might have painted it or Dawn Powell put it in a novel.

Funny thing happens on the way out the door. Our group breaks into two, and the half I'm part of gets lost in the maze of stairwells trying to find the coatcheck room in order to retrieve jackets, briefcases, and one mysterious canvas bag that looks like it contains groceries. By the time we make it to the street the rest of the group's nowhere in sight.

Mosey on over to the Hog Pit, right up to the door, and stop. We're all balking at going in, everybody having the same thought. This is not what we had in mind. The more literarily-star-struck of us start making the case for taking a cab up to the Algonquin where we can rub elbows with the ghosts of Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and other wits and writers of the early days of the New Yorker. But nobody knows exactly where it is, not even those of us who live and work in Manhattan, and our leader, Tom Watson, has been waylaid by an ex-Marine down on his luck who's looking for money for a sandwich. Tom, being a good-natured sort and in a convivial mood, has the ex-Marine telling him his life story, and, not surprisingly, while we're waiting for the Marine, who of course is no minimalist, he's a regular Tolstoy of verbal autobiographers, to bring his memoirs up to date, the air starts to go from people's sails.

Work in the morning. Long drives and long train rides home. Spouses, partners, and pets waiting.

"Ok," I say, "This is the Village. There's got to be 6000 places around here that offer coffee, relative quiet, and the sense of being trapped inside an Edward Hopper painting. One of you supposed Manhattanites name one now!"

And one of them does. And just like that, after some hasty goodnights and (sincere) promises to get together again soon, I'm on my way to having all three things I wanted plus sole possession of the company I most want to keep.

Turns out the rest of our group wasn't even in the Hog Pit. They'd passed it up to go in search of burgers.


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