Thursday, July 6, 2017

Urban Fourth of July

Ever since my beloved dad died in 1997, I have dreaded Fourth of July. That was his birthday, and no one celebrated a birthday--or the Fourth--like my dad. He woke early and started drinking beer, grilling food, and playing John Philip Sousa marches as loud as possible. By noon, hordes of friends and family had arrived, and the partying continued long into the night, always ending with sparklers and Roman candles and bottle rockets, and sometimes ending with Dad and various uncles and pals marching up the street with pots on their heads and broomsticks and mops over their shoulders.

The year he died, we all fled to Mexico, where margaritas and the ocean dulled our pain and no one was celebrating the Fourth of July. As time went on, I've managed to mostly avoid the holiday. For years, I taught in North Carolina that whole week. Sometimes I went to friends' parties, but usually left early.

This year, I found myself dividing the long weekend between my two homes, in NYC and in Providence, with my wonderful new husband (who was missing his own dad too).

While in NYC, we took in a new play at the Cherry Lane Theater and dinner afterward at Chumley's (more on that later), followed by bourbons at Barbuto where we could get all mushy reliving our wedding. In true NYC tradition, we bought out Sunday NYT late Saturday night so that we could wake up on Sunday, drink coffee, eat croissants, and read the newspaper all morning. Then we went up to The Met to see the Irving Penn show--which isn't to be missed! We had a light lunch at Bouchon Bakery before heading back downtown to see Sweeney Todd at The Barrow Street Theater--another not to be missed! Before the show you have meat pies and mash in an authentically recreated British pie shop, which to our utter delight and surprise, the entire play takes place. You haven't lived until you've had Norm Lewis singing on your table.

Monday we drove to Providence, where my son's theater company, WHAT WILL THE NEIGHBORS SAY?, was waiting at the loft. Tuesday we brought an entire barbecue of hot dogs and hamburgers and all the fixins to Gogo's, then came home to nap and start cooking again: ribs and black beans and zucchini salad (made for me by my husband to convince me that zicchini can actually taste like more than tepid water--it worked!) on the roof with WWTNS. As we ate, fireworks started all over Rhode Island, and we could see them all. By the time we walked across the roof to our neighbors for apple pie and vino, the whole sky was exploding! We stayed up late playing a lively game or three of Code Names. And I went to bed, happy for this Fourth of July filled with love and food and fireworks and cityscapes...

My digression on Chumley's:
If you are a real New Yorker--meaning you lived there for many years as an adult during the worst times in NYC--you hung out at Chumley's, the hidden Prohibition era speakeasy at 86 Bedford Street (where the restaurant term 86 originated!). The place had good cheap(ish) pub food, lots of atmosphere, drunken writers at the bar, and was just one of everyone in the Village's favorite spots. Sadly, it closed about a decade ago, and rumors of its reopening circulated, always met with great excitement.

One day last fall, my beloved and I were walking down Bedford Street and to our delight saw a sign announcing the upcoming reopening of Chumley's. We got ourselves there pretty quickly after it opened, only to find our shaggy dog pub turned into a fancy restaurant (with prices to match). That night we ate oysters at the bar and drank overpriced cocktails, disappointed. Still, word that it served the best hamburger in the city brought us back the other night, because I am a girl who loved my burgers. But...not for $28. Cocktails? $18. Wine? Nothing under $60. And all the black and white photos of writers that now fill the walls (not many writers I know can afford to hang out at the bar there anymore!) made for fun guessing who's who, but no one who worked there knew the answers! Google helped, a little.

Ah well. Nothing, not even an overpriced burger in a bygone place, could ruin our weekend. But I still choose to remember the Chumley's of old, where I'd sit and drink beer with my writing buddy Phil, eat pot roast, and listen to ghosts.

WWTNS is leaving us this afternoon, so we will eat dinner at The Slow Rhode, one of my favorite little spots in my fabulous neighborhood and curl up with a movie back home. Lots of fun with friends planned over the next few days before Annabelle and I head to our yearly week in truro, where I teach at Castle Hill and then she and I play mini golf and go to the drive-in and meet up with dear friends for lobster rolls and clams.

When we return from Truro, it's only to repack before a week in Provincetown teaching at the Fine Arts Center, a week teaching in Dingle Ireland, a week of (mostly) vacation in Naples, Italy, then a week teaching at the post-graduate conference at Vermont College of the Fine Arts, and then two glorious weeks teaching at Breadloaf, where in 1988 my now husband called out to me...and I walked away. Sigh!

I hope your summer brings to mind Henry James:

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

Enjoy your summer afternoons!