Former renter in Greenwich Village, waiting out the turnaround in Manhattan's midtown. Working on a blog-to-book project about my NYC/NJ ancestors. Everyday I'm amazed by what I find with Ancestry and in old newspapers.

September 1, 2019

Small talk with friends in New York restaurants

On this Labor Day my friends from the Chinese restaurant Charlie Mom are on my mind. It was my Cheers, I made small talk with the waiters, mostly about my never-ending apartment hunt. For the apartment upstairs, David told me, they were asking $4,000 a month for a thousand square feet. "They remodeled it." After a long pause in which we both imagined how nice it could be--a Greenwich Village apartment that used to be a house in the 1800s, the brick walls, original wood floors, lots of windows--we agreed that the rent was ridiculous and anyone would be crazy to pay it. "Rent is money thrown away." And the rents in Greenwich Village were over the top.

David at Charlie Mom's in 2015
The waiters there were masters of conversation. The small talk was always pleasant, not too personal, and stopped when I wanted to enjoy my glass of wine with a book while waiting for dinner. Now, conversations with friends are a different matter. A friend called me a few days ago, many days after I'd left her a voice mail, but this is her way. I'll call her Susan. I met her at a French class at Idlewild Books a few years ago and at first we got together to practice French but we soon slipped back into English. She lives in a huge Village apartment with garden views in the back  that she got in the '70s and is a mesmerizing storyteller.

Dinner with her is like A Dinner With Andre, where Andre Gregory talks on and on and Wallace Shawn asks the occasional question that prompts Andre to go on even more. I like to hear about her cheap trips to Paris and Venice because I haven't traveled much, but even more fascinating are the bizarre stories about her apartment. Now it's bugs, but years ago there was an incident with liquid mercury that dripped from the ceiling and prompted an evacuation of the building by the fire department. Susan said that sculptor Gaston Lachaise lived there in the 1930s and had probably poured it down the sink. Unable to move back into her apartment, and forced to move back to her childhood home in Illinois for five months until the contamination was abated and she came back. Still her problems with living in this apartment persist, mostly due to her health, and the difficulty of living in a walkup when it's hard to get around. Move, I told her. The stairs are too steep. It's like climbing up a ladder. I would have moved out long ago, even if it meant leaving the city. But no, her elderly mother from Illinois came to live with her and had managed the stairs just fine, until she couldn't, at 85, and Susan  had to put her in a home in upper Manhattan. 

Our last dinner was at Bar Six and we swapped stories about ghosts and events we'd witnessed from the other side at the passing of our mothers. I saw a ghost of a family friend in a swirling mist at my mother's bedside as she lay dying and Susan had seen a flower leap from a vase and emit a teardrop as her mother was dying. We'd experienced other signs as well. I got goosebumps. We also talked about her upcoming trips to Morocco and Venice. But the last phone call, a blow-by-blow account of an MRI where they wanted to seal her face in a mask for 45 minutes was too much for me. I had to tell her stop, that I would think about it later and have nightmares. Fortunately, she didn't go through with the test. And I called and emailed her later but I don't know if I'll hear from her.

Charley Mom, York & 83rd Street
I started thinking about my waiter-friends at Charlie Mom and when I googled the name I found a Charley Mom on York and 83rd Street. Yes, it was the same business run by a nephew, even with the change in the spelling of Charley which was a mistake by the sign company. The waiters I knew have all retired but I went there last weekend, hoping to repeat my experience the old Village restaurant. 

"It's a different business now. People pay a lot for small plates and say 'isn't this nice?' And they want to drink. They go out for expensive French and Italian food. But if I raise prices, they'll complain. Charley Mom doesn't have a liquor license. It's a takeout business. But we do well with takeout. We even deliver to Gracie Mansion."

Preparing string beans at Charlie Mom's, 2015
I showed him my picture of the waiter with the string beans from the old restaurant and ordered chicken with string beans in a light brown sauce. I hadn't had the dish anywhere since Charlie Mom's closed. Everything tasted so fresh I couldn't help myself and ate like a construction worker. While the new Charley Mom is a primarily a takeout restaurant, there is seating at two big round dining tables from the original Village restaurant in front a big picture window overlooking York Avenue. We had a nice conversation about the restaurant's history, current events in Hong Kong, and life in NYC. There was enough food for two meals and as they packed it up, Johnny wouldn't let me pay. But I'll be back. Friendship and good conversation runs in the family.

Contact: Debbie Carter, VillagerExpat@aol.com, (212) 925-3721

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