Do you doubt the shade of vanilla? / Cos I’ll play Elvis and you play Priscilla

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I’ve been to New York quite a few times over the past decades, but I’d nev­er (JFK aside), been to Queens before. I’ve even found myself in Stat­en Island some years back (don’t ask), but nev­er in Queens, so when Har­ry sug­gest­ed we meet him in a bar called Leery’s, I hap­pi­ly said OK. It’s easy, he said…. it’s one stop from Grand Cen­tral at Ver­non-Jack­son Ave on the 7 Train, and the bar is just out­side the exit.

Except the sta­tion was closed. And of course they didn’t tell us until we got on the train, where a gar­bled bit of pho­to­copied paper taped to a wall said ‘Changes to 7 Train’. They took us instead to 59th Street where we were trans­ferred to Queens­boro Plaza on the V Train, where, we man­aged to work out, we were to be trans­ferred to a bus back to Ver­non-Jack­son.

The girl next to us on the bus asked us where it was going, before we got to Jack­son Ave and were eject­ed from the bus into the ice, for­tu­itous­ly right out­side the bar, which was a hap­py end­ing as nei­ther Brigid or I had fan­cied wan­der­ing lost around Queens in the dark.

I’ve seen Good­fel­las.

A cou­ple of Stel­las and then to an Ital­ian place which Har­ry swore was mob owned. The host was called Vito, so I guess it wasn’t out of the ques­tion, but as much as I wait­ed for some guy to rush in, grab a gun taped in the john, and waste the big fat be-suit­ed Chi­anti drink­ing guy at the next table with a busty big haired girl half his age, it didn’t hap­pen. Damn those stereo­types.

After din­ner, all Sicil­ian sauces and uber-toma­to heavy, we were giv­en a lift in a very big black Chevy with blacked out win­dows, and some guy with too much oil in his hair, across the bridge into Brook­lyn and dropped out­side a bar in Williams­burg. A local bar, with a chub­by girl spin­ning post punk and indie noise rather well, and Bel­gian beers on tap. Down the dead end of Man­hat­tan Ave before you get to the East Riv­er.

Har­ry had tak­en us to his place.

Like most locals the world over folks come and go all night, and every­one knows every­one. We were greet­ed as Harry’s much antic­i­pat­ed old friends. And folks wan­dered in and all said “Hel­lo Har­ry, are these your friends? He was wor­ried you might find it too cold.” And folks stroll in and out all night and, even if they’ve nev­er heard of you, they lean on the bar next to you and break into con­ver­sa­tion. And unlike the sort of barfly you might find in most Aus­tralasian cities, peo­ple are open, inter­est­ed and inter­est­ing and, in a par­tic­u­lar­ly NY way, intel­li­gent. This is an intel­li­gent city. Unlike much of the rest of this nation, peo­ple here seem to have read, and actu­al­ly know there is a world beyond it’s expan­sive bor­ders.

Apart from the graph­ic design­er from Read­ing, the one near Lon­don, not NSW, who moved to Brook­lyn 19 years back and nev­er went back, there was John, who may well be the only Rug­by fanat­ic in Brook­lyn, so much so that he’d tak­en a trip to Syd­ney a few years back to watch the world cup.

So John and I talked Eric B & Rakim and rug­by and he told me how upset­ting the trip to Syd­ney had been, because, as an African-Amer­i­can, he’d been treat­ed appalling­ly from the moment he’d arrived. Bars wouldn’t serve him; cabs asked to see his mon­ey before they’d move; he’d been watched like a poten­tial shoplifter every time he went into a shop; and Aus­tralian Immi­gra­tion had harassed him heav­i­ly on entry. He wasn’t going back and had a pret­ty dark opin­ion of the nation that just said ‘Sor­ry’. I guess it’s easy to utter two syl­la­bles.

But that aside, in a total­ly NY way, we were treat­ed to the Stum­ble­bum Brass Band, an incred­i­ble lit­tle trio that sound­ed like mutant merg­ing of Richard Hell and Louis Arm­strong with a Yid­dish tint. Does that make sense? No, I guess not, but Josh Malone’s loud growl through a mega­phone, and Jon­ny Bal­lz stand-up rat­tling snare were hyp­no­tis­ing. But, most of all, I loved they way it umped along punc­tu­at­ed and dri­ven by Jesse Wild­cards’ tuba which he played like a rhythm gui­tar. Incred­i­ble stuff.

Only in NY.

It inspired me to buy a biog­ra­phy of Gersh­win and the great Jew­ish immi­grant NY song­writ­ers who were tougher muthas than most would assume, because you sim­ply had to be.Stumblebum Brass Band

2am, back into the snow, which was falling rather more heav­i­ly than when we walked in, past the bar smok­ers, who, and you won­der how bloody ded­i­cat­ed you have to be to the addic­tion to stand out­side in the sub zero pre-dawn hours, were puff­ing and shiv­er­ing, and into anoth­er black win­dowed Chevy and across back to Man­hat­tan.

I’ve been to Queens.

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