Old New York Love Story

Old New York Love Story

I like the vibe
in this place

The bartender,
my mother-in-law if she were
a bartender, dresses for the crowd
in a shiny black bustier
and tight black polyester capris

long copper-dyed hair pulled
back into a poofy ponytail

she flirts like Pollock
attacking a canvas, seemingly
random until the end of the
night when she counts her tips

her artistic genius revealed.

She’s an undegreed psychiatrist
dispensing advice and self-medication
ethical enough to ensure no one
overdoses, savvy enough to ensure
their return.

She sings along to Shakira
hips shimmying to 50 Cent,
her interpretation of Candy Shop
makes me blush.

Her regulars are an HBO
development executive’s wet
dream, bitterly funny in these
unguarded moments

alcohol loosening their lips
the safety of the space
she’s created freeing them.

The accidental tourist
is fascinated by this glimpse
of a New York that rarely appears
in the pages of Time Out or the
Village Voice, the varicose veins
Giuliani desperately tried
to fade into the outer

This is my New York,
formidable and relentless.

Panama is a regular
older black man who may
or may not be faking
an accent to impress the ladies

which he always does.

An older blonde chats him up
buys him a beer and a side
of French fries

asks where he’s from.

We all stop pretending we’re not
listening, and laugh

partly, at her slow realization
as he says, “What’s my name?”
in that real or fake accent

partly at her fumbling apology
over her tipsy faux pas
which he, of course, graciously
accepts between sips of his free

mostly, we laugh at the thought
of Panama saying “What’s my name?”
later that night in her hotel room
around the corner.

She explains loud enough
for her now attentive audience
that she’s older now, divorced,
enjoying a new life

tantalizing Panama with tales
of her new Mustang and Jeep,
her beach home

dropping her guard momentarily
to explain her one miscarriage,

“1992,” she says.

“I never saw my three kids,” he responds.
“Worked three jobs. No time.”

She asks for pictures he doesn’t
have, and for the next ten minutes
they share life stories, bonding,
as improbable a bar hookup
as has ever happened,
even by Panama’s standards.

She buys us all a round then,


Her mid-Western accent
emphasizing the “-lud”
raising Panama’s bushy gray eyebrows
bringing a smirk to his moist, full lips.

In some bizarre way,
this is true love at its purest
–primal, in the moment
no strings attached.

Now they’re debating the cost
of the new digital jukeboxes as
Tiger Woods tees off on all five
plasma screens.

They lament the loss of the
spontaneous community a good
song played randomly encourages.

For a split second,
the smell of stale tobacco
is thick in the air
and we all inhale
the memory deeply.

The bartender notes the silence
and I drop five bucks for some music
to keep things moving along
purposefully choosing Hips Don’t Lie
and Candy Shop
for my own amusement.

Panama shoots a knowing wink
in my direction, washing down
a French fry with the last of his beer
preparing to make his exit,
choosing to break Blondie’s heart
sooner rather than later.

This is my New York,
formidable, relentless

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