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September 19, 2008

A lucky asking in New York

September 19. Day 81.

With the exception of sex and the Gregorian mass at the trappist monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos (dare I imagine a combination of the two?), nothing in the world is as mystical or exhilarating as new york.

In the past minutes, I’ve seen:

A woman dressed head to toe in lime green, with lime green hair and a little frog peeking out of her lime green purse. I’m sure the frog came first.

A guy staring into his blackberry, eating French fries, with a look of unspeakable sadness in his eyes. He wasn’t typing, wasn’t scrolling. Just clutching it. What was on that screen? An email about his layoff? The latest quote of the stock he was shorting? A picture from a PI of his wife’s lover?

A giant Elmo, heading north on Seventh Avenue.

The moment above, as frozen on my cell phone camera.

It just feels like anything can happen here. Not proverbially, not wistfully. Literally. Nothing surprises me here.

I have planned an asking, but the moment isn’t ripe yet. Don’t worry – you’ll be the first to know.

UPDATE: Around 10 this evening, I left the apartment where I'm spending the weekend and went for a stroll. The plan: ask random New Yorkers on the street what their favorite spot is in the city, and then go to the best one this weekend. Or maybe leave things to chance by asking just one person and going there. An informational asking.

Things took an interesting turn about 30 seconds after I stepped outside.

I saw a man, walking alone and in a hurry. I hesitated bothering him, but I thought, what the hell? He can always brush me off. And is the opinion of someone in a hurry worth any less consideration?

"Excuse me, can I ask you a really quick question?"

He stopped and seemed attentive. A good start.

"If you had time in New York, not a day, but a long time, what's the one thing you'd want to do?"

I asked in these terms, because I wanted him to pick the best spot as a local resident, a real favorite, not something a tourist should do in 24 hours or a weekend. I've already seen the Empire State Building, thanks.

"I'd go to the boat house and have drinks. And then I'd go to Chinatown and get some really good Chinese food."

"Really? Thanks!"

He asked me where I'm from. What I was doing in town. We traded names. And then, he said he was in a hurry to get to dinner with a private investigator. Did I want to come?

Did I???

Five minutes later we were in a cab to the UES, talking about fly fishing and our siblings. We met his friend at Bar Italia. This friend, a softer version of what I imagine a modern Sicilian businessman would look like, was chatting up two young women, one in the fashion industry and the other with a chirpy laugh. "No blondes, please," he was saying at one point, and inspected their hair contentedly.

One bottle of Prosecco later, the three of us took a cab for two blocks to a Belgian bar. The kitchen had closed at the ungodly hour of 11, so we decided instead to go to Niche, a new place a few blocks away.

Over tapas and a lovely 2004 Rhone, the guys pushed one chunk of cheese back and forth on each other's plates -- "You eat it!" "No way, that's not mold, that's ash. That's like being starved in the Amazon and biting into a shoe because it's leather so you think it's food, only then you discover there was a rotting foot inside" -- and asking the waiter for extra evoo.

We talked about Zoroastrianism, Scientology, sharks, grappa, dementia, balconies, black truffles, grandparents. He told me about his various pursuits -- owning a restaurant, working as a lawyer, trading commodities, commercial fishing -- and I told him about grad school. (Not a fair trade, but he was a gracious listener.)

We ate until only cheese rind and cilantro sprigs were left on our plates, and we drank until the bar was empty.

At one point, the friend asked me: "How do you know this guy?"

"We met on the street," I said. "If he didn't invite me to come out with you, I'd be sitting in a cafe by myself right now, reading a magazine."

Gained: asked for a suggestion, and ended up with a wonderful and totally unexpected (yet somehow expected because this is New York) night. Many, many thanks.

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