The conversation ended with how meaningless it all is. The whole thing. The thing we’re all in. And I said if we’re all in it then we’re all in it together so that’s something. And he said we’re not in it together; we’re all in it alone. And I said if we’re all in it alone, how are we having this conversation. And he said, maybe we’re not. So I shut up. I’m staring at the meaninglessness of meaninglessness. A double negative. Which could become positive if I stretch the mathematical point. All right, maybe a false positive, which would actually be ok—living a lie, as long as I knew it was. And why couldn’t this be the whole thing? I mean, my bullshit idea was just as good as his.
So, I drove to the train station and caught the 11:40 to Manhattan. It made sense. If it’s all meaningless, New York is probably the best place to be.
It was an easy ride. I had a window seat, and it wasn’t that crowded. I looked around, that must have been around Croton and thought that probably some other people were having the same ideas as me. I get off the train at Grand Central where you can still grunt out an order for a cuppa joe and you can still can get back a “Sure, hon.” And where everyone around you knows the score: the what’s what and the who’s who and where the skeletons are buried and who got resurrected. And the place still looks like an old black and white movie, with Cary and Bette and Bogey and Kate rising out of the steamy swelter to hit their marks and pierce a knowing look into the camera that means more than all those cocksure crazies who think they know it all.
I head where all the bottom feeders go, to the Oyster Bar where you can still inhale Old Gold and Lucky Strikes from ancestral lungs and the room’s lights and darks are all the same once your eyes adjust. I sling my bag down on an empty swivel chair at the horseshoe counter and my fireplug frame onto the chair next to it. The woman you can still call a waitress says to me, “You wanna menu—no, you don’t—I know what you want by the way you sit down.” And I say, “You got it, a bowl of Manhattan.” And she says, “Got it, Hon.” And in short order here it is in front of me with a glass of pure NYC tap and a soft, fleshy roll with 2 pats of butter and 3 packs of oyster crackers and a couple of crackly flatbreads. And halfway through she asks me how it is and I say it’s great, which was true, just like I remembered from times before. And when I finish, I pay and leave a tip that would bring her an edgy smile but not enough to run over to Saks. And as I walked back up to the tracks I thought about the soup and what made me remember it. It was the spicing and the way the oyster crackers soak up the broth and melt and the surprise of finding an extra sliver of oyster buried in between the potatoes. And I felt warm and full and I looked up at the board and saw that my train for home was leaving in 20 minutes from track 35, enough time to walk around and see if there was anything I missed. And there was. There. In front of me. Was everything.
Laurence Carr is a Hudson Valley NY writer and the publisher of Lightwood.