The final day off in New York. In December of last year, we all left the hotel to go home but tomorrow we go back to work, in Radio City. When we’re finally done with the Big Apple this time round, we’ll have another three-and-a-bit weeks to go. Which reminds me, I need a haircut…
At 11.30am, I sauntered into Laundromat Café on 439 West 50th Street. There I changed five bucks into quarters, dumped my clothes into a machine, purchased some soapy suds, whacked the machine into play, and waltzed gaily across the road to Steve’s Editing Barbers at No. 446. Almost immediately I was offered a chair into which I triumphantly hopped, and Carlos did a super job on my bonce. Meticulous, friendly, and skilful, he buzzed and scissored until my hair was like, movie-star perfect. Feeling confident and whistling It’s a Long Way To Tipperary, I strutted merrily back to the laundrette where my clothes had just finished spinning; a waiting dryer gobbled them into its warm drum. With twenty-odd minutes remaining (I got eleven free — leftover dryer-minutes, squeal!) I shimmied to West 50th’s intersection with 9th Avenue, to find Uncle Mario’s Brick Oven Pizza. Enjoying a slice of Margherita, with its thin crust, delicate mozzarella, and fresh basil, I washed it down with some fizzy water and danced sideways, snapping my fingers, back to the laundrette where only five minutes remained on my dryer.
An interesting story I picked up in the barber shop: 446 West 50th was the address of Prestige Records, a jazz label started in 1949 by a chap named Bob Weinstock. You will of course know Miles Davis, and he had dealings with Weinstock. According to the customer sitting in the barber’s chair beside mine, Weinstock ran a record store here and recorded musicians, distributing the music until the business was big enough to expand into a full-on record label. The owner of the current barbing business, Steve, produced an envelope, showing it to the customer; he seemed a knowledgable type, and I felt I was submerged into the middle of a conversation the two had been having for weeks. Apparently there was an article in a Japanese magazine mentioning Prestige Records; someone in Luxembourg had sent a CD in a padded envelope to 446, unaware it was Barber Steve who’d be opening the package. Steve said it was ‘beautiful music.’ Indeed it was the mystery man to my right who mentioned Prestige, and its owner, and the recordings. It was Wikipedia where I found more.
Have you ever walked around with a $100 bill in your pocket and kept thinking to yourself, ‘Oh, I must change this into smaller bills, I don’t want to hand over $100 for a sandwich at a deli.’? Well, three times running, I left my room with this thing in my pocket and said to myself, ‘Right, self, we’re going to stop in the lobby and change this hundred, ok?’ Three times later, it’s still not done; I can’t even hold a thought in my head for three minutes. Forgetting the final failed attempt, I stroll through the lobby and out into the street where a woman asks me if I know where the nearest subway station is. I point vaguely around the corner and she thanks me, and from nowhere comes a buddhist monk. He bows, palms together, I bow palms together, and he hands me a little card which reads ‘WORK SMOOTHLY / LIFETIME PEACE’ and asks me to sign his book, joining my scribble with the many others who’ve also signed. I do so, and he hands me a neat circlet of wooden beads and asks for a donation. ‘Oh, of course,’ says I, and make to hand him a few measly dollars… It’s not really enough… But there’s that hundred. Oh dear.
‘Change!’ he says.
While typing, I’m laughing out loud because I should have said something like, ‘I’ve changed plenty, but thanks for your advice.’
But I know he knows what I know: I can afford to donate some money, why not. So he first of all pockets the hundred, and (in his way) insists that I’m donating fifty dollars — I haggle, and get it down to forty. (I’m such a schmuck, I know.) The deal is done and he goes on his way, and I hope he gives that money to beggars or someone, cuz that dude is gonna be one rich monk!
Moments later, I bumped into Sharon and we ask each other what’s going on, and I tell her with a smile, ‘I’ve just been fleeced by a buddhist.’ Now, if I had stopped at the lobby and changed that hundred, I would have avoided the crafty monk, but if ever there was evidence that karma was at work, it was right there. Fuck it I say, I guess I wasn’t mine to hold. ‘Like a twig on the shoulders of a mighty stream,’ says John Candy’s Del Griffith, you have to smile and let it fly away.