Places Shape Lives
The sun is almost all gone now and the streetlamps along Newark Avenue are just beginning to take on a sort of greenish glow. The sky has become a shadowy mess. We're trying to postpone something. Who would want the day to end like this?
"Do you want to get some fancy beers?" I ask Omar.
A shrug of shoulders.
"Sure," he replies.
We make a left at the corner of Newark and Jersey and look into the windows at Ox, the expensive new restaurant with the great sandwich board. With its exposed-brick and weathered-steel exterior, Ox is strangely out of place between a narrow bodega and a favorite homeless haunt. From the outside, the place looks clinical, cold, and loudas though your voice might bounce forever and ever after against the hard, gray walls; wrap itself all around the thin, arcing light fixtures; slap foolishly along the slick floors.
"It looks pretty packed in there."
"Yeah," I reply, as I open the first door.
We walk through as though we've been there a million times before, no one stops us, no one questions us. On the inside, things are somehow softer and more spacious, more comfortable. To the right, there is a long, friendly banquette; to the left, there are free-standing tables; in the rear, there are two tall communal tables with stools, and to the right of these, what we've been looking for: the bar. The entire place is designed to inspire conversation, spontaneous friendships.
It's hot where we're sitting, at the very end of the bar, near the busy kitchen. Flames are dancing wildly from a silver pot, ingredients sizzle and stew. The bar itself looks like something out of a chemistry lab, with soft red circles glowing from the thick, stony counter. The smiling staff wear all blackI suppose they're required to do so. They move quickly and easily. The chalkboard above the bar boasts impressive pub fare: venison sliders, boquerones, rabbit pate. They're out of the Flying Dog Pale Ale so we order a couple of Dogfish Heads. They also carry Southampton Double White, Gonzo Imperial Porter, Yards Saison, Dales Pale Ale, Spaten Dark, Otter Head, Turbo Dog, and an audiophile favorite, Chimay. We like it because it's expensive. We like it because of the way it sounds: Chimay.
"I'm in love," Omar says, motioning towards the woman behind the bar.
We've been there for less than a minute. I shake my head, raise my glass.
"There's something about her."
"Did you see her eyes?" he asks.
I smile, nod. "Keep your voice down. They can hear us back there," I caution. Omar's right, though. There is something about her.
We drink. Some time passes, we become nostalgic, we get to talking about music.
"No one will ever know that I was in a great band," I say, somewhat seriously.
She comes over to us, preparing to mix a drink.
"Who was in a great band?" she asks.
I look up and hesitate.
"We were talking about his old band," Omar answers.
"Oh yeah? You guys were great?"
I smile. "We were together for awhile and put out three albums, but we weren't great enough to stay together."
"I've released three albums with my band," she says, while preparing a couple of drinks. "You guys like gimlets?"
"I'm not sure," I say.
"Oh, come on," she says.
"I'm sure we will like gimlets," Omar answers.
"Here you go," she says, offering us what remains of the drinks that have just been carried away. "It's just vodka and lime juice."
I take a sip. "It's delicious."
I think for a moment. "There's something cinnamon-y about it."
"Are you sure? Cinnamon and lime? Hmm."
"So, you're a singer?"
"Yup. I sing and play piano."
"What's your name?" Omar asks.
"Heather Duby," she says, extending her hand.
"Heather, I'm Omar and this is Stephen."
Heather Duby is from Portland, Oregon, but she spent thirteen years making music in Seattle, touring up and down the green and rainy west coast. Losing money is something she's come to expect. She's not a kid anymore, and her musicians need to be paid. They're good, they do this for a living, too, and she can't ask them to just sleep on the floor. She drove across the country to get here. Her old cardammit, I can't remember what kind of car it wascarried most of her life. It had 250,000 miles on it. Or was it 260,000? She was planning to sell it anyway, knowing that she wouldn't be able to get much for a car with that many miles on it. She loved it, I'm sure, but it was time to let it go. It would be hard. But no matter: The state of New Jersey now has the car. Because it was parked on the wrong side of the street in her West New York neighborhood, the cops ticketed it and one thing led to another and it was impounded. The cost to get it back would be as much, if not more, than what she'd get from selling it. There's a lesson there. Before arriving in New Jersey, she made a stop in Philadelphia but couldn't find any work. Her boyfriend is into BMX racing. He's got family down the shore. She likes it here, but she's planning to move to Brooklyn. Perhaps sometime in August. All of her friends are there, you see. It makes sense that she'd want to be close to her friends.
("She mentioned her boyfriend like three times, right?" Omar asked.
"Yes," I confirmed.
"It makes me sad to hear you're moving to Brooklyn. I mean, I've only known you for twenty minutes, but I like you."
"Well, I'm not moving until August. We've got some time."
"What was your last name again?" I ask.
"Duby," she says. Her eyes do something special. "I'll write it down for you."
Heather Duby sings:
To rely on anyone is just like sinking for the fun of it.
There's no one, there's no help...
Take me somewhere far away. Can we go there?
Outside, it's now completely night. Heather Duby slams another glass down in front of me.
"That's a blood orange margarita," she says. "You guys can drink here for free all night, and we'll just pretend that I'm a bad bartender."