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 loud—as 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 black—I 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 car—dammit, I can't remember what kind of car it was—carried 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."

Whatam's picture

Does she know that you put her on the home page for Stereophile? Chicks love guys that are connected.

Laura LoVecchio's picture

Stephen -- Brooklyn is not the end of the world. In fact, you already have quite a few friends here in God's own borough. A guest room awaits you anytime.Here's a thought from your Aunt Laura; boyfriends aren't always forever. No ring, no string!

Vinnie Rossi's picture

I see she covers Love is a Battlefield :-)

Christopher Martin's picture

Sounds like a good night at the Ox. Meet the woman of your dreams and then she tells you she has a boyfriend. I hope you still got her phone number, just in case you never know ...

Mark Fleischmann's picture

We like Chimay because of the way it tastes. And we like Saison Dupont Farmhouse Ale even better.

selfdivider's picture

Dude, Stephen. We should've just gone forward w/ it tonight, rain or shine. Totally regretting after reading this post.

John Atkinson's picture

Stephen, you left out the best part: about the cello; about a coincidental connection between Heather Duby and Emily who used to work with Stereophile...

Stephen Mejias's picture

Stephen, you left out the best part: about the cello; about a coincidental connection between Heather Duby and Emily who used to work with Stereophile...

Ah, yes. Well, it turns out that Heather Duby is looking for a cello player. I know a couple of cello players from back in the day, so I started thinking. Then, I remembered that Emily Helming, former publisher's assistant, plays cello. Beyond that, Emily is also originally from Seattle. It seemed obvious that I should get in touch with Em and mention my meeting with Heather Duby. So I did. Turns out that Emily knows Heather from the Seattle scene. She was familiar with her name and her music. THEN, while I was reading Heather's bio, I learned that Heather attended Olympia's Evergreen College, a sort of alternative/liberal arts school

john devore's picture

We do not like Chimay because it's expensive, but we do like how it sounds. We also like it because it's really yummy. And because it induces a perfect music-listening buzz. Really.

Stephen Mejias's picture

My comments concerning Chimay, the audiophile drink of choice, were purely sarcastical. Also, in case the management of Ox are reading this, I would like to make clear: Heather Duby did not actually allow us to drink for free all night. She is a very good bartender, and Ox is a great and beautiful place. Thank you.

rvance's picture

Hang tough, Stephen! The BMX'er is into little bicycles. You're a MUSICIAN! Write her a song. Nowadays relationships rarely work out. You could be the next to fall from her favor. But it's always worth the effort. Develops CHARACTER...and humility- lotsa humility.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Jeez Louise, you guys.

John Atkinson's picture

So I go to Heather Duby's MySpace page and listen to her music. Nice. Very nice. But wait a minute -- Good grief, Stephen. _You_ played in band without a bass player. And now you are raving about a woman whose recordings _don't use a bass player_! What gives? What are you trying to tell me? -- bass player JA

John Atkinson's picture

As you are a guitarist, Stephen, here's a couple back atya: Q: What do you call a guitarist without a girlfriend? A: Homeless. Q: How do you get a guitarist to play quieter? A: Ask him to play from the music.