Much of my time in New York has been spent in the service of others. Not in the “feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless” way but more in the “on the rocks or up?” sort of way. And while I don’t want to bartend forever, I must admit that I do like my job the majority of the time. It’s not a vast majority, certainly not enough to amend the constitution, but over 50% of the time, I like it.
I have an interest in alcohol, I enjoy the social experiment of watching people interact while drinking, but most of all, I love stories. And it’s the stories of my patrons that I will remember long after the stink of beer is washed out of my clothes and my tips have all been spent.
One such story belongs to Grace.
Grace is who I think of when I think of a New Yorker. She’s tough, opinionated, and not afraid of anyone. She has her standards and she knows what she likes. She doesn’t like how the city is changing, but she loves all the new places to eat. Grace is all of us after a few decades in Manhattan.
Grace is a firecracker. And I mean that how a 1930’s newspaper editor would have used it. She has so much spunk and moxie that while in her seventies, I have no doubt that she could match wits with anyone who dared to challenge her. Having written and published two novels that are still in print, she was already a hero of mine, but in one night she become someone who I know I will never forget.
One night back in April, Grace and I were doing our usual routine. She came in from her apartment which is on the same block as the bar, and I greeted her with a rhetorical “would you like a Prosecco?” I poured her drink and, as a writer, Grace extended her routine but earnest inquiry into my creative life. “How’s it going? What are you working on?” Without fail, she would ask about my writing. And this night, I was honest about my struggles.
I said, “Grace, I can’t wait until I can wake up somewhere quiet, make coffee, take the dog on a walk, come back, sit down at a desk of my own, and just write.” Grace looked away and considered my words for a moment. “Well, would you like to come and stay at my house in Maine?”
In that moment, I could have cried. I took it as a joke, but she was serious. She offered to let us stay in the off season, September-April rent free so I could have a writing retreat. “Now you would have to pay for the heat,” she added as a qualifier. But the wood to burn in the stove of the 1860 built Victorian getaway for a whole winter would have cost less than our Metro cards for the month.
The kindness of an established writer who genuinely wanted to help another artist was remarkable. Never in my life had I been so flattered and thankful for a gift. And in my mind, that will always be how I remember New York. Busting my ass at my job and trying to make real relationships, and seeing those relationships blossom into something truly special.
As you know, for a couple different reasons, this offer didn’t work out. However, it was and will remain a real benchmark in human kindness that I have experienced in New York and beyond. And one day, I hope I can do the same for another writer.