Saturday, May 2, 2015

Spaghetti Night on Beat Street

Greenwich Village, 1958

"Gary Daddy-o goes out on the road a lot to play at clubs, either upstate or in Boston or Philadelphia. When he’s here he puts a cup down in the subway and juggles oranges, and if Ray tags along and plays saxophone, they almost always draw a crowd. If enough people put money in Gary Daddy-o’s cup, we get steak for dinner."
--The Beat on Ruby's Street

Once in a blue moon we have steak, but mostly we have spaghetti. There’s good-mood days and bad-mood days, but Saturdays are usually good because Nell-mom can be at the studio all day doing what she wants. So, say it’s five o’clock and it’s sunny out, because we want it to be.
Nell-mom comes in all excited.  She scoops up Solange and gives her a kiss, and tries to give me one, but I slither away.  I love her and all, but it’s so square to kiss me.  She ought to know that, but she’s too excited to think.

Gary Daddy-o comes in and winks.  He’s got a couple of baguettes under his arm, which is French for bread, and he’s got cheese and a bag of apples.  I realize all of a sudden I’m hungry and reach for the bag, but he holds it up and says, “Dinner,” which is like, hours away.

Nell says she’ll make spaghetti, and now I’m really hungry, but they have this thing about dinner, if it’s before seven, it’s uncool.  That leaves two whole hours and I’ll die forever if I don’t get something soon.

Ray’s down the hall practicing, and all you can hear is SAXOPHONE.  He doesn’t care about much of anything when he’s playing like that.  He could be in his skivvies in the rain, with chicks laughing and bikers rolling Harleys on his feet.
“D’you sell something?” I ask Nell-mom, while she stretches herself out on the Sheboygan. She doesn’t take her boots off, and some of the mud on the bottom of her heel gets onto the couch. She’s too cool to wipe it off, though.  I ask again if she sold anything but she kind of answers and doesn’t answer – Nell-mom is like that.  “Maybe,” she says with a smile. 

Then the music stops and Ray’s in the doorway, still holding his sax while he stares at us. He’s got only his jeans on, and his mouth is kind of puffy from playing.

“Hi baby,” Nell says.  Ray nods and puts the sax down on the table behind him.  He swoops an arm at me and I duck away.  Then he’s down on all fours sniffing around like a spaniel.  I don’t know why they call them cats. Guys are dogs for sure.

Ray grabs my ankle and doesn’t care when I yell, Let go.  He huffs and puffs and nuzzles my arm, tossing his shaggy hair so the curls bounce and shake.  Nell-mom and Gary think it’s hysterical and can’t stop laughing.  I yell Stop, but nobody’s listening.  I’m about to say Dullsville! when Gary Daddy-o says “Ray!” And he stops.

Ray is squatting like a golden retriever, looking up at all of us.  “Just messing with her,” he says, but Gary Daddy-o has something else on his mind. “You wanna go out with me?” he asks.

“Sure,” Ray says, and then Gary Daddy-o says, “I mean on the road.”

Ray sits up, all attention. “Oh, yeah,” he says softly, trying to be cool about it when I know that’s all he wanted since he was a little kid. And I have to say, I’m jealous. Not that I could play gigs or anything. But still.

Nell-mom looks at Gary Daddy-o. “What do you mean?”

“Just a weekend gig,” he says, and we all look away, thinking, OK, a weekend. But a weekend is the start of a week, or it could be. And I know one day Ray will go out for longer, because he's 14 and he'll be grown up sooner than we think.

But right now it seems like nobody’s ready for that, maybe not even Ray. It’s spaghetti night, and we have to start boiling water and buttering baguettes. Nell-mom showed me a trick of slicing off the top of the baguette and then putting butter on your knife and sliding it down the baguette all the way to the bottom, so the bread is buttery when you bite into it. We don’t always have butter, but we do tonight.

Maybe Gary Daddy-o thinks steak is the best. But I like our spaghetti nights better. Starting on the sauce now. Gonna be a while.

"Nell-mom" photoMartin de Witte
Fifties man in bar: Shallowend’s rendering of photo by Walter Watzpatzkowski'=
"Ray" photo: family archive
Spaghetti: Christian Schnettelker