A Touch of Dee

3: 148th Street/Harlem, Manhattan

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Top of 3 train

I read a bit of that Quran, but I didn’t get far. First of all, I hated the defensive translation, which kept inserting parenthetical notes explaining how the text didn’t really mean to kill all infidels, only those who tried to kill you first. Uh, it didn’t say that. Secondly, it was boring. I mean the Bible was boring, and I read that, but I had more incentive. Maybe I’ll try the Quran again another time.

Anyway in the time that I wasn’t reading the Quran, Damaso went on an extended “Beer, Baseball, and Barbecue” road trip around the country and went (for the second time) to Cuba for five weeks. Jealous! He’s moving back to Barcelona next month, so I was impatient to squeeze in as many end-of-the-line rides as we could manage, but my busy schedule was not cooperating. Finally, we managed to find a Tuesday afternoon we were both free, and we agreed to meet at the top of the 3 line in Harlem at 1pm.

3 train

I had a ton of work to do, but I’ve been on a big exercise kick, so I forced my lazy ass to the gym for a hard workout before lunch. I figured I’d be home around 3, and I’d be able to work all afternoon. I woke up early, traveled into Manhattan, and raced to finish a decent workout and sauna. At noon, I left the gym weak, hungry, and with plenty of time to make it to Harlem. I didn’t want to be late, as I’d made Damaso wait for me a few times in the past, but when I turned my phone back on, I discovered he’d left a message saying he was running late, and he’d meet me at 2.

Suddenly I had an hour to kill in Manhattan, and my mood immediately changed from positive and productive to stressed about the lost work time. I ran a few errands that had been hanging over my head, including buying over $80 of ink for a crappy printer I got free (and stupidly gave away a really good printer) and still had plenty of time, so I texted my friend Matt to find out whether he was in the country and could talk. He works on cruise ships, and it turned out he was in the Caribbean somewhere but on his way to a Starbuck’s whence he’d be able to Skype. Sounded like a good idea, so I found myself a Starbuck’s and spent probably 20 minutes trying to figure out how to set up the Skype application I already had on my phone. Eventually it worked, and I drank a large iced tea and a free large iced tea refill, while Matt gave me advice about my romantic life. The only way I justify paying Starbuck’s prices for something I make at home in bulk is to get the free refills (free with a registered card, which I now use through my phone), and I emerged 20 minutes later freezing, over caffeinated, and late. Late?!? I was the one killing time! Somebody didn’t manage my extra hour very well! I texted Damaso that now I was running a little late but on my way, and I hopped on the 3 train from 14th Street.

On the long ride up, I finished the only magazine I’d brought and played a little Scrabble, but my phone battery indicator wasn’t so green after all the Skype time, and the 48 ounces of unsweetened iced green tea were swelling my bladder. I got off the train at 2:05, and raced out of the station hoping Damaso wasn’t irritated to be kept waiting. Au contraire, mon frere, he’d gotten my text and responded, fine, then he’d be there at 2:30. D’oh!

I didn’t see any place to eat, but two cops were chatting in front of the public school at the train exit, and we always trust cops and transit officials to guide our selections. I interrupted them but immediately got distracted trying to figure out whether they were wearing matching eyeglasses. They claimed their pairs were different. They were both strikingly good-looking women. After we chatted about their glasses for a while, I asked them whether they could recommend a place to eat, and they suggested I get back on the train and head to a neighborhood with better options. I assured them I’d be okay eating someplace local, and they asked me what kind of food I wanted. I said anything that was open for lunch and wasn’t fast food. They looked at each other, looked back at me, and repeated the suggestion that I get back on the train, insisting there was nothing nearby. Finally they came up with two suggestions, the closer or which was over five blocks away. I didn’t mind walking five blocks to eat, but I wasn’t going to walk five blocks to pee before Damaso showed up, so I sat down on the curb and turned my phone-Scrabble back on to distract myself from my full bladder.

Eventually Damaso turned up, feeling generous for letting me have longer to get in from Brooklyn. Of course he couldn’t have known where I was coming from or what my schedule was, and I felt simultaneously irritated at his presumption and guilty for being irritated while he was trying to be nice. My full bladder didn’t allow me to stall around though, and I hustled Damaso down Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard to look for food.

The police were right. The first place they suggested was supposed to be between 144th and 143rd Street, but we got all the way to 143rd without finding anything. We backtracked to 144th to look for the second place, and found Grini’s Tapas Bar between Adam Clayton Powell and Lenox, exactly where the cops said it would be. We walked in, and I got paralyzed by chafing dish options until Damaso reminded me to go use the bathroom. That solved half of my bad mood, but I was still starving after the work-out, hour stall downtown, half hour wait uptown, and six-block walk. The place looked fine to me (albeit completely devoid of tapas), and we hadn’t passed any other restaurants on our walk, so I was surprised when Damaso suggested going out to check out our options.

Grini's Grill & Restaurant

On the corner of Lenox and 144th, we were delighted by A Touch of Dee, which was not, as the name might suggest a nail salon or gift store, but rather a bar. The windows were covered with printed pages inviting passers by to Mary’s birthday and “Chyna Grown and Sexy.” Damaso stopped to take photos of the signs, and a very curious woman walked out to ask why we were photographing her window. Before Damaso can answer, I say, “Because it’s awesome!” which holds her long enough for him to get his shots, and we walk on.

A Touch of Dee

Signs at A Touch of Dee

Next door, Lenox Fast Food promised the “best breakfast uptown,” but the counter was tiny. We walked another block or so, and I had to stop to check out a gorgeous geometric-block print coat with multiple diagonal zippers (too rich for my blood), but we didn’t find anywhere else to eat, so we backtracked to Grini’s.

Chafing dishes, Grini's

As usual in that kind of place, none of the chafing dish options seemed to match any of the menu offerings posted on the wall, so I pointed to a bunch of stuff, asked what it was, and asked the counterwoman what was best. She wouldn’t commit to a recommendation, but she did tell me what was what, and I pointed to the best-looking pork and asked for some okra with it, and she offered me my choice of plain white rice or yellow rice with peas (with peas, duh). I asked how to say “okra” in Spanish, and the counterwoman stared at me blankly, but the man with her said, “boletrones,” which I figured had something to do with the little balls inside. I repeated it to myself over and over and wrote it down as soon as I got to the table, but when I look it up now, Google translator gives ten different Spanish words for okra, and none of them is even close to boletrones. My phone gives yet a tenth word, so maybe okra names are micro-regional in Latin America. After taking my order, everyone I’ve been talking to disappears, along with my food, and someone else takes Damaso’s order for a grilled chicken salad. After a while, my counterwoman comes back and asks whether she can help me. I say she already made my food and that I’m waiting to get it, pay, and eat. We finally get all our food, take over a table, and sit down to eat.

Food, Grini's

My tin foil dish is loaded and heavy. Besides the rice with peas, okra, and pork, she’s thrown in a few plantains. I careful separate my paper bag and keep the plastic lid to my tin foil plate, thinking that I’ll be taking home the majority of my massive plate, but once I start, I don’t stop eating till every grain of rice is gone. The pork is fantastic, blackened until it falls softly off the bones, which by the way are so soft, I don’t just suck out the marrow, I eat the entire bone ends.

Viveca eating pork

Viveca, pork

Viveca gnawing pork bones

While I hoover down my food, Damaso tells me about his travels. I can’t believe he got a salad, but of course he’s had his fill of rice and beans after a month in Cuba. He laughs and takes photos of my gluttonous bone chewing. Behind us, one man is sound asleep over his empty dishes. Restaurant is fairly bare, but a few early Christmas lights glitter on a table, and a poster with two large drinks, one green and one orange, advertises “SLUSH.”

Slush sign at Grini's

Sleeping customer at Grini's

I get buzzed back into the bathroom to wash my pork-covered hands, and this time I notice a single business card stuck to the wall. It says (punctuation, capitalization, and spacing faithfully copied), “If your Lips not Popp’in ,He’s not stopp’in!!!” After gazing at it for a while I realize the card owner sells make-up. I’m tempted to take the card, but I figure if I leave it there, I’ll be saving my potential for popp’in lips until we come back for A Taste of Dee.

Photographs by Damaso Reyes

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