Passing Trains

Short Stories... All Aboard!


Warren Street

From top to bottom, 60 Warren once served New York City's restaurant industry. Every office, every square foot of this menu-worn building was occupied by restaurant employment agencies and their pirate-spirited proprietors. At its low-rent apex during the 1960's, 60 Warren Street represented nearly every food joint in Manhattan, and all the five boroughs, including that dumping ground in the distance, Staten Island.


The fat, shirt-sleeved man stood inside the entrance of 60 Warren Street hoping someone -anyone- would buy one of the two job tickets he was holding between his puffy fingers. Just then a seeming youngster, neatly dressed in black and white waiter's apparel, pushed through the coffee-stained, double doors. The fat man hesitated for a sweaty second, but he's been fooled before. The kid looked too young to know anything, much less how to work tables in the class joint operated by the fat man's best client. But the fat man also needed to get a waiter out to Junior’s in Brooklyn, or he’d lose that account too. "What the hell," the fat man thought, "at least the kid’s dressed right."

"Hey Kid, ca’mere, you wanna work a big-money counter in Brooklyn?"
"Not if I can help it, you have something here in the United States?"
"Yeah, in midtown, but ya gotta know silver service."
"Don't worry, I know, but I have to check upstairs first."
"Kid, you'll make money and you ain't gonna get nothin’ better upstairs!"
"I know, but I have to check."

The kid continued on, past the building's tiny lunch counter, over scattered litter and up the two steps onto 60 Warren Street's crowded main floor. It was 3:45 in the afternoon and the place had the pre-dinner jitters. Agency men stood in every one of the dozen or so office doorways waving small slips and yelling over each other into the shifting crowd; "COOK, Wall Street! WAITRESS, uptown! DISHWASHER, uptown! WAITER, BUSBOY, 34th Street! I NEED A COUNTERMAN, West Village!" "Hey, Kid, you cook? I got somethin’ in the Battery!"

The anxious men with the slips needed "extras." An extra worked one meal, a kind of career limited to a few hours. The halls of New York City’s 60 Warren Street were filled with individuals willing to accept this limitation, since working extras was their career. Whether a need for short days or recurring blackouts from one too many intimate meetings with Sir Bottle O’Scotch, meal-to-meal employment was an extra’s waxing or waning way of life.

Countless restaurants around the city were waiting for a “Warren Streeter” to walk through their front doors and instantly fill in for an absent employee. A missing waiter or waitress meant stretching a station into chaos. A missing cook meant flushing money down the drain. New York City is not the place for laid back restaurateurs, except those sprinting headfirst into bankruptcy. The more solvent-minded preferred calling Warren Street, rather than a Chapter-7 lawyer.

This particular Tuesday afternoon was no exception. As the Kid continued down the hall past walls cluttered with cork boards pinned with hastily scribbled job offerings, a man stepped from the crowd and grabbed his arm.

"Kid, I have something for you!"
"Hey, Al, how you doin’?" the Kid responded.
"Great, but the Hawaiian needs two waiters."
"Up in Times Square?"
"Yeah, you'll clean up runnin' that tourist-teriyaki around for a few hours!"
"Jeez, Al, I promised Marv I'd check in upstairs."
"Listen, see if you can help me out on this one; I've had the account two days and I'll sure-as-heck lose’em if I don't deliver."
"The halls are crawling with waiters, Al."
"Yeah, but I can't send just anyone, not after what happened last Friday."
"What happened last Friday?" the Kid asked.
"Mundlin, you know, down the hall, he had the account and sent them a waiter who nearly burnt the bloody place down!"
"Yeah, the fool he sent up there is coming out of the kitchen holding up like ten brochette swords drenched, I mean really d-r-e-n-c-h-e-d, with that flambé crap. Well, he decides to light up just as he’s going into the dining room and, POOF, the flames hit those Hong Kong curtains and took off to the moon! All bloody hell broke loose! I'll tell ya, if the Chinese dishwasher hadn't grabbed the fire extinguisher they wouldn't be anyone's account right now."
"Jeez!" the Kid exclaimed.
"Yeah, and get this; the owner called Mundlin the next day and told him he was going to push him in front of the Grand Central Shuttle the next time he sees him!" Al said, breaking smile.
"Al, who the heck Mundlin send up there?"
"Iggy? Iggy-The-Torch!" laughed the kid, "What's he, crazy!"
"No, dead!" they both laughed.

The decibel level around them was increasing like an unanswered dinner bell... 

The agency men were now moving aggressively amongst the reticent hawking their extra jobs and shoving tickets into hesitant hands. The prospect either handed back the ticket or dug for the payment, a buck, maybe two. First-timers were occasionally pulled in four directions at once, becoming the unwitting objects of an all out Warren Street tug-of-war. By the time this form of ham-n-cheese free enterprise subsided, their just-in-from-molassesville target was often left dazed, extra tickets hanging from his pockets, shirt collar, or any conveniently protruding body part.

"Al, I have to get upstairs."
"Okay Kid, but if you don't score a decent ticket, I'll have something for you."
"Okay Al, see ya."

The kid walked through the doorway at the end of the hall. Halfway up the wine-blessed stairway, he stepped over a prone body lying with a near empty port bottle in one hand and a cloth-rolled knife set in the other. The sight of the semiconscious cook wearing last week's whites was becoming something of a regular occurrence within the walls of 60 Warren Street. Monday it was some woman passed out under the stairwell, and a few days before a guy slumped over a puddle in the men's room.

Arriving on the second floor, the kid’s focus returned to the moment. Here, things were calm, as if in a different, saner building. Yet, the outstanding feature of the second, and all of 60 Warren Street’s dimly lit upper halls, was the undulating tongue-and-groove wood floors, above which lingered a permanent, pre-elevator haze. For years the tobacco smoke and frenetic dust from below had drifted up the stairwells. Now, the air’s composition was clearly visible, a billion suspended particles illuminated by rays of light seeping through the panes of frosted glass in the dozen office doors. If not for the main level below, 60 Warren Street appeared to be sealed in a musty time warp, a building where George Washington himself might have cut the grand opening ribbon.

Like the main floor, the walls were also covered, but with clean, lighted display cases. Index cards were tacked under glass in neat, orderly rows. Each card was carefully handwritten or typed, often highlighted by colorful crayons and occasional freehand artwork; "Executive Chef, private club, midtown, salary open, living quarters included, TOP JOB, references."; "Bartender, eastside; must be fast, High pressure - High income!" A few individuals stood in front of the second floor displays studying each job description intently, happily beyond the attentions of downstairs’ plundering privateers.

"The Kid", as he was known to some on Warren Street because of his teenage appearance, entered the first door on the right, ABZ Employment. Although he worked extras exclusively, he was rarely disappointed with the jobs he got at ABZ. The owner, Marvin, was a straight shooter. The Kid disliked going back to the same restaurant twice, even if it meant passing up good money. But Marvin had more clients than he could count, so the Kid rarely returned to the main floor without an extra ticket in hand.

"Hey Kid, how was lunch?"
"Fine, Marv, fine."
"Yeah, those Wall Street idiots called me two minutes after you walked in their damn door, you know, Manny, the son. He says, ‘Marv, what the hell you sendin’ us?’ Listen Manny, I says, if that 'kid' ain't running circles around your people within five minutes, I'll come down there myself!"
"Yeah, I thought the guy was going to collapse when I walked in and handed him my ticket," the Kid replied.
"They never learn; I don't send out schmucks, I just work for’em. Anyway, they have anything to say after lunch?"
"Yeah, the old guy, Manny's father I guess, comes over and says; ‘Listen, Kid, how’d you like to work for us full time?’"
"SEE, SEE," Marv exclaimed, glancing over at his partner while smiling ear to ear. "Well, sit tight a coupla minutes Kid, I'm working on stuff for tonight."

Marvin's two desk office had been empty except for himself and his usually quiet partner, Moe. Several unmatched wood and metal chairs were positioned along the gray wall opposite the desks. As the Kid sat down under a series of faded ABZ's famous clients’ photographs, a waitress walked in, said hello to Marv and Moe, and sat down.

The Kid recognized her, not personally, but the type. Every busy restaurant in New York usually had a waitress exactly like her, from the stainless steel diners along 10th Avenue to the packed coffee shops on New York’s countless cross-town streets. Her appearance and manner constituted pages 5 through 26 of the Waitress' Handbook; not a bleached, blond hair out of spray-layered place or a wrinkle in her twice pressed, pale blue with white-border uniform – and not a mark on her spotless chalk-white nursing shoes. At work, her tables usually turn over twice as fast as the others guaranteeing that her son or daughter will be going to college. She'll spend her entire working life slinging hash while humoring fools, calming overheated cooks, cajoling busboys, slipping sodas to alien dishwashers, and counseling confused bosses. And when she retires, she'll remember exactly how she managed to scrimp every dime during her 40 hard years, 25,000 miles, 220 uniforms, 600 packages of hose, 85 pairs of chalk-white shoes and, one Paper Mate pen.

The phones stopped ringing and Marvin looked up.

"Here Kid, go up to Angelo's La Cantina on 2nd, make it a career. And tell those fools not to call me!"
"Okay Marv," as the Kid got up from his chair, tossed a buck on the desk, snatched the ticket from Marvin's hand and headed out the door.
"See ya tomorrow, Marv!"
"Okay. HEY, watch out for that cook they got up there, he's one of Mundlin's knife throwers!" as the Kid disappeared into the hall.

"Marv, what's the deal?" the waitress asked.
"What deal?"
"He's a little young, isn't he?"
"How old do you think he is?"
"Maybe 17, 18 at most."
"I know he looks young, but he's 21."
"God, a regular old man he says."
"Don't be fooled Betty, that kid is good."
"Knowing you, I believe it, but we usually don't see’em that young workin’ extras."
"He prefers it, actually, he insists on it."
"Well, it seems a shame, nice looking kid like that scraping around down here on Warren Street, workin extras," the waitress replied wistfully.
"Come on Betty, it's not THAT bad. And I'll tell you something, he's been coming in here for the past year and every place I've sent him wants him back. The very first job I put him out on was The Cort down on Beaver Street, for LUNCH! After he walks in their door they're on the phone raising hell with me. But after lunch they wanted him f-o-r-ever."
"No kidding."
"Yeah, the owner told me he was pissed because the Kid walked in and said that all he needed was some checks and a station; he didn't come for TRAINING!"
"GOOD, that'll keep the fools honest!"
"Then he says that in two and a half hours the Kid wrote 120 checks on an ten-stool counter, without a mistake."
"Well, Mister M., I stand corrected!"
“Ah, don’t we all. But now, my dear Miss Betty, on to you..."

Activity on the main floor had reached a fevered pitch. The crowd had transformed itself into clustered blurs of spastic movement. The dinner hour was fast approaching and there were too few moments left to be choosy. The Kid had time, however, at least an hour before he was due up on 2nd Avenue, so he stopped at the doorway of Al’s ALL-City agency. As he waited for Al to finish up a phone call, he watched the performances rapidly opening and closing in the hall.

A tall figure caught his eye, a chef standing against a wall holding a large, metal-framed case. Although blocks or miles from his kitchen, the chef was dressed for immediate action; white whites, tied white neckerchief, towering chef's hat, polished steel-toe shoes, clean white apron, a meat thermometer clipped in his shirt pocket, and wearing “the look” – an expression that immediately conveys no nonsense, my-way-or-the-highway authority. If he were to open his case, we would see an array of mirror-finished utensils and an impeccable set of razor-sharp knives tempered in the rivers of Germany or France. Give him a menu, a kitchen, an hour or two, and no doubt you would witness an impressionist's art rise from flame to plate.

The no-nonsense chef was in the right place. From top to bottom, 60 Warren served New York City's restaurant industry. Every office, every square foot of this menu-worn building was occupied by restaurant employment agencies and their pirate-spirited proprietors. At its low-rent apex during the 1960's, 60 Warren Street represented nearly every food joint in Manhattan and the five boroughs, including that dumping ground in the distance, Staten Island.

The chef, like many of the regulars, had not found Warren Street by accident. A true virtuoso, he was temperamental, impatient, and driven by an undercurrent of perfectionism. His previous jobs had often ended abruptly when his employers failed to adequately acknowledge his uncommon talents. The chef's hasty exits had, however, smeared and defiled his otherwise arresting resume, thereby complicating his more conservative prospects. On the other hand, he was enjoying the lack of familiarity the extra positions offered. Normally, he was thrown into pressure cooked, chaotic situations that to him required little more than child's play to straighten out. Always working under severe time constraints, he could slap a kitchen into first rate shape and prepare four star cuisine well before the owner's Valium tablets had taken effect. Uncommon, sure, except for a “Warren Streeter”.

"Kid, you get something from Marv?" Al asked.
"Yeah, you fill the Hawaiian?"
"That was them on the phone, they canceled."
"Those bums!" the Kid replied.
"It's okay, I told them to have the waiters I sent up call me when they get there, I have something for both of ‘em right around the corner at Mama Tina's."
"They got lucky there."
"Yeah, they'll make a few bucks instead of getting eighty-sixed. But, I'll tell ya, Kid, I visited Mama's not long ago and her kitchen was a mess."
"What do you mean, ‘a mess’?"
“Filthy. I swear, I’ve never seen so many roaches in one place in my life."
"Really, at Mama Tina's?"
"Listen Kid, in this city they sell licenses to breed roaches, and Mama renews hers every week."
"Come on, Al."
"I'm not kidding! Oh yeah, maybe you can't get the license down at City Hall, but when the health inspector comes ‘round he'll sell you one in a New York minute; want to raise roaches, a hundred bucks; mice $100; rats $150; anything larger, a hundred a pound."
"God, Al, maybe I should drive a cab."
"A cab! How do you think those little buggers get around!"
"BY CAB!" they both laughed in unison.
"There's the phone Kid, probably Tina calling in - needs a hundred roaches by 5:30!"

As Al reached for the phone, the “famous” Flamingo Brothers walked by, although the Kid paid them no obvious notice. They were regulars on Warren Street, and arguably the two best waiters in the city, that is, if you could hold onto them long enough. They had worked the best places and once had stellar professional reputations, and at various restaurants around the city many customers still asked for them. But after their last trip to the bookmakers, reports as to their whereabouts usually pointed west, way west.

The Flamingo brothers were not, however, brothers. Their nickname stemmed from their habitual trips to Flamingo Raceway (out in Jersey somewhere) and their incessant discussions handicapping horses. The lure of the track had also earned them rather infamous reputations inside the halls of 60 Warren Street. In fact, it was the antics resulting from their wagering compulsions which had caused more than a few angry phone calls to ring in at many an agency desk. For one, they had the annoying habit of leaving their high and hungry tables before their shift was over. In the middle of dinner, no matter, as long as they had picked up enough tip money to bet a few races at whichever track was open. Except for Mundlin and the Fat Man's upstairs, the agencies had all but stopped giving them work.

To compound matters, last week the Fat Man sent them to an uptown dinner house, where they politely asked the manager if they could eat before beginning their shift. After finishing their meal, they dryly announced that they could not, in good conscience, serve such nondescript offerings to the public, then walked out like two deeply offended gentlemen. The tracks must have been closed that night, even out in Jersey.

The Kid's attention was drawn down the hall. There, a man stood above the crowd yelling; "CHEF! I NEED A CHEF! I NEED DISHWASHERS! I need WAITERS!" It was Mundlin. Almost every late afternoon Mundlin would drag out an empty milk crate, put it in the middle of the hall, and from this curdling perch, scream at the top of his cigar-filled lungs. If nothing else, he was aggressive, often a little too aggressive. From unseen locations, missiles and paper clips were frequently launched in his elevated direction, although his competitors lacked the military background to score direct hits. Only once during the past weeks had he been actually struck, by a Mumm’s champagne cork which left a tiny red mark on his exaggerated forehead. And Private Mundlin displayed that mark as a veteran would a Purple Heart, at least until it faded from battle-scared view twenty minutes later.

As the kid continued watching, he noticed a man in a colorful Hawaiian shirt pushing through the crowd that had pressed around the puffing evangelist. Then, as Mundlin was in shrieking mid-word, eyes skyward, the Hawaiian lunged from the crowd and grabbed him around the throat; “YOU BASTARD! YOU LOW LIFE ARSONIST!”

The sight of this blatant daylight assault shocked even the hardened Warren Street regulars, although the perpetrator's choice of victim seemed to some a fitting one. As Mundlin was dislodged from his wobbly pulpit by the enraged Hawaiian, certain words of encouragement from the unfaithful were conveyed to the apparent mugger; "KILL’EM! KILL THE BASTARD!"

Mugger and evangelist crashed into a wall as slips, cork boards and job tickets flew amongst the now manic crowd. Although the wagering seemed split down the middle, it was becoming apparent the mugger, maybe half the size of Mundlin, was not only losing his ground, but his colorful coconut-on-palm Hawaiian shirt. Fortunately for the mugger, the awakened porter/security guard, assisted by Mundlin's fellow cigar puffers, managed to pull the combatants apart.

Spontaneous pockets of applause rose up as the would-be mugger but now shirtless Hawaiian and the breathless Hav-a-Tampa evangelist feigned immediate continuance of the contest. But, finally, Mundlin retreated to his office dragging a tattered coconut-on-palm-tree shirt, as the diminutive, shirtless Hawaiian was ceremoniously escorted by certain atheists over to Jack's junk-food counter for trophies of refreshment.

"Hey, Kid, what's all the commotion?" asked Al as he hung up the phone.
"Somebody went after Mundlin," the Kid answered.
"Yeah, and I think it was your guy from the Hawaiian."
"Feingold!?...where the heck is he?"
"I think they took him to Jack's."
"God almighty, watch the place for a minute, will ya Kid?" Al said as he hurried down the hall to Jack’s lunch counter.

The Kid stepped into the small office and sat down in Al's green, faux leather, swivel chair. As he glanced around the simulated, east leaning, wood desk, pausing at a framed snapshot of Al with his Labrador retriever, the phone rang.

"Hello, ALL-City Employment."
"No, this is Don, may I help you?"
"Where's Al, who’re you?"
"Sir, Al had to step out, my name is Don, Don Quixote, may I..."
"Don WHO?"
"Don ‘Key-HO-tee’"
"What the, when he hire you?"
"You doin’ extras for him?"
"Yes sir."
"Well, Donkey, I need a goddamn dishwasher up here in twenty minutes!"
"Yes sir, no problem."
"Yes it is a problem Donkey, 'cause I don't want no goddamn derelict crawling in here at midnight!"
"Yes sir, no derelicts at midnight. May I have your name?"
"Milt, I own Milt's Coffee Shop up on Lexington, Al knows."
"Your phone number Milt?"
"Listen, Al knows all this crap, Donkey! I need a dishwasher!"
"Okay Milt, he's on his way."
"What, you got one sittin’ there?"
"No, but he's coming back from the restroom momentarily"
"You know, you sound just like Al, like two flimflamming ALL-City bull-shitters, and what kind of a name is ‘Donkey’ anyway?!"
"No, its Don"
"OH, Don, okay, sorry Don."
"No problem, don't worry."
"Listen, Don, do me a favor, try not to send me any Puerto Rican's, will ya?"
"Okay Milt."
"And no blacks either, okay?"
"Okay, no Puerto Rican's, no blacks, no derelicts."
"Right, good."
"Milt, would Italian or Irish be okay?"
"No Irishmen, no drunks! But an Italian, washin dishes? I guess..."
"Okay, we'll have him on the subway within five minutes, okay Milt?"
"Good! You're going to be alright Don, I can tell!"
"Thanks Milt."

As the kid hung up the phone, Al walked back into the office with the little Hawaiian, Mr. Feingold, in tow.

"Al, Milt's Coffee Shop needs a dishwasher, in twenty minutes, and he doesn't want..."
"I know Kid, thanks; he says the same thing every time he calls, no this, no that, twenty minutes, I know," as the Kid got up from Al's swivel chair. T-shirted Mr. Feingold, sipping a bottle of Brown's root beer, sat down on the cracked, fire sale, school chair next to Al's desk.

"HEY, MIGUEL, CA’MERE," Al yelled out into the hall as he hurriedly filled out an extra ticket.
"Listen, Miguel..."
"Al, I told him ‘Italian’," the Kid interrupted.
"Oh, right. Miguel, here, go up to Milt's on Lexington, and when he asks, tell’em your Italian, Okay?"
"Se, Mr. Al."
"Pay me tomorrow, get goin'."
"Gracias, Mr. Al."
"Miguel, remember, you’re Italian, comprendo? I-Tal-Yan."
"Se-se, Mr. Al!"
"Al, I better get movin myself," the Kid said as Miguel-from-Milan scurried out into the hall.
"Okay Kid, and thanks, I owe you one."

"It's my fault,” Mr. Feingold said as the Kid left. "I shouldn't have come down here, but that bastard sent that firebug on purpose, I know it!"
"Listen, Irv, relax, let me find you a shirt," Al replied as he got up to rummage through his minuscule ALL-City closet."
"I was thinking about it, then, well, I just grabbed a cab."
"Here, try this one on, Irv."
"You know, I wasn't planning to go after him, at least not that way," as he got up to try on Al’s spare shirt. “But, when I saw that big hippo screaming in the middle of the hall, well, I lost it!”
"It’s a little large, but it'll do Irv."
"Next thing I know I've got my hands around his throat," Mr. Feingold continued, the tails of Al’s spare shirt brushing the ALL-City floor.
"Come on Irv, sit down and relax, it's over."
"You know Al, I never did anything like this in my life. And what am I going to tell Helen; she bought that shirt for my birthday, paid 17 bucks for it, plus tax!"

The Kid turned and spotted a waiter he had worked with before.
"Hey Charley!" he yelled over the crowd.
"Kid, how’ya doin'?"
"Fine! How you doing, Charley?"
"Real good, ‘till about an hour ago when I walked out of one of the best money jobs in the city."
"Why'd you walk?" the Kid asked.
"The butch-bitch manager was bustin’ my balls."
"How come?"
"Well, while I was setting up, the she-dyke stomps over with her bitch-whip and says I got the salt facing the wrong freegin way!"
"Mr. Gallagher, she says, the salt ALWAYS faces the window."
"Yeah, the freeg’n salt goes this way and the freegin pepper goes that way, so she goes this-a-way and I went that-a-way!"
"Gees, Charley, it's always something."
"It doesn't matter, I was getting tired of the joint anyway, I mean, I could’ve moved the freegin salt."
"Yeah, but that's some real nitpickin’, salt facing the window."
"It's a done deal, but if you ever go up to Dulhaney's on Sheridan Square, you’ll know what to do with her freegin salt!"

"Where you headed now Charley, up to see Marv?"
"Yeah, I stopped by to see what's cookin’."
"Good idea."
"Kid, you goin’ anywhere?"
"I have to be up on 2nd Avenue by 5:30."
"Well, you better get-a-goin’, I'll catch you another time."
"Okay Charley, hope you have some luck."
"Always do, see ya Kid!"


Hanging from a strap on the uptown subway, the Kid recalled some of the experiences he had working during the past year at hundreds of restaurants, coffee shops, diners and hotels. He liked the business, but going to a different place every day and every meal was the main attraction. The challenge of adapting and the avoidance of routine appealed to his impatient nature. Each day meant new people and new places. Yet this night, at least in one noteworthy respect, wasn't going to be much different than any other night. The kid was a tad high strung, so if he didn't like the restaurant or their reaction to his entrance, he would turn on his heels and head out the door. Therefore, he prepared for the walk in so as to avoid a walk out.

"Hi, I'm Howard Hughes, ABZ sent me over," as he handed the manager his extra ticket.
"Oh, mumble, grunt."
"If you can give me some checks and point out my station, I'll get started."
"Mumble," replied the manager as he stared in disbelief. As soon as the Kid headed for his station, Mr. Angelo-manager was on the phone.


"I know, Charley, she's a real bitch on Mondays, or is it Tuesdays? Hey, Moe, what day is this?"
"Does it matter?" whispered Moe from under his Yankee baseball cap, his big ears sticking out like dinner plates.
"Listen, Charley, you wanna work a convention up in the mountains?"
"HELL, no!"
"It's a good place, you'll come back with 500, maybe 600 bucks, not bad for eight days."
"Yeah, what place?"
"Greene's, Monticello."
"Marv, I don't know, gettin’ up at 5:30, work all day, work all night."
"C’mon, Chas, what the heck you do in the morning anyways, sleep?"
"That's what mornings are for Marv, sleep!"
"C’mon, take the ticket, catch the Shortline up at the Port Authority by noon tomorrow and I'll see you back here in ten days."
"Hey, I thought you said eight."
"Eight, ten, shhmen, take the ticket."
"Should I bring a wheelbarrow?"
"You know, those babushkas think a dining room is a trough!"
"Come on Charley, it's that mountain air, makes them eat like..."
"Okay, okay, take a wheelbarrow, but be up there by 5 tomorrow night."
"Okay, I'll feed the piranhas for ‘shhmen’ days, but when I get back, you owe me a good steak house!"
"Up on the eastside."
"Okay, okay."
"Don't worry so much, I'll get you something," as Charley picked up the prepaid ticket and strolled out into the hall.

Next, Marv’s phone rang.

"Hello, ABZ."
"MAR-va, what the-hella you do!?"
"Angelo, what's up?"
"You send’a me ‘bambinos’?"
"Listen, Angelo, hang up the phon-a and runn-a your canteen-a!"
"Marva, what-the-hella ah-ma gon-na..." Angelo replied to the dial tone.

As the Kid entered Angelo's cramped kitchen for the first time, he nearly tripped over the two dozen Maine lobsters clattering across the floor. Gino, the chef, alternately laughing and cursing, was grabbing the escaping lobsters as fast as he could, throwing their snapping claws into a prep-sink spilling over with ice water. One particularly aggressive crustacean had clamped onto Gino's apron, while Jesus, the dishwasher, cowered in a corner blessing himself repeatedly. From his perspective, Jesus couldn't tell who was chasing whom. "Where else?," the Kid thought.

Back on the third floor of 60 Warren Street, the Flamingo Brothers were going over the daily racing form while the Fat Man argued on the phone.

"Harry, I'm dying up here, I’m in no-mans’ land, you gotta get me some goddamn space downstairs!"
"Sam, as soon as something opens up."
"Harry, I'm getting an effin heart attack walkin’ those stairs fifty times a day!"
"Take the elevator! How many times do I tell you, take th..."
"That screwball claptrap, half the time I can't even get the door to open!"
"I'm working on that Sam, we'll have it straightened out..."
"Next year, Harry, WHEN I'M DEAD?"

Sitting over in the client's corner of A-1 Employment Agency, the Flamingo Brothers were oblivious to the Fat Man's plight. Matters of space, elevators, landlords, and a 378 pound body struggling up and down three flights of stairs five times per hour were profoundly disconnected from the Flamingo Brother's world of furlongs and long shots.

"Here's one Billy, Screaming-To-Go, in the seventh, maybe 9, 10 to 1!"
"She's a dog! A nag! Alpo! Wake-up, will ya!"
"Hey, she's good in the mud."
"What mud?"
"It's supposed to rain tonight, right?"
"Yeah, but they said around nine."
"Well, the seventh should post after 9:30, right?"
"Yeah, but what if it doesn't rain, Wayne?"
"Well, we got Telly's Dream in the sixth, right?"
"Listen, we ain't got nothin' unless we make some money," observed Billy as they both glanced over at the Fat Man.

"Okay Harry, when I'm dead next week, you feed my kids, YOU take Sally to Las Vegas for Honica!" as he slammed down the phone. That done, the Fat Man glanced over at the Flamingo brothers.

"Okay boys, who'd you like to screw tonight?"
"Come on Sam, send us to a decent place, we'll stick around 'till the lights go out," Wayne answered.
"Yeah, at Belmont."
"Really Sam, we're layin off for aw..."
"Okay, I got something here you'll like."
"A dinner party, six hours, very first class."
"Good, where?” asked Wayne.
"48th and 12th."
"What, what’s at 48th and 12th... except the RIVER!" yelled Billy.
"That's right boys, a yacht, pier 48, they'll be expecting you before seven."
"Sam, what kind of a deal is this?” asked Wayne, as their questionable “luck” seemed to have finally run out.
"B-o-y-s, it's real simple; you board up, float down the Hudson, serve some cocktails, some toothpick weenies, look at the Statue of Liberty, serve a little dinner, float by th..."
"Sam, I get seasick!" protested Wayne, already green in horseless desperation.
"Hey, we're not talking ‘Cape Horn’ here, boys!"
"Yeah, bu.."
"As I was saying, b-o-y-s; float under the Brooklyn Bridge, smell the Fulton Fish Market, serve some Cognac, a little Irish coffee, cruise around the Battery, look at the tall buildings, see the.."
"Okay already, okay."
"Well, you want it or not?"
"Like we have a choice?"
"No, and it's not like you won't make money, you just won't be able to feed it to the ponies till you get back to land."
"And when's that?"
"Sometime after midnight," the Fat Man replied.

The Flamingo brothers looked at each other with expressions of utter defeat, but what else could they do? They had barely enough money between them to buy the extra ticket, much less gallop out to the track.

"And listen boys, don't think about jumping ship unless you want me to call Mott Street and let those bookie friends of yours know where you've been hiding out lately."
"Okay, you win," replied Wayne.

But somehow, Sam thought, they would figure a way to screw even a poor, innocent ship.


Back on the main floor of 60 Warren, things had quieted down considerably, the halls were nearly empty. The phones were silent and the agency men were preparing to call it a day.

Mundlin was puffing around the flattened milk crate gathering his trampled cork boards and scuffed index cards. Every Warren Street cloud has its silver lining though, as he grandly contemplated a rolling podium in lieu of another wobbly milk crate. Then, under a crushed cork board, Rabbi Mundlin spotted a tightly folded five dollar bill, surely an omen intended to lead to elevations most high.

"Harry, what's up?" Jack inquired cheerfully as the exhausted looking landlord came in the front doors.
"I gotta check the elevator, you have any coffee left?"
"Sure, what's wrong with the elevator?" although Jack knew without asking.
"Who knows, Sam upstairs says he’s been having a problem with it."
"Oh," observed Jack.
"What's all this mess around here, cripes, this place looks like the Bowery!"
"We had a little excitement earlier," Jack replied.
"Don't tell me, I've had enough for one day."
"You want cream and sugar, Harry?"
"No thanks, it’s late, just some Sweet-n-Low. Jack, you seen Tree?"
"Yeah, he was going down to the basement to change his uniform."
"Okay, I'm going down to see him, how much for the coffee?"
"Come on Harry, forget it."

"Hey, Tremont, you down here?" Harry called over the resident Warren Street rats.
"Over ‘ere, Mister Harry."
"What’re you doing in the elevator shaft?"
"Somebody stuck, look, it be sittin up there’s by twos ‘n threes, theys be ringin’ dat ‘mergency bell."
"What the?"
Just then a muffled voice shot down the shaft, "GET ME OUT’A HERE!"
"We's comin, don't worries, we's comin," Tree called back up the shaft.
"What, the, hell?"
"Don't worries Boss, I’s gets it movin', dat Otis man showin' me las’ weeks."
"What he showin'... show you?"
"Over here, dese switchens," as Tree pointed to the large panel of operating controls.
"See, he's toll me do dis one first."
"Which one, I can't see anything, what's wrong with the lights?"
"Dis one," Tree answered as he struck a match.
"Well, okay, go ahead."
Snap, click.
"Hey, dose cables movin', Boss!"
"Good, good!"
"Looks, Boss, it be com’n rate down!"
"Yeah, lets get outta of here before it lands on our heads."
"Boss, it can't, looks, it be stoppin’ bys the main flo’, see?"

The Fat Man, dripping like rhino coming in from the Sahara, ripped open the jammed elevator door like a sardine can and lunged out onto the main floor.
"Oh cripes, that's Sam," Harry whispered to Tree. “Go up and make sure he's okay, but don't tell him I'm down here!"
"Okay, Boss."

"Hey, Sam, what's wrong?" Jack asked.
"I'm going to wring Harry's neck, that's what's wrong."
"Come on, Sam, have a root beer, cool down a bit."
"Oh, I'm goin’ the hell home.”
"Here, take it with you, on me."
"Thanks, Jack, and if I’m still alive I’ll see you in the morning."

As the Fat-man slammed through the front doors, Jack pulled down his lunch-counter shutter to end another coffee and junk-food day. He had been invited up to the Hawaiian for dinner by Mr. Feingold, and was grandly anticipating a meal that excluded hotdogs and donuts. Al from ALL-City was going too, so it was sure to be a good time.

"Psst, Jack, where'd Sam go?" Harry called softly from the basement door.
"Oh, don't worry, he's on his way home."
"Ah, good. I'm goin’ too, I’ll see you all later," Harry replied as he cautiously walked out the front doors.
"Jack, what's wit dat Sam an’ Mr. Harry?" asked Tree.
"Gees, I don't know. Here, take a coke and lets get outta here!"
"I got-sta wait, they still bein' someone’s up th' second flo’."

Marvin and his partner Moe locked the door of ABZ Employment at 6:40 p.m.. Their workday had started twelve hours and 19 cups of coffee earlier. They had placed four full-time employees and seventy three extras, a good day. But now 60 Warren had grown quiet, only a lone figure dressed in last week's whites tilting at the doors. The main floor was strewn with slips, index cards, scraps of paper, empty cups, a flattened milk crate, cigarette butts, and shocks of blended whiskey. The Kid, the chef, the Flamingo Brothers, Betty-the-waitress, “Monticello Charley”, and a host of others were once again out on the job feeding the countless souls who wandered New York City and its one foreign borough.

On the sidewalk, Marv turned to his partner, "Night Moe, see you in the morning." Then, standing alone, Moe, as he did almost every night, turned and looked at the front of 60 Warren Street. He understood probably better than anyone what had occurred in that building during another egg-n-escargot day. Every skill in the business had passed through its weary doors; chefs and managers, dishwashers and waiters, cooks and, well, you name it. Each in their own way, masters of the meal, once again out plying their trade in places like Mama Tina's, Dalhaney's, Le~Yacht and Angelo's take-it-or-leave-it.

Moe stood a bit longer than usual though, realizing the days of his thirty year ritual were numbered. From under his Yankee cap he knew 60 Warren Street would be falling into the shadows of the soon to be erected World Trade Center. If they didn't tear down Harry's building, Harry would certainly be cleaning the windows to justify the new view-rated rents. The agency men would surely scatter around the city, planting their rotary phones on their bargain-basement desks wherever the rents offered the least resistance.

Tastes were changing, too, Moe thought. Fast food joints were creeping into the city serving ground leather on recycled cardboard. Too many out-of-towners moving in Moe silently thought, real New Yorkers wouldn't eat that stuff! "Maybe it's time to retire, go to Miami, live off those IBM stocks we've saved up. Yeah, we can have the grandkids down for holidays, take’em to the beach, yup, that's what we'll do."

Finally, the night's last light flickered out at 60 Warren Street. Quiet Moe pulled down his Yankee cap, turned toward West Broadway, and slowly headed home to the Bronx.

© 1997-2016 by David M. Molloy (aka David Baker)


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