Jack Murnighan and Captain Jay
Photo and story by Timothy Gillis
Captain Jay and I leave Wells, Maine, around 11 a.m. on Friday, May 18, heading to the Big City – New York, New York – to see a friend who lives in Manhattan, catch the Champs League final, and crawl around Brooklyn with literary types. Captain Jay takes the photos and I write the text for our photojournalistic ventures – roller derby, goth street theater, deaf filmfest. And next up, a literary pub crawl with real authors in a real city.
Ride in on Broadway, through Harlem. Pick up Jack, editor for local start-up just bought up by big company, and he takes us to park car for weekend. Walk to squeeze in happy hour drinks at the Randolph.
Now back to Jack’s sixth-floor walk-up tucked in between Little Italy on your left when you wake up and walk down and out and Chinatown on your right.
That Friday night for rooftop sights, new neighbors Julianna and Rachel, and glogg – infused vodka with toasted sesame seeds.
Julianna is an artist, and shows us her Hell series in her apartment. Her art is “dark and bloody,” says Captain Jay.
Rachel is a photographer. She googles an image of her’s from the occupy days, a popular image of a bloody protester standing peacably next to a cop, both looking at something else. “I’ve been shooting since I was 15 years old. I can’t stop doing this shit,” she says.
I pull out the brochure for Lit Crawl Brooklyn that Jack mailed me, while Jack and Captain Jay, Julianna and Rachel square off for arm-wrestling.
“Book lovers, get out of your easy chairs and join PEN for a night of peripatetic literary revelery,” I read. I plug “Cobble Hill” into iMaps, run the streets through my mind, seeing tomorrow night in the vague haze of tonight.
Catherine Barnett, Monica Ferrell, and Cathy Park Hong will be reading at Bookcourt, and then lit lovers will head to 61 Local on Bergen Street for the after party with DJ Gregoire. I fall asleep reading “Year of the Pig,” by Cathy Park Hong, am awakened by Captain Jay and Jack, looking to get 3 a.m. Chinese food. “Brother, we were enthralled by massif dead pigs floating/ downriver… ”
The next morning, Jack cooks us breakfast while we put together the pieces from last night’s puzzle. Jack heads to Philadelphia to see the family and tosses us the keys to his apartment. The crawl continues.
Captain Jay and I search for a facial wake-up.
We find Sal’s Barber Shop on Mulberry Street, featuring hot towel shaves. Sal, the 70-year-old owner, doesn’t speak much English, but his Italian grunts give me the basic message. I want him to shave my gray and red beard off, give me back my youth. He buzzes the beard with an electric razor first, and then he uses the straight-edge blade that makes the vasovagal nerve syncope in me thank the barber chair for tilting me back, making the fainting a little less likely.
I try to move my face for his shaving it, and he stops. “You move, I move. Not good,” he says. I realize just to let go, let him take care of me, and the shave gets smoother, Sal soothing my face and stroking my shoulder like Raymond Carver’s barber.
Captain Jay and I take our fresh faces through Central Park and down 5th Avenue, looking for the Perfect Pint. We found it at 123 West 45th Street, between 6th and Broadway. We share a table with Denny, Sarah, Bridget, and Katie, who have our backs when New York Ranger fans whine about changing the channel to the Champs League final.
I’m a Manchester United fan, but I’m looking forward to harassing some German soccer fans, so we cross the street to the Bierhaus German bar and grill. There we meet, befriend, and have a sudden but predictable falling out with Matthias and Katrin from Siegen, Germany.
Matthias is drinking beer out of the biggest stein I’ve ever seen. I am drinking Jameson out of a dainty glass. Every good thing that Bayern does causes Matthias to clunk his stein on the bar and look to cheers me in mutual glee. For most of the game, I fully expect my drink to explode in my hand. Matthias and I are tight until the 88th-minute when Didier Drogba’s header sends the game into extra time and the bar into stunned silence.
I am only screaming because it means more soccer, but that message doesn’t translate to the German crowd. The bar rebounds for penalty kicks, but Matthias and Katrin are crestfallen. I think somehow they blame me. The scene shifts to some unpublished Kafka work, wherein everyone one else is a dung beetle.
Captain Jay and I grab a cab for the event we had come all the way from Maine for – Lit Crawl Brooklyn.
Sharif from Bangladesh is our cabbie, and for nearly twenty minutes, he regales us with wisdom on a range of topics, from the secret to getting a “free” woman, to the relative price of prostitutes and why kids today are “kissing in the stairways.”
We finally land at BookCourt, 328 miles from home, late for the pub crawl, and already loaded. Winding our way to the back of the store, we hear Cathy Park Hong reading from her poetry.
I find a place in back to take notes. Captain Jay gets out his camera to click a few pics. She is at the microphone, urging us to “whisper a poem in somebody’s ear.”
On a bench in front of BookCourt, I ask Cathy Park Hong to sign my copy of “Engine Empire,” poems that Captain Jay says are “dark and bloody,” like the art from last night, like the tales of tomorrow.
Captain Jay and I head to 63 Local, where we meet Emily Dickinson and her hot, younger sister. The sister wants to salsa dance, but Emily’s all wallflowery, won’t talk about her poems, won’t even admit she writes them.
We take them dancing at Pane E Vino on Smith Street. Emily won’t dance, of course. She’s mad that her sister wants to. We are all standing around, listening to the useless music, Emily Dickinson’s disdain hovering like an organ chord in the air. Captain Jay takes her sister’s purse and hands it to me, takes her sister to the dance floor, leaves me holding the bags.