Delicious pizza, ice cold beer, a cap from the 1850s & Staten Island
The four of us sallied to the edge of the known universe last Friday night, which for New Yorkers is the borough of Staten Island. It’s a strange and indescribable place, where the fruit of its bounty populate TV shows such as Mob Wives and Jersey Shore. Though I won’t motor on about SI in this post, I did enough bloviating about it in “Episode Seven,” which is about the mayhem that happened at a barbecue we went to in Arden Heights.
So why would we go back, you ask? For some of the best pizza and pitchers of beer on the map! (Btw, I love maps. I just bought a supersized road atlas at Walmart. I love to thumb through and take flights of fancy all over the US.)
Our destination in SI was Lee’s Tavern. Me, lady friend(LF), and the pizza and Chinese delivery guys(aka num and nuts) had gone there to meet a bunch of friends, some of whom could have been from outer space, it was that close; because they live all the way up in Toronto!
Under blue skies, we departed Manhattan with rush hour commuters and crossed a five-mile stretch of NY Bay on the Staten Island Ferry. At the SI ferry terminal, the four of us hopped on the only train line, which runs the length of the island to Tottenville. We got off at the Dongan Hills station, set on an elevated platform. Around the station are small shops and homes. To the west, the homes rise up a hill, where the full sun was on the descent.
There came a series of beeps and the train doors started to close. A big man hopped out of the rear car with a spry step. The train pulled away, leaving us in bright sunlight. Yet it was impossible to see the big man clearly; his body had a stygian aura. Given the condition, he was either possessed or otherworldly. I grabbed LF by the hand and led her down the stairs, hoping my night wasn’t going to be ruined by some infernal creature, especially as pizza and beer signals monopolized my synapses.
Chirps and squawks sounded up on the train platform, seeming as if a large nest of birds had been startled. It was only num and nuts, who had paused–thinking we did too–to get a better look at what could have been an unearthly being. The two of them came flapping down the steps in their designer shirts and jeans. The bastards both have great hair, which was slicked back and perfect. And even though flustered, they still played with it-like girls as they tried to match our calm.
I marched on through the station’s parking lot. Lee’s was in my sights–on the corner across from the lot. The sun’s reflection in the windows made it difficult to see inside. The tavern looked closed and unwelcoming. Yet mostly because, in typical NYC fashion that started with the Yankees not putting player names on uniforms–as they are so popular that everyone knows the players’ names, Lee’s has no exterior signage.
We had to wait for a table to clear and for the others to arrive. The friendly crowd was three-people-deep at the bar. One of the patrons eyed me. He was perched on a corner stool by the front window. So strong was his gaze, I was near certain it was someone I’d known since high school or longer. When I finally glanced over, I couldn’t place the bloated face of the man, though he gave a friendly smile.
Our friends came in a moment after we were seated in a room away from the bar. Our party of ten ordered plates of scungilli and calamari, two plain pizzas, one pie with fresh mozzarella and basil, another with broccoli, onions and mushrooms, and a white clam pie.
When the pizza pies started to hit the table, I thought about taking a photo for you. Overwhelmed by the look and aroma, I dug right in. And each slice, bite after bite, right down to the crust was scrumptious. I like to dip! So I had a cup of red sauce, to dip the crust that was crunchy with just the hint of a burn on the edge. Mmmm! Mmmm! Mmmm! Also, the red sauce is all-tomato-taste and no spice, just the way red sauce should be.
I guess if you’re daring enough to brave the known and unknown forces, and go to SI, Lee’s is a must stop. If I lived in the apartments above Lee’s, some days I would roll out of bed and have pizza for breakfast.
(Lee’s fresh mozzarella pie - Photo courtesy the Bridge and Tunnel Club)
For probably most of the evening, I was on auto-pilot when it came to conversation and overall perception, but it wasn’t my fault. The fare at Lee’s was the perfect escape after a miserable work week at my *crumby demolition job.
On my way into the small bathroom, a big man came out and brushed past me. I thoughtlessly glanced up at his face and closed the door. He was the man from the bar, and I began to think he might have been the umbral figure who had gotten off the train with us. I came out searching the bar area and back tables for him. But he had vanished.
I sat back at the table with my friends to find LF raking me with her eyes. She does that sometimes, because I can be a bit lazy when it comes to my appearance.
I reached into my coat pocket for gum. To my surprise, I found an old leather skull cap. I suspected the big man had slipped it in my pocket outside the bathroom.
The leather cap was smooth from wear and showed no signs of drying or cracking. I turned it inside out and saw a familiar nickname scratched into it in black ink. If my dreams and visions of a past life are correct, it was my nickname in the 1850s. Back then, I wore such a cap when I volunteered as a fireman in Brooklyn’s 6th Ward…
*Holden Caulfield spelling of crummy.
Here are all the posts in this series: Episode Thirty-Nine
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