The No. 1 Ho Fun Caper

Lower East Side,New-York-City-2011-03-05-026Vivienne Gucwa

On a recent Saturday night, I put my ugliest sweater on over my most sequined top and went out to a new bar in Alphabet City.

This bar was so hip it did not even have a name on its door or façade. Inside there were chandeliers. The wallpaper choice was a velvet fleur-de-lis pattern. There was a large portrait of a pink cocktail that was lit from behind. The bouncers were thin, glamorous, and female. I pointed to the cocktail portrait and asked for one, on ice.

While I waited to give my credit card to one of the two young, pouty Frenchmen behind the bar I admired the postage stamp picture of myself on the corners of the plastic square I was about to hand over. I’ve had the same credit card picture since I was 15 years old. In this portrait, I had just gotten my braces off and my smile seems wide enough to stretch across all eight digits of my account number. It’s quite adorable, and I get a lot of compliments on it, but the bartenders, who looked scarcely older than I was in the photograph appeared to take little notice.

Oh, well, I thought.  It was probably too dark for them to realize what they were missing. I took my drink and descended a wooden set of steps in search of the dance floor.

Four hours later, I returned to the bar to retrieve my card. I gave the bartenders my name. They looked at each other in confusion and touched their neck scarves before whispering in French and turning around to hunch over the cash register. I studied my fingernails. There was a loose sequin stuck in my cuticle. I hate splinters, I thought before quickly scrawling my name on a paper slip, stuffing it into my pocket and heading home.

I awoke the next day, refreshed, and craving a greasy pizza. I found my card on my kitchen/bedroom floor, my 15-year-old self smiling up at me, encouraging me to get extra cheese.  I went online to check how my funds were doing. I’m still unable to afford a Metrocard. Maybe next week.

Among the various recent charges, at places like C-town and the Life Café, there was a puzzling $13.50 charge at No. 1 Chinese Food listed as having taken place at 2:45 a.m. that morning.  I looked suspiciously at the smiling girl on my credit card.

This was a Nancy Drew class mystery. I immediately interrogated the most usual suspect, myself. This was convenient since I was already in a damp, windowless room. Did I or did I not treat myself to a meal of Moo Goo Gai Pan on my way home last night? Perhaps some Drunken Noodles in my drunken stupor? Answer me, me. Because I had the alibi of being stuck in the bar’s cask of amontillado–like dance cave during the entire previous evening, I ruled myself out. Besides, I clearly remembered eating a bagel smeared with peanut butter after getting home from the bar. Even if my memory was not reliable the evidence was all over my now very buttery pillow. I know; I’m not proud of what I did. The only thing on a bagel should be cream cheese and Lox.

IMG_2450Kim Davis

What seemed most curious was that nowhere on my statement was there a charge for the pink drink I had purchased from those confused foreign children who had served me at the bar. The place didn’t have a name on the door, but I know it wasn’t called No. 1 Chinese Food.

I put on my daywear galoshes and set out in search of No. 1 Chinese. Believed by many to be one of those places only locatable between the hours of 2 to 4 a.m. and visible only to those with impaired judgment, I worried that I might not be able to find it while the sun was out.  But after just a bit of wandering, there it was.

I entered and picked up a menu, pretending to browse their series of Schezuan offerings. “How’s the duck?” I asked. “Fresh!” Three apron wearing chefs answered in unison. I threw the menu on the ground. “I’m not here for the duck.” I narrowed my eyes. “Have you seen this card?”  I showed my ATM card the way I had seen Mariska Hargitay hold similar pictures of smiling white women to Chinese food shop owners on so many episodes of Law & Order.

“Ah!” they said. “Yes, we’ve seen this before. Last night. Boy used it.” They were crazy for letting him use it, I said.  Were they blind? Did they think this beautiful picture of me looked like a boy? They stared. I looked at the timeless photo; my hair was pulled back like a greasy jazz artist. My toothy smile was so wide that my eyes seemed to disappear into the grainy texture of the plastic. I realized that when the picture was taken I had yet to start shaping my eyebrows. Still, I asked my suspects how they could let this mystery boy from last night use a card that wasn’t his. One of the cooks handed me a toothpick with a hunk of duck on the end, as he asked: “It wasn’t you?”

I thought about the night before. Maybe I had bought the food while in a dancing trance. Or, maybe I’d loaned my card to a hungry friend. Or, since there was no charge at the bar, perhaps the bartenders had left their little French posts and used my card to buy their dinner! With this thought, my pace quickened.  I ran down Avenue B, searching for a giant wooden door and a sidewalk littered with the remnants of partiers from the night before. It didn’t take long to find the French den of sin. I pounded on the lace covered glass window.

This proved to be very dramatic, because brunch was being served inside. The thin, glamorous bouncer was now acting as a thin, glamorous Bloody Mary pourer and poked her head out the door to ask me what the problem was. I kindly explained that her bartenders had failed to charge me for my pink drink but bought Chicken Chow Fun instead. Is that the way she wants to run a business?

The waif stepped outside. The distressed wooden door closed. I leaned in closer to see if her glasses were fake or prescription. “Look,” she said, “the bartenders got confused, they knew they wouldn’t be able to run your card because we’re cash only, so they bought food instead. It’s a wash.” Her eyes shifted to the bartenders who were happily throwing olives at each other.

“How is that a wash?” I asked. “How often does this happen?”

She blinked. “They were hungry.”

My jaw dropped the way it does when I’m told I have to wait for a table at brunch. I’m sure the people walking by thought that’s what we were arguing about, but this was far more offensive. I furrowed my brow, trying to get her to show the slightest sign of remorse, to maybe even say she was sorry on behalf of her fedora-wearing employees. I could call the police, bring my friends at No. 1 Chinese to do some obligatory finger pointing, and get the government to send those miscreants back to go to elementary school in their own country. That would be sure to wipe the ice cold stare from her face. Then who would be serving the bloody marys?

Sometimes, in New York, we find it hard to forgive strangers who cut in front of us on the subway platform, or bump into us on the sidewalk and make us spill our coffee, or who help themselves to our credit cards in the middle of the night. And, sometimes brunch is ruined by two women screaming at each other just to see who’s louder.

But at the end of the day, most of us ended up in New York because we craved something better than where we previously were; be it art or business or love. And no matter what, we will all at some point, find ourselves needing greasy noodles and duck to get the energy to keep up with the city. I live here. I know what it’s like to crave greasy food. So I smiled at the woman with her red beret and pitcher of pink drink, turned around, and got myself a pizza.