Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Hungry Artist

NYC 1987
Hungry Artist

Alas, it was art for art’s sake once again, and we were broke.
I couldn’t find any work. I don’t know why I should be surprised, me being a film animator. 
I’d been looking for a job for weeks.
And getting nowhere.
Meanwhile, Suzie had found part-time work at a travel agency uptown. Owing to her temporarily doubtful immigration status, she didn’t earn very much, but the money she made kept us in pizza and beer, the two inexpensive staples of the struggling artist’s life.
It became a game; where to find cheap, edible food? 
Breakfast specials, at ungodly ‘Early Bird’ hours, could be had at any diner up and down Manhattan. Coffee, one egg, potatoes and toast, all for $1.29 and made to order by the sleepy cook. A meal like that could last you all day, and sometimes did. But you had to get there early.
It paid, I soon learned, to avoid the 99c and the 89c an especially the 59c breakfast. No matter how early the bird… from these breakfasts that’s all you got… the bird.
Thank god for pizza! Plain pizza was under a dollar a slice anywhere in New York, and they were big slices too. Rich and tasty, served piping hot. We watched the locals and followed their example, folding the slice lengthwise and eating from the pointy end, careful not to scald our chins with dripping hot cheese. 
In New Zealand, as with almost everything else pizza was pizza, recognizable as such like a telephone is a telephone or a motorcar is a motorcar, yet different from the American version. 
A pizza in New Zealand might, say, have baked beans as a topping.
And be served for breakfast. 
Yes, a kiwi loves his breakfast! And he likes baked beans, too. You’d be surprised where and on what a kiwi might put baked beans and call it breakfast.
I know I was.
But that was decades ago. Eventually one acclimatizes oneself to the cultural differences all around. 
 That, or go hungry. Yes? 
Another cheap Manhattan lunch option was a hot dog from one of the ubiquitous Sabrett street carts. A hot dog was a good change from pizza, at about the same price. The trick was to ask for your dog “all the way,” that is with every available topping, to increase the food value. 
“Over the top, please,” ordered Suzie and we laughed. She always got it wrong. 
“Me too!” I’d add. “With extra relish.” It’s a wonder we avoided incontinence, with all the pickle and sauerkraut in our diets. 
“Finish your hot dog,” I said to Suzie. “And we’ll get a drink. I found a place…”
It was probably all the beer we drank, counteracting its effects.
The incontinence I mean.
Pretzels, also served from carts, did not appeal to me after trying my first salty, doughy, tasteless, glop of a thing. Inexplicably, it was served with yellow mustard, adding not one iota to the deliciousness of it, which stubbornly remained at nought.
A New York City pretzel is more suited as a salt lick and rutting plaything for a moldy old stag than as food for a human being, but that’s just my opinion. 
If we had a little cash and wanted to eat out, we might stroll down to the Village and eat at one of the Indian curry houses on St. Marks or the Polish place a few blocks over. It was there, by the way, that we discovered Suzie could speak a smattering of Polish, if she had drunk enough potato Vodka. Or maybe it just sounded like Polish, after I had drunk enough potato vodka. 
“Zdrowie wasze w gardia nasze!” said Suzie and we’d drink.
(To your health and down our throats!)
Suzie was dazzling during these difficult days. She never complained or grumbled about our lack of everything, or the fact that we were sleeping on a mattress on the floor of a friend’s apartment, or that I hadn’t been able to find work yet and we had no money. 
“We’ve got our health and we’ve got each other,” said Suzie. “That’s the main thing.”
It’s no exaggeration to say that in New York some days we went hungry, yet Suzie faced it all with a laugh and a joke.
I loved her more than ever.

“Na zdrowie!" said Suzie and we drank.
(Your health!)

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