Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Un-Erin Go Bragh, As It Were

Ancient Irish culture was dedicated to cattle in much the same way that the Indian culture was: they counted wealth in cattle, treated milk cows like revered members of the family, wrote songs and hymns in praise of cows, and so forth. I mention this just so that at least one actual fact about Ireland gets disseminated while everyone's getting blitzed on green beer. (I don't mean to complain, but part of me wants to remind everyone that St. Patrick's Day really ought to be more than just Mardi Gras with a repetitive design scheme.)

My plan for my first-ever St. Patrick's Day in New York City was to actually see the parade. I ws going to go down there, report on the doings, and come back and type up a story about it. I even had a great first line: "I woke up on St. Patrick's Day with a hangover---not because I'd been drinking, but because I'd already inhaled so much second-hand booze from everyone else in Manhattan who'd apparently started drinking at midnight the day before. By the time I got outside there was so much beer vapor in the air that it formed a green mist that veiled 59th Street, and the birds were all lying down."

Alas, I woke up too late to reach the parade before it was over. And I was going to watch the last half hour of it on TV, but it was running against a rerun of the Colbert Report, and like any good working humorist I have to study.

In fact, I don't remember what exactly took up most of the day---oh, wait; it's coming back to me: I had to figure out how to get a replacement title for my car, which involved finding some way to prove my new address was my new address, running to get an acceptable form of payment, finding websites, filling out forms, talking long distance to people in various government offices . . . just the sort of day that really makes me want to drink.

And yet for some reason I didn't drink. Instead, I saw V for Vendetta with my friend Ryan---a movie I quite enjoyed, and find deeply subversive on a basic comic-book level, but which feels like it might be one good argument away from losing my allegiance; as if the whole dizzy spectable was erected on some deeply offensive false premise that I haven't noticed yet. For now, I'm happily entertained in a critical ignorance which may persist for the rest of my life.

When we emerged from the movie, and Ryan went home, it was midnight, and surely time to get my drink on. But the thing is, none of my usual haunts are Irish pubs. (I tend to prefer vaguely western-themed and biker-friendly dives where people start dancing on the bar on a normal night; how's St. Patrick's gonna top that?) So it seemed unlikely that anyone would be doing much that was special. As it turned out, I was right---not only that, but for some reason, every time I entered a bar that I normally scope out as my own, I didn't feel like staying. Maybe I don't like crowds, or fighting for the attention of the bartender. I know I don't like beer, so maybe this is just the wrong holiday for me anyway.

All I know is, I passed a 24-hour Ukrainian restaurant called Veselka---Ryan's boyfriend had introduced me to it weeks before---and I realized that the only thing I'd eaten that day was a hummus bagel and a few bean burritos. Hey! I thought. I'll have an un-Saint Patrick's Day! Not only will I not drink, but to celebrate the diversity of being in New York, I'll have non-Irish food all day!

So I went in and ordered the borscht. And by the way, when I tell you I ordered borscht in a Ukrainian restaurant in The Village, you may be picturing some small, dimly-lit hole in the wall run by grumpy folks from the Old Country whose close air smells faintly of cabbage. But nyet! This is a large, brightly-lit 24-hour diner that, until you see the menu, you'd swear was a standard, vaguely fifties-style affair: plenty of room; lots of young people; a polite, alert, and fast-working staff. And the food! I'd never had borscht before, for the excellent reason that I've never liked beets. And yet I'd tried the borscht here---at Ryan's boyfriend's suggestion---and found it absolutely delicious. I couldn't remember how or why, and this was my second stop, so I figured I'd pay attention this time.

I don't know how they do it---wasn't Rasputin an alchemist?---but the borscht at Veselka's is so beautiful I swear it can cure a broken heart. I was already perfectly content when I sat down, but after the borscht, I was actually raised to a happier plane that I hadn't even been aware of. I tried to figure out what, specifically, was so great about it, but all I could come up with was this: the borscht at Veselka's literally does everything right. It doesn't taste like beets. It's a sweet broth that tastes like tomato soup with the tomatoey parts removed, and the foods in the broth---including barley, carrots, soft soft meat, and even lima beans, which I normally loathe---are all at just the right volume and in just the right mix, so that the meat acts as a perfect vehicle to deliver the broth, and the lima beans are so muted you'd swear they were split peas. And a cup of soup is under five bucks! I love New York!

I also ordered a chicken sandwich, which was kind of a waste, because it came on a bun---I chose challah bread, which it turns out I don't like---with lettuce, tomato and pickles piled next to it in a separate sector. I just didn't feel like assembling my own damn sandwich, and the chicken didn't mix with the bread that well, so I just ate the slab of chicken and let the rest of it go to hell. So get the borscht, try the boiled pierogi, and then keep your other expectations low.

Anyway, I ended the day by lying in bed and reading a few essays by G. K. Chesterton, and so I went to sleep that night feeling very fond of the British. It doesn't get much more non-Irish than that. Erin Go Elsewhere, Y'all.


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