Friday, January 9, 2009

Winter, spring, summer or fall / All you have to do is call / And I'll be there / You've got a friend -- Carole King, 1971.

Marti and I flew l'Avion from Paris, landing at Newark in the late afternoon of Thursday December 18, about to kick off our 2008 Eurotrash Holidaze Tour. After months of trip and party planning we were excited about reuniting with our New York Krew: Jody and Emmett, Runaway Bry, Deb and Ted, Glitter Boy, Kirk, Jon, Amy and others. Because I'd be hosting
Martipalooza -- a big belated milestone birthday party for my bride a couple of nights later -- we were also looking forward to seeing a host of other U.S. pals who would be traveling to New York from all around the country to celebrate with us.

As we've done for more than twenty years, Marti and I would be staying just two blocks off Times Square . . .

. . . at the home of our dear friends Jody and Emmett. The four-story brownstone has been in Jody's family since the turn of the last century. We always occupy the parlor floor VIP Suite.

We stowed our bags, visited briefly with our hosts, then cabbed to the Upper West Side to see our buds Deb and Ted. They had graciously received a number of mail order packages on our behalf. We needed to collect them quickly, as a couple were meant as Christmas gifts for guests coming to Marti's party.

After a relaxing hang with Deb and Ted, we hailed a cab to take us across Central Park to Pig Heaven, the Yorkville restaurant which would be the site of Martipalooza..

We had dinner and tacked down the final details for the Saturday night soirée with Nancy Lee, the beautiful namesake of this landmark Chinese bar/resto at E. 80th Street and Second Avenue. Marti and I were relieved to find that everything was in order for the party. Our guests would be taking over two rooms of the restaurant; we chose a table in the middle of the floor plan where we'd have eye contact with all our peeps.

Snow had been predicted for the next day, Friday. We hit the ground running with a quick visit to Amy's Bread, a Hell's Kitchen mainstay around the corner from our digs. The order for Marti's birthday cake was in good shape. Amy's would be messengering it to Nancy Lee's on Saturday afternoon.

Now it was time for breakfast at our favorite New York coffeeshop, the Galaxy at W. 46th and Ninth Avenue. The cold morning called for oatmeal. Deelish. Didn't want to fill up: I had surprise lunch plans for Marti later that day.

Friday was our big NYC shopping day. First destination was Barney's. Following a pair of debacles in the Men's department (my Armani sportcoat that didn't survive a trip to the dry cleaner and a botched customer service performance surrounding its successor), Marti had negotiated a sizable credit and a one-day 20% discount on anything in the store. I decided that she should reap the rewards. I couldn't fit anything more in my closet.

While we were still in sixth floor Men's, I heard a familiar voice speaking with a salesperson. I turned to see Gary Dell'Abate, longtime producer of the Howard Stern show on Sirius satellite radio, trying on a sportcoat. "Looks good, Gary," I said. He laughed and complained that he can never find anything to fit him anymore. I explained that I was a loyal daily listener to the show via Internet in the comfort of my Paris living room. We chatted briefly, then continued on our respective shopping missions.

Marti and I hit several designer departments on a number of floors until she selected a lovely Jill Sander winter coat that had started life at nearly $3000, but was now marked down below a grand. It looked marvelous on her. After the credit and the discount were applied, I wound up shelling out a whopping $38 on her 2008 Christmas gift. I haven't got away that cheaply in decades!

Marti wore the new coat right away. She decided to donate her previous coat to a New York charity. It was beginning to snow. I was delighted. We strolled over to Bloomingdale's, finished our Christmas shopping there, then headed on to lunch.

Our surprise destination (for Marti) was the legendary Le Cirque restaurant. What made this lunch all the more special was the warm company of our friends Trish and Ben, who had flown in from Austin, Texas for the Marti festivities, and our Maximum City hosts Jody and Emmett. Lunch in the Le Cirque Café was laid back and elegant -- and of course, delectable. Martipalooza Weekend was well underway!

Jody and Emmett came along with us afterward as the Shopping Quest resumed. By now the weather was getting real sloppy. Nearly everything that could was falling from the sky. I was digging it to death. I love winter weather.

The in-kitchen bickering Romagnolis: among my favorite TV chefs from the 1970s & '80s.
I flashed on a huge blizzard back when we lived in DC in the '80s. All day as the snow piled up, Marti and I had watched cooking show after cooking show on Public TV. After a chef came on cooking rabbit stew I rose from the sofa in a frenzy of cabin fever overlayed with a rabbit jones.

"Let's go up to 18th Street," I cried, "We can see if any of the restaurants are open." We trudged through the snow and like a beacon from a lighthouse a yellow glow emanated from La Fourchette, a longtime Adams-Morgan standby. What's more, the Frenchies had Bunny à la Sauce Moutarde on the menu! Deep snow and slow-cooked rabbit -- does life get any better than that?

After the Le Cirque lunch we taxied down to snowy Herald Square, spent one second looking at Macy's windows, then entered the giant department store. I was looking for a deal on a new raincoat. The Smithsonian had been e-mailing me about acquiring my old Generra raincoat (purchased in Georgetown ca. 1983, high style, bad fit). I figured after 25 years it was time to upgrade. I zeroed in on a great deal on a Joseph Abboud Sinatra-belted coat. Nasty weather? Bring it on, New York!

Next stop was Steve Madden shoes, around the corner on W. 34th Street. As we entered the store, clerks were handing out scratch-off discount cards. I scored 25% off on a pair of faux snakeskin slip-ons. Marti and I had considered one or two more destinations that afternoon, but the streets were becoming nearly impassable for pedestrians, so we called it and headed back to W. 46th.

That evening we went down to the East Village . . .

. . . to catch a gig by Staten Island's reknowned Budos Band. This was planned to be a sort of Martipalooza pre-party, but already some of our guests' flights were being delayed by the storm.

Another surprise was in store for Marti. Marie and Kevin, our longtime pals from Belfast (now residing in Portland Oregon), sashayed into the Mercury Lounge and caught my baby completely unaware. Marti was thrilled. She and Marie hunkered down at a table and immediately started catching each other up. Kevin and I did pretty much the same at the bar. It was so great to see these folks again. We all met the first summer Marti and I lived in Paris, 1991.

Our pal Ben, who earlier in the evening had been to see South Pacific at Lincoln Center with his bride Trish, deposited his better half at their hotel and came down to join us for the Budos Band, who rocked out old-school R&B instrumental-style.

Joe, brother of Mike of Des and Mike, our Paris-cum-Los Angeles homies, tips one with Marie and Kevin. (Desirée and Mike were also in da house but clearly dodging the paparazzi that night.)

After the show a bunch of us went to late dinner nearby at Katz's Deli. The food was good, I thought, and the ambience was pretty loose and nutty, but this place is hardly the outstanding delicatessen that my Gov't Mule listserv correspondents make it out to be. The NYC Mule Krew goes absolutely apeshit over this joint. I've been to more than a few Manhattan delis that leave this one -- a kind of pretentious dive deli -- in the dust.

By Saturday morning of Martipalooza Day the bad weather had abated. Just about all our guests had made it into town by then.

That afternoon Marti went to the exclusive Minardi Salon on the Upper East Side for a blow out and a manicure. The Minardi team loved her French "do" with the fuschia and pink extensions, her signature look. I logged in some time at a neighborhood coffee shop/cyber café, checking my e-mail for updates from our invitées.

In the early evening we made our way over to Nancy's, stopping enroute to shop at the Hungarian Meat Market. After bringing home goodies from the central market in Budapest in May, I had tried to restock in Paris but hadn't been able to locate the ingredients. Turns out that back in the day the section of Yorkville where Nancy's Pig Heaven is located was New York's Hungarian neighborhood. This grocery-deli is the last vestige of that scene -- and it's on the same block as Nancy's!

Welcome to Pig Heaven.

The Queen of Saturday Night. She's flanked by her subjects: my cousin Nick (at left) and our pal Kevin.

A table by the band, please. Left to right are Jody, Gina, Aaron, Nate and Trish. Sam da Man, always in demand, was eluding the paparazzi that evening.

Our longtime pals. We vacationed with Gina & Da Boyz in Spain last August.

Marti's Maryland-DC homies Felecia and Pat. Longtime gal pals and former coworkers, they had trained up the night before, were staying at a swanky apartment at W. 42nd Street and Ninth Avenue. We had popped in on them enroute to the Mercury Lounge, but they refused to come along with us. The gravitational pull of their digs -- which featured breathtaking corner views of Manhattan, the Hudson River and the Garden State -- was too strong.

The Las Vegas contingent. Suzi is a real estate magnate and Mike is a former showgirl. They showered Marti with loving hospitality during her business trip to Sin City last June.

Ben and Jody. (Don't they make ice cream for hippies?)

Me and Trish. We had a super time with her and Ben when they visited Paris last August.

Trevor with Liz, the coolest mom around. It was a special treat to spend the evening with the spawn of some of our dearest friends.

Rosemary and Devon. (Must not say "Rosemary's baby" . . . must not say "Rosemary's baby" . . .)

Gal pals Rosemary and Katie.

Whoa . . . everybody in this room is in 3-D!

Ted was my oldest friend at the party, in every sense of the word. He's my age and still hitting on young women, in this case our host Nancy. Where the hell was his wife Deb?

Nancy's regulars: the inimitable Jon Paris on badass guitar, harmonica and deep blues vocals, Madame de Booming Bass Amy Madden and timekeeper extraordinaire Kirk Driscoll on drums. They rocked the house all night long, welcomed numerous guest musicians to the bandstand and kept everyone groovin'.

Here's some archival footage of Jon and Amy in action . . .

Our friend K. LaMonté kicked down soulful versions of "Silent Night" and "Jingle Bells." "Finally," Marti exclaimed, "a rocked-out 'Jingle Bells' I can dance to!" The B-Day girl tore up the dance floor.

Mike, Marc and Susabella let the spirit move them.

Google the word "surprise" and Kevin's picture comes up. He bowled Marti over by singing her favorite Leonard Cohen song, "Ain't No Cure For Love." I was standing right behind Ms. Marti and I had to catch her before she fainted!

Liz presents a gift from her sister Susan to Marti. It's a lovely painting Susan made depicting the balconies surrounding our Paris apartment. I was getting homesick already!

Marc Black, our dear amigo whose friendship dates back to my hazy mid-70s Woodstock period, generously serenaded Marti with "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)," a tender ballad he'd learned for his bride Sue. Then he namechecked Marti and me in "Sittin' On Top Of The World" ("My friend Phil is sittin' on top of the world / 'cause he's got such a hot-lookin' girl").

Marc is such a talented cat. A truly original songwriter. A superb guitar player. A great friend. All that and he drinks coffee . . .

Marc's version of "Gloria" got the entire joint up and dancin'. It was a joy to behold.

During "Gloria" Nancy ran to the drumkit and started to throw down.

This jam was right up Marc's alley -- he organizes tuned water glass sessions in coffee shops, for goodness' sake.

Our pal Nate. He's sixteen now and totally unflustered.

Trish attains VIP status. "I'm with the drummer."

Alan Merrill, our favorite Glitter Boy, took the stage and rocked hard. He sang an array of crowd-pleasers: R&B classics, rockers, pop hits . . . and of course, The Anthem: "I Love Rock 'N Roll." He wrote it in London in 1975. Royalties from cover versions by the likes of Joan Jett and Britney Spears been berry berry good to Alan.

As soon as Marti heard the big intro chords to "I Love Rock 'N Roll," she weaseled her way up to the stage.

She wasn't about to miss the opportunity . . .

. . . to reprise her gang vocalist role on Alan's 2000 recording of the song.

Here's Alan's original 1975 version of "I Love Rock 'N Roll" with his prototypical boy band, The Arrows:

Mike and Nancy. Who doesn't love Rock 'N Roll?

Even I received a gift that night. Mike brought me a souvenir teeshirt made by our mutual friends Jan and Greg in Virginia (a newly Blue State).

Alan sang one of my favorites of his recordings, a killer version of The Left Banke's "Walk Away Renee."

Kirk Yano is a one-man party. He smokes on guitar. In the studio he'll transform your track into a sonic jumping bean that pops out of the speakers. And he's always the coolest dude in the room. Marti and I love him to death. We're so happy he was riding shotgun on December 20.

Kirk is très débonnaire aussi. That's the delectable Rose he's zooming in on.

Toward the end of the night -- always her time to shine -- Jamie The Bartender delighted the crowd with a soul-drenched version of "Be My Baby." Okay, Jamie. No problem.

For more great images, check out to view Robin Langsdorf's excellent slide show of the party. Thanks again, Robin!

Miraculously, Marti and I woke on Sunday morning -- after only a couple of hours' sleep -- and went to church at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity on E. 74th Street. I had always wanted to visit the Mother Ship of my Faith.

After the Divine Liturgy, we were graced with nearly an hour of New York Theater: the Sunday School kids' annual Christmas Pageant.

While shepherds watched . . . for their cue.

No cheesy foamcore costumes for these Maximum City thespians; the angels had feathers in their wings.

The Grand Finale. The little cherubs got into a bit of an angelic traffic jam at the altar, but their herders nudged them into position in time for the money shot.

After church Marti and I cabbed up to Harlem, to meet a few of our hardcore pals for the Official Martipalooza Soul Food Brunch. Amy Ruth's -- a hands-down winner -- was our friend Teri's recommendation.

Clockwise: Ben, Trish, Jody, Emmett, Felecia, Maria, Charles, Pat, Marti, me, Teri and Jerry.

Cholesterol pushers: Harlem residents Teri and Jerry.

Is Trish putting grits on those waffles? Jody is either appalled . . . or thinks it's a nifty idea.

That's me. Chicken livers, mac 'n cheese, collard greens. And no, I'm not sharing.

Mmmmm. Chicken looks damn good.

Marti enjoys a lifetime supply of pork chops. (Back on W. 46th Street Ricky the Hyperkinetic Chihuahua is salivating but does not yet know why.) Oh, her sides are cheesy grits and fried okra. Gotta love this gal.

You would think that after such a huge brunch we wouldn't be able to eat again for a week.

You would be wrong.

Gathering that evening at Five Napkin Burger in Hell's Kitchen: Jim, Emmett, Nikki, Marti, Jody and me. Emmett and Nikki had us roaring at their pigeon Italian-actual Italian mock argument. Emmett would kick out some totally fake Italian, like "Tuto ma puto ni soma prosciutto!" (With exaggerated hand choreography, of course.) Then Nikki would heatedly retort: "Non conoscete di che cosa l'inferno voi sta parlando!" And on. And on. We were in stitches.

The burgers were awesome as well.

Special thanks to Liz Janega and Ben Marroquin for contributing images to this section.