Having navigated a maze of subways back to the parking lot near Penn Station, we retrieved the car and headed uptown for some dinner. The area around Bank Street College, where Rhea attends graduate school, is home to a stunning array of good (and mostly reasonably priced) food. Before eating, however, there was resting: a good half hour of sitting in the car in a parking space with my sneakers off was just the thing to give my barking puppies a second wind.
In my mind, the ensuing “what shall we eat” crawl was merely a formality, because I knew before we even got out of the car where we were going to end up. Right around the corner from Bank Street is a French place called Le Monde. Rhea has been eying it for the last year and a half, and both Rhea and Barbara share a deep-seeded love for French culture. Really, there was never going to be a better time for her to finally eat there; the only potential problem with it was me. I’ve posted before about how I’m just not a foodie; while I’ve certainly striven to be more open to trying new things as of late (call it a New Year’s Resolution if you must), I’m just not into things that are heavy on sauces and/or exotic cheeses…which, right, rules out most French cuisine for this kid. Rhea pulled me off to the side worriedly, assuring me that we could eat somewhere else; I told her I was having none of it, that there would never be a better time for her to have her Le Monde experience than right now, and that the neighborhood was rife with bites I could grab once they were done.
Best culinary decision I’ve ever made, as it turns out; while I’m not going to tell you that I particularly want to delve further into French cuisine, watching Rhea and Barbara share their love for the food and the culture was one of the most joyful things I have experienced in recent memory. It also led me to a bit of a revelation: for whatever reason, I’ve always teased Rhea about her obsession with France. Typical ugly American stuff – you know, nonsense about rudeness, eating snails, use of the phrase oui oui, poo poo, highly witty and clever stuff like that. Lest you think me some kind of dopey nationalist, I will point out in my defense that the whole thing was always meant as a dual parody, to both poke at Rhea and the kind of Ameri-louts who would actually utter such things and mean it, man. I do believe that it is the mark of a smart comedian to know when a particular shtick has run dry; suffice to say, over dinner that night, I watched the timer on my French material run out as decisively as a draining parking meter with a traffic cop hovering overhead. Nothing wrong with replacing material that could be construed as (and, as red as it paints my face to admit it, might have unintentionally been) ignorant, folks, and nothing wrong with heeding the universe’s sign that it’s time.
Full as I was emotionally from being a part of the Le Monde experience and from the revelation that it spawned, I was still a bit light of stomach. No matter: across the street we went to Tom’s Restaurant. Even if you’ve never been there, you know it: it was the subject of Susanne Vega’s second-greatest hit, and the exterior shots of it used in Seinfeld are practically pop-culture gospel at this point. It’s also the best cheap diner in Manhattan: for the princely sum of $7.75, the soup, chicken and fries combo made my stomach match my heart. Back into the car and downtown, then, for the whole reason Barbara and Madison had ventured north: Les Nubians’ performance at B.B. King’s in Midtown. The drive downtown was perfect: nothing like Manhattan on a gorgeous evening with a twelve year old snapping pictures in total wonder out the back window. Finding parking took a little while and some white knuckles on Rhea’s part, but we ended up with an almost too good to be true parking spot on 47th, with plenty of time to get in line and into the club. I can’t even begin to express to you, dear readers, how amazingly first rate Les Nubians are, both as exceptional performers and as human beings. I’d never heard any of their music before, but it didn’t matter in the least; it was immediately appealing and inviting, with the sisters and their band giving everything they had. I was blown away by their performance, and completely knocked off my feet by what followed. We decided to stick around after the gig for a bit, as Madison had met some of the band members the last time they’d seen them, and wanted to say hello again. The amount of time and genuine interest these fantastic musicians showed Madison after the show was just the kind of thing that would make anyone who witnessed it a fan forever. They were super-nice to the rest of us as well, but the way they treated Madison was the absolute dictionary definition of class. A week and a piece later, I still don’t feel like I have adequate words to convey how truly touching the whole experience was.
Standing on top of the world at the crossroads of the world, we left the venue and headed back towards the car. Sadly, it was just about time to drop our friends back at Penn Station and all head back to our respective homes, so much fuller in every conceivable way than we’d been when we woke up that morning. Toward that end, Rhea and I left Barbara and Madison to grab snacks at the Times Square Walgreen’s, while we traipsed back up to 47th to get the car.