A Manhattan Reminiscence
by Barbara Abramik

Donald and I left the Broome Street Bar and Grill just before midnight. We were rather hungry and they weren't grilling anymore. Walking along Murray Street we realized that we weren't interested in a fast food joint; however, we reconciled ourselves to the idea should nothing else turn up.

And just as we were contemplating this we fell upon Sebastian's in the next block. A waitress in her early 20s met us at the door—immediately—to say that they were closing after the seated customers were taken care of. Just then, the owner came over to tell her that she didn't have to worry—he would serve us and that she was free to go.

Robert brought us to a table for four and joined us once all the customers had left. He turned up the Rita Coolidge and Kris Kristopherson tape that was playing and I sang along much to Donald's chagrin. He had been amused and repulsed by my ease in quaffing down draught beer at the bar earlier in the evening, and he didn't seem much impressed with me now—not that I was aiming to impress. I was slightly inebriated and felt unfettered. He sat there tight-lipped, facial muscles tensed. It bugged him that Robert, who was sitting next to him, was also singing along to what Donald did not consider real music.

Anyway, it was good to stay put, just sit, and eat a bit after a long day in Manhattan.

* * *

We had started late that morning at the Cloisters walking around its garden and galleries, seeped in medieval music. I thought how clever Rockefeller was to have bought the collections of European church and abbey ruins, and to have them numbered brick by brick and sent over to the States to be put together in an extravagant Lego project. I remember thinking this piece of paradise was less than an hour from mid-town where we were staying on our university spring-break trip to NYC.

On our way back from the Cloisters, we stopped briefly at the Metropolitan Museum. We sat on the stairs and watched. We were content being in the sun, feeling we were at the centre of the universe. We decided to walk along Fifth Avenue all the way to the Village. We stopped for a coffee at Café Rimmigio—a cramped little hole-in-the-wall with an antique espresso machine. An Italian opera played in the background. If I hadn't known better, I would have said I was in Venice off Central Canal. Our waiter was warm and charming, and the coffee satisfying. We thought about our next move, and decided to stay in the area and visit the galleries before having dinner.

Well, it didn't exactly turn out that way. We did peruse the galleries for a couple of hours, but somehow we were immobilized once in the Broome Street Bar, sitting so comfortably and musing over the day's outing. Donald and I, both students of classical history at the U of Ottawa, were used to urban trekking—Ottawa, Montreal and now The Big Apple.

* * *

And, here we are at day's end, sitting in Sebastian's with the cook and friendly owner Robert, who has just offered us a drink. We sit and chat. Robert, dark-haired, well-built, of Scandinavian stock and Donald fair-haired from Eastern Europe sit across from me smoking Gitanes. Donald playfully asks about the cafe's name, and Robert says he named it after his St. Bernard pup. I remember from elementary school religion class that St. Sebastian was the patron saint of martyrs. Donald looks at me and we smile with recognition.

Once done, we signal each other with raised eyebrows that it's time to go. We thank Robert for the drink, compliment him on his cooking and get up. Robert takes our bills to the cash along with our payment and handsome tip. When he returns he thanks us. Then he totally throws me off by asking, "Would you like to come to my place?" Well, this is an offer I'm not too sure about until Donald says it'll be fine. Just fine.

We taxi to Robert's place that is in the basement of a corner convenience store. We have to go through the store to get to his entrance. It has a steel grey door, and once inside, there is a horizontal metal bar that latches over the entire width of the door and the panels on either side. There we are inside—at the top of a cement bunker of perhaps 25 or 30 feet in depth. I'm sure everyone that's been here asks the same question, which Robert answers politely: "It was a munitions warehouse in the last war." What do I know to argue with that?

From this vantage point, we can see a fountain in the center along the left wall, and at the opposite end, parallel to the store entrance above, is a stairway leading to a platform that holds a bed. As we take in these unusual digs, out of nowhere comes Sebastian. He runs to Robert and they exchange greetings affectionately. What a lucky dog I think, but only if Robert walks him twice daily. There is evidence it is otherwise.

Donald and I look at the paintings and sculpture, as Robert puts on some music. I want to take a closer look at the painting hanging nearest the platform stairs. I turn around to point something out to Donald and find him and Robert kissing tenderly at the fountain. I walk by them gingerly, and head up the stairs to see if I can get away discreetly. However, it isn't possible. Both of them hear me attempting to lift the metal bar. They walk up to the door where I stand—already looking rather comfortable with one another.

Robert asks if I'd care to stay and make it a threesome. And, before I can answer, Donald raises his eyebrows as far as they can go and moves his eyes from side to side, as tense as I've ever seen him. He is miffed to find that Robert is a double-dipper—something he's not. I wink, and say that I have to forego the invitation because of my fatigue. Robert, unlike Donald, is genuinely disappointed.

They walk outside with me to the corner and wait until I hail a cab. I am back at the 47th Street Y just before three in the morning, pleased and relieved because I couldn't say where I'd been geographically speaking.

I call my friend in Brooklyn, but unfortunately her mother answers her phone! She asks if I am out of my mind? Going to a stranger's? What was I thinking? Out with two men, yet?

And then, just a few hours later, our group meets in the lobby to walk together to the United Nations for our scheduled tour. Professor Julian turns to me and says in an ungenerously loud voice, "Abramik, where is Proka?"

"I am not my brother's keeper," I reply softly. He isn't impressed with my answer, or with Donald's hours.

We are in the main chamber of the UN when Donald walks in. I smile when I see him, the Professor does not.

I whisper, "Good morning," and ask him how he slept.

"Very well," adding that Sebastian had joined them on the platform at the foot of the bed. was a threesome, after all!