Last night, we fired up my 1966 Simca 1600 and drove over the world's most rutted roads to the Belmont section of the Bronx.
I have a special affinity toward the Bronx. I guess like the fondness--solicitude even--I've always had toward underdogs. I guess you could say the Bronx is the most underdog of New York's five boroughs, even moreso than Staten Island, of which the less said the better.
The area we were in was ravaged in the 1950s and 60s by the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway, then further ravaged by the four horsemen of the urban apocalypse: 1/ white flight, 2/ poverty, 3/ lack of city services and 4/ drugs and crime.
Somehow, while the lower middle-class area of East Tremont was destroyed, the adjacent area of Belmont/Arthur Avenue survived. It survived as an Italian enclave amid the fury of a decaying world.
We found a small restaurant on Arthur Avenue that looked like a scene from a Vittorio De Sica movie. I half expected to see an old bicycle thief, or at least some men smoking cigarette butts and plastering posters on the old walls.
We ate and ate and drank and laughed. I thought for more than a minute about giving up the fleshpots of Madison Avenue and my fairly expansive Manhattan apartment, and finding a small two bedroom with rickety floors and steam heat to wake the dead, facing the back and just becoming one of the neighborhood mugs, sitting in a ratty old bathrobe and drinking a bottomless cup of coffee while I read the paper from front to back.
But soon, our meal was done and it was time to return to earth. We piled back into the Simca and drove the backroads into the city.
On Webster Avenue and East Tremont, I was stopped at a light and saw this car stopped in front of me. I felt like getting out and buying the driver a beer, hopefully getting to the bottom of the story behind his plates. But it was late and I was pretty sure my ever-loving would not approve of me consorting with the dead.
So, we drove home, quietly and without incident.
Perhaps I'll find out another day.