The Return of the Falafel Stalker
After I called Dave, I waited around for him to show up. He had said that he had something he wanted to ask me and that we should have lunch. In Park Slope. So I waited. He said five minutes. He said five minutes more. Half an hour later he showed up. It didn’t bother me too much because I was already stuck in Brooklyn anyway and I can always just sit with my book, and Dave’s five minutes were loosely related minutes that added up to five but were not necessarily consecutive or even next to each other.
I saw him across the street, looking at his phone. He looked like Dave—hair grown in, preoccupied, especially with his phone—and did not see me waving at him. As he crossed the street he looked up, saw me, and picked up his pace. “What I want to know,” I said as he crossed the street, “is how is it that you can like this place? I think it’s awful. Everywhere I go, I see death, death, death! This town’s literary the way Trump is revolutionary.”
“Hey, man,” he said, “hold on.” He looked at his phone and to the sky.
The whole day I had been reading in coffee shops. I figured Bobbins, a writer, must have moved on to another coffee shop. I didn’t find him but I did read a lot and grade a few essays. And after a day of diligent work, I could use some conversation.
“You ever read The Passion?” I asked him.
“The Passion? I don’t think so? Who’s that?”
“Winterson. Jeanette. It’s about, among many other things, Napoleon’s madness and love of chicken. Whole chickens. Devoured them, bones and all. It’s told from Napoleon’s cook’s view. But of course there is so much more. The novel plays with reality and perspective. I have it at home. I can lend it to you. You won’t regret it.”
Dave absently listened to me and scratched his neck.
“You reading that for school?” he asked.
“Read it for school in Linsey’s class. Great book. Back in, what? 2007?”
“I’m reading,” he said, scratching his head and yawning widely, “my students’ essays. Man.”
“Oh? Me too. I had to go to the bathroom after one or of them, look in the mirror, and tell myself that I am not that bad a teacher. The staff at Starbucks must’ve thought I was a cokehead.”
“Man. It’s like what the fuck?”
“Wait—let’s get lunch,” I said. I know how we get, We stand there, we talk, and before you know it, one of us is about to pass out from hunger and, today, that would be me.
“Did you eat?” I followed. “Can you spare a couple minutes?”
“Sure, definitely. I ate a sandwich before but I’m starving again.” He looked at his cell phone and smiled.
“Okay. Cool.” Started walking. I stopped. “You eat falafels? How are they in these parts? I really want a falafel; do you like falafel? If you don’t, they have lamb or chicken—maybe even beef.”
“Um, oh yeah. On Seventh. There’s a good place right up the street.”
We started walking again. We passed a lot of businesses, all pretty different from each other. I wanted to remark that I was impressed with the business diversity—they even have a Jack Rabbit’s—but I would never give Dave the pleasure of thinking he came close to convincing me to move to Park Slope.
“What are we on now,” I asked, looking around.
“Seventh, Dom. We’re on Seventh,” he said. He wasn’t impatient. Dave rarely loses it.
“Oh, I see. Okay.”
We kept walking.
“So,” I said, digging through my bag—because I was sure my wallet was somewhere in there, “what’s new? I mean besides the usual. How’re classes?”
Dave looked at his phone.
“Huh,” he said. “Oh, um, classes are okay. Students are, you know, students. How’s school?”
“Eh,” I couldn’t find my wallet and I was getting nervous now—and the two Ventis I had at Starbucks, which hadn’t dissipated, not even while I waited for Dave, were not helping my nerves, “busy. I—ah, shit! Fuck!”
“Woah! Holy—y’okay? Damn, I thought you saw the pole.”
My head throbbed just a little. And then the pain kicked in, but I tried to play it off and not rub the place where my head met with the telephone pole. I stopped and inhaled. I needed to slow down a little.
“I’m good,” I said. But I wasn’t good. That hurt! “Where’s this place? I’m starving.”
“Dude,” he said. “Your forehead’s really red.”
I was hungry and the pain on my forehead, bad as it was—what’s with the metal telephone poles—was no comparison to the pain in my belly.
“Where’s this restaurant,” I eked out, barely able to hold my tears.
“It’s right here.”
He opened the door.
We stepped into the joint. The smell of coriander and grease hung in the air and the place was empty.
“Yes,” said the man behind the counter.
It wasn’t quite a restaurant or a fast-food joint. It was a step up from those affecting-rustic, overpriced, Upper East Side brick-oven “pizza”(don’t get me started) places that charge you for extra sauce.
“Fancy,” I said. “I like the tile. Pretty color.”
The falafel man snapped his head toward me and closed one eye. But I really liked the tile and the general décor. This was true. The place had a nice Mediterranean theme and the tiles felt North Africanesque.
“Hey,” said Dave. He looked up, squinting at the menu on the wall above and behind the man. “What’s good to eat here, man? I don’t . . .”
“. . . Falafel,” I said. “You can tell a lot about a place’s food by the quality of its falafel. Do you,” I said, turning back to the man behind the counter, “have the best falafels in town, in New York City?” This was my way of making nice with the food person. Just so he knew I really liked the place. This was important to establish: It’s never good to have the person who’s charged with handling your food think you’re the asshole who deserves a little something extra in his order, you know. Witty joking like that—which is probably normal in Park Slope, anyway—has always worked really well in the Bronx and Manhattan, especially with those guys stuck in those metal boxes all day.
“Huh,” the man said. “What do you want?”
I looked at the man.
Dave looked at his phone and squinted.
The man looked at me.
I looked at the menu, tears in my eyes.
My stomach growled and Dave flinched.
“I’ll,” I said, slowly, “have a falafel with tahini—do you have tahini? You do have tahini?” So many places make falafels but then they don’t have tahini and it’s like, at least for me, what the fuck? “No good fal . . .”
“Yes. We have tahini. And you?” he said, tapping the counter with a knife, looking at Dave.
“Uh,” said Dave, squinting. “I’ll have . . . man, um, I’ll,” he looked again at his phone, “have the—what’s that?” he said, pointing to the gyro.
“Gyro. Yes, it’s good.” the man said a little too curtly, some people might think, for Park Slope. Nothing like the friendly chaps in the Bronx. “You want it?”
“Um, sure,” said Dave, moving to sit down.
I looked around the place and looked at the menu again. Six dollars. The falafel was six dollars.
“Do you have hot sauce?”
“You want hot sauce,” the man said.
“Yes,” I said. “I want hot sauce.”
The man looked at me and shook his head and yelled something to the back of the store and the back of the store yelled something back to him and he looked at the ceiling.
“Six bucks,” I whispered to Dave. “Fucker. In Harlem, three dollars for a falafel. What the . . .?”
“Dom, this is Park Slope, dude. We’re not fucking around here.”
Moments later, my falafel was ready. I took it and saw Dave’s gyro was getting folded in that aluminum wrapper. Having found my wallet, by the way, in my pocket, I paid.
“Dude,” he said. “You don’t have to pay.”
“No sweat,” I said. “Enjoy.”
“Yeah, but you’re not really working.”
“I am working. All the time. And I’m getting paid the big bucks now.”
Dave looked at his gyro. “What’s this sauce called?”
“Tzaziki” said the man. “You don’t like? You should’ve sai . . .”
“Nah, it’s fine. I just forgot what it was called,” said Dave.
“Tzaziki!” the man said, banging the counter with the knife.
“Right. Cool man. Thanks.”
My falafel was okay, not six dollars okay but it was okay. Not the best in New York City, for sure, but not the worst.
Later, in-between taking far too large bites for any normal-sized human mouth, Dave asked me, “Did you go through hell getting a visa to go to China?”
“I went to China? When did I go to China?”
“You know, to teach?”
“Dork! That was South Korea. And no. The visa was easy, got it in a day.”
“Oh.” He looked at his gyro and slowly turned it upside down until the tzaziki sauce ran down and almost spilled onto the paper it came in (in the Bronx, for six bucks, you’d get a plate) and then quickly turned it over again, saving the tzaziki-to-paper connection from happening.
“Why do you ask?”
I looked at him. Strange man. I thought. “Why are ask about a visa? Going somewhere?”
“No I just was wondering.”
The door to the place opened and in walked a twentysomething guy. He looked at me and then at Dave, smiled, and turned to the counter.
Dave was still talking, “—wanted to know, you know.”
“Yeah, it was pretty easy. The easiest thing actually. God, now that you asked, it feels like yesterday I was standing in line with all my paperwork, worried that I didn’t have enough time and whatnot. Don’t you hate that? That feeling that you didn’t do something soon enough?”
“Yeah, man. I think I know what you mean.”
The twentysomething turned and looked at me and smiled. I looked away and then, thinking I knew that face, looked back but he’d turned back to the man behind the counter and said, “yes, tahini, please—no, more, please. More than that!”
The voice sounded familiar.
The man behind the counter lost it.
“Tahini is subtle flavor. You don’t need so much!”
“Look,” said the guy, exhaling. “I’ll pay more. Just, please, extra tahini.”
The man wrapped up the falafel, shouted something to the other man in the back, in the kitchen, who never did appear, laughed, and handed the bag to the man. “Six.”
“Thanks,” said the twentysomething. He walked out quickly, looked—with no smile this time—at me before the door closed behind him.
And then it hit me.
I’d seen him before. In the Bronx. At the falafel place near 231st Street.
“. . .”
“. . .”
“. . .”
“Domenick, man. Hey? It’s . . . what’s? Dude, are you sick? Is the falafel not good?”
“Falafel is fresh!” said the man behind the counter.
Dave shot him a look, and I thought to say outloud, “My falafel stalker!” But I knew that would make me sound strange and crazy, and of all the things that I am, strange and crazy is not one of them.
“We make falafel per order,” the man behind the counter mumbled. “The B rating, outside, is bull.”