The next night, Saturday, 9:30 p.m., Bemelmans was packed.
Christmas time is here,
Happiness and cheer,
Fun for all that children
Call their favorite time of year.
“If only these walls could talk, man,” said Loston Harris between sets. “People are saying, we’re escaping, that you help us to take our mind off what’s going on. This is a special clientele. I’m not a stockbroker, but I’m assuming these people are losing tens of millions of dollars—that can’t feel good. There are a lot of cheaper ways to unwind. But they choose to come here because they love the music. People need music now more than ever.”
“This is a place people come to forget—so it’s really hard to tell,” said a dignified bald bartender in a regal vest.
Back at the bar, a gent named Michael, who said he works for a debt restitution firm, said the place seemed unscathed by the recession. He lives in Palm Beach, was in town for a Sunday meeting. He said it’s a buyer’s market for those in the credit trade: Four cents on the dollar instead of ten. “Come to think of it, I think it’s more packed in here than I’ve ever seen it.”
The crowd was getting louder. Eyes turned away from the slick dude and Botoxed blonde, who were back from the night before and being gross.
An investment banker named Sinclair said he liked the candles. He was rubbing the hand of his pretty girlfriend Amanda. “We were just talking about the Titanic and how the ship was sinking and everyone kept partying as the ship sank into that bitter cold water,” he said.
“I’m only buying shotgun shells and potable water,” he added. “And food!” Later, they zoomed off on his Ducati.
Another young couple—she in white spotted fur, he in gray tweed overcoat—made a beeline for the door. I gave chase. Had the young man’s credit card been rejected? Was he itching to splurge on Champagne and hotel sheets? They walked through the revolving door into a vacated yellow cab whose door was left ajar by the previous fare who had already swept into the hotel.
A tinkling sound blew up from the south: Oktay Urga, 24, one month off the boat from Istanbul, sweating under a knit cap, said a couple had paid him $30 to chug them up from 42nd Street in his pedicab.
“This job is not good, sir. It is a lucky job. One day I make 50, the other guy say he make 300. I don’t want this job, but I have to take it.”
He wants to get his master’s in public administration.
“I am Kurdish. It is not good for me there. Every time the teacher looks the exam and sees I am Kurdish, he fail me. They are always watching. They want to kill me.”
Sunday night. On the way uptown my taxi driver asked if I’d heard about the guy throwing his shoes at President Bush. “This is very embarrassing for Bush,” he said. I said that it was more embarrassing for the guy who threw his shoes. As we pulled up at the Carlyle, he said America should feel embarrassed about thinking it was a good idea to go around invading other countries. The awning of the Carlyle was impossibly clean-looking, as if someone had steam-pressed it. A bundled-up elderly couple passed; the woman said to her husband: “I hear even they had a huge sale, and sold everything.”
Inside, Cynthia and Wayne Davis, of Charleston, S.C., were celebrating their 36th anniversary.
“The city is packed! Where’s the recession?,” said Mrs. Davis. She wore a green silk blouse; her wrists and ears and neck glittered with gold and diamonds. She said they come here every year “to fall in love all over again.”
“This is a city of romance and vibrancy and character,” she said. On her fingers she counted off the various department stores she had visited over the weekend, and said the whole time she was asking herself, “Where’s the recession? Now I don’t know if people were buying anything.”
Mr. Davis, who is in “international transportation,” said, “It brings out the best of us. This is the most romantic city in the—”
“He’s the most romantic man in the world. He really—”
“No, but it’s really about the romance and the laughter.”
“Doesn’t he look like Robert Wagner? And don’t I look a little like Shirley MacLaine? She’s my great aunt, you know,” said Mrs. Davis, nodding.
“Yeah, but I love you more,” said Mr. Davis. “I loved you more yesterday, but I think I love you even more today.” One of the gifts he’d purchased for his wife that day was a candle at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.