By the time Jerry Pankow was ready for breakfast, he'd already been
to three bars and a whorehouse.
It was, he'd discovered, a great opening line. "By the time I had
my eggs and hash browns this morning ... " Wherever he delivered
it, in backroom bars or church basements, it got attention. Made
him sound interesting, and wasn't that one of the reasons he'd come
to New York? To lead an interesting life, certainly, and to make
himself interesting to others.
And, one had to admit, to plumb the depths of depravity, which
resonated well enough with the notion of three bars and a
whorehouse before breakfast.
Today he was having his breakfast in Joe Jr.'s, a Greek coffee shop
at the corner of Sixth Avenue and West Twelfth Street. He wasn't
exactly a regular here. The whorehouse was on Twenty-eighth, two
doors east of Lexington, right around the corner from the Indian
delis and restaurants that had people calling the area Curry Hill.
Samosa and aloo gobi wasn't his idea of breakfast, and anyway those
places wouldn't open until lunchtime, but he liked the Sunflower
coffee shop on Third Avenue, and stopped there more often than not
after he finished up at the whorehouse.
This morning, though, he was several degrees short of ravenous, and
his next scheduled stop was in the Village, at Charles and Waverly.
So he'd walked across Twenty-third and down Sixth. That stretch of
Sixth Avenue had once afforded a good view of the twin towers, and
now it showed you where they'd been, showed you the gap in the
downtown skyline. A view of omission, he'd thought more than
And now here he was in a booth at Joe's with orange juice and a
western omelet and a cup of coffee, light, no sugar, and how
depraved was that? It was ten o'clock, and he'd get to Marilyn's by
eleven and be out of there by one, with the rest of the day free
and clear. Maybe he'd catch the two-thirty meeting at Perry Street.
He could stop by after he left Marilyn's and put his keys on a
chair so he'd have a seat when he came back at meeting time. You
had to do that there, it was always standing-room-only by the time
the meeting started.
Recovery, he thought. The hottest ticket in town.
He let the waiter refill his coffee cup, smiled his thanks, then
automatically checked the fellow out as he walked away, only to
roll his eyes at his own behavior. Cute butt, he thought, but so
If he were to show up at a meeting of Sex Addicts Anonymous, he
thought, nobody would tell him to get the hell out. But did it make
his life unmanageable? Not really. And, more to the point, could he
handle another program? He was in AA, sober a little over three
years, and, because drugs played a part in his story, he managed to
fit a couple of NA meetings into his weekly schedule. And, because
his parents were both drunks -- his father died of it, his mother
lived with it -- he was an Adult Child of Alcoholics, and went to
their meetings now and then. (But not too often, because all the
whining and bitching and
getting-in-touch-with-my-completely-appropriate-anger made his
And, because John-Michael was an alcoholic (and also sober, and
anyway they weren't lovers anymore), he went to Al-Anon a couple of
times a month. He hated the meetings, and he wanted to slap most of
the people he saw there -- the Al-Anon-Entities, his sponsor called
them. But that just showed how much he needed the program, didn't
it? Or maybe it didn't. It was hard to tell.
Three years sober, and he started each day by visiting three bars
and a whorehouse, inhaling the reek of stale beer and rancid semen.
The bars were in Chelsea, all within a few blocks of his top-floor
walkup on Seventeenth west of Ninth, and of course they were closed
when he arrived for the morning cleanup. He had keys, and he would
let himself in, trying not to dwell on the way the place stank, the
odor of booze and bodies and various kinds of smoke, the
dirty-socks smell of amyl nitrite, and something else, some
indefinable morning-after stench that was somehow more than the sum
of its parts. He'd note that and dismiss it, and he'd sweep and mop
the floor and clean the lavatories -- God, human beings were
disgusting -- and finally he'd take down the chairs from the tables
and the stools from the bar top and set them up where they
belonged. Then he'd lock up, and off to the next.
He hit the bars in what he thought of as working his way up from
the depths, starting with Death Row, a leather bar west of Tenth
Avenue with a back room where safe sex required not just condoms
but full body armor. Then one called Cheek, on Eighth and
Twentieth, with a neighborhood crowd that ran to preppy types and
the aging queens who loved them. And, finally, a straight bar on
Twenty-third Street -- well, a mixed crowd, really, typical for the
neighborhood, straight and gay, male and female, young and old, the
common denominator being an abiding thirst. The place was called
Harrigan's -- Harridan's, some called it -- and it didn't reek of
pot and poppers and nocturnal emissions, but that didn't mean a
blind man might mistake it for the Brooklyn Botanical
In his drinking days, Jerry might have started the evening at
Harrigan's. He could tell himself he was just stopping for a quick
social drink before he settled in for the night
Excerpted from SMALL TOWN © Copyright 2003 by Lawrence
Block. Reprinted with permission by William Morrow & Co. an
imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.