I like to support small business, and Marshall Stack, the tavern directly opposite my apartment building, is no exception. But a few weeks ago the "Stack," as regulars call it, received a visit from a truly exceptional man.
It was the former professional basketball player Jayson Williams, and it made me reflect on America's dangerous fetishization of the "regular."
First, some background: liberals love to moan about how the Lower East Side has "gentrified" such that they have been priced out all the way to Brooklyn, but any local can tell you the area is still rife with rent control riffraff. My front stoop serves as a gathering place for erstwhile squeegee men of numerous "disadvantaged" ethnicities and from the more squalid unrenovated apartments in my building house I can hear bitter fights underway in many dialects of arguments of Chinese.
Marshall Stack, however, has somehow remained largely the domain of mostly self-sufficient, hardworking but solidly middle-class Americans in the 25-45 age group.
So although I was not particularly alert when he stepped through the entrance and did not recognize his face, it was hard not to notice Jayson Williams. He was, among other things, impeccably dressed in a three-piece suit and an elegant watch. And I am told he asked for a pricey brand of tequila, although when the bartender informed him no hard liquors are served at the Marshall Stack, he politely made do with a glass of wine and began talking to two women who had gathered nearby.
The bartender later informed me that the women had confessed to not knowing who he was, but sensed the ineffable presence of fame around his being.
There was some talk, the bartender tells me, of Williams desiring to drive himself home, and the bartender says he attempted to assuage his fears that his car might be broken into and take a cab.
Hopefully in agreement, Williams produced a money clip fat with hundred dollar bills and asked where he might obtain vodka or tequila, and the bartender pointed him across Allen Street at a nearby bar. Williams left a thirty dollar tip on an eight dollar glass of wine and was last seen walking in the direction of Lucky Jack's.
His female companions apparently elected not to join him. My bartender — an indisputably bighearted man who extends the utmost courtesy and warmth even with the rowdiest, most inebriated Murray Hill residents, but had radiated palpable unease in the presence of Williams — appeared relieved when he exited.
Later upon being informed of our curious visitor's identity, I read about his recent suicide attempts and filled with regret over the less-than-welcoming treatment he had encountered in my ostensibly "diverse" neighborhood.