It’s literally every day that something meaningful–or at least meaningful to you–shutters in New York. The city wouldn’t be what it is if that weren’t the case. But in its self-branded constant state of flux, it didn’t consider the fragility of an aging man named Avery Gillman, a 62-year-old with still mostly brown hair and a gym-resultant frame, who had been dining either alone or with the woman of his choice ever since Da Silvano opened forty-one years ago in the West Village. Avery’s career as a literary agent back when it was possible to mass sell books of a quality nature (and sell them he did) made the often three hundred dollar-plus tabs a breeze to pick up. Starting at age twenty-one with the purchase of the manuscript for The Philosophy of Andy Warhol–Avery developed a taste for the lavish life. Andy’s book put Avery on the map permanently as a New York fixture. So naturally, 1975 was an important year for him–and it was also the year he began his regular outings to Da Silvano.
Though, at this moment in time, many of the women he had brought to his signature corner table outside (what was the point of going if you weren’t going to be seen?) had blurred together, he never forgot the first girl he ever took there. Karen Collier, a brunette wisp with dark eyes and a pale complexion. She was just another skirt in the steno pool when he first saw her, but he also knew she was so much more than that. Yet what really clinched his attraction was learning her full name: Karen Collier. It was an alliterative junkie’s paradise. Half the time, Avery only took interest in a manuscript if it had a standout amount of alliteration. And so, he knew Karen Collier was it for him–or at least “it” in the sense that she might make a nice dining companion on more than one occasion. The problem was, he was suffering from C.C. Baxter in The Apartment Syndrome. Asking out a co-worker could complicate his status, make things messy and uncomfortable. And while messy and uncomfortable might be two adjectives that worked well in the bedroom, they did not fit quite as well in the office. So could one really blame him for getting her fired? Not fired, really, so much as “redistributed”–as Hugh Grant in Love Actually would say. But 2003 was a long way off, and he could still claim the word as his own. So he casually mentioned to his boss, Ethan Hockaday, a rare breed in the city, known primarily for not being Jewish, that perhaps Karen Collier might be best used at the front desk of their satellite office downtown. She had such a pleasant face, after all. And who would ever give a face like that any trouble? The more Ethan mulled the suggestion over his highball glass of whiskey, the more he felt Avery had a valid point.
Thus, the day Karen was redistributed was the day Avery asked her to accompany him to Da Silvano. At the time, Italian food, like every non-American cuisine, was still a novelty–though not as much of a novelty as sushi, of course. And while Karen had the sneaking suspicion that the timing of Avery’s invitation wasn’t a coincidence, she was too allured by the prospect of a meal she couldn’t make herself. She was of Irish descent, you see. The Irish have no talent in cooking, no matter what they try to convince you of after dousing your glass with another round.
With the taste of spaghetti bolognese already in her mouth as she donned an above-the-knee red dress with a plunging V-neckline, she thought about Avery–about what kind of man he really was. Sure, he clearly had an eye for literature that would make money, but was he a learned man? Had he gone to school? Was his family of good breeding? She imagined since he was Jewish, he had to be both educated and wealthy. That night, he revealed more about his background to her than anyone before. Yes, in fact, he was Jewish, but he had come from poverty-stricken parents, hence his unquenchable thirst for the finer things now that he had money. And it was true, he seemed all too happy to shower her with whatever food and drink item she wanted, though she somehow got the sense that he didn’t do this for all the girls he took out. In spite of this, she remained guarded, not wanting to give him the wrong impression about her intentions. She liked him, sure, but, as an Irishwoman, she would never dream of dating someone of the semitic persuasion. It simply wouldn’t work, and she only had so many good years left to secure a suitable match. A man who would understand where she was coming from in every sense of the phrase. But when he took her by the hand shyly, extending his own hand cautiously from the other side of the table, she knew she had made in mistake in accepting his invite–that this would mean far more to him than it did to her.
Though she tried to leave after their main course of steak and vegetables–which was preceded by the spaghetti bolognese–Avery insisted on prolonging the outing by ordering tiramisu and espresso. She could see now that there was nothing refined about him, that he, too, was simply figuring it all out in the moment, just as she was. The difference was, she knew how to better fit into the mold of belonging. It appeared to her that Avery would always somehow come across as trying too hard, no matter how much money he continued to make in the future.
When he took her back to her apartment that night, she didn’t permit him anything more than a chaste peck on the forehead. Avery felt truly disgusted with himself as he pressed for more, assumed that he would get more. No woman had ever refused his entrance into her apartment after the Da Silvano treatment. Karen was the first–and the last–to do so.
In the weeks to follow, he would persist in trying to get her to go out with him again. But all of his entreaties were met with a firm, though polite “no.” One day when Avery was venturing to the downtown office with the excuse of needing to sign off on something that his assistant could easily do, he saw that Karen was gone, replaced by a different receptionist (one far more unsightly, he couldn’t help but think to himself). He rushed over to this shell of a substitute and demanded, “Where’s Karen?”
From behind her cat-eye spectacles, she blinked skeptically. “She moved. Upstate.”
Upstate, he thought to himself. How could she? What the hell was upstate other than colder weather and people who fucked animals out of boredom? He tried for years to locate her, going on kernels of information he would pick up here and there, but could never track her down.
And every night since learning of her disappearance from New York City, he attempted to re-create the same date with a different woman. It was his therapy, his sole means of release. But none of the dames who sat across the table from him on a nightly basis were ever a match for Karen. She exuded a quality that couldn’t be re-appropriated. Something arcane and elusive. All he had to recapture it was Da Silvano, and now that it was gone, what could he do? The night he showed up to learn it was closing, he stayed well past the hour Mr. Marchetto wanted to get down to the business of dismantlement. Sitting at the same table with his many plates, bottles and a cloth napkin, he realized these few accoutrements were the ruins of Da Silvano, ergo the ruins of Karen Collier, the girl that got away.