I had invited her to go with me to have lunch at the old Café Edison on 47th Street, where I used to go at least once a week, because soon it will be no more. It’s closing for the worst, saddest, and most ungenerous reason, and I wanted to sit in its unpretentious grandeur one more time. On the way, walking up Broadway through the crowds of people in Times Square, I thought of the big ball, covered in Swarovski crystals, dropping on New Year’s Eve and how glad I always am to not be there while it’s happening. I thought of the chandeliers at the Met that look like exploding galaxies made of Swarovski crystal, and the way they dim so elegantly at curtain time. I told my friend that her nail file had made me think of those things and we both had the idea that someone at Swarovski must have decided to make use of the sweepings in the crystal factory by sticking them all over nail files and calling them ‘elements.’
For almost seven years I worked in an old publishing house in Times Square and during that time I had lunch at the Edison at least once a week, sometimes by myself and sometimes with one or two or three co-workers. Someone would say, “Edison?” and I remember how it felt, going down in the elevator and out onto Broadway to walk up to the cafe in its block full of old theaters. It always felt a little like a special occasion, even though it wasn’t. One day a man held the door for me as I was going in, and I knew him, but not from where. I bought a little time by saying, “Well, hi, how are you?” He seemed to be wondering how he might know me, too, and said, “Oh, I’m doing pretty well,” and I realized he was Keith Carradine. He saw me realizing it and laughed when I apologized. He was just as gracious as I might have imagined he would be had I ever thought of it. That kind of thing must happen to people like him all the time.
Many book publishing people in that neighborhood thought of the Edison as their café. I remember a certain associate editor who saw one of the senior editors having an earnest lunch at a table with someone she knew to be from McGraw Hill, and for a few days after, all of the editors working under that senior editor worried that she was going to leave the company and leave chaos in her wake. All of the actors and stagehands from the Broadway theaters surrounding the Edison thought of it as theirs as much as the publishing people did, and so did the people from the New York Times and the men with long beards who came over from the Diamond District on the other end of 47th Street, but I think the Café Edison belonged particularly to the magicians who sat and dazzled each other with conjuring at their magic table every day at lunchtime for thirty years.
My friend and I had a sweet waitress, an old pro with a Café Edison baseball cap sitting on the bun she wore, who took down our orders over her glasses. I had a grilled cheese sandwich deluxe and my friend had a hamburger. I told her about a particular Guidette I used to work with at the publishing house who had the big frosted hair and long painted nails so popular then, especially among the Long Island Railroad crowd. One morning she arrived all smiles and as she took off her coat she said to me, “I’m going to tell you something, just for your enjoyment, and if you wanna laugh, g’head, it’s why I’m tellin’ you.”
“What is it?” I asked her. She drew two tickets from her big Massapequa pocket book and said, “I am going to see Barry Manilow at the Garden tonight, and I can hardly wait!”
I did laugh, and so did she, because she too knew what she was made of and she knew it was funny. She was a wonderfully funny girl and I remember the day she came in carrying a Bloomingdale’s garment bag because she had a blind date that night, with a dentist. All day long she could hardly sit still. Finally she changed into a pink satin dress and left to meet the dentist somewhere deep in Midtown. When I asked her later how it went, she told me how she’d been crapped on by not one, but three pigeons on her way to the restaurant, how she’d washed the crap off her dress in a diner washroom and met her date covered in wet spots. He’d invited her to a Chinese restaurant, and once seated, pulled a long slender box from his inner jacket pocket. How sweet, she thought, he brought me a gift, but he hadn’t. He’d brought his own chopsticks—gold plated—and used them to eat General Tso’s chicken. He was the most obnoxious person she had ever met.
When our waitress brought the check, she said, “You know we’re closing, right?” She looked sad. I asked her what her plans were for after the Edison closes. “I’ll wait for the boss to open a new place,” she said. “I can’t work for anybody else.”
The Café Edison to close Sunday December 21st 2014.