Nonfiction by Clara Beaumont
It was 6:00 on a dark January Manhattan evening the first time I remember spending the night with Uncle Jim. I was four years old. I carefully walked up the icy steps to the lobby of his apartment from the cab that had dropped me off, my babysitter waiting expectantly within the warm taxi for me to pull the door open and be whisked up to Uncle Jim’s apartment.
Right as I pushed the button labeled D4, a deep hurried voice came through the intercom. “Ciao bella! I’ll be down in un minute,” he relayed to me in recently learned Italian-English. Soon he appeared, wearing his typical black leather jacket, Italian box toed shoes, black jeans, and a dark button down shirt. His iconic crazy gray hair was everywhere, pushed back with his reading glasses. I skipped up to him and hugged his legs as he stepped out of the elevator and patted my back. He had no doubt just been working on some new sketches for some recent project by the looks of the pencil tucked behind his ear.
I held his hand as he playfully skipped with me down the long hallway leading to his studio apartment. We walked in and, as usual, I almost knocked over the obscure “piece of modern art” which looked more like a bunch of scribbles to my untrained childish eyes. “You break it you buy it!” he joked.
Uncle Jim’s apartment was fit more for a museum than a playground – typical New York architect style. “So, darling, we’re going out tonight!” he mockingly said with a smile and the faint hint of a deeply-buried southern accent.
As we walked hand in hand down 5th Avenue, there was no denying that I was excited to be away from my parents. Instead of being led by what seemed like a couple of idiots through a myriad of streets, I was being led by a much cooler, sleeker, hipper family member. “Can we take a caaabb?” I moaned up to Uncle Jim.
“No, honey, this is what New Yorkers do. We walk from now on,” he replied to my dismay, as he swung his messenger bag across his body.
We finally arrived at our venue for the evening, a bar near the Empire State Building. “Uncle Jim, I’m not allowed to go up there,” I said looking up at him.
“Don’t worry, honey,” he reassured me, “just follow me.”
He waltzed into the bar, me by his side, and he seemed to know everyone. I looked up at the tall, free-standing tables and peered around the deep, plush, dark looking booths. I saw the most glamorous people I thought I’d ever seen. Uncle Jim sauntered up to the bar and greeted the bartender, one of his many friends no doubt. The Maître-D looked over at me disapprovingly, but Uncle Jim turned his head, flashed smile and the man nodded and looked away. If you were Uncle Jim, you could get away with anything.
Since we couldn’t find two empty seats in the crowded bar, Uncle Jim picked me up and plopped me down on the bar itself. I sat there quietly, watching him sling his coat over the back of his chair as he ordered a “dry martini, up with gin.” The bartender slid the drink down the long counter, Uncle Jim plucked one of the olives up out of the tall glass and popped it into his mouth. Then he looked at me and asked me what I wanted. I ordered a Shirley Temple with extra cherries. My drink came and, as Uncle Jim popped another olive into his mouth, I did the same with my maraschino cherries.