The 21 Club
I promise this will be the last post in which I gas on about the odd poignancy of other people's matchbook collections. The collections that belonged to the unrepentant smokers, the older generation, the ones whose estates are being sold off object by object to junkers/thrifters/dealers/pickers/collectors/bottom-feeders, whatever you want to call us/them. Few types of ephemera give you a sense of the (late) person the way matches do—matches are like the digital trail you leave on Facebook or foursquare, but you know, tangible and cute and not an invasion of privacy. The person who collected matches was a person who got around, maybe even globetrotted, smoking and drinking and dining and dancing their way through life. Hell, they probably used cigarette holders! Who were these people? And don't they seem like they would've been fun to hang out with?
But I try not to buy other people's matchbooks—dust magnets!—especially now that I've rediscovered my own. Last week I shared some relics from places in NYC that no longer exist—here are some from much-loved establishments that are still standing. Though in the case of Yaffa Cafe, I had to google to make sure (if Life Cafe has been shuttered, how is it that Yaffa continues to survive?). I don't think I set foot in the place past my 23rd birthday, but I did love it fiercely for a while there. The food was crap, but that twinkling back garden just epitomized the boho East Village setting I'd been imagining myself in all through my teen years.
I wasn't sure about Docks either—a very slick noisy yuppie ’90s place—could it still be around? Apparently so. When we lived on the Upper West Side back in the day, good restaurants were few and far between and dang if Docks didn't have the best oysters. We used to celebrate birthdays there. One time we were wedged into a corner table by the window facing Broadway, and Oliver Platt was with a date at the table adjacent to ours. The whole time Lindsay and I just kept staring at each other and trying not to laugh and communicating telepathically "Look, it's Oliver Platt. We are dining next to Oliver Platt." Why do I even remember that? Why will Docks, a place we ate at dozens of times, be forever associated with Oliver Platt (who at the time was starring in a very terrible version of The Three Musketeers)? That's the kind of story other people's matchbook collections will never really tell. You might be able to draw a few accurate conclusions about their lives—about where they traveled and how old they were and whether they liked Chinese food the most or Mexican—but the good stuff, the details, the Oliver Platts, well, that stuff just gets lost.
Is it morbid to ponder your own future estate sale—especially on the day after a quasi-milestone birthday...? Perhaps. But I do it all the time, not just around birthdays. What will my legacy be? What's the story my stuff will tell? What does my matchbook collection say about me? Here lies a person who lived hard in NYC for a pair of decades, who went on a lot of expense account lunches and late-night dinners and continued to smoke even when she knew better. Of course this is assuming my matchbook collection will ever be up for sale. I can easily imagine one of my pack-rat children hanging on to it.
The King Cole Bar