I used to work at a restaurant called Yaffa’s in Tribeca in the 90s. The owner was Israeli and I forget her husband’s name but he was a math genius. The entire time I was there he was working on a math textbook that was going to completely revolutionize the power and meaning of numbers. His name might have been Danny or Eli. He and Yaffa looked a lot alike. They wore ponchos and cowboy hats and capes and boots, and had two dalmations that were always agitated. I don’t think Yaffa liked dogs, she just liked the way they looked when she walked down the street with them pulling the leashes out in front of her. She served in the Israeli army, of course, and had jumped out of planes.
Yaffa was never without a cigarette. She wore a ton of black eye makeup and face cream that made her skin shiny. She was a low talker so you had to move in close if you wanted to hear her, and when she talked to you she’d run her eyes up and down your body like snakes. She’d sort of smile at you while taking a drag from her cigarette. I think she thought I was odd but interesting. She recognized pain when she saw it.
There was a tearoom in the back. It had high ceilings and curtains of heavy velvet fabric. The bathroom was completely covered in broken plates and jewels ala Julien Schnabel.The bar was made from wood from elevators in the old Woolworth building. I worked mostly during lunch shifts so I’d have to get there by 10:30. I got there early, finished my set-up and still had time to sit and have coffee and a baguette. She sat next to me and smoked. Neither one of us said a word. She was a strange combination of intimidating and annoying. She called me Darda, which to me sounded a little too close to the word retarded.
Once when I was working in the tearoom a gypsy psychic came in and told me that the color she saw around me was black. Really? I said, but I’m an optimist, I have an 8 year old daughter, I like to laugh, please don’t tell me all you see is black. She held my hands across the table and said, Your heart has been broken.
I stared at her and stopped breathing and tears filled up in my eyes. Oh my God, it was broken, it really was, how did you know?
I’m looking at you.
I could barely speak. There was no point in denying it. She could see. I was naïve. I was only pretending that everything was ok, but really it wasn’t. Black was flowing out of me. "Will it get better?" I could barely whisper because of the lump in my throat.
She shook her head sadly, he was the love of your life.
Oh! I couldn’t even hold up my head. He was! He really was.
Darda? I could hear Yaffa calling me from the kitchen. I wasn’t supposed to sit down with the customers and I thought she was going to yell at me, so I got up and slumped to the curtain where she was standing. I had so much black pouring out of me I was like a dogfighter pilot spiraling into the ocean. She put her hand on my back and we stood that way for a few minutes.
Did she tell you your heart was broken?
She says that to everyone.