The Top Hat Chronicles: Life Lessons And A Weekend In Love

By Rachel Precious

I surface from the office, stumbling through the waiting open door eager for fresh air and blinking in the sunlight.

“Howareyouwhat’sgoingonwhat’sNEW?” I’m out of breath from breathing too hard. I’m excited to see TH at his usual post, and today I’m in need of a good dose of his dry humor.

TH spends his days decked in antiquated garb and offering a smiley “How d'you do!” as he opens doors for uppity restaurant-goers; I sit tucked in the corner of a windowless room in the restaurant’s attic-turned-depressing-office, furrowing my brow over contracts and tweaking cookie-cutter floor plans. He gets a kick out of my dramatic appearances, spewing rants about my day while swinging my arms about in an attempt to thwart the carpal tunnel syndrome I’m convinced is developing in my wrists.

He has a sharp smile, thin-lipped, curling just enough at the corners to hint at mischievous thoughts. I can instantly tell when he has a story to spill: gazing beyond the waves of runners, walkers, bikers, and gawkers, lower lids squinted, he’ll open his mouth and pause, searching for the right words. If it’s a good one, it’ll start with a scratchy laugh and an “Oh maaan,” hands on his hips with an emphatic bounce in his knees. Other times, his gloved hands are clasped behind his back, back tall and straight, staring militantly ahead.

Moments like this remind me that a doorman’s job is a serious one: from shooing away pedicab drivers that circle like vultures, to sniffing out customers trying to sneak in tiny mutts, TH guards the entrance to the culinary castle. It’s more than a friendly first impression and a goodbye nod—part-time bouncer, part-time human atlas, he commands the swarming weekend brunch mob while giving directions to the nearest public restrooms and reminding confused tourists which way is north, where they just came from, and where they’re going.

In between opening, holding, and closing doors; scouting, hailing, and ushering taxis for guests; and taking, posing in, and photo-bombing tourists’ pictures, TH has mastered seamlessly transitioning from outrageous story to friendly greeting and back. He wasted no time upon first meeting me in regaling me with tales from sleepless weekends and over-indulgent escapades. His mosh-pit hair stays tucked up in his hat and the long sleeves, leather gloves, and jodhpurs hide his collection of heavy metal-inspired tattoos—wrangling taxis and welcoming guests is only his day job.

I have a severe dislike of metal: black metal, death metal, thrash metal, doom metal, Neue Deutsche Härte (New German Wave, alternative metal and groove metal combined with elements from industrial, electronica and techno)—you name it, I’m not into it. Despite that, a beautiful friendship has blossomed between us. We share a mutual contempt for the management and sense of humor that even a potty-mouth elementary schooler would roll his eyes at. When the feeling of impending doom in the office gets to be too much, when my shoulders are cinched and aching, I sneak a quick visit outside, in need of a good laugh or story more than anything.

No subject matter is too inappropriate, too embarrassing, or too revealing—again, I marvel at how little the constant stream of visitors affects TH’s storytelling. As twenty-somethings in a city where The One could be in any subway car or bodega, where vulnerable hearts are lured to bars where desires meet and mingle, the bulk of our conversations naturally revolve around matters of the heart: from romantic comedies to mysteries and thrillers, we’re never at a loss for material. While I’m busy shaking off hoards of love-hungry men, TH is nursing a recent break-up through music and home improvement projects.

One mid-morning break, he’s got a story for me: he’s met someone, and he likes her a whole lot—

And she’s famous!

I’ve never heard of her, but according to a coworker and Wikipedia, she’s famous.

Having zero desire for a romantic adventure of my own but being fascinated by the subject, I live vicariously through my friends’ love lives and immediately want to know every detail (within reason). I skip the pointless questions and get right down to it:

“What’re you gonna do about it? You like her, she’s into you, what’s the game plan?”

The game plan turns out to be a winner: Friday night dinner and drinks followed by a show. By the time I see him again on Monday, he’s groggy and sleepy-eyed with a dumb grin on his face—Friday night apparently didn’t end until this morning. Being only a few weeks away from Christmas, the city is alive with the holiday buzz that touches lovers’ hearts, and they spent the weekend swept up in each other’s warmth, around town, his place, her place, and everywhere in between.

Monday means a cold return to reality, though. His beloved is a rising star on the music scene, and the holiday season has more significance than simply a memorable weekend romp. With the release of a record just in time for Christmas, she’d moved her life to L.A. earlier this morning to promote her latest work, to see her name glittering next to the colorful lights and glowing stars atop Christmas trees. She hadn’t eluded to plans of returning anytime soon, but I remind TH that if she’s planning on taking the music industry by storm, a return visit to New York City isn’t just a good move—it’s a necessary one.

I like to coach my friends in the art of the one thing I know the least about—love. With TH, I’ve been sharing my sage advice about seeing outside the box when it comes to romantic affairs. Break down expectations, I tell him. He's been locked in the confines of seeing women as either friend or girlfriend or casual sexual partner. But nature doesn’t follow straight lines, and it doesn’t have right angles; trying to force a relationship of any sort, but especially intimate relationships, into a neat little category not only causes frustration and stress but can also exclude the possibility of exploring something refreshing and unique. This is an exercise I’m constantly training myself in—much like trying to live in the moment, I try to enjoy someone because of who they are, not what they are in relation to me or what they might become. This means investing time and energy in the person because I acknowledge and respect them as an individual, not as a potential possession to be tucked away in a box with a color-coded label—yellow for friend, blue for friend with benefits, red for lover.
Holding our hands in front of our eyes, thumb to opposite forefinger making a box, I remind TH to Think Outside the Box. When I check in with him for updates on his leading lady in the following weeks, there’s a lightness in his voice that suggests a feeling of longing, but also a lightness that comes from removing the weight of expectations. And I get it, by the way—I’m not a heartless fembot. I know the feeling of meeting someone incredible, someone who makes you forget which way is north, where you came from and where you’re going; the rush of scenes that play like a movie in fast-forward, so that in an instant you’ve gone from the first flutter in your heart to the trenches of a committed relationship; maybe I’m already seeing the dishes we’ll have in our sink or the restaurant he’ll take me back to for our umpteenth anniversary. But right now, I like to watch things in slow motion, to hit pause and examine, maybe even put on something new. As we stand here, doors opening, doors closing, we'll have to hold our hands up, thumbs to forefingers, and remind ourselves: Think Outside the Box.