Somehow I met Alexander. A strange character but then everyone I met was strange one way or another. He shaved his head, read everything (in both official languages), and was the first person I ever heard use the word “ecology”. He crashed at my place and when I couldn’t take it any more he crashed at my friend Karen’s and then she’d come over to ask me how to get rid of him. We drank nonstop. But the day after I first met him he showed up in the morning (about noon) and said let’s get a bag of pastries, all the newspapers, and go drink coffee all day at some restaurant, talk, and read the papers. I said you can’t bring pastries to a restaurant! He said that’s what we did in Paris. So we walked up the Main, turned right on Prince Arthur and discovered the Mazurka.
This can’t be right, I thought. But we sat there nearly five hours, talking, reading, eating our croissants and the waitress served us coffee after coffee without a complaint. I was so impressed that I went back to eat there whenever I had a couple of bucks. The Mazurka was a small, family-run restaurant catering to the small Polish community thereabouts. Very simple decor, five or six plain tables in booths and a counter, and plain white walls. The food was excellent, plentiful, and cheap. Perogies, cabbage rolls, blintzes, and the like. A small place, minimal menu, few customers. Just my speed. I ate there two, three times a week. When Michael Barash fronted me a few grams of hash to sell and I had money on a regular basis for the first time I started eating there every day. Some days I had all my meals there. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I wouldn’t eat anywhere else except that once in a while I’d get Pines Pizza to deliver me a pie, if it was too cold to go out. Oh yeah, there was a joint on Sherbrooke called the Pig ‘n Whistle I’d go to once in a blue moon. Of course I went to the Swiss Hut every damn night but I never ate their barbeque chicken. We went there to drink beer. Labatt’s 50 (cinquant) in quart bottles.
Even after eating several thousand meals at the Mazurka I was never accepted as one of their own. I was never invited into the back room to play cards. The Mazurka daughters waited on me but never even said a hello or how are you. Despite my excellent sexual fantasies about those two girls I was never greeted like the other, Polish customers. The old men, the wives and kids, the cousins and uncles. Believe me I felt more at home in Harlem. There and in the Fillmore I was just another brother. On the main I was one of the Greeks. But I was never Polish at the Mazurka. So be it. I didn’t feel at home even at home so it didn’t bother me too, too much.
I brought friends there once in a while. Harvey liked to eat there. Dave wouldn’t go because that was his club sandwich period. When Judy and I were hanging out we ate there all the time with my hash money. But one day I invited the wrong person to join me for dinner.
Axel Harvey knew everyone. Everyone! Even me. One day I took Axel to the Mazurka. Big mistake. He loved it, of course. Like everyone did. The next night I’m at my table enjoying my blintzes and Axel shows up with eight draft dodgers. (This the Vietnam era we’re talking about.) My heart sank, blintzes and all. My quiet little out-of-the-way secret was out. Home-style food, lots of it and cheap. Of course. This would become their place. And it did. Every day after that the place was full of hirsute Americans in army jackets. Goddam bunch of pacifists!
Shortly after that I left town. When I visited a year later I went to see my friend Jane. “Let’s have lunch”, I suggested. “Is the Mazurka still there?” Oh yes, it was. The place was completely renovated. They knocked out the back wall and doubled the size, plus a patio out back. Plush, fancy carpeting, new tables, low lighting, candles, white tablecloths, red walls, and just packed with diners, none of them Polish.
When I paid the bill to one of the Mazurka daughters, who didn’t seem to recognize me, just as she wouldn’t recognize me the year before when I ate there sixteen times a day, I said, “You know, I made this place the overwhelming success it is today,” but she wouldn’t believe me.