Nothing gets through to me like the sea and no establishment in New York City satisfies my coast cravings like Montero's Bar and Grill on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn Heights, only a block from New York Harbor.
Montero's, opened in 1947, is a rare remnant of Brooklyn's legendary waterfront era when ships clogged the piers running an unimaginable stretch from the Brooklyn Bridge all the way to the far end of Sunset Park.
The dark-wood walls of the never-remodeled watering hole are adorned in N.Y.-labeled orange life preservers, brass portholes, pig-iron anchors, framed prints and oil paintings of ships and nautical knickknacks brought in as gifts over the years from sailors and longshoremen. Dozens and dozens of old vessel models--ranging from freighters and fighter ships to ocean liners, schooners and tug boats--are on display from the alcoves and in glass cases on ledges and shelves.
One of many plaques on the wall reads, "If the Captain Ain't Happy Ain't Nobody Happy." Another says, "Company and Fish Stink After Three Days."
Across from two old wooden phone booths are the restrooms marked by Popeye's cartoon frame for the men and Olive Oyl's for the women.
The best part of a Montero's visit, though, is its proprietor, 83-year-old Pilar Montero, who sits each afternoon from her catbird perch at the front end of the curved glass-block and wooden bar. She either surveys the length of the bar or peers out the front window at the Brooklyn Queens Expressway underpass running along the water's edge.
Above her seat a little higher than eye-level is a wall portrait of her late husband when he was a dashing young engineer for the freighter S.S. Monroe, also depicted in the painting.
"When we met he was on a sea-going tug because there was a war going on," she explained to me last Saturday afternoon when I dropped in especially to see her. Pilar grew up in the neighborhood only a block-and-a-half from where the bar stands and was accustomed to seamen coming ashore.
On the same wall is an 8x10 color photograph of Pilar's son and grandson posing with Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Pilar explains that her son, Frank, is a high-powered attorney in Wash., D.C.
"I think I would have made a good lawyer," she said to me, explaining that her mother, during the Great Depression, had only enough money to send one of her two children to college and Pilar firmly agreed it must be her brother.
"I didn't have no college but I made it," she said, saluting with her index finger as she often does, emphasizing the pluck she oozes. In her youth, Pilar was a performing ballerina in her family's native Spain and then worked many years as an administrative person for AT&T in New York.
She says she's always had a knack for the stock market and has made out very well. Once many years ago she bought 20,000 shares in telephones for Mexico at $1.30 that rose to $68. "Everybody, they thought I was crazy," she says.
On the television at Montero's during my visit was a NY1 live telecast of a memorial service being held at Manhattan's Riverside Church for actor Ossie Davis, who died last week, bringing in a slew of A-list celebrities for his funeral.
I was reminded of the time I came into Montero's only a couple of months after 9/11 and, in talking to Pilar about war, terrorism and how times are getting worse, she told me she wanted as her epitaph, "Time Waits for No Man."
When I said to Pilar on Saturday how I thought she probably had a number of years still left in her, she said she really didn't think so. For one thing, she told me, her breathing is worse.
Just that morning I had been thinking about how I really needed to get on with things as if this could be one of my very last years on earth.
In fact, my whole reason for going to Brooklyn that day, returning to the Fort Greene neighborhood not far from Montero's where I first lived upon moving to New York in 1999, was to re-group, in essence, and get clear in my head exactly what I'm doing with this book of mine on the Bible.
Pilar and Montero's, thank goodness, confirmed my new commitment made that day to simply write up the information I have as is and forget about whether it's read or even readable. What matters is I finish what I set out to do two years ago.
Time waits for no man, as they both reminded me in old-fashioned, sea-going sense.
As Walter Winchell used to say as his signature opener to his weekly radio broadcasts, "Good evening, Mr. And Mrs. America and all the ships at sea! This is Walter Winchell in New York. Let's go to press."