Robert Goes to Clyde Frazier’s Restaurant: Part One
I never know what to wear to these things.
I mean, if I had my druthers, I’d have a serious wardrobe, you know? Assuming I was rolling with the 1% I don’t think I would waste my ducats on fancy evenings out, or hundred dollar duck confit tacos at some Korean-Mexican fusion joint or even the newest, latest electronic/computational whizbang thingamajigger. Call it vanity, but were my wallet as fat as my dreams, I would without a doubt saddle up and turn myself into a serious clothes horse just like the subject of this here article
But since wishes ain’t Volvos, I tend to swing to the other extreme — thrift store rags, flea market finds and whatnot. Now, within the warm, comforting bosom of my Brooklyn enclave, this is more than acceptable. But on a night like tonight? I had been selected, nay chosen by the powers that be, to venture forth to Walt Frazier’s semi-brand, spanking new restaurant, to attend the first glimpses of the MSG Network’s latest installment of The Vault: Walt Frazier: Before He Was Clyde premiering this Saturday, June 23 at 9 PM on MSG. As such, my hipster threads seemed somewhat lacking. After a good 20 minutes of trying and retrying a series of suit-type combos, all of which made me look more and more like a guy trying to force himself into a suit when wearing a a suit just didn’t fit his whole joie de vivre/ethos, I grabbed the finest piece of couture I own and draped it over black jeans and a whimsically ironic t-shirt.
Normally, I wouldn’t fret this much about my appearance but I mean…it’s Clyde! If nothing else, Clyde is effing cool. Who knows what fantabulous garment he’d don for tonight’s soiree? A panda-skin tie? A full scuba-diving suit? The mind boggles at the possibilities. Needless to say, I wanted to look good, not because I thought that even in my brief interaction and his liking of/approving of me would be entirely dependent on my attire, but…well, I just wanted to look nice for Clyde, Okay? Gawd!
The extra time I spent mincing and dysmorphically posing and preening in front of the mirror set me back a few ticks of the clock, so I was scurrying down to the far west side of Manhattan as the 6pm start time approached. Then I spent another five to ten minutes wandering around the block because I literally couldn’t find the place.
For those of you not familiar with the intricacies of the New York real estate market, basically, it works like this — you have a poor neighborhood where rents are relatively low. Then a bunch of artists, young people, etc. move into that neighborhood because it’s all they can afford and still actually live in the city. The aforementioned young people/artists then make that neighborhood what the kids call, “cool.” Restaurants, bars, clothing stores and far, far wealthier people move in to said formerly impoverished/now “cool” neighborhood because heck, if you’re going to have your faith in humanity ground down to a tiny, pea-shaped nubbin, you might as well be living amongst those at the forefront of the social vanguard and at least be able to buy that ineffable commodity if one doesn’t inherently posses it. So in order to house these deep-pocketed social climbers, developers crank out anonymous, aesthetically un-pleasing box-like, cookie-cutter condos everywhere like so much that black gunk that grows in between the tiles in your shower. Now the rent’s out of control and those nutty kids who made the neighborhood “cool” in the first place can no longer afford to live there and they move on, like modern day Lewises and Clarks, to discover the next, great, cheap, undiscovered country of coolness.
So it is with the area formerly known as, “Hell’s Kitchen.” It’s now called, “Clinton,” if you’re in the market for a new pad to hang your hat. Real estate developers are great at renaming nabes to make them sound more palatable. Though it smacks of the worst parts of gentrification, it does make sense. I can understand one not wanting to shell out seven figures for a shack that’s located in the hottest room in Lucifer’s co-op.
I mention this because Clyde’s restaurant is definitely on the wild, wooly frontier of this latest expansion and housed in one of those godawful glass and steel contraptions that was clearly constructed to house both luxury domiciles on top and every mercantile amenity one could hope for conveniently located on the ground floor. They’re everywhere these days and one is more or less indistinguishable from the other. So much so, that I walked past it a couple of times before I realized it was the restaurant an not a sporting-themed Whole Foods.
But inside? Lawdy!
It is without a doubt a temple to all things Clyde. The space is dotted with massive columns, all of which contain either projected or skillfully painted images (I can’t say for sure) of Frazier throughout the years — on the court for the Knicks, owning the streets of New York City in full SuperFly regalia or in any of the modern, three-piece leather duds he sports whilst broadcasting on MSG Network these days. The ceiling is bedecked with leopard, tiger, and possibly emu-patterned tiles, just in case the designer’s theme hadn’t been truly hammered home.
And as I feared, I’m woefully under dressed, even if I get a mulligan as the only non-MSG Network affiliated member of the elite, lamestream media that I can spot. I look like (and probably act just as nervously) as Serpico would at a PBA fundraiser. I’m not sure who is attending this screening and why, but I’d venture that a good quarter were press agents, managers, PR folk and other hangers on, even though the celebrities that they’re there to guide, promote and protect seem largely absent. Gerry Cooney was there, but I don’t think even in our hyper-saturated media landscape he still qualifies as famous. Until someone pointed him out, I thought it was Stacey Keach. It was oddly reminiscent of the time my dad mistook Keith Hernandez for John Stossel and proceeded to have a long, drawn out convo with the former thinking he was the latter, but that’s another blog entry entirely.
In any case, if you haven’t had the pleasure, being around that many press reps before their clients have arrived is a strange phenomena. It’s like socializing with a gaggle of incredibly well-dressed, well-coiffed, attractive, telegenic prison guards in a prison devoid of prisoners that require guarding. The rest of my fellow attendees? Well, I’d have to describe them as…ready. What do I mean by “ready?” It’s just they were brimming with pep and the self-congratulatory air of a group of 3rd Year Duke Law School students who just finished a brisk early morning jog and, still buzzing with endorphins, had directed the totality of their being, like flipping a switch, to the setting marked READY. What exactly they were READY for was God’s own mystery, but should the important thing or event or problem materialize they were READY for it. These kinds of people a priori make me edgy, so I fled for the relative safety of the buffet table and begin gobbling up waygu skewers and mini pork empanadas.
While carbo-loading for an imaginary marathon that and trying to fill the hole of knotted social anxiety that currently comprises my stomach with yummy deep-fried treats, I discovered a fantastical quirk to Clyde’s joint. Amazingly enough, there’s a regulation basketball hoop the length and width of the painted area and a rack of balls. For some reason, even though our lil’ shindig is littered with weekend athletes (You can tell just by looking whether or not a feller can ball. There’s just something about the way someone with athletic prowess carries him or herself — all the various limbs and body parts appear to work in unison, as if the machine that house’s one’s self was actually a properly designed, well-functioning instrument as opposed to a pudgy, clumsy vehicle for folly and slapstick humor. But I digress…)
Where was I? Oh yea, there’s a basketball court in this restaurant and I’m apparently the only one who doesn’t care about drenching his/her finery with sweat! So I ditched the finger food and picked up a ball, and for some reason, whether it’s the fact that I was jacked to the gills on nervous energy or geeking for a smoke or what, my “shot” (for lack of a better term) is on, and I’m ripping the nets on the regular. The rest of the pack of alpha males and females congregating outside the pint-sized court, realizing that their essential man/womanhood was being challenged by my display of long (or rather, free-throw line) range prowess or that the thing they were in fact standing around being READY for was actually a scruffy writer/Jew swishing shots like it was his birthright, began to saunter over (and these people definitely don’t ever walk anywhere — they effing saunter).
It’s one of the nice things about sports. In the end, it is the great equalizer. On the court, it doesn’t matter how lofty one’s credit rating is any of a thousand other intangible measuring sticks by which one establishes superiority in the post-modern capitalist paradise in which we all currently reside. If my shot goes in and yours doesn’t, I win. Period. There are no maddeningly ephemeral arbiters, it’s physical. It’s real. I have no idea whether they and/or I were more at ease (or whether they have ever in their lives been ill at ease) but after ten-odd minutes of draining shots in their collective grills, all the while employing a form that’d make Shawn Marion look like Red on Roundball, we were as thick as thieves.
Suddenly, the host with the most came sauntering in to his joint. I was half-hoping he’d be wearing Lady Gaga’s meat dress, but given his usual sartorial splendor, his ensemble was relatively tame — a pink blazer and tie over a straight black shirt and pants, topped off with pink alligator (iguana? chameleon?) skin cowboy boots. Like any esteemed member of the 4th estate I ditched my new hardwood chums and made a beeline to get that interview! Alas, the PR flacks stormed into action and formed a phalanx around Frazier. Here’s what it looked like. More videos are available here.
I struggled in vain to elbow my way through, but before I could beg a few minutes of his time, we were told that the screening was about to begin. We shuffled down to our seats and one of Dolan’s lieutenants was vainly trying to get the assembled masses to diminish their hubbub. Comically enough, for a room filled with what purports to be a cross section of some sub-genus of the rich and famous, the vibe at that moment was really not that unlike the start of a junior high assembly.
After a few perfunctory remarks, the footage began to roll and I have to say, it really was fascinating to get a glimpse of the proto-Frazier’s game. All of the same elements that marked his Knick career — the silky-smooth mid-range jumper, the smothering defensive intensity — were present, if not fully formed. It’s a personal quirk, but when I’m viewing fairly well-restored clips of old basketball footage, I always get a serious bang just out of seeing the old school unis in action — the nut-huggers, the Chucks, the knee-high socks and whatnot. More importantly, I managed to snag the seat right next to the man himself and let me tell you, he was rapt at the footage. In an amazing bit of meta-theatricality, Clyde’s even mouthing the lines along with the filmed version of himself and laughing at the screen-Clyde’s jokes. He truly found the projected image of himself to be just as eminently charming as the real thing. For a moment, it was hard to tell where film-Clyde ended and real-Clyde began. Which was jarring, to say the least. As someone who’s gotten the chance to see himself perform, I was both enthralled by how enthralled Clyde was and utterly befuddled. The experience of watching myself onscreen is always an unnerving one – all I see are the myriad ways in which I wish I could have improved upon or perfected my performance but Clyde seems to suffer from no such bout(s) of self-criticism.
Alas, we only got to snatch a glimpse of ten or so minutes of the program. For those who’ll be in front of the boob tube on Saturday night, I can’t recommend watching the program its entirety enough.. At the conclusion, I’m accosted by an MSG network rep, who’s seen me with my mini-tape recorder at the ready throughout the broadcast, recording the opening remarks and furtively (though evidently not that furtively) trying to tape whatever words Clyde might unconsciously mumble during the ecstatic/trance-like state he was lulled into watching himself do his thing on the teevee machine.
I explain that I’m with Knickerblogger, an E-S-P-N site, and that evidently those four letters bestowed worlds of credibility upon your humble correspondent. He asked if I’d like to speak to Clyde, and I practically bleated, “YES. DEAR GOD AND ALL THAT IS HOLY AND GOOD, YES!” While he was trying to wrangle the superstar, I noticed Al Trautwig, sitting in the corner, finishing up an interview with another reporter, so I lose my escort and head over. I mean, I gotta talk to Al, right?
Here’s the thing. Al Trautwig has that Dick Clark/George Hamilton, “doesn’t really age in the conventional sense’ gene. I know I’ve been watching him work for 20+ years and I’m sure if you put photos of the before and after side by side, you’d see the toll the years have taken. But like Clark/Hamilton, there’s the sense that he’s got a portrait stowed away somewhere that’s slightly less potent than the one Dorian Gray had and if not altogether defying time, is at least imbuing him with some vital fluid that warps it in some way. For awhile, I thought it was just due to some very skilled makeup technicians that Cablevision kept on permanent retainer, but seeing the man in person, his Fountain of Youth face holds up to live scrutiny.
Anyhoo, we sat down for a brief chat. It went like this:
ME: That’s some amazing footage you found
AL TRAUTWIG: Oh man, some of the stories that we have for finding the footage. To think that, there’s this public television station with two-inch tape, they don’t even have a machine to play it back on and they sent it our way. Even the NBA finals, in 1970, we just found footage of Game Five. It was literally the first chance that I got to see…
ME: When Reed goes down?
AL: …in Black and White!
ME: Wow. I’d seen the shot of him getting injured and Stallworth making a reverse layup over Chamberlain, but that’s it
AL: Right. I really wanted to see how LA blew that game. How did that happen with DeBusschere guarding Wilt?
ME: So what’s it like working with Clyde?
(Okay, that was a boring question. I get better as the interview progresses)
AL: It’s like a young actor working with a Broadway star. Or a DeNiro or a Pacino. He’s a legend. Every time I see him I go right back to rooting for that team. There’s so many things I can say about Clyde. Best game seven performance in the history of There’s a reason that those are the only teams that won a championship. It’s a very hard thing to do in that city and that building.
ME: Speaking of which, how do you feel about the current Knicks. Do you think the compass is pointing up? Are they headed in the right direction?
AL: I think it’s pointing up, but how far remains to be seen. I mean, you look at what wins in this league now, it’s tremendous depth, not just three guys. And they have to do it in a financial climate that is very difficult. This arbitrator thing, to me is HUGE
ME: It’s the be all and the end all
(Yes, I just quoted MacBeth. Al let it slide)
AL: …HUGE. And if they get lucky and pull it off then it totally changes the whole team.
(We then talked briefly about Bernard King and how he was handling his first year in the broadcast booth, and even downshifted to a brief Sidney Green retrospective before I returned to the current squad)
ME: Back to winning a championship at MSG, there still exists the perception…ah…uh…well…a negative perception of this ownership around the league. Is being here and playing in New York under this regime too much of an impediment to overcome?
(See, better question. Almost hard-hitting. Watch Al handle/dodge it like a pro without making me or him feel uncomfortable.)
AL: I think for a lot of reasons, it’s hard to win in that building. There have been a lot of different owners and a lot of different presidents, but if you look on the Rangers side, it came down to someone saying, “Okay, we’ve developed some kids. Let’s ride them and see how far it can go.” With the Knicks…
(I half thought Al might throw his boss under the bus here. There’s a moment of genuine sadness/frustration that somehow encompassed all of the gut-punches the last decade has wrought upon and bouts of binge-drinking that it has inspired in the fan-base. Alas…)
…we’ll see. The star power of the Garden is the star power of the Garden…
(Did Al just paraphrase Gertrude Stein? I think he kinda did!)
…the one thing that we saw is how much the city wants it to happen. If that has any effect on the players…(beat)…we’ll see.
And that more or less wrapped it up. I thanked him for speaking with me and said how much I’d enjoyed watching him over the years. But more than anything, I left genuinely impressed with Al Trautwig. He was honest and yet politic without seeming like he was slinging canned/corporate responses. It’s not like I’m a journalistic heavyweight and yet he treated me with the same respect he would speaking to a highly-paid tabloid ink stained wretch. It’s also clear that Al’s a fan, first and foremost and by the end, it felt like we were just two guys talking about our favorite team. Whether that’s just because Al’s that good at this ‘being interviewed’ dance or what, I can’t say for sure. Either way? Al Trautwig: Good guy.
Buoyed by my new-found kinship, I returned to the MSG guy who casually informed me that Clyde was ready to chat if I was and oh, Iman Shumpert’s here, would I care to parlez with him as well?
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART TWO OF…ROBERT GOES TO CLYDE FRAZIER’S RESTAURANT!
Hey, did you know that in addition to banging the keys here and occasionally for the NY Times, Robert is a playwright, an actor and a wand'ring mendicant/gadfly? He also once wrestled a bear...and lost.