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A Bad Night for Food, a Great Night for Funk

Earlier this week, I noticed a squib in the Times saying that Morris Day and The Time would be doing a show Thursday night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, with the Ohio Players opening. This was notable for three reasons:

1. I loves me some funk.
2. S is a Prince fan to the nth degree, so much so that we received tickets to his show at the Garden for a wedding present. S knows every song, who played which instruments to record them (mostly: Prince himself), and the nuances of a bootleg of this show versus one from that show. Hell, he even knows the difference between Apollonia and Vanity. The Time, and suave Morris himself, were essentially Prince creations. Naturally, this means that S knows the ins and outs of their catalog & lineup, too.
3. It was at THE APOLLO THEATER. I’d never been, unless you count the late-night hours spent watching “It’s Showtime at the Apollo” in the wee hours of Sunday morning, after “Saturday Night Live.” (C’mon, sing it with me: It’s showtime/at the Apollo…)

Normally, this would be an opportunity to seek out a new food experience—Harlem’s filled with great eats these days, I’m told, and I haven’t been up there in years—but I had a reflexology appointment in Chelsea that ended at 6:30 (yeah, I know, reflexology?). Add in half an hour for travel time to make an 8:00 show, and we decided against intrepid foodieness. Instead, we went to a place in Chelsea that I’d walked by dozens of times but never tried, a place that advertised “Lean American Cuisine” on its awning: The Wai? Café, on 6th Avenue at 17th Street.

It was a huge mistake.

The food was terrible, the worst I’ve had in a NYC restaurant in years. I won’t go into what was inflicted upon us, beyond: glutinous, gloppy thickeners in the vegetarian minestrone, and leathery baked chicken tenders. More than half my meal remained on the plate (and the waitress didn’t either notice or care, a huge pet peeve for me). This would explain why I’ve never noticed more than two or three people in the joint at any given time. Hell, at least it was only $20 for two, including tip.

But the show! Damn, it was fun. The guys in the Ohio Players are in their fifties, at least—their two biggest hits, “Fire” and “Love Rollercoaster,” are from the mid-70s, and the leader of the band, James “Diamond” Williams, introduced his grown daughter in the audience as a Broadway star—but they put me to shame. Groovin and dancin and singin and playin like they were teenagers, for a solid hour. And in some seriously stylin’ duds. The lead singer, Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner, was wearing black and white head to toe: a pinstriped zoot suit, big-brimmed black fedora, wide paisley tie, and checkered patent-leather shoes. The horn section was in pastels: powder pink on the sax player, baby blue on the trumpeter, and cream on the trombone player. They had me on my feet more than once. I would’ve been satisfied just with that, but this was only the opening act.

During the intermission, my stomach started to growl. I was beginning to wish I’d eaten more of that vile so-called soup. S was hungry, too, but neither of us was about to leave in search of food—Morris would be coming out at any moment. I rummaged through my bag and came up with a tiny treat: a small sardine can-shaped container of Japanese (I think) candy, which I had taken from the reflexologist’s office, planning to take a gag photo of our two cats with it. Since the cats wouldn’t have eaten the candy anyway, S and I decided to open it. Inside were nestled two pink foil-wrapped sweets, of indeterminate variety. I sniffed mine—it smelled vaguely toffee-ish. I like toffee. S popped his into his mouth just before I did, and the look on his face made me hesitate. He did one of those single-chew-then-freeze takes.

“Is it fish-flavored?” I asked. He shook his head slightly. “Is it horrible?” He shrugged. He still hadn’t chewed a second time.

I took a small bite. The first impression I had: wax. I was eating wax. It didn’t taste particularly horrible initially, it just felt weird. It wasn’t until I’d warmed it up a bit in my mouth that the full, strange, sickly taste emerged. I wish I could describe this flavor to you, but words fail me. It was a bit like eating dirty dishwater in solid form. I spit it back into the wrapper, and held the little fish can under S’s mouth so he could deposit his there. Sigh. We would remain hungry.

But once the show resumed, all stomach growls were forgotten. With Morris Day and The Time, well, you know what you’re getting when you buy a ticket: pure entertainment, lascivious and playful and precise and loose, all at the same time. Jerome, the ringmaster/valet whose principal responsibilities are holding Morris’s mirror while he combs his hair on-stage and narrating the proceedings in between songs, was in fine form, slapping drumsticks onto the floor and watching them bounce back up, over his head, where he catches them every time. He got the audience roaring for Morris, who emerged resplendent in a black crushed velvet zoot suit trimmed with rhinestones. For over an hour we danced, we sang (well, S sang along with the rest of the audience; I didn’t know the words), we had a great time. We left hungry for more, and starving for sustenance.

An after-midnight egg sandwich from the diner outside our subway stop did the trick.

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