I heard this morning that an old friend of mine, and former employer, passed away two days ago.
His name was Alex Pozzan.
I first met Alex ten years ago when I moved from Bushwick to Park Slope. I had only been living in New York for a year at that point and so far it had proved to be bewildering. I had moved to New York with a man that I loved but was not in love with and we had moved in with my best friend from college that I no longer had anything in common with. While I had found a job at a prestigious Off-Broadway theatre I realized very quickly that it was a dead end one and with low pay to boot.
And so I moved to Park Slope, on the verge of breaking up with a boyfriend, a best friend, and now in need of a new job.
Aimlessly, I wondered around Park Slope, lonely, literally not knowing what I was looking for. That’s when I happened upon Parco and it’s owner Alex.
Parco was, is, a charming coffee shop, with a lovely forest green awning with the words ‘Parco’ in white Cambria lettering. Alex was Italian and succinct, so Parco (Italian for ‘Park’) was so perfectly Alex.
I walked into his shop for the first time ordering a latte and sat in the small wooden bench at this shop that sits about 6, maybe 8 standing. The man who pulled my shots of espresso was gaunt, but attractive. He wore jeans; a worn burnt orange baseball hat, and a polo shirt, his daily uniform. He introduced himself as ‘Alex’ when he handed me my drink. I sat down, pulled out a book, and listened as Alex regaled his customers with stories about the coffee, about Italy. I realized then, that while the coffee was fantastic, the customers were there to listen and talk to Alex.
Over the next two weeks I would come in, sit and read, drink my espresso, and listen to Alex. On one particularly gloomy day (or at least that is how I was feeling) I overheard him say he was looking for a barista. I looked up and meekly said, “I, uh, I know how to do that?” He smiled and said with his beautiful Italian accent, “You don’t sound so sure of yourself, but what are you waiting for, come over here and show me!”
I put down my book. Pulled out the steam pitcher, put in fresh cold milk. Turned on the steamer, frothed the milk. I nervously grabbed the espresso holder swiped in two shots of ground espresso powder and packed it. I pulled the shot, poured it and the steamed milk into a white ceramic cup and handed him my latte.
"Not bad. Make sure there is a bit more crème on the next shot. Otherwise, you can start right now."
"Right now?" I said taken aback.
"You are reading a biography on Elizabeth Taylor, what else do you have to do?" He smiled pulling out a cigarette, "By the way, I love Elizabeth Taylor.”
He trained me over the next two days and over the next six months we listened to the songs of Tina Turner to Greta Garbo, talked about our ex-boyfriends, and argued over music selections.
"Why are you listening to Dean Martin?" Alex would say incredulously walking over to the C.D. player to put in Earth Kitt.
"I like Dean Martin!" I’d say pushing him out of the way, "Let me just finish hearing this song!"
"He is butchering my language! That is not Italian, that is an insult!" He said successfully turning off Dean Martin’s 'Volare' and putting in the Eartha Kitt C.D.
On particularly hot summer days, I would make Sangria, and bring it into work as a present for Alex, knowing that he would insist we both sit outside and drink it immediately (a very obvious ploy on my part). Alex would pull two wine glasses from the coffee shop’s small kitchen, pour us two glasses of Sangria, and would pull out a cigarette lighting it, and watch the smoke oh so delicately float away. As we drank he would tell me stories of his childhood in Italy, his long and painful breakup from a partner he had for many years, and about his beautiful mother who once was the subject of a very famous painting.
"Really?" I said inquisitively "Was it a nude?"
Alex laughed, “No. It was only of her hands. She had such beautiful hands. That painting is in a museum now.”
One of my favorite things about Alex was how much he loved his dog Luca.
"She is very old." He said, "I have to carry her up the stairs now."
One night, he and I walked his dog Luca up the stairs (his newest dog was also named Luca, he just loved that name so much). His apartment was only around the corner from the coffee shop. Luca only made it up one step before Alex picked her up in her arms. He nuzzled her face and said, “I will take care of her until the day she dies.” Walking into his apartment I saw a glimpse into his very fascinating world. He had beautiful art, antique rugs, and soft leather furniture. Alex could have done anything with his life in New York and he opened a coffee shop.
As I sat on his couch I asked him why.
"Because I wanted to have something that was mine, but I always want to be surrounded by wonderfully interesting people drinking one of my favorite things in this life, a beautiful espresso. Such a simple luxury has brought me so much pleasure."
Indeed it had. I am so thankful to Alex. I found him when I was so lost in New York. He thought he was just offering me a job, but he gave me so much more. I became friends with so many of the lovely customers, it gave me time to think about my direction while paying me a decent living wage, he made me excited about being in New York, being creative and loving all the possibilities that would be opening up here for me. Including being single, which I was so scared of, “Oh darling,” he said with a knowing laugh, “you will be fine.”
His laughter, his calm, his sweet stories made it the best job I’ve had in New York, really, the best job I’ve ever had. Why is that? Because it made me slow down, think about my life, and enjoy those wonderful conversations in-between sips of espresso. I will miss you Alex. Thank you for everything.