By Stanley Wlodyka
Within a minute or two of sitting down on the bench in front of Tea & Sympathy, Nicky Perry sweet-talks a miniature Chihuapoo Tzu puppy into coming her way. The precious pup drags his human, a rather serious looking fellow, along for the ride. Nicky bends down and scoops up the bundle of cuteness into her bosom and coos in her charming British accent, “Yes, we are getting our socialization now aren’t we?” In retrospect, it’s unclear if she was socializing the newborn pup or the world-worn human.
Nicky owns three shops in a row along Greenwich Avenue between West 12th and West 13th Streets: “Tea & Sympathy,” “Carry On Tea & Sympathy,” and the puntacular fish and chips shop “A Salt and Battery.” They cater to the tea and crumpet-loving Anglophiles in the West Village. In business for 27 years, she has seen the changes. The conversation turns to the recent slew of empty storefronts, the influx of wealthy millennials, and the rising rents. As if on cue, Michael (“a proper Village ol’timer” by Nicky’s estimation) walks up and makes his entrance. He says, “How do you like that restaurant closing at the end? It’s been there like 900 years!” She corrects him. “Well, actually it’s been a coffee shop for 68 years and they’ve been there for 36. That rent of his that he couldn’t pay was $27 thousand a month.” That story, if it’s been told once, has been told a thousand times.
A singularly extraordinary event has occurred. Prince Harry of England, now also the Earl of Sussex, has married an American! Not only an American, but a mixed race -American. “That sends an amazing message to the world,” says Nicky. “It really did. I’m so sick of all this hatred and this racism, and everyone’s judging each other for what they are. It’s like, stay in your lane people. Stay in your lane.”
The happy couple had an African-American evangelizing preacher deliver the nuptials. Afterwards, the moving melodies of a gospel choir filled the sanctuary of Saint George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. There were reports that some of those in attendance looked a little less than comfortable. “If they’ve got a wart up their arses and they feel uncomfortable about that, then they’re fools. Listen, I’m sure the Queen has heard everything at this point in time. I mean, let’s face it, she’s been everywhere, met everybody, seen everything. She’s not the person to look down on you because you have a certain color skin. She’s just not like that,” proclaims Nicky.
Just then, a car pulls up and Andrew Joannou gets out of the passenger side. His sister, visiting from England, gets out of the back seat and the car pulls away. Andrew’s wife is looking for parking. A conversation develops between Nicky and Andrew. Neither of them made it to Oliver Sacks’ memorial service. “Because I wasn’t around,” laments Nicky. “I didn’t know about it,” says Andrew.
Dr. Oliver Sacks, world famous neurologist, introduced Nicky and Andrew to each other. The British expat, knighted by the Queen of England, lived in the West Village for many years until his death in 2015. Sir Sacks frequented Nicky’s shop because it carried his favorite brand of tea. He knew she’d immediately take to Andrew, not only because Andrew was British but, also, because he had Tourette’s syndrome. “The first word he said to me: ‘Minge!’ Oh, it was just brilliant,” Nicky exclaims. “Now I’m much quieter,” Andrew assures.
Dr. Oliver Sacks recommended that Andrew undergo Deep Brain Surgery (DPS) in order to treat his involuntary tics. Though DPS is an FDA approved surgery that’s been used to treat tens of thousands of Parkinson’s patients, Andrew is one of only about 100 Tourette’s Syndrome sufferers who have undergone the (in their case) “experimental” surgery. “Mount Sinai [is] the only hospital that does it for Tourette’s. I live in New Jersey and that’s the only place close to me that did it,” explains Andrew.
The doctors told him that the implant, which delivers an electrical stimulus to the area around the basal ganglia, would relieve his physical spasms, but would do nothing to ease the…colorful language. But Andrew found that “the first symptom to disappear was the cursing.”
Andrew didn’t watch the royal wedding. He’s waiting for the ‘royal divorce.’ He points to the fact that several royals have divorced in recent years. Then, just look at Prince Harry’s choice in a bride: an American divorcee. “The Queen is very loyal about marriage. I’m not sure what her attitude is about marrying a divorced person,” Andrew mused. “She said ‘yes’,” pipes in Nicky.
The lovebirds needed the Queen’s blessing since they will be in line to inherit the throne. Last in line at sixth, but still in line nonetheless. There’s also the fact that the new bride is biracial, and the first member of the royal family that is descended from slaves. She has married a direct descendent of King George III, whom founding father Thomas Jefferson credits with the legitimization of slavery on the American continent. “That’s gotta be pressure too,” Andrew mutters.
Still, Princess Meghan is not the only controversial figure in Nicky’s opinion: “Wallace Simpson! She was the American who married the king and he had to abdicate.” Wallace Simpson, a socialite from Baltimore, was divorced twice when she married King Edward the VIII in 1937. And don’t forget about Prince Charles, Harry’s father, who reportedly was unfaithful to Princess Diana. “He was having an affair, before during and after. That is just wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Don’t get married then—because he ruined her life,” rages Nicky. She continues, “They went on their honeymoon and he’s wearing the cufflinks that Camilla gave him. ‘C.C.’ Charles and Camilla. I’d be [expletive] livid!”
A grandmother pushing her infant grandson in a stroller passes by. Nicky can’t help herself—“How sweet you look.” “Thank you,” replies the grandmother. “You do,” Nicky coos.