It was right before Thanksgiving and like a billion other people, my friend ordered dessert from Veniero's on 11th Street to bring to the family gathering in Pound Ridge. It was probably pumpkin pie, or pastiero di grano or maybe even a cheesecake with little cannolis on top.
This woman is very attractive and she is over 30. Maybe even over 40 but her seamless attractiveness is elegant and well appointed. Oprah's makeover couldn't improve on her classic outfits, highlighted with tasteful touches of contemporary accessories.
So... as she waited on the long line she grew a bit tired. Noticing a bunch of round tables stacked along the wall, she sidled up to one and gently, as only elegance and class could, sat down.
The woman behind her, generously described as perhaps not very attractive and very unhappy about not being attractive, snapped I'M IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY AND YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE SITTING ON A TABLE. My friend politely pointed out that these were tables being stored, not being used for service. At that point the counter guy called "Next." Which was my friend.
YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO TAKE A NUMBER yelled the Unhappy Woman. My friend pointed out that not only did she have a number, she had the one they were calling and off she went to pick up the family dessert. Turning to leave she came face to face with the Unhappy Woman who then... punched her.
"Why'd you do that?" the counterman asked.
My friend quickly left and joined her husband in their car. As she began to tell him what just happened, the Unhappy Woman ran out of Veniero's and began yelling at the car. Windows rolled up and doors locked, her husband began to drive away. My friend pleaded for her husband to go slow because all they needed was for him to run over the foot of the Unhappy Woman as she followed the car down 11th Street yelling things at them.
That Thanksgiving Dinner the dessert was brought out to many ooos and ahhs.
"We almost died for this cake," the husband said.
A brief discussion ensued. Did the Unhappy Woman attack my friend because she was Asian? Did she attack my friend because she was Asian AND pretty? Or was this Unhappy Woman just basically nuts?
After many fingers on every hand got tired of pointing with iron-clad facts, and friends' faces got that polite look, it was time to shut up and walk.
To light and then the light above it.
To a road, however dark and lonely, if only to remember the difference between what quiet sounds like and the ridiculous noise in my head. And also to remember to NOT argue with someone who is NOT there. (Which pisses me off because when they are not there, I win the argument.)
To a chair where my ass belongs so I can hear something greater than the argument I only win with others when they aren't there.
And then back to the world, where I get to see lots of shoes worn thin from walking the walk, not talking the talk.
Twinkies may have been for the masses, but we only ate the orange cupcakes and the pink snoballs. Once-a-week. Friday night. At Gramma's house. Watching TV. With a C&C cola.
One of my sister's early memory was her, one Friday night, putting her foot down and saying she was going to have a whole packet of snoballs by herself. No more splitting it with me. Which was fine because that meant I got the orange cupcakes all to myself.
I continued to eat snoballs and orange cupcakes through way too many nights of loneliness, drunkenness and bad, bad TV. Then I got a life, learned to love fruit and cardio workouts. The foods of Gramma's fell by the wayside.
Years later, during a particularly gruesome series of doctor visits (that included Florence collapsing on a frigid winter street as we waved frantically at off-duty cabs) Louise ran out to get medicine while I stayed behind in the examination room. She returns with the medicine and one packet of snoballs. We shared them.
Then the news came that the factory was shutting down.
I hit every deli and supermarket I could. But there wasn't a bright-pink-looks-like-a-tit or orange-frosting-as-pliable-as-gumby cake to be found. Nobody had a thing, hadn't for a long time or didn't even know what I was talking about.
My city, in its quest for quality baked goods had filled its shelves with organic or gourmet ingredients, and had erased from its landscape recognizable foods. Just as it had the bookstores, the mom&pops, the shoemakers, the bodegas, the services we needed, the stores we depended on, the neighbors we knew...
Finally, I went into a 7-11. The woman behind the counter said, "you better hurry, we're almost out."
The minute I took a bite...
I was 'home'. Me, Gramma, Louise, Friday night TV.
This is where the teacher bent my head over and washed the blood pouring out of my nose off my face. It was just another fist fight I didn't lose.
You'd think I'd get tired of staring into that white porcelain and rusty drain.
But, I couldn't give up the hope that one of my punches would set things right.
Then I got older. I kept punching, but now with blaming and complaining words.
You'd think I'd get tired of pointing fingers at people as I watched them head off to their dreams and I stayed behind.
But, I couldn't give up the hope that if I complained loud enough, my life would unfold.
Then, after I got older older, I noticed I wasn't punching, I wasn't complaining. But I was judging - just very very quietly.
You'd think I'd get tired of the raging noise inside my head
But, I couldn't give up the hope that one day my silent tantrums would make a difference.
It did. It almost destroyed me.
It dawned on me that I had fought the same war with my fists and my words and my thoughts and it was still going on. The only difference between that sink at P.S. 110 and the days I lived now was my bones creaked when I bent over and, instead of fantasizing about candy and the boy next door, I dreamed of long-term health insurance.
War, in all its incarnations, hadn't brought much of anything to anyone, including and especially myself.
With what time is left, why not, why not wean off the fists the complaints the judgement wean off the noise the tantrums the expectation of a blow wean off and then perhaps have space space to wonder at why on earth any of us are here and maybe if there was something delicious to eat and someone even more delicious to kiss.
A brief series on one October week in Her New York's. Doris Day didn't show up. But the rest of us did.
Some went door to door, checking on those who were a bit older (but only by a couple of years) just to make sure flashlights had batteries and the ancient landlines were working.
Still, others gathered around the coffee cake that was supposed to have headed to the West Village that day, but now needed to be eaten before it went bad.
Which could have been at any minute so we ate almost all of it.
A couple of us ventured out to charge at a friend's the many gadgets essential to our lives and send out important emails and information, but lets face it, we were all on facebook within 10 minutes.
It was the travel back that stunned us. Not that we had just seen lights and had internet access for the first time in days , but that, as we headed home out of the land of the power, before us rose a wall of visual silence.
Finally home in that stunned darkness, the candles got lit, and many dusty bottles that had been hanging around high shelves in many apartments got plunked down and opened, just to see how many had turned into rubbing alcohol.
A brief series on one October week in Her New York's. Another day without power calls for tough decisions and tougher actions. Cooking.
Even with our Olympic-like speeds of opening and closing the refrigerator, the food was headed to bad.
So everything that still could be was cooked or baked. Of course, burning guaranteed anything icky would die. It also guaranteed a visit from a worried neighbor that on top of everything else there had been another fire.
Burnt brownies are, in fact, quite tasty.
With bowls and pots and extra bottles of wine, we gathered upstairs before evening fell in the staircase. What seemed like just minutes later the sky was pitch black, our faces were flushed with wine and all the food had been eaten.
A brief series on one October week in Her New York's. We open at the end.
Seven days and a couple of hours after the storm beat up families, homes and neighborhoods, furious walls of water filled streets, and the Con Edison power station exploded the city into darkness, the world not only lit up with electricity. It lit up with hope and relief.
MY PRIVATE CONEY presents IT WAS HER NEW YORK, the short stories that accompany the work-in-progress video and photo collection of the same name (myprivateconey.com - media link - IT WAS HER NEW YORK). The stories and the media explore the tender rubble that holds both my mother, Florence's and New York's soul as one disappears into old age and the other into gentrification. All are real observations and/or experiences with very little tall-tale telling.
Except when it makes the story better.
Please visit myprivateconey.com for additional information and sample works.