April 19, 2009

New York Summer Day

I took a walk on the first real summer day in New York. It was still only spring, but for the first time there was no hint of a hidden cold front or any expectations that the sun and the warm breezes would be suddenly taken away from us. We had been teased before, but this seemed for real. And there was no holding back New Yorkers in their disgusting glory. They were all out — every single one of them — clogging the streets and dressed for August.

I found myself behind a couple, the kind of annoying twosome who believed that the day was meant for them alone. The woman wore cutoffs and high heels and giant sunglasses and the manboy a torn t‑shirt. They were probably born somewhere in Michigan, or maybe Atlanta.  They chewed and spit out pistachios in every direction. When we got to a street corner with the light against us, they kept on walking without even bothering to check if cars were coming. One did come and the driver honked but the couple paid no mind. Jaywalking is a New York tradition, but these two did it all wrong.

At the next block, as a column of cars prepared to cross the intersection, a cab awkwardly pulled out of the line and crawled to the crosswalk, where a winsome-looking girl waited. The rest of us, stranded and unable to jaywalk, watched the girl — careful, embarrassed — get inside the cab. The other drivers were mad. The light now green for them, they tried to wind around the cab.  A van inched by and the driver’s face was in a state of apoplexy.

“Motherfucker, blocking the whole street just to pick up a five dollar fare?”

He honked his horn all the way across the intersection, hitting the gas just to show his irritation.

Meanwhile, a guy on bicycle who presumably almost got squashed by the cab as it pulled in to collect the girl, shouted at the long gone van driver, “He didn’t care about a bike, you think he’s going to give a fuck about your goddamn van?”

He looked back at us standing off the curb and wanting to go.

“Fuck you all!”

The annoying couple were the first to attempt to cross the street, but another car was barreling toward them and the driver wasn’t about to give ground now. His horn bleated and then he spread his arms in astonishment at the couple’s fearless rudeness. Chagrined, they stepped back to let the car pass.

Leaving this behind, I realized that I wanted to eat a roll, so I stepped into a bakery. But all I could see were cookies and pastries.

“Do you sell bread?,” I asked the owner, who appeared from the back of the shop.

He smiled bitterly as he swept an arm over the display of his wares.

“All these beautiful pastries here and you want bread?”

“Oh,” I said. “Yeah, I didn’t think you had bread.”

“They all want bread now. When I sell bread they want pastries, when I sell pastries they want bread.”

“You can’t win,” I said.

“When I had a shop over on Hester Street I sold lots of bread, tons of bread.”

“Bread’s good,” I said.  “Bread’s back. It’s the thing now.”

“Yeah yeah.”

OK, so how much for that little blueberry muffin?”

“$1.75.”

OK, I’ll take one.”

From my side of the counter, I followed him down to the register.

“It’s so hard to have a business now,” he said. “The government, they just don’t want to make it easy for you. You know what Bloomberg wants to do now? He wants to make it illegal to have a McDonald’s within a tenth of a mile from a school.”

“That’s not going to stop the kids,” I said.

I handed over 2 dollars.

“Keep it.”

The New York summer had begun. The loudmouths, the big talkers, the rude walkers, the impatient drivers — all of them out in the streets or in their stores, pushed to exaggeration by the shock of warm weather that had cracked the city wide open.

It was only later that I realized that the baker had been at the center of a controversy after Obama got elected, when he tried to sell “Drunken Negro Head” cookies to shocked customers.