Sunday, June 6, 2010

Taking a Bite Out of the Big Apple...I Mean Cupcake

I, like just about everybody else who ever goes to a movie or watches TV, had all these images in my head about New York City, so it was with a little trepidation that I chose to spend such a tenuous weekend there.  Was I going to find the city of Se7en, so dark, dirty and devoid of joy that a woman would despair of bringing a child into it?  Or would I find the sharply defined grids of racial enmity that Spike Lee showed us?  Or, would it be the quaint, cozy little ethnic neighborhoods, like in Moonstruck?  Or would I be lucky enough to find the robust, rich intellectually challenging world of Woody Allen?  Or the dazzling city of excess of Sex and the City?  In my brief time there, I found that it is all these things.

New York, more than any other city I've ever visited, is whatever you want it to be.  It is so large and so diverse that it can afford to have many faces, all of them equally real.  The one thing it can't seem to do is to settle down and be quiet.  From what I saw, it truly is the City That Never Sleeps.

I saw a lot of beauty there.  In the buildings, from the art deco facades of the Empire State Building to the little neighborhood church across from the hotel.  In the green spaces carved out of the concrete; I gasped at the sight of the vista across the water from me in Central Park, and I drank in the atmosphere on a sunny weekend day at Bryant Park.  In the art:  we spent an an entire day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and didn't make it all the way through.

But I saw a lot that wasn't beautiful.  I saw buildings losing the battle to the smog and grit of the city, their once lovely surfaces caked with the black decay of the city.  I saw homeless men and women with lost, empty eyes, begging for change or unabashedly digging through the trash, oblivious to the people walking past them, just as the people walking past didn't seem to be fazed by the scene they were passing.  I saw apartments set above the little shops in Chinatown and Little Italy where the windows were thrown wide to try and catch a bit of breeze, an old sheet or blanket serving as their curtain, their laundry hanging from the fire escape to dry, and you knew these people were living on the fringe, scrambling to get by.  And you know, vaguely, some miles away there are parts of the city that make these cramped little apartments seem positively luxurious.

People were either friendly or they weren't.  Some were clearly nuts.  Like the woman with a toddler in a stroller who was yelling at the poor little boy for losing his shoe in the middle of the street.  And sure enough, there was a little brown slip-on in the middle of the crosswalk on busy 8th Ave.  We all watched in fascination as cab after cab rolled by without hitting it, thinking she would run out and retrieve it when the light changed.  Marissa and I were on the other side before we realized that she was still standing on the opposite corner, yelling, "I can't believe you did that!  Now what to you expect me to do?  What do you think Mother is going to do?"  Over and over and over, her hair a bit disheveled and wild, like the look in her eyes. I don't know if she was high or just crazy, and I don't know if someone finally offered to grab the poor child's shoe or not.  I know we didn't.  But whatever personality you have, something about New York gives you free rein to express it.  I know it's cliche that New Yorkers are rude.  Some were.  The very attractive, petite woman working the front desk at our little hotel could barely be bothered with me the couple of times I interacted with her.  Yet the porter was extremely nice, polite and helpful.  The woman at the information desk at the museum was nearly horrible, but one of the staff who greeted us as we first came in, looking apparently a little lost and overwhelmed, was as warm and friendly as he was exotically handsome.   So, finally, I decided that the city allows people a measure of anonymity, which grants them the freedom to just be whoever they were born to be.  Whereas in the South, there is a certain expectation of behavior, a forced politeness that covers up the natural grump within.  I don't know which I prefer actually, but the thing about it is, if people are rude to you, then you feel no compunction to be anything but rude right back, and you can see how it takes on a life and a reputation of its own after a while.

And, speaking of cliches, they are all true.  Every thing I'd ever heard or seen about the city and its people, I heard or saw in my brief time there.  From the woman who, after coming dangerously close to being bumped by a cab as she walked against the light, yelled at the driver with great bravado, even turning around once past him to send another volley of insults back at him.  To the street vendors, selling pretzels from stainless steel carts, to cabs that careen at breakneck pace down the avenues for the brief block or two they have a lane before coming to a halt in a gridlock of other cabs and businessmen with cell phones glued to their ears (we never saw a speed limit sign anywhere we went).  To the fact that everything is referenced by cross streets.  I always thought that was a Law and Order dodge to avoid using specific addresses, sort of like the fictious "555" prefix for phone numbers.  But, when I gave a cab driver an address the first time, he looked back at me like I either had a contagious malady or was an idiot or both, and he asked what the cross street was.  I didn't know.  Thank God for cell phones with GPS, or we might be bouncing around in that cab still. 

The one thing that caught me by surprise was the cupcakes.  New Yorkers seem to love their cupcakes.  Of course, they are famous for their pizza and their bagels, but the only reference I have ever seen about cupcakes was the SNL Digital Short, Lazy Sunday.  Marissa and I always just thought they were featured because a) it was funny and b) it rhymed.  But, no, New Yorkers seem to like cupcakes.  I first caught that clue when we walked past a place called The Cupcake Cafe.  Then, a few hours later, I saw a little cafe advertising pasta and cupcakes, and looked into a glass case filled with rows of little cakes.  And, of course, there really is the Magnolia Bakery of Lazy Sunday fame in Little Italy.  Finally, I had seen enough cup cakes or signs for cupcakes that I desparately wanted one.  So, our final morning there, Marissa and I trudged down through the heat and the humidity that were already threatening to make the day an oppressive one, to the Cupcake Cafe, and I got a $5.50 cupcake from a man who seemed to embody both the stereotypical New Yorker rudeness with a sense of being helpful ("Are you going to buy one of those?" he barked after we took a couple of pictures, to "It's better if you let it warm up.").

What an interesting city.  I have to go back someday soon.  There is so much we didn't see and do that we wanted to.  But, at least I can always say that I got a New York cupcake.

1 comment:

  1. Next time you are in Houston try the cupcakes at Sugarbaby's Cupcake Boutique. Not sure of the address but the Cupcake's look great.