travel

A Tale of Two Breakfasts

Greenwich Village before 9 AM on a Saturday morning was nearly deserted. There were signs of life: a City worker painting a light post, a milk delivery, and a sidewalk-washing. As a lone, out-of-town visitor in a summer dress, I felt alien in what was perhaps the hungover hush of the early morning.

I had gone to the Village on a macaroon run. However, the tea house would not be open until 10 AM. The Doughnut Project, right next door, would be open at 9 AM. Doughnuts it was.

The one on the left was creme brûlée with custard-like filling. The one on the right had a beet (yes, beet) glaze and a cream cheese filling.

I headed towards Washington Square Park where I would devour my doughnuts and tea. One street, I think it was Bleecker, smelled strongly of chlorine. Water flowed beneath the curb even though it had not rained, as far as I knew, and trash was on the sidewalk, placed at such orientations as to suggest deliberatation. All of those anomalies were probably connected, but I didn’t know how, and it made me uneasy.

At one corner of the park, near the Washington Square subway stop, there were a couple benches perpendicular to one another in the garden. There I sat and opened the box, refreshed immediately by the aroma of freshly-fried dough. I was in love. A man in his forties came to sit and eat his breakfast at the next bench. He pulled out of a bag a bottle of blue Gatorade and a styrofoam container with some type of lunch-like food piled up. He looked like he was a having a rough go at things. There was brief eye contact, but no further communication. I concluded that he posed no threat to me. My eyes wandered to a plaque on the ground. Apparently, at this very spot, the tavern that had inspired Eugene O’Neil’s The Iceman Cometh once stood. Well, there I sat at that spot, eating my breakfast in the same space that another person was eating his, but we may as well have been in different worlds.

I liked the beet doughnut better than the other one, but they were both really good.

This John Varvatos is the former site of the CBGB. CBGB, the iconic club where so many famous rock bands got their start, was converted into this upscale men’s clothing store less than a decade ago.

Elvis Costello, above. Ozzy Osbourne on the loo, below. As you can see, these photographs and posters, as well as the grafatti and some other memorabilia, have been preserved and integrated into the clothing store. I spent quite a bit of time taking it all in. I must admit, I was a little disappointed at the lack of Talking Heads, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and Television stuff, as those happen to be my favorite bands that played at CBGB. I suppose it is customary to seek out experiences that validate our identity as people. Customary and a little weird, when you really think about it.

Sometimes, I wonder what it all means. What does it matter that I ate breakfast at a park where some seedy inn used to exist? Or that I wandered through a clothing store that used to be a club?

I must be homesick.

The remainder of the afternoon was mostly uneventful, as I’ve been laying low on account of the expiration of my subway card and an early morning flight on the horizon. For lunch, I had a frankfurter at Katz’s, no ketchup, just deli mustard and sauerkraut, like a pro. I had dinner at MasalaWala, which was a spicy curry chicken that really hit the spot. Spicy foods are essential in my world. Then I walked around the neighborhood just to get some exercise, grabbed a large acai bowl for some reason, and paid my farewells to the City.

I’ve said before (like a hundred times) that you can’t have individualism without self-reliance. And that’s true. You can’t be all FTDubs and then expect people to really care about you and validate you. At least, that’s never worked for me.

So far, I have been cautiously operating under the assumption that this relatively new American way is the right way. And that is a big, glaring assumption.

I don’t believe that gratifying the self is the way to happiness. Nor do I believe that negating the self is the way to happiness. Who actually knows the way to happiness? Besides authors of self-help books?

What’s clear is that there’s a lot that could be better. The polarization is obvious. The lack of genuine community is a gnawing ache that we’ve all felt for some time. And inequality persists.

I don’t know what should be done, really. I was hoping that the City would tell me. But the City doesn’t know, not any more than I do.

Still, it isn’t as if I’ve learned nothing this whole time. The City did have something to say to me. The City told me to stand on my own two feet. The City told me to push on, no matter what, and to get over myself. And for that, if nothing else, I’ll always be grateful.

I know I’ll look back on this trip fondly. But for now, I am excited to see my family, birds, and friends again out on the other coast.

3 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Breakfasts

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