“I need restaurant recs for SoHo. What’re your favorites?”
This is routine.
“Sure one sec,” I reply.
I google “food in SoHo.” I pick four restaurants on the third results page, making sure I choose one with the single $ expensiveness rating, two with $$, and a final one with $$$.
“Yeah, this place is really great,” I tell her. “I went there this summer. You have to try the…” I pause, wondering if I’ll ever go there myself, or to any of the tens of fake recommendations I’ve given people.
Once in a while, I’ll be honest.
“Actually I don’t really eat in SoHo or go there too often”
“You never eat in Soho? How can you say you’re a New Yorker?”
I think there used to be something I’d say here in defense.
“Hahahaha” works, too.
We’re both sipping (chugging) our second round of tallboys, semi-innocuous in brown paper bags. As we glide down a quiet one way street in Williamsburg, unnerved babysitters try to distract their children on their last stroll of the evening before it’s bedtime.
This is date night.
I tell him I’m hungry. We peer into a Chinese restaurant. The booths are wooden and low, black leather grips all walls. We nervously eye the menu, and then each other, gazing until harmony is realized, our desires and fates intertwining, thinking in unison, We will order the second least expensive appetizer and share a main, telling the waiter that we’ve already eaten and are just snacking, knowing full well that we will run to McDonald’s and split a 20 piece immediately after we depart the restaurant.
A man comes to seat us.
We pick an appetizer, this chicken-peanut dish that had a four-sentence description, lauding the chef for his updated rendition.
“Pretty good,” I say. It’s not. I don’t like my chicken freezer burned.
Our waiter returns. “How’re you enjoying your experience?” My date bursts out laughing.
“I’m sorry, we’ve had a long day,” I gently apologize, knowing my mother would be proud. Our puzzled waiter smiles and asks me something I don’t process, because at that point my only concern was keeping my laughter inside as well. I can’t. Our waiter isn’t angry, just confused. I give him a thumbs up, unable to speak, and he leaves politely. My date cringes. “This shit is awful,” he says, gesturing first to the plate of chicken, then to the entire restaurant and those beyond.
We head south and cross the Manhattan bridge with new tallboys in hand, and walk all the way back up to a one-bedroom in the East Village, where he and his dad have lived together for twenty years.
Righteousness is optional, suffering is mandatory. My mother and grandmother make the sign of the cross, exiting Sunday mass to dash across a busy intersection to our next stop. The second hour in this arduous two-part ritual takes place in the ACME, suburban Philadelphia’s most popular supermarket. My mom helps me load the car after she finishes her rounds. She’s bought roughly thirty chicken thighs, five sirloins, and various other beeves (beeves is the plural of beef!), enough to get us through the next three weeks, she hopes. She takes pride in grocery shopping over 100 miles away, filling her trunk to the brim with freezer bags of discount lamb chops, suffocating her children under the luggage that won’t fit in the trunk. The drive home feels twice as long.
She jokes that my brother and I aren’t allowed to buy any pints of ice cream for a couple of days. We need to defrost and cook some of the chicken before we have room for it.
My trombone case is two thirds of my height. When I step on the subway, I can only see waists. 5th grade is the second year I’ve been sweating in my gap husky pants (“Husky like the dog?” I ask my mom. “Yes, like the dog”). I listen for my stop, unwilling to maneuver my body to see the station sign for fear that I’ll knock my trombone over.
I don’t know if the place has a name. 99¢ FRESH PIZZA reads a red sans-serif sign outside. The owner hates receiving $20 bills and appreciates my quarters. There is no room in his store to eat. I lug my trombone in the same hand as my roller backpack so I can hold my prize in the other. I’m tired. There’s hardly any tomato sauce, my fingers start to bloat, but this is the highlight of my week.
“Yeah, my phone says it’s just one açai bowl,” I relay to the cashier. I pronounce it “ackai.” It’s prepared in under five minutes. I grab napkins and a spoon and pull up the delivery destination on my screen. The building says Barclays outside. A security guard eyes me seconds after I arrive and dryly instructs me to exit the main entrance, venture halfway around the block, and to wait with the other delivery people in a holding pen. I call my client and she meets me there.
“Enjoy the açai thing,” I say, again mistakenly mispronouncing with the word with hard “c.” She laughs in my face. I smile back. Maybe she thought it was cute? Maybe her finger slipped when she hit the “no tip” button on her phone? Maybe the hundreds of other 20-somethings working in Midtown offices that I delivered to that summer accidentally tapped the “no tip” button as well?
I transport two-figure juices and kale bowls almost every day the August before my first year of college. I struggle to understand how Postmates and other app-based delivery companies value convenience and cruelty, underpaying their couriers so entry-level analysts can seamlessly refuel during mid-afternoon. I google graduate schools in Austin, Philadelphia, and Miami without having any idea what I’d want to study.
Deux Amis is almost half a century old. The prices have hardly risen since my parents started going there, a couple decades ago. The menu changes once in the winter and once in the summer. Adalene’s hair is dyed platinum blond.
“Nous saluons votre retour!” she shouts.
We come roughly once every two months. Birthdays are here. Graduations are here. Anniversaries are here.
Bucky, the owner, ducks out of the bar to saunters to our table. He gives my dad a hug and my mom a kiss on the cheek.
“It’s money well spent,” my mom recaps, after the night is over.
She has just turned 93.
“When my husband, Don, would come home from the office, he would call me at 5pm. That was when I poured his glass of wine (he liked it to decant), put the dinner in the oven, and made sure the kids had finished their homework.”
Esther never fails to retell this sequence every other Sunday when my parents invite her over for dinner. Regardless of what we serve, she leaves nothing on her plate, and refuses to ask for seconds.
“What’s new with you?”
“I’m about to start a new semester, and I—”
“Wonderful! Just wonderful,” she commends. “Well, this week, when I was out to dinner with Dr. Ruth…” She details their long friendship, their favorite restaurants.
After dessert, she grabs her walker, cautiously straightening her back. “Where are my escorts?”
“We’re your escorts!” My brother and I chuckle.
We escort her down the hall to her apartment. Somehow the journey never grows longer.
“People in this place have been so good to me. I hope they’re good to you, too.”