Barry Smith: Bright lights and a big breakfast
November 11, 2002
(NOTE: Barry’s on the road. This is part three. Collect ?em all.)
As I write this I am on Staten Island, which I guess is technically New York, but I don’t quite feel like I’m there yet.
I can see the Manhattan skyline just across the way, and I am chomping at the bit to take that magical ferry ride to the enchanted land.
The only thing stopping me is Aunt Irene.
“Whaddya mean you’re leaving without breakfast?” Aunt Irene yells. “Sit down. Sit!”
It’s not like I’ve never been to a city before, but I’ve never been to New York.
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“YOU’VE never been to New York?” people respond when I make this confession. They can’t imagine that someone as worldly and sophisticated as I pretend to be has never been to New York City.
“I just can’t believe that,” they often add, probably remembering the times I’ve lied to them in the past.
But now, after months of planning for this trip, of talking it up giddily with everyone I even sorta know, I am so very, very close to the bright lights and big city. Soon, the greatest city in the world will be beneath my feet. Oh, how it beckons.
“Sit!” repeats Aunt Irene.
I sit. Aunt Irene scares me. She’s twice my age, half my size, and not even my real aunt. Still, I sit.
Christina, my wife, is already seated. This is her aunt, so she knows the drill. So does her brother, Richie, who has driven us up here from D.C. He’s eating an English muffin with feta. God only knows what he has already been forced to ingest.
“Now,” Aunt Irene says, “what do you want for breakfast?”
“A bagel from an Upper West Side deli,” I respond, defiantly looking her directly in the eye, (Here’s where you say: “How short was she?”) which I can now do because I’m sitting down.
She didn’t hear me, but instead started rattling off food items.
“You want eggs? You want toast? You want cereal?”
The knowing looks of my dutifully chomping family told me that there would be no leaving without eating, as was our plan. We arrived at Aunt Irene’s the previous afternoon, and decided that we’d rest up from the drive and hit the city first thing the next morning ? out the door before Aunt Irene or Uncle Tony were even awake.
Not a chance.
Aunt Irene had finished her verbal menu, so I chose what I thought would be the quickest option. Toast.
“And what else?”
“That’s all,” I said. “Just toast. That’s what I always eat at home, just one lightly toasted and hastily buttered piece of toast and then off I’ll go to catch the ferry to fulfill my dream of walking the streets of New York City, a journey which has recently reached mythical proportions for me and that I quite frankly don’t want to put off for even another second. So, just toast. Thanks.”
She made me three eggs, scrambled, four English muffins and a cube of feta cheese the size of a housecat.
“You want your coffee now?”
She held up a jar of Folgers decaf instant. I’m a bit of a coffee snob, so what I saw was a crass distillation of everything that could ever be wrong with coffee. The only explanation for such blasphemy of the bean is that Juan Valdez is actually Osama bin Laden’s secret lover and together they plan to bring America to her shaky, caffeine-deprived knees. Mountain grown, my ass. I’d rather drink unsweetened toxic waste.
“Yes, please,” I replied, and she scooped some flavor crystals into a tiny mug and topped it off with hot water.
I never imagined that I could be held hostage by food.
“Well, I’m stuffed,” I announced three missed ferries later. “That was a wonderful breakfast. Guess we should get going, huh?”
“You want to take an apple with you?” Aunt Irene asked.
“No, I think we’ll be …”
She shoved three apples into my backpack.
“How about a banana?”
By the time we caught the ferry ? The Ferry! ? I had a backpack full of fruit, cheese and leftover Halloween candy. I was ready for anything.
Except, well, DINNER at Aunt Irene’s.
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