another food thing from long ago
this l'il story is from my February 2004 trip to NYC. my friend courtney always shows me the best time and this time she far exceeded my expectations. she also tells a good story, so rather than retelling it in my own words, i'm just taking what she wrote from her blog:
"Nothing like a little celebrity spotting to entertain one's out-of-town guests. There's often this perception on the part of visitors that New York is nothing more than an endless imitation of its cinematic projections. Like it's just a reflexive series of images and skits. They say "it's just like in the movies" -- or Seinfeld or Will and Grace or Law and Order -- until you start to think you're not a person in a city, but some clueless production intern weaving around a colossal, debauched movie set.
I picked up Eliz at JFK airport early this morning, and we drove back to the Upper West Side for breakfast. On the way to vegan pancakes at Josie's, we had a drive-by sighting of Jerry Orbach and company filming an episode of Law and Order. "New York is just so New York," Eliz puzzled. I couldn't disagree, really.
Josie's was all locked up until lunch, so we walked six blocks up to Sarabeth's on 81st street. I hadn't been there for about five years, at least. I'd forgotten. The place was packed: immaculately coifed women in pearls and mock turtlenecks, execs on their business breakfasts, mysteriously idle thirty-somethings in expensive, rumpled sportswear preparing for a day of who knows what. "I've never felt underdressed for breakfast before," Eliz quipped as the hostess escorted us to the table.
She sandwiched us between two other two-tops. On one side, a man and a woman of the high-end sportswear variety soberly formulated a pitch for a reality television program. It was to be a cross between American Idol and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, but with a dating component involved. Like in the Bachelorette, probably with one woman and seven men. ("Sound like a bad porno," Eliz whispered.) The details hadn't been worked out yet. They were still in the very early planning phases.
On our other side, an older woman counseled a younger one on the state of her life, saying things like, "Life is about being happy. You need to feel that in yourself. You need to love yourself." The older woman's features had the disconcertingly smooth affect of plastic surgery. Her head was sculpted with cosmetics and hair product so emphatic that in spite of her animated delivery, her features never really moved. She spoke in loud, bracing tones so appalling that at some point the couple to her other side asked her to quiet down. The younger woman quietly acceded to most of what her elder had to say. She was a soft-spoken Korean woman. She sat next to me on the booth side. I couldn't see her well, and I didn't want to turn and stare. "It's like Soon-Yi Previn and her mentor or something," I sneered inwardly, then quickly chided myself for perhaps thinking such a thing simply because she was the only normal-seeming Asian woman in this Woody Allenish Upper West Side of narcissistic professionals and socialites.
The two women discussed whether the younger woman needed a nannie or a housekeeper or both. What did she need in her life? That was the question. What did she need to be happy. The older woman just went on and on. She hurled platitudes at every subject. She hollered anecdotes I wished I could bottle and sell. On the younger woman's body image issues, for example, she declared: "YOU KNOW WHAT WE NEED TO DO IS I NEED TO TAKE YOU TO A PLACE WHERE THERE ARE STARVING PEOPLE, AND THEN YOU'LL SEE," and in the same breath, "I WANT YOU TO MEET MY FRIEND WHO'S A SUPERMODEL. SHE HAD THAT BODY TYPE, YOU KNOW, SO TALL AND THIN, AND SHE FELT SO BAD ABOUT HERSELF ALL THE TIME, AND YOU KNOW SHE SAID TO ME, 'I WAS UNHAPPY ALL THE TIME, AND ONE DAY I DECIDED I JUST COULDN'T DO IT ANYMORE.' AND NOW SHE'S A PLUS SIZE MODEL, AND YOU KNOW WHAT SHE SAID, THAT SHE'S NEVER BEEN SO HAPPY, AND NOW THEY'RE TELLING HER TO GAIN WEIGHT." And still more: "MY HAIRDRESSER, WHO YOU SHOULD MEET BECAUSE SHE'S JUST WONDERFUL, SHE WAS TELLING ME HOW SHE WAS ALWAYS WORRIED ABOUT WHAT SHE ATE, HOW SHE WAS NEVER HAPPY, AND NOW SHE HAS SKIN CANCER, AND SHE SAID, 'YOU KNOW WHAT, IT'S NOT WORTH IT. I SHOULD HAVE LIVED LIFE TO THE FULLEST.' THAT'S WHAT IT'S ABOUT. LIFE IS FOR YOU TO BE HAPPY. YOU NEED TO LEARN TO LOVE YOURSELF AND EMBRACE YOURSELF AND BE AT PEACE WITH YOURSELF."
Eliz and I accepted fairly early on in the meal that we'd be incapable of sustaining a conversation in such an environment; so we ate silently, rapt. The style and scope of the older woman's oration was so ingenious that on several occasions Eliz and I broke into helpless, mortified giggles, ducking awkwardly into our napkins or turning to the side (only to find the hip couple plotting out their uber-reality TV show). We looked desperate yet gleeful, our mouths frozen open with no sounds coming out of them. This was a sadistic comedy in which we were trapped.
Finally we realized we couldn't make eye contact with one another and behave like adults, so Eliz peered viciously into her plate of red omelette while I gazed beatifically at the ceiling and shoveled my mouth full of lemon-ricotta pancake.
When we finally got outside, we dissolved into peals of mirth. "Who are these people?" I wondered aloud. Eliz had no answer. We recalled our favorite parts of the whole wacky script. Eliz said, "Did you hear it when she leaned over and said, 'WHAT YOU NEED TO ASK YOURSELF IS, IS WOODY REALLY YOUR SOUL MATE?'"
Gasp. No, I had not heard it. But my worst imaginations had been made reality, or reality had been made my worst imaginations.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Soon-Yi Previn.
I howled and told Eliz. No! she said. Could it have been? We tittered and cawed and went home to do a google image search for Soon-Yi Previn, with whom we had just shared breakfast. If something's off between Woody and his bride, you heard it here first."