The Loss of Valuable Things
In the fall of 1978, I moved from Florida to New York City. I was twenty-one, and had $200 to my name. How insane was that?
My first apartment was on East 12th Street, a one bedroom. It was $650 a month, which is today laughable but which was scary $$$$ at the time as my apartment in Florida was $150 a month. And, for eight months I had no job in New York City.
To afford the rent, I ended up with six roommates. Yep, six. A couple rented the walk-in closet. The bedroom, which had a high ceiling, was duplexed and one person rented the “ground” floor and another person rented the “upper” floor. Neither level offered standing room. And so on.
Seven people. In a one-bedroom apartment.
So, yes, this was insane. But…there was a compensating factor. At the corner was Strand Bookstore. The store was huge and stuffed with discounted books. Visiting the store for the first time was, well, an orgasmic experience and, during my years in the city (1978 to 1991), I visited Strand countless times.
Just south of Strand was a classic coffee shop. The decor was horrible, lots of gold and plastic and with a dropped acoustic ceiling. All the waiters were men, middle-aged, and Greek.
I loved the coffee shop, and always ordered the same thing: Diet Coke, a tuna melt, and extra crispy fries.
After leaving the city in 1991, I returned many, many times and on each trip made my ritual pilgrimage to Strand, always timing these trips around lunchtime. After buying several books, I would walk the short distance to the coffee shop.
A male, middle-aged waiter would approach, and I would smile inwardly. Where do they get these guys? I would order a diet Coke, a tuna melt, and extra crispy fries. When the meal would arrive, I would stare at it, my whole being feeling infused with happiness.
I adored this ritual. I mean, what could be better than new books, a tuna melt, and extra crispy fries, and all from familiar, beloved places?
Today, I was talking with my friend Patricia, and told her this story. She said: “Oh! I loved that coffee shop! I went there so many times! I wonder if it’s still there?”
I assumed the coffee shop was as permanent as the pyramids. But…
I have not been to New York in many years, but know that classic coffee shops are an endangered species in the city. Many have been replaced by Starbucks. But Starbucks does not offer a good tuna melt and extra crispy fries.
Learning about the loss of my favorite New York City coffee shop felt like a punch to my soul.
I am all for change. But sometimes some things should be as permanent as the pyramids. And if one cannot get a tuna melt and extra-crispy fries anymore in the greatest city on Earth? Well, that is just plain wrong.
At least Strand Bookstore survives. I wonder if they have opened a lunch counter, serving…
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