What Happened to the NY Bagel?

I’ve been in NYC for three days and have yet to have a bagel, which is kind of remarkable. Bagels and real Italian food are usually my first stop.  I was due to leave today (am on the Acela now, Washington-bound), so this was my last chance.

The other day, heading to the 4 train, I spotted a likely spot just inside Grand Central.  It was called Bageli, or something like that, and I drew the conclusion it would have, well, bagels.

This morning, though, I discovered it had all sorts of other breads, artisanal spin-offs of traditional ethnic fare including a very tempting poppy and fig strudel-y thing.  But I wanted a bagel, so headed downstairs to the food hall.

On the way I passed fully armed guardsmen in camouflage, bullet-proof vests and enough equipment hanging off their belts to … do what?  I’m not sure, but they looked prepared. I remember how this heightened level of security became commonplace after 9/11, and I’ve certainly gotten used to see it everywhere.  But it still made me sad.

Arriving downstairs, I saw a stand for “meats and dairy” and felt I was close to a genuine New York bagel.  I approached.  Yes, they had poppy.  This is something you can’t get in Alabama.  Besides the fact that what passes as a bagel in places like Panera Bread is in reality a small loaf of bread, it also comes in bizarre flavors like Asiago and blueberry, but not in the quintessential and rather pedestrian poppy.  What is that about?

I also saw that they offered just the right selection of spreads.  No raising walnut, or strawberry cream cheese.  No.  they had plain cream cheese, cream cheese with scallions, and lox cream cheese.  I ordered a poppy with the lox spread.

His next question caught me by surprise, just like the select bus on 23rd Street yesterday.  “Lettuce and tomato?” he asked.  I must have looked at him as if he’d lost his mind, and then collected myself.  “No.”

Toasted? he asked next, another option that was never offered in my youth.  “Is it fresh?” I countered.  He nodded.  I said, “No toast.”




Incident on a Cross-town Bus (en route to Macy’s)

In two short months, Lifelongnewyorker will mark seven years living in Alabama.  Despite this tenure in the warmer and redder regions of the country, Lifelongnewyorker holds to her name.  The city is the city is the city and, though changes will be noted, it will never be alien.

Except for the incident on the cross-town bus.

Because I’m older, richer and busier than when I was younger, I take cabs in New York now, especially to get cross town.  I also walk when properly shod, and continue to take the subway when it makes the most sense.  It made the most sense last night when I bought a $10 Metrocard and took the 4 express to Crown Heights to have dinner with the Abandoned One.  It was nice to note a few improvements in city life: illuminated, easy-to-read street signs in midtown.  Signage on the subway letting you know how long before your train arrived.  And it was nice to see that some things don’t change, like how easy it is to not swipe the card properly.

This morning I left my hotel on Park just south of Grand Central and walked in the crisp autumnal air to the event I was attending at Baruch College, on 24th & Lex.  Originally I was planning to return home tomorrow but I have to take a train to D.C. instead to participate in a press conference on Friday.  I packed enough to tide me over, but I packed my “casual nonprofit/academic” garb, not business wear.  I know enough though about DC to know I would really need a suit or a dress and jacket.

So I hatched a plan: In the two hours between my morning event and my next afternoon call, I would use the remaining dollars on my Metrocard to grab a crosstown bus to 6th Avenue, then transfer to an uptown bus, hit Macy’s, get a suit and return to my hotel with time to spare.

What could go wrong?

I find the bus stop at 23rd and Lex and soon enough spy a bus heading westbound.  I do notice that it’s a “select” bus, and wonder what exactly that means, but dismiss the thought.  The bus stops, I get on, I put my card in the card reader and move the the back. But I don’t get far, because the bus driver is calling me.  “Ma’am.  Ma’am.  You can’t use the card on this bus.”

What?  I’m confused and, worse, I feel like a tourist.  He says something about needing to pay in a machine, and having a receipt and that I need to get off or I will get a $150 fine.  Have I been gone that long?  Is this what happens in Trump’s America?

I do what I’ve learned to do in the South: Be polite, charming and confused. ” Oh, my,” I say, “have I been gone that long?”  It turns out that this is a special kind of bus on busy routes where onboarding is speeded up by having people swipe their card before they get on the bus.  He points out the blue machines.  That’s where you pay, he said, and you get a receipt — one that looks like any receipt you’d get anywhere — and flash that at him while you board.  Bonus: You can board front AND back.  Then — and here’s the tricky part — you’re supposed to be ready to flash it when you leave to some kind of inspector who, if you don’t have it, will slap you with a $150 summons.

My bewildered display of charm melted the driver’s heart.  “Okay,” he said, finally. “Stay on and, if they stop you, tell him I’ll be your witness.”  Alrighty.

So I get to Macy’s.  It’s already decorated for Christmas and it’s overheated and really crowded.  Not the right conditions to get in and out.  I take the escalator and not that this is not the Macy’s I’m used to.  The Herald Square Macy’s clearly has its eyes on tourists with Euros and other currencies to burn.  On the second floor, there are little boutiques for very expensive shoes — you know, the ones with the red soles and the pricetags north of $700.   Several of these suites exist, tucked like chapels into the sides of the cathedral of commerce.  Around me are shoppers, spending money, browsing the really  pricey stuff and the sales racks.  For a week now, I’ve been acutely aware of the impact of the election on people.  They’re sad, close to tear, shellshocked.  Or, they’re normal looking people I pass on a hiking trail or sit next to on the plane, and I wonder, “Are they Trump voters or not?”   Here those thoughts hold no sway.

And yet.  And yet, it never really goes away.  I arrive on the 5th floor and, before heading to the suits, move toward racks of dresses that look tailored and businessy, the kind of thing you could wear under a suit jacket for a press conference.  I see one that interests me and reach my hand out towards the hanger to get a closer look.  My eyes fall on the label: Ivanka Trump.  Instantly, I pull my hand back as if from a hot stove, and a slight gasp escapes my throat.  I look around to see if anyone noticed, and wonder if the sales people see this all the time.

So, off to the suits, to find a second, sadder reminder of the unexpected.  I find racks and racks of what can only be described as “Hillary” suits.  Long tunic-y coats, designed for generous coverage over the hips.  In teal and burgundy and green, white and black.  Some are jackets, some are sleeveless.  But there is no doubt that style mavens and Macy’s buyers thought they were going to be the new thing,  like Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hat.

I bought a suit skirt and contrasting jacket.  It will read “suit” and I’ll be able to use it again.  I did not buy pants, or a pantsuit.  I did not go for the tunic jacket.  I did not choose teal or purple or blue or burgundy.  I chose black, which matched my mood.




The Day After Election Day 2016

I just succumbed to a Facebook posting temptation.  You know what I mean — you read a post that really bothers you and type a reply and then, instead of hesitating and deleting it, you hit post.

This was a rant from a former student denouncing people who had the nerve to compare the way they feel today to the way they felt on 9/11.  I know it’s a personal topic for her; she’s married to a police officer and, like many on Staten Island, knew people who were lost that day.  She said that anyone who invoked 9/11 — as if it belongs to only some of us — should be ashamed.  And that if you couldn’t live with a Trump presidency, well there were options.

But you see, I was one of those people she was complaining about.  Last night, as the results were coming in, I posted, “I’m having flashbacks, seriously, to the way I felt on 9/11 in NYC. I feel like my country is under attack.”

I added the “seriously,” because I understood how it sounded, and I wanted friends to know I wasn’t being hyperbolic.  Even before I saw her take-down of my feelings, I’ve been aware that today feels like only two other days in my life.

One was 9/11/2001, when I was in Manhattan and the towers were struck and our country was attacked.  I was afraid, terrified for my family and my country, and desperate to get off Manhattan.  And acutely aware that, no matter what else happened, history’s course had changed and nothing would be the same.

The other was on 10/22/2001, six weeks after the attack, just as we were nervously adapting to the new normal that was security checks, national guard deployment, acrid smoke and the eternal burning downtown.  On that day, I got a phone call at work from a man who identified himself as a police officer and told me my mother was in Staten Island University Hospital. When I got there, I learned that she had been hit by a school bus as she was crossing the street.  With massive head injuries and a heart that kept failing, she died a few hours later.  We, her children and grandchild waited, worried, a few yards away, but never saw her alive again. The world, once again, changed entirely that day.

The point is, I know what it feels like when everything changes.

I don’t make these comparisons lightly.  I am a student of history, and I see no good coming from electing a president whose character, temper, and experience alone should disqualify him from the office, and whose positions and statements on fundamental democratic institutions like the press, the courts, treaties and the Constitution, should worry us all.  I have never really believed in American exceptionalism, although it’s certainly attractive to think that we’re a nation specially blessed by God and somehow exempt from history.  But the reality is, as I think I’ve taught, that we’re subject to the same kinds of weaknesses, interests and institutional degradation that affects all nations.  Except for our belief that “it can’t happen here.”

Well, it’s happening.  Because it wasn’t simply that a monstrous candidate was chosen by less than a majority of the voters (with a big chunk not voting at all), but we also saw an end to divided government.  The House, the Senate, the Presidency and, soon, the Supreme Court will all be in control of the party that has terrified half the nation.  Oh, and so are most of the states.  That means there’s no institutional checks on power (remember checks and balances?). Want to “free up” the libel laws to prevent the press from criticizing people in government?  That law might just pass.  And be upheld on appeal.  What if this president, known for a disturbing tendency to go after enemies, no matter how insignificant (remember Alicia Machado?), decides to use the power of the FBI, the IRS and other agencies of government to punish his political enemies.  Who’s going to stop him?

Maybe those are far-fetched worries.  And the fact is that my life is not likely to change drastically.  Yes, there might be changes to Social Security and Medicare that impact me, but I am of a race and class that can probably weather a few years of setbacks and bad government.  And I’m old enough that degradation that results from relaxation of environmental protections won’t degrade the air and water I depend on for the next twenty or so years of my life.

With all this in mind, I responded to the former student’s post.  I told her I thought it was a mistake to take people to task for their feelings; that you kinda had to take those on faith.  And I admitted I was one of the ones who said that, and that I stood by it, and I politely explained why.  And, of course, the very first person who replied was not as polite.  His profile picture was of Trump leaning out of the window of a limousine with a semi-automatic handgun in hand.  I imagine it was photoshopped.

Others agreed, saying that you couldn’t compare a presidential election with an incident in which people suffered and died, and where people were still dying years later.  That’s said from a position of privilege and safety, from someone who is pretty confident that the election isn’t going to be personal for them.  The truth, though, is that presidential elections ARE matters of life and death for some people.  Members of the military; civilians who will be gunned down in mass shootings because we don’t know how to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental health issues; children born here whose families will be broken up because their parents are undocumented; people who can’t afford decent health care.  The election is personal to them, and I stand with them.

I regretted having engaged.  I’m in the advocacy/hearts & minds business and I know that there’s no point trying to reach those who will not hear.  Focus your efforts on the ones who are receptive to your message, who will benefit from support and skills.  Tend your garden, not the weeds.

So, having done one thing I don’t usually do — enter the fray where there’s no one listening — I did something else I never do.  I unfriended her, not wanting to read the vitriol that, despite the president-elect’s call for unity, was certain to pour forth.