You gotta love New York. Well…you don’t gotta, but shame on you if you don’t. There’s a reason, if you make it there, that you can make it anywhere. Because nowhere else in the US, at least, will people always let you know exactly where you stand.
In this particular instance, where people stand is, in fact, the issue. In The Big Apple there are a number of Trader Joe’s stores that cater to some fairly entitled individuals. Those of you who are thinking, “Wait, didn’t he tell us this story already?” I commend you for paying attention, but NO! You are thinking of this earlier post, in which I confessed that TJ’s edges out Wegman’s in a cage match for my heart.
So when Trader Joe’s started opening up after COVID-19 hit New York, hard, the pent-up demand was remarkable, but not surprising. And because Trader Joe’s takes their customer care, not to mention their customers’ health, very seriously, long lines developed as people almost literally camped out to get their best shot at chile corn salsa (amazing on anything) and dark chocolate chip almond cookies, the only cookie I would cut a bitch for.
And because New York is New York, the lines don’t just go around the block – they go around the block under some very dangerous windows: windows behind which New Yorkers lurk….
This article in the New York Times tells it better than I can, but if you don’t want to click through, all you need to know is that some disgruntled residents of the Upper West Side, down the block from the Promised Land, got tired of being woken and disrupted by noisy, neurotic, cell phone-wielding customers in queue. In another neighborhood, on another day, those in the queue would have joined hands with the residents to sing songs, tell stories and roast Oscar Mayer wieners on the front stoop.
But this is not that neighborhood, and this is not that day.
First, one of the residents on the block tried the classic New York greeting: he told them to shut the f*** up.
When that didn’t work, he and some talented neighbors working from home began taking snippets of absurdly private conversations they couldn’t help but overhear through their windows, and writing big poster board letters to the intruders, commenting on their travails and their snack choices.
My favorite goes like this: “Dan, We are super happy that you are excited for Season 10 of Supernatural – the stories just get better! But we are napping in here, and they are out of avocadoes anyway, so please just go home and order delivery! XOXO”
To be fair, I feel like SN started to stumble after Season 10, and Season 15 – which was truncated because of COVID – is almost unwatchable. But you have to love the attention to detail!
Two additional things make me smile, and both are classic New York: The first is that the neighbors, several of whom are somehow involved in the entertainment industry, and therefore creative by nature, have evolved the posters to include hand illustrations and hashtags. In the process they have bonded and created actual friendships out of the “know him by sight” that existed pre-pandemic. They took lemons and, in the spirit of a city that could survive 9/11 and give the world Hamilton, made lemonade.
The second thing is, according to the article, one woman was overheard telling her friend that she had to hang up the phone now because she was approaching “that building where they listen and put what you say on a sign.” Validated and delighted, the neighbors made the comment into a sign.
Years ago I was working at a Philadelphia area ad agency. I happened to be in my favorite reading room – the one with the porcelain and the harsh lighting – spending quality time with a copy of the New York Times and I came upon another standout New Yorker whose creativity and grit reached out from the newsprint and grabbed me powerfully. It was a feature story about a young lady who, despite graduating Northwestern undergrad and Columbia grad school in journalism, found herself unable to get an appropriate job in the city that never sleeps. Born and raised among the privileged elite of Tulsa, Oklahoma, she was far from home, nearly out of money and had exactly one Hail Mary left before having to return to OK Sooner than she’d hoped. (pun intended)
So Adrian took her last fistful of dollars and spent them at Kinko’s (this was pre-FedEx imperialism) to make a few hundred copies of her short stories, her memoirs. And she took to the New York City subway with a box and a sign, like a thousand grimy buskers before her, not to mention a thousand since; and she sold her stories for $5 a pop.
And for a very short while this paid the bills. It also caught the attention of a NYTimes columnist who thought it was adorable and did a story on Adrian, the Bard of Columbia consigned to the underground.
So I’m on the toilet, reading this, and I think to myself, “This is one of the greatest human beings ever delivered unto us!” I mean, talk about balls, right? Even for a New Yorker! So I went back to my desk and spent a few minutes on Google until I found an email address that seemed current. And I wrote her an email. I don’t remember what it said exactly, but it was something like, “You may be the coolest person ever, can we be friends? I will send you money for your stories!”
So Adrian and I started corresponding and before long she came to spend some time with my family. She was, after all, between jobs and I was able to offer her some freelance writing assignments so it just made sense. The fact is, she’s a fantastic writer.
She’s also a hard-core, left wing, lesbian (that has nothing to do with anything, I just like filling out the image!) journalist and I, at the time, was far more conservative and stuffy than I am now. And it's not like I’m wearing Birkenstocks and carrying protest signs even today, so you do the math. Adrian and I had literally nothing in common. She grew up privileged and wound up writing her thesis in support of reparations. I grew up with no surplus means to speak of and wound up a card-carrying member of the Republican Party (it was a long time ago, stop clutching your chest!). She was single and transient, I was married with two kids. She was addicted to the mean streets of New York; I was comfortable in a Philly suburb.
We were the original odd couple, and for reasons neither of us understood, we absolutely loved each other. No explanation, even to this day; we just clicked despite disagreeing on almost everything two people can disagree on. I mean everything. She tried to get me to like Dexter back when it was originally on, its first run, and I resisted. Later, of course, it became one of my favorite guilty pleasures on Netflix. Point for Adrian.
I can think of a few reasons we became like brother and sister. She was (is) a cat person, and that always bodes well. She was comfortable enough in her own skin, and almost unreasonably brave, so that she was always herself, even when that meant getting knocked down over and over. She had survived childhood trauma, like many, and it didn’t break her; it made her.
Over the years Adrian would come stay with us for periods of time here and there. I remember once she was outside with my kids, who were young at the time. It was summer and I was in the kitchen, doing dishes. Adrian and the kids were among the trees in the dusk, having a “lightning bug safari.” I heard my son Nathan ask, “Adrian, are you a grownup?” And her answer, with perfect comic timing, was, “My father doesn’t think so!”
When she wasn’t dropping in to visit, Adrian did literally everything. She worked as a journalist in DC, and at the United Nations in NY. She traveled the world, and wrote about it. She trained to distance run and, despite needing a new hip along the way, began running marathons on multiple continents.
Adrian is a boss.
We haven’t seen each other in years, but keep in touch lightly. My kids still think of her as their “aunt,” without actually knowing what her relationship is to us. She’s just Adrian. She never forgets a holiday or graduation, and she never bitches at me for forgetting, well, everything. By the way, she writes a blog ABOUT New York City, which is awesome. I encourage you to check it out.
I have family in New York. I grew up going to New York for holidays and I continue to do so, with my family, as a treat. I have restaurants I like, and when Broadway is open again, we will be there. But when I think about New Yorkers, I think about Adrian. Like a couple million others, she wasn’t born there, and she hasn’t lived there her entire life. But she’s lived there enough, and she keeps coming back. And even when she’s not there, she’s the quintessential New Yorker to me. She gets lemons and she makes lemonade. She expects the worst and never stops hoping for the best. I just love and admire her.
I wonder if she ever goes to Trader Joe’s.