It was the middle of spring and I was jaywalking across 5th Avenue heading toward the Ace Hotel. Looking south I could see clearly the Flatiron Building glistening in the warm glow of the sun as it first struggled to crest the jagged horizon of Queens; the city that never sleeps was still sleeping. I pulled my phone from my pants pocket and snapped a quick photo, hoping that my brisk pace would not cause an otherwise memorable image to be blurry It did not. I reached the opposite sidewalk and checked the time. Three after and I was one block away from that sweet nectar of the gods, and memories.
Beautiful morning in the City!
A decade ago I barely drank coffee other than to be hip and hang out with friends discussing things, that in hindsight, are of little import. Dietary changes, a gay husband, and a job that often took me to Portland, Oregon changed that. I am now a coffee snob. No I don’t have a favourite bean, nor is my midwestern palate capable of discerning hints of berry, or melon, or brown sugar, but I know what I like; french press or single cup pours from good beans. All of which are difficult to find in a place dominated by corner delis with hot brown water, the ubiquitous Starbucks – of which a fan I am not, and a chain that spuriously claims America runs on it, even though once you get west of Pennsylvania their locations become sparse, if not heavy on the cream and sugar.
I pass a denizen. Well I presume she is. It’s a good five degrees warmer here than home up north and I’m in my uniform of jeans and a tee shirt. It’s what I call “San Francisco Cold” and she is wearing a light jacket and scarf. I nod, she ignores me, but I pay no mind. I can see the H-O-T-E-L lettering spelled out in Edison bulbs flickering on the black awning that marks my destination. I check my phone again. Five after and I can see the door. It’s blocked by an indecisive man with two dogs who want not for food. I pause and glare though he cannot see me. Three days in the city and I’ve become demanding. The man moves through the doorway into Stumptown and I follow.
“One large coffee.” I say. “First cup of the day” says the barista, though I am not sure if that is what she is called. This place is hip. It looks as though authentic stylized cliche americana exploded all over this place and I’m a fan. It’s familiar, but different. It’s contrived, but no more so than any other foray into the decorative arts. A timer beeps. She presses the plunger down then pours me the first cup asking if I need room. Of course I do. I ask for the milk from behind the counter. Rampant diabetes and obesity in America is surely genetic; the bar at the end only has cream, and three kinds of sugar. I pay for my cup. I fly home in a few hours and the ten dollars of greenbacks remaining in my wallet seems silly to hold on to. I leave a handsome tip approaching thirty percent, and I and sip the coffee.
The first cup and the duality of its meaning. I sip again. The halcyon memories of Portland and the cute waiter who always remembered my name and drink. I sip again as I walk through the door opening onto the lobby of the hotel. I think he thought I was cute, but who is to say; attraction is so subjective. Thinning balding hair and wrinkles cause by not wearing sunglasses are timeless, that’s it. Timeless, like great design. Fortunately for me, in matters of style, there is no accounting for taste. I sip again and walk up to the front desk like I’m a guest and ask for a breakfast recommendation. I want divey, greasy and quick, someplace the man with just so facial hair behind the desk would go. He obliges a suggestion, and with that I am out the front door of the hotel, away from the warm glow of the awning headed back toward Fifth and the promise of greasy deli breakfast.
Fifth Avenue approaches, though not exactly. It’s a street and it doesn’t move. I am approaching Fifth Avenue, but demands brought about by city living now require accommodation. Fifth Avenue comes to me. I am the centre of my own universe. I reach the corner and jaywalk across 29th more cautiously than before. A scant ten minutes have passed and the city has become restless. Vehicles of every shape and size are on the move, locked in their eternal battle with pedestrians. I turn my head looking over my right shoulder, once again at the Flatiron Building, so named because of its namesake resemblance. It shines more brilliantly in the sun, the centre of its own universe perched at the pinacle of quintessential urban canyon vistas.
I think about the last few days. I’ve coloured thirty-two rugs. Nearly 130 different colours. Are they good enough? What will people think? Are they remarkable? I linger looking at the Flatiron. What makes it so remarkable? It’s not the only wedge shaped building in the world. But it is THE Flatiron Building. Period. Its shape is a function of design restriction. An unchangeable criterium the designer had to work with. But otherwise it is arguably not any more or less remarkable than countless other buildings of that era and those before or since. So why? What makes it so special? Iconic photography? Location? The I don’t know what? – which never sounds as good in English as it does in French. I pause on the street and look, contemplating what to do next. After breakfast and last minute good-byes with my friend and hostess. After the flight home. After the self doubt. I sip some more coffee. What next? It is remarkable because of appreciation. The Flatiron is this city. But what next? I sip some coffee and resume my walk to the next corner and the promise of an Atkins friendly breakfast. Not because I believe in such crap, but because that is what I want. And here, in this place, everyone can have what they want.
I hesitate briefly before entering the deli while glancing at my cup of coffee. The rubber stamped logo on the side. Or is it? I cannot remember with certainty, the similarities of the all the same, yet different coffee shops I love blurring together in my mind. I look at the deli of a different name. I prolong the hesitation. Screw it! I walk inside with my coffee, what will they do? Ask me to leave? They do not.
The man from the front desk delivers on the promise he gave me in my head. A hot breakfast buffet awaits, and while it pales in every comparison to a Las Vegas buffet it accomplishes what the New York of the North – Toronto – does; it meets my needs. Nothing more nothing less, though the sausage patties I serve myself trigger an emotional response. I take the first bite. I’m at my grandmother’s, I’m at Bob Evans, I’m back in the land of my birth. Sage flavoured sausage patties like this do not exist in my Canadian experience, and I miss them. Perhaps it for the best though, I’d hate for my genetics to make me obese. No sooner than had I found, entered, selected and paid for my meal, it was finished, save for a half eaten bland croissant. It was the beige rug of croissants. I buss my table and dispose of my garbage taking my coffee, which has now cooled to the point were it is still hot but quickly drinkable, with me. I take another sip as I walk out the door.
The city is suddenly alive with movement. I check my phone for the time. Half till as I cross Fifth headed east. What next? One block, grab my bags, finish my coffee and get to the train. I sip again. What next? Finalize the rug label design. Design a new collection. What next? I sip again. My stomach rumbles. I panic for a moment. Oysters. I had Oysters.
Dinner the night before was a hipster’s wet dream set against the backdrop of the Lower East Side. Eight years ago I took a dinner trip to that part of town and was given a look. The same one Billy Joel received from the father when he was dating that uptown girl. The same one that the bartender at Eastern Bloc gave those Upper East Side boys with no religious commitments of their own on that Christmas eve as they attempted to order prissy drinks when the drink special was PBR draft for three dollars. Yes. That look. But you don’t get those now. Now it’s painfully cool. I arrived at dinner first and texted my friend. Five minutes she said. I managed to get a table without a reservation in a dinning room full of empty chairs. The host made sure I knew he went out of his way for me. I sat. My friend and her gay husband arrived. Gay the other not homosexual way. It’s happy hour and oysters are a buck, and the drink special six. I inquire about the drink special. The response, as best I recall, went something like: “Oh it is really good! It is Pineapple juice, watermelon juice, sugar, sugar, sugar, flavoured vodka…” I stop paying attention until she finishes. “I’ll have a Bulleit American Rye on the rocks please.” I don’t do girly drinks. Unless it’s mimosa for brunch but that doesn’t count. Oysters come. More nibbles come. Fun is had. We speak poorly of others and it is time to go. I sip again polishing off my drink.
The rumble stops. I’m relieved. Flying and food poisoning are not friends, nor is that lack of sympathy I would receive from my husband appealing. It would serve me right eating such bottom dwelling muck eating crap he would say. I’m more relieved. Reaching my friend’s I take the elevator up to gather my things. The doorman takes me up the service elevator. The passenger elevator is broken, but it is more fun to pretend he is doing it just for me. Which he is in actuality, but not in the – I’m the centre of my own demanding universe – way I’m imagining. We reach the floor and I exit. I sip again, almost done with the coffee that has taken the edge off of my morning headache. What next? Unlock the door and gather my things.
I’m greeted by my hostess and I’m pleased. I had hoped to see her before I was off early this morning. We chat. What’s next? What does the day hold? Cottage or not to cottage? I continue to gather and straighten my things, paying close mind to the time. The train is is 8:14 and I need to make it, it’s 7:40. Ten minutes to spare before I must go. She inquires how my trip has been.
I want to say fan-fucking-tastic, but I’m trying not to curse as much. My husband says it’s vulgar, and does not see the humour when I reply it is that damn beige rug that is offensive. That’s it! Inspiration strikes just has it has been for the last two days of this trip. “Beige rug!” I’ll exclaim when any myriad of other more profane words might suffice. So perfect, it’s off the cheese wheel perfect. Bennet Bean perfect. Beige rug perfect. Oh beige rugs, I’ve designed and coloured a few of you in the last few days. But I’ve also used colour. Lots of colour. So much colour I got looks such as those aforementioned disapproving looks. I don’t care. It’s my aesthetic and I’ve grown to embrace it. Sophisticated whimsey I have self titled it. A nod to the irreverence I love so. My mind is wandering and I get back to her question – I play it close to my chest as I have been for a while now, I don’t reveal too much information, even though I am sure it is obvious: “It’s been great actually.”
What’s next? The coffee is gone so I cannot sip anymore. The sun is higher in the sky and The Flatiron grows brighter. What’s next? It’s now 7:50 and I need to leave if I am to catch my train, then flight, then car. We hug and kiss and farewell pleasantries are exchanged. I close the door behind me as I walk toward the elevator and ring the doorman. I wait as patiently as I can. We reach the first floor and I say “Thanks sir!”. As I walk out the front door turning left into the now more lively city, I think to myself: What’s next indeed?
Epilogue: I was in New York City to finalize rug designs and colours for our new collection of hooked rugs at a, how does one say, more accessible price point. They will be introduced later this year. Stay tuned. If you’d like to be kept “in the know” drop an email to our studio and we’ll keep you posted.