8000 Things, lost in translation. – Jayne Moore
Any Given Tuesday – Day 3
Shit shit shit shit shit. She was late. She was late, she was late, she was LAAAAAATE. “Hunting and gathering,” her roommate called it, the act of her flying around the room, shoving last minute things into her bag and pockets before hurtling out of the door.
“If you prepared your bag and what you want to wear the night before, you wouldn’t have to go through this.” Emily had once said, calmly leaning against the breakfast bar — if you could call it that — lazily eating cereal, with one foot perched up against the inside of the other leg, like a lazy leaning ‘Tree Pose’. She did that a lot, this sort of a flamenco maneuver. It was all these little things about a person that could make you hate them.
Still, she had a point. But that wasn’t how her mind worked. 6:45 am, she was really freakin’ late.
Barreling out of the front door and as carefully you can take four flights of stairs at speed, she made it out of her building and into the air. God, this day was perfect! Her heart soared. She loved days like these, she lived for them! But no time to pause, shit shit shit shit.
Cora lived in Bushwick, like, deep Bushwick. That wasn’t quite what she had envisioned of her New York life, but New York has a habit of putting dreams into perspective real fast. Financially at least. She walk/ran/hobbled to the train station, and up the long stairs to the platform. You know you are deeper into Brooklyn than you want to be when the underground is running overground. This would SUCK in about a months time, but right now it was gorgeous, the sun was still emerging, creeping over buildings, and lining them with early morning gold, a glow that can’t be found in the sun’s set, it is reserved only for those that rise to see it. It was catching on the metal rails of the track and setting them ablaze, the light bouncing back into her eyes, making her feel beautiful.
You would hear the train before you saw it, like an electric whisper, a whip cracked far away, the sound purring along the lines, the current audible. This is when crazy thoughts always ran through her mind, were they live? If you touched them, would you die? How long would it take to get back up if you fell down? Could you lie under a train and survive? These vulnerabilities in life are all so exposed, you could so easily be pushed… or push… It’s actually a testament to humanity that more crazy shit isn’t happening every day. Now the train is in view, it’s two yellow eyes rivaled by the sun behind it, frozen in slow motion on the approach, scale playing tricks on the mind before it ploughs through the station and screamed to a stop. She always thinks about the apartments that frame the station on either side of the track, wonders about the noise, what the inhabitants must hear — she very much doubted that any of them have double glazing.
Part of her thinks it might be quite charming. Atmospheric and gritty in a way that you will recall later, in your 30s, when you are rich and have a sweeping Tribeca loft. You’d think back with a humbling nostalgia to the grotty but adorable room you once had, that rumbled into chaos every three minutes. She might quite like it for a while, she thinks, just to experience it, take the cheaper rent in exchange for the bliss of living alone, for a year perhaps… you can live with anything for a year.
Cora was blessed with the super-power of being a deep sleeper. Previous boyfriends had been given several scares in the early weeks of dating, in thinking she was dead. She would wake up, always calm, eyes blinking open in a Disney like fashion, to find them leaning over her, their hair wild and faces distraught, having been shaking her for a long few minutes. Of all the dating terrors one might endure, waking up to a dead one is definitely up there.
Boarding the city bound train, she wiggled through the morning faces and found herself a seat, nestling down for the journey. This was savored time, you couldn’t worry yourself any faster, so you just had to resign yourself to it and enjoy the ride. With each stop the train would swell until it got to heaving point, and she usually had to give up her chair to someone older, or pregnant, or burdened with kids. American’s weren’t very well mannered in this way, for all the crap they said about the French, she was always amazed at how young men, suited and coifed, would devotedly ignore an older person clinging to the rail in front of them, or how fixated a woman would become on her emails, to avoid seeing the swollen belly protruding in her eyeline. Young people were assholes, thought Cora.
It took 37 minutes, door to door — if everything was running smoothly, which it seldom was. She was supposed to be at work for 7:30, and every day she cut it close to the minute. Shit shit shit. As the L train cruised into the last stop on the track, 14th & 8th, she geared herself up for the 10-minute walk she was about to make eight. Shit shit shit.
But God was the day gorgeous! She absolutely lived for these mornings! Cora had moved to New York eight months ago, on the back end of March, which she now believed was New York’s worst month, and even that wasn’t half as bad as New Yorkers complained about. Every single month since had been better than the one before it. Sometimes this city was so absurd she would openly laugh at the moments she captured, the people she passed, the things she saw. Not one day passed without exception, not a day slipped below the radar as ordinary here. Not if you had your eyes open.
She felt lucky to be an outsider, discovering the city for the first time. Born and raised New Yorkers intrigued her. For sure, they had ownership rights and a brotherhood of identity that ran through them, an embedded grit and grubby sense of irony that they all shared, a ruddied wisdom perhaps, the way the Irish wore it on their skin, New Yorkers wore it on their soul. But they would never discover this city for the first time, they would never not know it and then get to find it, and slowly make it their own. Cora firmly believed that you could not know what it was to have something, unless you knew what it was to have lived without it. That every win was respective of the absence that came before it. She was a wise old duck, at 24.
Shit shit shit! The avenues on the west side were especially wide, and when you were late they seemed to double, but it was here that the streets were their most enchanting, with orange, red, and brown brick buildings, manicured stoops and tendered window boxes. Passing a lone brave tree, determined to hold onto it’s glowing red leaves, she was stopped in her tracks by the light bouncing off a window and illuminating the color.
“it would be a crime!” she muttered, digging in her pocket for a phone.
Always take the photo when you see it, if you think you’ll go back for it, you likely won’t, and if you do, it will likely not be there. Always take the photo.
Shit shit shit. 7:26am.
Cora had opted for the morning shifts, for her, that was a no brainer, she loved the mornings, they gave you an advantage over the entire day. She felt a kinship with her other early risers, a smug sweet superiority. Time, she believed, was a fluid concept, and the mornings were the only place in which time lay ahead of you, and was not yet slipping away. At five am, the entire day and its promise lay ahead of you, there was room to hope. By 9am, you are staring time dead in the eye. By noon, time is leveling the field. By 3, it’s a losing game, and by 7, you can only attempt to savor the moments, for they slip out of your hands like sand, the day escaping between clasped fingers, grains too small to catch, clutch tighter and new gaps appear, the volume in your grasp disappearing, until all you are left is a dusty coating, a granular lining, another day gone, embedded in your palms lifelines — perhaps. Another date turned to dust. She wasn’t a melancholy soul, not at all in fact, Cora was wired happy. A happy, sweet little girl had become a happy, sweet teenager and unfolded into a happy sweet young woman. Anger seemed futile to her, and sadness seemed indulgent, but she knew enough to know she was lucky to feel this way, and kept her mouth closes in eithers company. Cora had often viewed life as if she was watching it, removed ten steps behind, and maybe four feet above, observing it all as a ghost might, herself included. But she didn’t talk about that much, people were too quick to judge things they quite simply didn’t understand, so she spared them this.
7:30am on the dot and she was at the door. Boom! Mateo was there to open up for her, looking at his imaginary watch in good humor.
“You play too close with boundaries Coralie!”
“Yes, but I do not cross them!” she laughed. Untangling herself from her coat, she greeted him with a kiss on both cheeks, and made her way to the back room where the staff stashed their belongings.
She loved the cafe at this time, the way the light crept over the curb, inching it’s way to the door, politely knocking, before flooding every window with its heat and soul. The morning light was an honest one, without effects or pretense, it left no room for secrets. People lacked gratitude in the winter months, they missed the fact they had the opportunity to see the sun rise, to get up with her, to get up before her, to know how that feels. But the world overlooks these things. So much goes to waste on the majority.
Cora, short for Coralie, had a degree in Anthropology, but it was a foolish idea to get a degree in anything really, at that age. To sign up to an idea at 18, putain, what did one know at 18? Her Papa, to his credit, had told her much the same. “Ideas Cora, don’t take it all too seriously, these are just ideas” he had said, as she agonized over what she wanted to study and where.
There were three skills he believed every young woman should be trained in; Dance, Debate, and Negotiation. “Life skills!” he would declare.
“Dance shows a woman how to stand, how to move, and how to present herself. Debate teaches a woman how to stand her ground — with elegance and intelligence — and do so without temper or tantrums, and negotiation teaches a woman how to get her way without selling herself short!” She would eye roll at this statement, well refined and on repeat, and look to her Mother for backup. Still, they both knew he was right, and with every passing day out on her own, Cora appreciated his impassioned perspective a little more.
“Get your degrees Cora, that’s fine,” he’d grumble “university will educate you on how much food costs and how much liquor you can handle! It looks good on paper, I know, and the world likes its paper, but it will not teach you much else!” He went on and on, getting ever louder as the time came for her to pack her bags and flee the nest. But he was proud of her spirit and determination, and he framed the paper none the less, once she had earned it.
After college, Cora had moved to London, keen to break the mold of her very French ways. She had lasted there six months, the gloom of the city closing in on her almost over night with a loneliness she hadn’t known one could feel. You would expect it to be the same as Paris, but it wasn’t. The expanse of the city was exhaustive, and the drudgery of the British, oppressive. She had taken a spare room with two friends there, Margot and Thomas, in a split terrace house in Elephant and Castle. Elephant and Castle was at the end of brown line on the underground, The Bakerloo Line, and that’s exactly how it felt. Brown. Dull, dank, dirty, and dismal. She took a job in Victoria, waiting tables at a chic little Gastropub there. She had no experience waitressing, but another friend who worked there got her an interview, and the owner was quite evidently taken with her looks, her round, childish face, and glossy dark hair atop a neat frame, coupled with that seductive Parisian accent.
French is not so different from English. The two languages share over 8000 words, often spelled almost the same but pronounced differently. Different. Différente. Pronunciation. PronOnciation. The french add a small sneeze at the end of some words, and weight to others. Le meme, mais différente. Either way, her employer spoke no French, and as four of the team did, they had a blatant advantage. That part was fun, but little else had been. The days in London never started, but quickly ended. A blanket of white grey rolled out over the city, robbing her of her sunrises, and starving the city of sunsets. The streets were grey, the buildings grey, the lampposts were grey, the benches were grey, the faces were grey. The sweet and happy girl was suffocating in a constant mist of grey. When it rained, it would rain for five days, and the damp would seep into the walls, into your clothes, and into your bones. The chill she felt in that city sunk so deep, only a long bath could bring her back to life, and sharing one bathroom with two invasive roommates made that a luxury she was rarely permitted. In London she longed for home, she longed for her Papa’s wisdom and her mothers knowing silences, she longed for her family’s dogs, for her childhood bedroom, for soft boiled eggs and hot buttered baguette soldiers, for things she once had longed to escape. London wasn’t serving her well at all.
Then, as if the universe heard her plea, a new opportunity opened up; in three little letters. N. Y. C. Her Gastropub company, owned by an umbrella conglomerate, was rolling out three new restaurants in Manhattan’s monster developments — Hudson Yards, Time Warner, and The Oculus center. Despite New York’s surplus of wanting staff, the company wanted an opening team to kick things off and carry things over. Two were British concepts, and one, French. As word got around, there was much discussion amongst the staff as to whose names would be thrown into the hat, and as most of her peers were coupled up and leased down, the rumblings were ruffling feathers. Cora made a move and told her boss she wanted to go. She wasn’t tied to anyone or anything, had no tethers to her name, and saw the word VISA in lights. Want something hard enough, and you will get it. Six months after moving to London, a golden ticket landed in her lap to leave it.
The restaurants launched in the way the British know how, but failed to make a dent in New York’s field of vision. New Yorkers run at a different speed. There are too many variables that have to hit the sweet spot here, in order for a restaurant to launch. Location — obvious but not obvious — are you surrounded by businesses or residential, as that will dictate the hours that you thrive. Don’t assume a lot of foot traffic is the right foot traffic either, or that those feet will pause to notice you. Food — essential — but not as straight forward as you might think. You can’t have mediocre food and excel in New York city, the locals don’t need to waste time or calories on anything sub par, but too avant guard, too complicated, and you make yourself a destination — not an “every day place” or “your local favorite” — and destinations need a pull. So you pull in a name, an investor, an architect, or a chef du jour, and ruffle some press, but if New Yorkers are gangsta when it comes to their food critique, the press are the Gang Lords. They live to please no one, and show no mercy for petty failings. Size matters, but doesn’t it always? Too big and it will feel empty, ceilings too high and it will feel empty, bar too long and it will feel bare, too tight and it will feel cluttered, but too spacious, and it will feel, you guessed it, empty. Atmosphere brings in a room, and vacancy breeds vacancy.
Then there is staffing, the final piece of the puzzle that will drive home the passion behind a Yelp review. Yelp is a double-edged sword for businesses, as maybe not everyone should be given a voice. It has become the bathroom wall of the internet. Just because you can tag, don’t make you an artist, and just because you can eat, don’t make you a critic.
Opening a restaurant in New York City is like buying a very expensive apartment in an up and coming area that won’t up and come for a while. You need to be able to afford to wait it out, and in the 20s and 30s of thousands a month, very few can. One bad night will ruin your week, one bad week will ruin a month, one bad month will take down a quarter, and a flat quarter can sabotage a year.
The British were smart enough to know when to cut their losses, and the three-headed monster quickly became two, with the French concept being the first to close. Golden ticket number two. Cora was offered two evening shifts at one of the remaining spaces — an offer they were obliged to make but did not expect her to take — gifting her the rest of the week to do what she wanted with. And so she did.
24, with an accent and a VISA in New York City, she might as well have been handed the key!
You don’t need to go door to door anymore to look for opportunity, you go to ‘the book’, and within a week Cora had found herself a job. A quaint and crumbling city cafe, a french bistro of sorts, ramshackle and eclectic, everything ever-so-slightly wobbly, and marginally sticky, but cute, with large windows and a quintessential New York view. A perfect people-watching corner. So here she was.
The work was easy and the room well staffed, the space was small and the kitchen was in the center, so footwork was minimal and the demand manageable — the biggest hazard being collision, a chair shooting out unexpectedly, a guest rising, or turning, or gesticulating without warning. She had learned to watch for the signs, the subtle twitches out the corner of her eye, a tapped into waitress intuition, an emotional intelligence towards human unpredictability.
She loved the location, the rooms heat, and the wide windows to watch the world go by, to notice the things that others fail to. To observe strangers’ lives, undetected by them.
They technically opened by 8am, but Matteo seldom locked the door after her ‘to the minute’ arrivals, and by 7:50, some of the local oddballs had come shuffling in, asking permission with a tentative
“Are you open?”
They weren’t, and the askers usually knew it, but there are lots of fine lines in hospitality. And so began the ebb and flow of an ordinary Tuesday.
By eight am, the stage was set. There were two elderly gentlemen, sat side by side at adjacent tables, neither having anything to do with the other. Both were regulars, neither ever acknowledged the other, but a mutual ignorance was offered as respect.
Louis was a kook, there was an ethnicity to him she couldn’t place, a darkness to his skin and an almonding of his now aging eyes, with high and prominent cheekbones. He must have been beautiful in his youth, beautiful or creepy, bold features can go either way. He had a morning ritual and no qualms in doing it public. A body brushing of sorts, where, with a rigid spine and face to the street, he would perform a series of sweeping motions. Hands sweeping over his face, eyes closed, mouth moving in some sort of silent mantra, followed by a chest sweeping, from shoulder to shoulder, left to right, right to left. Repeat. Repeat. A quick flash of the eyes, just to check he wasn’t being mugged or too closely judged, then back at it, south to north up the torso, an upward dusting and over the shoulder before moving onto the arms and then the thighs. You couldn’t make it up.
“Is he clearing his energy? She once asked Matteo
“That or his demons.”
“Ah. And he leaves them behind?”
“I’m pretty sure they get dumped on poor James.” he had laughed.
James was the other elderly gentleman. He looked like everything you would expect of an older New Yorker. Lean and slim, eloquent, and slightly mean. He, about a foot and a half from where the cleansing was taking place, sat engrossed in his newspaper, avidly absorbing the oversized pages, reading almost every one.
“Where do you even go to buy a newspaper now?” She mused.
He liked a black coffee and always asked for it extra hot, a request that always scared her a little. How hot was ever hot enough for these kinds of people? Boiling point is boiling point, and boiling point hurts. After about 20 minutes, he liked his eggs, scrambled runny with “fresh french herbs,” a side salad, and the potatoes. He ravished it all, slowly and elegantly, all one-handed and head cocked as he burned through one long column after another.
Around 8:10, another regular came in, this one a younger woman, always dressed well but laden with bags. She would smile and nod to her usual spot, perhaps the smallest nook in the restaurant, and they would nod in acceptance and watch her cram herself and her bags into the tiny space. Her laptop would come out quickly and absorbed most of the three hours she would typically spend there, as she ordered food and ate over the top of it.
By 9am, the breakfast meetings would begin, and these dynamics were usually fascinating. You could tell the New Yorkers from the out of towners, the locals being sharply dressed, put together, and typically slim, the Midwesters filling their chairs and their Anne Taylor wardrobes, deliberating over the menu as if time was on their side. Time is never on your side in Manhattan, and this trained Manhattanites to know exactly what they want. Especially when ordering.
Then there was the new regular. A British girl, knock-kneed and a little lost looking, like a deer that’s just learning to stand on its legs. She’d started to come in regularly, with her head down and face usually a little melancholy. She brings a notebook that seemed well used, with pages that have escaped the binding and been shoved back into place, and she would sit and write, taking long pondering pauses, just staring out the window. Cora hadn’t had much interaction with her yet, but there was something about her that piqued her curiosity, something strange, something wounded, but both meant in the most flattering of ways.
The door opened and a tall gentleman entered, in a long, dark coat, collar pulled up against the wind that followed him in. He was distinctive looking, with glasses that framed and complimented a strong nose and intense jawline. Cora felt the familiar heat rising up to her cheeks. She had always been a blusher, and she hated it, it was an unfair give-away! The man had closely groomed facial hair, speckled with grey, sel et poivre her mother would call it; salt and pepper. He was older, but sexy and refined, graceful in his movements, as he scanned the room.
“You need some water Cora?” Matteo muttered across the bar, a small pinch of envy tweaking at his chest.
“Shut it!” she hissed back
“Hello! Just one?” she asked sweetly, her blush deepening cruelly
“Yes please, could I sit there perhaps?” He asked, pointing with his folded gloves to a corner seat, where the built-in chairs met.
“Sure, have a seat, and I will bring you some menus.”
And that’s exactly what Malcolm did, weaving through the tables, he lowered himself into the corner seat, making the most of the 90-degree angle to make himself comfortable. Something felt oddly familiar about this place.
His daughter had found an apartment across the street she and a friend were hoping to get, but they needed him as a guarantor to seal the deal. A “gorgeous two bedroom with corner windows and these crazy high ceilings”, apparently. He was meeting her and the broker at 11. It was a 4th-floor walk-up, bless her soul, and apparently an absolute steal “for what it was,” at $4400 a month. He resigned himself to an afternoon of his daughter — Milena’s — amped-up enthusiasm and desperate convictions. He was happy to do it, to be honest, it took him great restraint not to just pay for her entire portion, but he was aware that such handouts generally didn’t do one’s kids many favors in the long run. Far better he put her share into stocks each month instead, and have her jump through a few safely controlled hoops. “Life experience” and all that jazz.
The sweet French girl approached his table, her flushed cheeks stirring an uneasy feeling in him. She was probably about Milena’s age, and having daughters will certainly kill a lot of instinct in a man.
Cora took only his coffee order, as he said he would most likely return with his daughter for lunch, and she felt an awkward pang of disappointment, as her crimson deepened — not helped by the amusement of the boys in the kitchen. My God was it hot in here!
The door opened again, and two Italian women walked in, seemingly confused, their heavily bronzed skin and yellow blonde hair framed by tufts of some poor animal around their hoods. In tragic English, they were trying to order an esspresso to go, coupled with hand gestures demonstrating a one-inch coffee and dramatic gestures over their shoulder to the door.
Cora seized the opportunity of a distraction, and with equally unhelpful sign language, took their orders.
The day went on, as days tend to do, this one with no major catastrophes or memorable happenings. But as always, small micro-events transpired, universal movings, the inching forward of peoples stories, unseen, unknown, and unnoticed to them. One thread over the next, one stitch at a time, the world was always weaving a greater tapestry, unfolding in the minutae, of any given Tuesday.
(link for borrowed and much appreciated photo — Thank you NY Times 🙂 )