Posted on January 18th, 2014
A friend made me dinner last night. This was great; I have been in need of a good look in the eye and a fine piece of meat, both of which my friend provided together with some red. She cooked the meal a long time, in her British way, and with her new job on the horizon and the fact I am still bleeding from a recent medical procedure we were both feeling introspective and in need of iron. At times like this I am extremely grateful for friends with working full-gas stoves and those old cast iron pans that take to butter and meat, both, in the classic style and without fuss.
I came carrying a half-gnawed loaf I had worked on during the train ride up while contemplating a sauce verte or a jus or simply a double cream butter laced with salt to spread over the air pockets. I am lucky to live in a city that provides both good bread and a working subway system even—especially—when the rest of your life has fallen apart. And an excellent baguette can withstand lonely blank chews across multiple stops while offering nothing more and better than its delicious air and crumbly crunch.
Things have been so damn scurvy-lipped—health-wise, wealth-wise, in terms of matters of the heart: all once again plunged into the lowlands of the gutter. I tried to work it out by way of stars and moons, some idea of pinning this on Saturn, perhaps, but it came to nothing. So, instead, I have done some pretty stupid things in a half-baked effort to mend heart, mind and wallet. With time to kill before dinner, for example, I wandered into Dean and Deluca. No, that’s not true at all. I marched right in, stopped the first employee I could find and asked with military precision, “Where is your caviar?”
I have rarely been in a position in my life to ask this question and I am particularly ill-suited for it now. But he led on without comment and deposited me before a frankly modest bank of osetra, American Siberian and those large ding-dongs of red salmon roe. I thanked him and commenced gawking—$220, $400, $550—astronomical heights, all of them, but especially so at this precarious moment in my life. I touched the thick paneled glass, chilled from the inside, that itself was just the first of several protective layers between where I stood and those delightful, salt-egg wonders.
At a gutsier, more romantic time in my life I might have batted eye in some lousy bid for a sample, something like, “Would it be possible to just try this one?” But we all know where that leads—more and deeper longing that buffets up against the harsh truth of $220 at a minimum and only one may win. Yet when part of my still-beating heart has been, most recently, crushed beneath the boot sole of a Persian man who himself, one day not long ago, came home with a full bucket of the finest, most shockingly sublime pave of black osetra jewels flown in from Tehran, I had to pause before the counter and pay tribute to a time when I had spooned heaping amounts into my still-laughing mouth and felt love and recognize, despite my self-aggrandizing pity, that I had known and would know again some kind of love, in whatever form.
But that love, for now, cannot and will not come from behind the Dean and Deluca caviar counter. Because those counters, with their impeccable steel casing and flawless clean glass, are the stuff of dreams, built only to sustain wandering soldiers like me who can and do march in, demand to be shown the good stuff and then stand, mouth agape and so much in the thrall of memory that only the repeated clarion call of “Can I help you?” and then only on the third time will you snap out of it.
I wandered on and away, abused credit card safe but that dear stash, too, left sadly undisturbed. A woman selling oil and vinegar allowed me to dip several pieces and fill my near-sobbing gob. Even her oil, and certainly her vinegar, was past my financial ken. But she was kind and forgiving and looked the other way while I reached for yet a third piece and slinked off to peruse organic cotton hand towels.
If it wouldn’t be caviar and it couldn’t be oil or vinegar it could, at least, be an amount of bread. I found the basket of loaves, selected one that had, like me, a hard outer shell and a dense, soft middle, and double checked the price. Three dollars. Three dollars is fine. Three dollars for all this good bread, this long baked wonder, is a kind of wealth, a gesture of pity for the store itself and the sad sops who had gone ahead and priced something this good this low. I added a salted pretzel bun to the mix and approached the cashier with confidence and was able, even, to pay in full and not on credit.
At the marble counter, before heading back out into the cold, I could feel my wound bleeding again so I ripped off the top of the loaf and ate it standing, a kind of fortification against the next leg of a cold trip and with the knowledge that I too, like new bread, will rise again.