A counterpart to yesterday’s piece.
Regulars in the village pub in Tomintoul, Banfshire, 1943. Photo: British Ministry of Information
Speaking of characters. There was a time when, for a small adventure, one had only to go to a particular bakery in the West Village. You know the one I mean. The owner was unfailingly unpleasant, the coffee unfailingly terrible, the place lacking air-conditioning and, in summer, unbearably stuffy. But the croissants were good in their heavy way, and it was always entertaining to see people attempt to ingratiate themselves with the management.
When said owner retired, he sold his business to a hard-working and kindly employee and today things go on much as before, save that now the customer service is more or less normal. It’s not the adventure it used to be. I happened to stop in for a pain aux raisins and one of those awful coffees the first day they reopened, just by chance. One fellow bellied up to the counter and said in a confidential fashion, “Man, am I glad to see you. Jean was a piece of work. Came here every day for ten years and couldn’t get a friendly word out of him.”
He was clearly looking for commiseration, but got only a noncommittal smile from the new owner, and went away with his desired status as “beloved regular” still very much in question. No sooner had he left than another man, who’d overheard, approached the counter with an equally confidential air.
“I heard what that guy said,” he said, “and frankly, I never understood people like that. Jean liked anyone reasonable. You just had to act like a human being. I mean, he and I got along great.”
He also was rewarded only with a vague smile. Clearly, despite the change in demeanor, the no-favorites policy was in no danger. These things exist for a reason, it seems to me. I like anonymity. If you live in New York by choice, you probably do, too. In my case, this love of privacy comes with a hatred of being scrutinized and a tendency to paranoia, which is not always ill founded.
There was, for instance, a certain gourmet takeout shop near my place of employment where I used to stop for a jelly donut maybe once a week. The same young guy waited on me each time and one day said, all jocular: “If this keeps up, we’re going to have to roll you out of here one of these days!”
Had a covenant been broken? I think it had. I should have had a croissant.
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