Robert gazed down into the thin, fragile champagne flute that held the last drop of his second grapefruit mimosa and searched for answers. Never much of a drinker, the strange concoction had begun to take hold, and coupled with the mid-afternoon sun, he started to feel a bit queasy. Getting sick and vomiting in public was not supposed to be part of the equation, especially when you are on vacation and a long way from home. In Robert’s case home was one thousand twenty three miles away, the exact distance from Manhattan to his condominium in a newly revitalized area of downtown Dubuque, Iowa that had once housed a ping-pong ball factory. He had long wished to travel to New York City, what he hoped was the first step in additional future travels to London, Paris, Rio and maybe even Tokyo.
Robert was single and had a steady job at McGraw-Hill publishers in the education division, contracting schools on technology based learning solutions. While the job was not what he envisioned upon graduation from Iowa State University two years prior, the position he held made his parents proud and paid just enough to allow him to use his vacation days for travel. Growing up in a lower middle class family, the son of a steel mill worker and teacher’s aide, Robert never had the experience of visiting faraway places like some of the more well to do friends he made while at Iowa State. At times this made him both jealous and insecure. So, he made a pact with himself to see the world before he settled down to start a family as his mother wanted him to do upon starting the job at McGraw-Hill. After saving for two years and finding the best accommodations and itinerary for his budget, Robert found himself exactly where he wanted to be, Manhattan, the heart of the Big Apple, ready to begin work on his third grapefruit mimosa of the afternoon if his stomach would allow.
A pop culture addict, Robert had long been enamored with the lifestyle of New York City, learning much of it from old reruns of Seinfeld, Sex in the City and Friends. He made sure to read the New York Times daily and felt he was probably one of the few people in Dubuque to hold a subscription to New York magazine. It was not much of a secret around his friends and family that New York City was really the place where he dreamed of living and working. Unfortunately, the one job interview he had with a New York company was done via Skype instead of in-person and didn’t pan out the way he had hoped. Conducted from his dorm room during his final semester at Iowa State, one of the interviewers noticed that a row in his bookshelf library was dedicated to books from The Twilight Saga and snarkily asked if there were any David Sedaris selections on the shelf cringing in horror. Another smug interviewer thought his wide paisley patterned tie was “a fresh change” and “we could use more of that midwestern sort of thing in our office.”
On his second day in New York City Robert decided to head over to Kenmare Street in Nolita for a thursday afternoon brunch at a gourmet Vegan hot-spot called “The Cow’s Revenge.” An avid fan of The Bachelor TV reality series, he once went to a Chicago casting audition with the hope of being a chosen as a contestant but was rejected for not having a compelling enough story. Despite not making the cut, he continued to watch the show and had learned about the “The Cow’s Revenge” from the New York City “rose episode.” In that episode, one contestant, when asked if she could relinquish meat and become a Vegan like her suitor, admitted that she enjoyed eating “steak so rare that it dripped blood” more than sex. This was a deal breaker for the bachelor and Robert as well, as he considered himself a true Vegan in training, trying his best to adhere to the strict lifestyle that so many of his celebrity idols espoused, but having a hard time doing so because Dubuque lacked a strong Vegan culture.
Now, unbeknownst to Robert, midweek brunchers in Manhattan, even Vegan ones, happened to be a hardcore set. They were very different from the weekend crowd that ventured into the city from beyond the five boroughs. Most were either privileged scions or scionettes, pampered wives of financial services capos or members of the creative tastemaker class, all of whom practiced the highest form of snobbery. Only on a rare occasion would the average cubicle dweller tourist like Robert intermingle with the regular brunchers, those of whom would quickly take notice of an interloper.
Robert had made his way to the restaurant by train from across the East River where he was renting a room in a Bushwick loft that doubled as a music recording studio. He was happy to travel into Manhattan from Brooklyn, considering it more of an adventure than inconvenience. He liked observing the diversity on the train and was more than willing to fork over spare change to panhandlers, especially if they had great talent. As the train crossed the Williamsburg bridge, a young man jumped up from his seat and shouted like a circus ringmaster “showtime!” while his friend hit play on a boom box. Instantly, a syncopated beat blasted from the distorted stereo speaker and both youngsters, clad in matching Adidas tracksuits, took turns dancing, using the handrails and stanchion poles to swing and flip with ease while the train sped along the tracks. Most of the riders in the car did not lift their eyes from their cell-phones but Robert was happily mesmerized, as this was nothing he had ever seen in Dubuque, on TV or even on Youtube. Despite one of the dancers coming within an inch of kicking him in the face, Robert loved “showtime” and made sure to deposit five dollars into the young men’s bucket when they were done.
Upon exiting the train, Robert walked up the station stairs and found himself on the corner of Delancey street, a few blocks from his vegan foodie destination. Wary of the comment about the wide paisley tie he wore during his long ago interview, and very much wanting to fit in with the brunch crowd, Robert made sure to wear a much thinner solid blue one along with a crisp, fitted white shirt, skinny tapered blue trousers and brown loafers comprised of all man-made material. He knew that getting a good table at “The Cow’s Revenge” might be tough so he made sure to “dress to impress,” looking much like The Bachelor contestant that happened to be vegan.
As the restaurant came into view he noticed there was no line and felt good about getting a nice outdoor table where he could take in all the city had to offer. With great trepidation, Robert walked up to the entrance and stopped at a sign that said “please wait to be greeted,” implying that a host would meet him but that a seat was not necessarily a given. Noticing there was a prime table available and eager to be have it, Robert grew disappointed when none of the staff immediately greeted him. Despite numerous attempts at non-verbal contact to get their attention, and with seconds now turning into minutes, he finally blurted out a weak “excuse me please” to three of the staff that were engaged in what appeared to be casual conversation a few feet away. A tall thin woman, functioning as the host and dressed in what can best be described as a haute couture potato sack, disdainfully made her way over to Robert and said “Postmates?” Robert was puzzled by the term and politely stated that he would like a table, and preferably an outdoor one. The women replied that by the way he was dressed she thought he was a Postmates worker picking up a takeout order for delivery and that all of the outdoor tables were already reserved. Disappointed about having to dine inside but happy to be at the restaurant, Robert followed his potato sacked host across the indoor dining area as she strutted like a runway model toward a table near the restrooms. The greeter was just about to seat him when a co-worker mentioned to her that Chloe Seville, a brunch regular, had cancelled her reservation. The greeter pivoted to Robert and said that he was in luck as an outside table was now available, one that he enthusiastically agreed to take.
The hostess strutted back across the restaurant with Robert following close behind. He was led to the outdoor dining area where a small, round sea-foam colored table was awaiting him. It was unsteady and barely able to fit one bruncher, let alone two for which there were chairs. As he took his seat he noticed that none of the brunchers were facing each other but rather had their chairs against the wall or pitched at a severe angle. He decided to do the same with his chair, figuring the idea was not to have face to face conversation with someone sitting across from you but to instead observe what might be unfolding on the street. No sooner did Robert settle in when he noticed a row of pigeons on a ledge across the street huddled together, viewing passerbys much in the same manner as the brunchers were. A man in a suit, possibly a lawyer or businessman, unsuspectingly walked beneath the pigeons as he was shouting into his cellphone and one of them, with great accuracy, deposited a large quantity of yellowish poop on the man’s shoulder. The brunchers took notice and all laughed out loud as the man struggled to clean his suit with some newspaper that he pulled out of a trash can. All except Robert that is, who in actuality, felt pretty bad for the guy.
Once things settled down Robert focused in on what to order. He had never seen items like the ones listed on “The Cow’s Revenge” menu as most of the vegan food he had access to in Dubuque was of the frozen variety. Perplexed about the choices, he considered asking the girl sitting next to him for a suggestion but she was reading a book in french, “Les Trois Destins,” and he assumed she would not understand his question. Her appearance also made him feel she was a bit unapproachable. She resembled a mannequin Robert saw in a boutique store window on the way over. Statuesque even while at her seat, pencil thin black jeans with one rip strategically placed above the left knee, a loose fitting crew neck black t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a necklace with an oddly shaped symbol that hung just below her breasts. She had bright porcelain skin and asymmetrically cut reddish-brown hair, a swathe of which kept falling over the right lens of her wayfarer sunglasses. When the waiter came around to ask if she wanted anything else she answered in perfect english “just the check please.” Robert got excited as her accent sounded like a midwestern twang that was quite familiar.
Thinking he might have some things in common with the mannequin-girl, Robert gathered up the nerve to speak and introduced himself, asking if she could recommend something good, since he was visiting from out of town and this was his first time at the restaurant. The mannequin-girl turned her head towards him in a slow robot like manner, revealing sharp blue eyes that peered out from behind her sunglasses. She paused to take a long look at Robert before curtly answering,“kale salad.” Robert cautiously thanked her and decided to probe a bit more about her accent stating that it sounded like she might be from the Midwest. The girl quickly replied that she was not going to sleep with him, which caught him by surprise, since he made no such overture. Thinking he had offended her he apologized and retreated to his menu. The mannequin-girl, sensing Robert’s sincerity and embarrassment, told him she was born in the Midwest, Des Moines to be exact, but left when she was seven and lived abroad in Guinea with her father who was an American diplomat. As a result she understood French fluently and eventually went to school at the Sorbonne in Paris. When she stood up to leave she made sure to add that she likes to read the classics in French but comics in English and that she would be willing to see him again the next day at the Williamsburg comic and anime convention. Noticing that Robert’s cell phone was not in lock screen mode, she took it from the table, quickly typed her name and phone number in the directory and then left without as much as saying goodbye. As Robert watched her walk away, he looked at his cell phone directory and thought about what his parents might say if he was involved with someone like Chrissy. He also realized that he had not read a comic book since middle school.
Robert now began to take notice of the rest of the brunchers. The crowd was mostly fit women, post college but not over 30, with manicured eyebrows and perfect skin. They were outfitted with what appeared to be one hundred and fifty dollar t-shirts, four hundred dollar sunglasses and thousand dollar handbags. At least that was Robert’s rough estimate. The few men that were there were skinny and effeminate, except for Robert and another guy wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap backwards who was clearly being indoctrinated into veganism by his girlfriend. When the Yankee fan’s girlfriend stepped away to go to the bathroom he pulled a real beef jerky stick from his cargo shorts pocket and scarfed it down with ninja quick precision, relishing every last morsel, even licking his fingers. What he thought was a covert operation did not go unnoticed though as one bruncher had taken video of him indulging in his non-vegan snack and uploaded it to Instagram with the hashtag “veganfail.” The other brunchers, all in the same vegan social network, saw the video and immediately began shaming the Yankee fan for his actions. When his girlfriend returned the manager asked that they leave the restaurant as outside food was not permitted, especially when it is of the suffering kind. Embarrassed by what had occurred the Yankee fan’s girlfriend made an open apology for her boyfriend’s behavior but it could not be heard over the chorus of “Na Na Na Na, Hey, Hey, Hey, Goodbye” being chanted by the brunchers. Not to be outdone, as the couple were being escorted out, the Yankee fan flipped the bird to the brunchers as he would if he had been tossed from a ballgame. The girlfriend, mortified, grabbed him by the ear and led him away. They turned the corner at Kenmare street and vanished, never to be seen again near The Cow’s Revenge.
Robert began to wonder whether the various scenes he had been witnessing were the usual daily occurrences or anomalies. Since The Cow’s Revenge was a vegan restaurant, he was expecting a low key brunch with unassuming, compassionate and evolved diners much like the ones at the Hare Krishna cafeteria that he occasionally ate lunch at back home in Dubuque. Instead, Robert was now privy to open conversations about exotic trips to Bali or St. Barth’s and unethical back channel stock deals. Everything seemed distorted as most of the people he encountered didn’t look, sound or act like the people he watched on the restaurant’s bachelor episode and, as a result, he began to feel oddly disconnected from his brunch experience.
Robert’s existential daydream was interrupted by the arrival of his kale salad. While it seemed appealing, he was unable to dig right in as he still felt a bit queasy from drinking on an empty stomach. Compelled to ignore his cell-phone, something the other brunchers were having a hard time doing, he began to observe the street scene. Hearing loud music he looked towards the corner where he noticed an electric blue convertible lamborghini sports car waiting at a red light. The driver of the car resembled Beyonce. In fact, at first, Robert thought it was Beyonce but then noticed the car’s vanity plate stating “NOT BEY.” When the light turned green Not Bey made a left turn into congestion and found herself sandwiched between a UPS truck and a Fedex truck. Both the UPS and Fedex truck drivers vied for her attention with competing cliche blue collar pick up lines like “Did it hurt when you fell from heaven” and “You got all those curves and I got no brakes.” Not Bey was oblivious to their courting efforts, casually twirling some of her hair between her fingers and nodding her head to the music playing from her stereo. One group of brunchers, disturbed by the volume of Not Bey’s stereo while she was sitting in traffic asked that she lower the volume, to which her reply was a long middle finger accented with sunflower yellow nail polish that matched the color of her dress. As a response, several of the brunchers began to strategize together on how they could shame her on social media but just then the traffic eased up, Not Bey peeled out down the block, and they lost their golden opportunity for a second shaming of the day.
Robert thought all the action on Kenmare street was finished but he was very wrong. As he was finishing up his salad, which was actually quite good, he glanced across the street towards a brand new luxury high rise building. To his astonishment, on the third floor balcony, a fit middle aged man with the visage of an aging rock star stood naked, except for some tube socks, his flaccid manhood swinging like a pendulum. Robert turned away as a natural reaction and tried his best to play it off since he did not want to appear like a “flustered gump.” When he looked again, a woman with a shock of short platinum grey-blonde hair half the age of the naked aging rock star appeared in the balcony doorway. Attempting to conceal her nakedness, she stuck her arm through the crack of the door, placing a cigarette and lighter in the man’s hand. He lit up the cigarette, took a drag, and as fate would have it, the sun decided to break through some passing high clouds and shine down on him like a spotlight. He braced his elbows against the railing of the balcony, and in a very relaxed manner, decided to take in what the city had to offer as he smoked his post-coitus treat. Robert looked around at the rest of the brunchers and saw that no one else seemed to notice or care except for two girls that could be no more than sixteen years of age. Earlier the hostess had to ask the girls to stop launching spitballs at each other as they might hit other guests, which made Robert wonder how two immature school age girls could afford such an expensive vegan brunch.
The two besties who had been taking selfies and photos of each other during brunch now focused their efforts on how to best incorporate a staged photo bomb of the naked aging rock star in their pictures. Clumsily they maneuvered around the brunchers closest to their table, trying hard to angle a good shot but meeting with great difficulty due to the tight quarters. Finally, realizing that Robert was aware of the situation on the balcony as well, one of the girls asked if he would mind taking a photo of them with the man in the background. Always the gentleman, Robert obliged and one of the girls handed him her cellphone which was fitted with a black leather Gucci case. He had never seen a cell phone case like the one he now held in his hand and thought it odd that a vegan would be using leather but, nonetheless, Robert did his best to get a good shot of the girls with the naked man in the background. Robert happened to have a good eye for photography composition and while bending down on one knee, fired off a perfect shot of the two besties sipping drinks through straws as the naked aging rock star appeared in the background. He took a look at the photo and said to the girls “I think I got a good one” before handing the phone back. Initially both girls stared at the phone screen without making a sound. Once they zoomed in on the photo though they simultaneously broke into uncontrollable laughter, so much so that the green matcha shakes that they were sipping began to shoot out of their noses and onto the table, bringing on even more fits of delirium.
As the two besties rolled around on the floor, doubled over in joy, tears flowing from their eyes, the naked aging rock star left the balcony and went back indoors presumably for another round of afternoon love making. Robert reflected on what had transpired and wondered what type of life the naked aging rock star lived that would allow for such a luxury. As he pondered different scenarios, he noticed that several of the brunchers had grown quite disgusted with the boisterous behavior of the girls. One bruncher called the hostess over to express her displeasure but was instantly rebuffed. It seemed to Robert that the two besties, despite their age, might have a high status level at The Cow’s Revenge. As the girls teenage hysteria began to settle down, a long shiny black limo pulled up to the curb and double parked near a hydrant. Out stepped a driver clad in a grey uniform, white gloves and driving cap who took a position near the rear passenger door. Standing at attention and without a word, he placed his hand on the car door handle and opened the door, a signal to the besties that it was time to leave. Both girls took notice and quickly gathered their belongings and left without leaving a payment or tip. As the they half skipped towards the limo, one of the girls excitedly proclaimed that the photobomb pic was “awesome!” and they joyfully dove into the backseat. The driver closed the door, resumed his station behind the wheel and drove off into the manhattan bustle with his cargo ready for their next adventure.
As the sun became obscured by the buildings on Kenmare street, many of the brunchers, now subject to encroaching shade, began to disperse as well, albeit not in the same fashion as the two besties. Some walked, some summoned UBER’s or biked and one couple jettisoned away on a red vespa wearing matching Evel Knievel helmets. Robert, with no plans for the rest of the evening, sat at his table attempting to recover from the three mimosas. Just as he was feeling relaxed and contemplative he was told to vacate by the hostess because the staff had to stage the restaurant for a film crew. Robert squared away the bill and walked cautiously down the street, mindfully trying to walk straight in an effort to counteract the lingering effects of the alcohol. He took an unintentionally circuitous route toward the subway, meandering through SOHO all the while contemplating whether or not he was right for New York City. Right before he reached the subway entrance he noticed an old mom and pop comic book shop. He walked up to the storefront, stood outside for moment and then decided to go in.