We’re funny creatures, us humans. I sometimes wish things in life were as simple as in the animal kingdom. Some amount of cognitive feeling for certain specie, but others just relying and knowing nothing different than instinct. But we are far more complex, for the good and for the bad. We are able to feel complex emotions, connect with others, create meaningful existences, build lives. We also have the power and thought to perform negative actions, intentional hurts, and do things that conflict with our true nature. The complexity of my character lies within a conflict of needs and wants. I sit here at one of my favorite neighborhood spots, The Queens Kickshaw, grappling with this desire for dichotomy. Needing to connect with others but needing anonymity. Choosing to be in a spot where I see familiar faces but choosing not to interact.
Those that grew up in a small town may be able to relate to that feeling. Then again, maybe not. I grew up in a small town of about 8,000 people (on a good day) and knew from age 16 that I would not live there, settle there and couldn’t wait to get out. I knew everyone, everyone knew me, and at that age, did not like that. Now as an adult, I love coming home to visit, and really for that reason of familiarity and knowing, but it took me a long time to get there. That is the precise feeling of familiarity that I chose Astoria for, and a huge part of why I started Single Girl Cookies. I could sense there was a community that I just hadn’t tapped yet, and the desire to foster that and help it grow was a part of what brought me to SGC. To “bring the small town feel to the big city”. But now that I’ve done that, and am being recognized and shouted at from passing cars and crosswalks, I long to be anonymous.
I would make a terrible celebrity.
This week’s drop was at everyone’s favorite spot, Sal, Kris & Charlie’s. You probably remember this as the place famous for The Bomb sandwich that got one would-be flier detained at JFK a while back. It’s chock full of about four kinds of meats, two cheeses, mayo, mustard, all the toppings – the works. My stomach was pretty excited to be told this was where I was headed next.
I showed up on a regular Thursday with my plate of cookies and went in to give them my spiel. As I waited in line, I could feel the other customers’ eyes on me and my plate, probably wondering what the hell I was up to. I got the counter and said, “Hi! My name is Renee and ….” Yada yada yada. The guy looked at me and….nothing. It took him a second to digest what I said and his next response was, “Ok….thank you….can I get you anything?” I decided I should go as the public dictates and go with the (modified) Bomb. He came back with my sandwich to wrap it up at the counter and then the questions started coming. “So, when you come back, you want money?” No. “So, wait, you just do this?” Yes. “Are you sure you want to come back? We can just give you your plate now.” Nope, that’s all part of the SGC way. I’ll be back. And finally, “They’re not poisonous, right?” No, definitely not poisonous.
He finished up wrapping and bagging my sandwich and drink and handed me the bag. I said, “How much?” and he just shook his head, said, nah and shooed me away. I graciously said thank you and went on my way.
I had originally planned to bike to the park to enjoy the sammy goodness, but if you recall, Thursday was the height of the ridiculous heat wave. I biked back home where I sat to eat in air conditioned solace. Now, I don’t know why they call it The Bomb, but if it’s because the overstuffed contents explode out of the bread when you bite into it, then it’s aptly named. Or because it’s so big that if you eat the whole things, you’ll feel like a bomb ready to burst, that too is accurate. I was only able to eat half of it, and even that was a stretch. The hot peppers gave it more of a kick than I had thought they would, and while I’m glad I tried it, it might be a while before I attempt to tackle another 🙂
I came back on Sunday as “scheduled” and found an even bigger crowd inside than was there on Thursday. I recognized someone that was working on Thursday when I dropped off my plate and told him I was here to pick it up. He went back, I heard some shouting in Spanish about my ‘plato’ and finally someone came back with it, followed my a tall, bald man with a moustache, telling him to put it in a bag and make sure it was double bagged. I snagged this gentleman’s attention and said that I needed a recommendation for next week. He looked perplexed so I gave him the rundown of what I was doing. He said that his son Nick, never told him about this and that he needed some times to think about it. I asked, “Like a few days or a few hours?” He said to give him a few days. Well, sir, I already did that. I gently told him that I came in on Thursday and already gave a few days and I needed to know today. He got very flustered and almost angry and said Gaudio’s on 30th and 41st, he used to go there all the time as a kid. Great, I’ll go there, who can I say who sent me? Turns out this gentleman was Charlie of Sal, Kris & Charlie’s. Then he started to give me a disclaimer about Nick at Gaudio’s and how he can be a little edgy and that he doesn’t need cookies, he has so much money as it is. Then started asking questions in what felt like an accusatory manner, like why do I do this Why don’t you give them to the homeless? Why don’t you give them to people who deserve them?
This is a kind of resistance I’ve never gotten before. A negativity not born out of skepticism, but from a disdain for what I was doing in the first place. Huh.
I explained that it’s actually up to him to send the act of kindness to people he thinks deserve it, how it’s my way of giving back to the community by baking and saying thank you to those that serve Astoria, but he gets to do something nice for others without actually doing anything. And again, he comes with the, why would you do that? And not give them to the homeless? Sigh…
He was also not pleased with the parameters of a Single Girl Cookies drop. As if each “rule” I laid out eliminated anyone he thought was worthy. “It has to be in the neighborhood?” Yes. “Does it have to be a business?” Yes. “Because my mother does a lot of work with the homeless and she deserves something like this but you won’t go there.” As if I’m personally insulting his mother by not making a house call delivery.
I said, “Look, yes, it has to be a business in the neighborhood, but it can be anywhere – I’ve been to all the firehouses, the police station, dry cleaners, restaurants, the New York Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing…” to which he interrupted me and said with a hint of defiance, as if daring me to say no (come on, like I would? If it fits the rules, I go there), “Immaculate Conception”. I said “excuse me?” He said, “Yeah, Immaculate Conception”. I then asked if that was a church and where it was located. He said, “Yeah, it’s a church, Roman Catholic, right on the corner of Ditmars and 29th, you can’t miss it”, all said with this hint of defiance. I, with a smile, replied, “Well, I live on the other side of the neighborhood, and am not Catholic, so I’m not familiar with it.” His parting shot was “Well, what are you?”….because my religious affiliation matters somehow. I thanked him and headed for my long delayed afternoon in the park.
Long story long, I’ll be heading up to Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday or Thursday morning to drop off cookies and thank them for the work they do with the homeless. This will actually be my last drop for the summer before I head Upstate for the month of August. Turtle Bay Music School, where I teach voice, closes for the month of August, so my choices were to sweat it out here for a month, or swim in the lake and pool with my family and doggies and have ridiculous amounts of nephew time for a whole month. Hmm, no contest 🙂 Away I will go, but it’s about time for me to have a NYC break anyway and go somewhere where I can be more than 200ft from the nearest person. My experience at Sal, Kris & Charlie’s also fueled my need for a change of pace and change of scenery. Then when I come back, faces that seemed old will seem new again.
So, maybe walking the line isn’t about the line between anonymity and community, but the line within yourself, between wanting it both ways and being grateful for the way things are. I know how lucky I am, and though I sometimes wish things were different (like maybe not being shouted at from a car by someone I know as I leave my apt building), I know I wouldn’t want them to actually be different than my current reality. I know the grass isn’t greener. My grass is pretty green as it is. But go, choose new spots. Grow new roots. And above all, be true to yourself. If your self is saying “take a break”, then take that break. No one else is going to tell you to. By going away, it makes the return that much sweeter, poignant and meaningful. As for me, I’m looking forward to missing Astoria.
Author’s note: As I was sitting there writing, lovely Jen at TQK sent this delicious affogato over for me to enjoy.
Let me reiterate again how thankful I am for those generous and kind people that Single Girl Cookies has brought me too. They continue to humble me with their generosity, even when I don’t deserve it.
Renee Heitmann, Copyright 2013