Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Carvel | Lefsetz Letter

The woman in front of me ordered a Banana Barge.

I used to be anxious around black people, we all were. There were no African-Americans in my elementary school and our cleaning woman Jean was black and essentially a member of the family and my dad made his living selling liquor to African-Americans but I was on guard, we all were.

The blacks lived in Bridgeport. We lived in Fairfield. Bridgeport was the land of crime. They broke into Jean’s apartment on a regular basis, she couldn’t have nice things, never mind a record player, which they took too, kids on drugs supposedly. And my father sent two black guys to pick me up from day camp in a forties car and I could lie and tell you it used to be all kumbaya, but it wasn’t. Civil rights and black power opened our eyes. And America is more integrated than ever, for that I credit MTV and the NBA. MTV showed a rainbow of colors, the NBA stars were aspirational, they set trends, along with the musicians, especially now, when hip-hop rules, but there is still racism, African-Americans are still penalized by the color of their skin, but I had no problem talking to this woman ordering the Banana Barge, progress has been made, at least by me.

You see we’re all in it together and we all matter and we all don’t, we’re all just people.

I went with my mother today to the Yale Center for British Art. I’m stunned what they have inside, but even more impressive is the building, whose architect is Louis Kahn. Have you seen the documentary “My Architect”? You should, it was made by his son, you see in addition to being a bleeding edge architect, Kahn had multiple children with multiple women while remaining married to his original wife, it’s quite a story.

And as I wheeled my mother through the galleries I gained perspective.

We’re gonna be superseded, a few hundred years from now they’re gonna marvel that we lived this way, we’ll be seen as backward, even though we think we’re so forward, that’s the story of history, that’s the story of life.

Back in the 1600s people dressed up for paintings, they wanted to show off their wealth, they thought they counted, but almost all have been forgotten. Seems the rat race is always the same, and it’s always futile. In other words, have a good time while you’re alive, because when you’re gone, you’re gone.

That’s why you go to museums, that’s why you experience art. To understand humanity, to learn what it’s all about, if you just inhabit your own bubble and don’t take a moment to breathe, to adjust your frame of reference, the joke is on you.

And my mother is making plans for tomorrow. It’s funny, her generation still talks on the phone whereas my generation even texts, and the younger generation only speaks in Instagram stories. And she punches her finger at the iPhone, no matter how much I tell her touch it, she continues to poke, and gets angry when she lacks success.

And we went to dinner and the handicapped space was occupied. And the restaurant we went to was nearly empty. My mother uses a walker, every step is a struggle, I surveyed the establishment and saw who the offenders were, a white-haired couple celebrating something, how did they get their handicapped placard, they were fully ambulatory! But that’s our society, we think our behavior does not matter, everybody thinks they can get away with it.

And we had a shore dinner, I’ve got certain traditions on the east coast, I’ve got to have Pepe’s pizza, I’ve got to have seafood, clams,/oysters/lobster, fried or maybe not, and Carvel.

And I hated clams and oysters until I had them lightly-battered and fried on Cape Cod, now I’m addicted, to the real thing, not just the Howard Johnson tails but the whole bellies. And believe me, I don’t eat fried food on a regular basis, but I am taking Crestor, there can be exceptions.

Same deal with the Carvel. I didn’t even know if I was still hungry.

There are so few Carvel shops left, and they’re all dingy. If I ran the operation I’d institutionalize them, clean them up, give them order.

But how much money can someone make dipping cones anyway these days? Used to be an honest day’s work resulted in an honest day’s pay. But you can’t make it on a worker’s salary anymore, even though unions are evil and everybody should just buck up and be an entrepreneur. I mean where would you get your ice cream if it weren’t for these people?

And speaking of those people, and I know I’m being offensive, the first step is enlightenment, then comes change, while I was waiting for my new sundae in a glass concoction to be made I saw the beginnings of a Banana Barge, a rectangular plastic tray with a sliced yellow fruit at the bottom, the clerk was pouring on the chocolate ice cream, you don’t want vanilla soft serve, it’s all about the chocolate. And I wondered who was ordering this, the most expensive, lavish item on the Carvel menu.

There was only one other person in the shop.

A fiftysomething black woman.

I can’t remember what I said to her, it was innocuous but it started a conversation. I didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable, like I was judging her for what she was putting in her mouth. And I didn’t want any white on black discomfort either. The clerks were Korean, they were lost in their own world, trying to replenish the machine that squirts out the ice cream.

She started to apologize, I said she probably earned it after a hard day.

And I marveled at the state of race relations. I didn’t want anybody to be scared, I was bending over backward to act naturally, to make up for the past behavior of myself and my brethren, after all, we’re all just trying to get along.

And I thought of the denizens in New Haven, walking in the heat with their children.

And the Latinos purchasing lunch from the food trucks in Long Wharf, where I had a fajita quesadilla and my mother had a hot dog. Did I ever tell you I knew who the Flying Burrito Brothers were but had no idea what a burrito was, even though it was parked there right on the front cover, emblazoned with sequins?

We all start off ignorant, then we learn.

But some of us don’t.

Banana Barge


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