$80 Sweater

Recently, as I was hefting sacks of groceries into the house, a young couple pulled up in their beater car and parked nearby. We exchanged smiles and I went back to hefting. I was surprised when I looked up again and the woman was standing directly in front of me, as I thought our exchange was complete. Now, from whence I hail, quickly approaching a stranger to stand this close would be seen as aggressive. She seemed like an unlikely suspect, but was she about to mug me? I imagined a cute, but unpredictable Drugstore Cowboy-esque junkie couple on the lamb. I panicked that the grocery bags were too heavy for me to swing with any accuracy.

“Do you like this sweater?”, she asked.

I looked over at her boyfriend to see if he was armed.

No Dogs

“I paid $80 for it at Anthropologie but I’m not sure if I like it. Do you like it, hon?” She looked over at the boyfriend.

Straggledy-haired blond boyfriend stayed cautiously neutral but wisely offered that she looked pretty.

The sweater was tres Berkeley despite the chain store purchase: multi-colored, organically grown-looking and somewhat shapeless. I wouldn’t be caught dead in it, but it seemed to match her wholesome, nature gal vibe, so I, still waiting for the catch, volunteered that it was “nice”.

She repeated that the sweater had cost $80, and wanted confirmation from a complete stranger that she had paid too much. She was a wall of chirpy twitters, interrupting herself only once to say that she liked my outfit, and ask where it had come from. As my “outfits” rarely come from a single store-bought, chain store source, I condensed my response to “Banana”.

Conscious of melting dairy products still weighing me down, I finally offered that if she had so many doubts about that (fugly) sweater, then perhaps she should return it. Ten minutes later, satisfied with my answer, she suggested that we might see each other around and, with her boyfriend, headed over to the multiple-occupant surf-hippie house a few doors down.

Who does that?

Crazy Berkeley hippie kids.

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Wait, you don’t have an accent…

It doesn’t take long to notice that outside of parts of New York and a handful of 70s movies, people don’t have New York accents.

As tidal waves of yuppies swell into neighborhoods previously reserved for third generation immigrants, it’s a rapidly fading NYC cultural institution. Locally-born kids sometimes try to avoid it to seem worldlier, but new residents try to adopt some flavoring words for authenticity. Tourists seek it, the same way they might look for modern Native Americans to say “How.”. It’s argued whether the different New York accents (yes, there are variations) can be attributed to each of the five boroughs or just class level. Like any regional accent, those who don’t use it often think of it as charming, but ultimately uneducated sounding. (See also Fargo, Valley Girl, Good Will Hunting and Sling Blade.)

Thank goodness for torchbearers like Cyndi Lauper, Mel Brooks, Robert De Niro and the Beastie Boys.

Northern California doesn’t seem to have accents. (Am I wrong?) Instead they have some of their own jargon (“hella”, “bounce”, “chillax”, “grass”, etc.).  The only exception I’ve noticed so far is with second and third generation Japanese American Californians (Nisei and Sansei, so I’ve learned). I can’t put it into words yet, but you can just vaguely hear an accent that is distinctly not first generation immigrant, but unique. I haven’t heard it with any other second+ generation ethnic group.

More as I understand it.

Why Salt Bagel?

Because I like them.

Bagels are as ubiquitous to New York as real sourdough is to San Francisco. You can get them anywhere, and they range from so-so to excellent. (You cannot get sourdough unfortunately.) The best I’ve had come from Terrace Bagels on Prospect Park West. They of course, make them every morning and they are good good: the slightest crunch gives way to dense, soft (if you’re lucky, warm), slightly doughy bread.

Apparently, you can’t get bialys anywhere else in the world.

All manner of New York proprietors run bagel bakeries, and all serve up a similar flavor and texture. The only other commonality these proprietors share is their pact never to pass along their recipe to non-New Yorkers. Seriously. Is it the water? I’m sure I am not the first to write about this serious issue, but this pact has caused a plague upon the rest of the planet. No matter what the heritage of bagel bakers in New York, most can produce a delicious bread product that looks, smells, feels and tastes like a bagel. Outside of the city, they have only really mastered the look.  It makes sense that flavors might change to match the local taste buds, like sun-dried tomato in San Francisco and green tea with pistachio in Tokyo (strange, but good), but I don’t understand why the texture can’t be matched.

If I ordered a croissant from a place called Les Meilleures Pâtisseries de Paris!, I’d expect buttery, flakey deliciousness, but in the SF Bay Area, there are a few misleadingly named bagel chains, like Manhattan Bagel and Noah’s Bagels, that haven’t developed beyond a rubbery Kaiser roll (which themselves are only a shadow of the delicious original Austrian semmel rolls…).

This isn’t to say that Northern California doesn’t have some of the best eats in the world; it’s just that they can’t get a good bagel down.