FOUND MYSELF SUPPRESSING RAGE yesterday afternoon, on
a visit to a cake store and coffee shop on my way home. The shop has four
tables, a few stools, and probably the best desserts in the city, not to
mention decent espresso, but it also holds cooking classes in its kitchen
a few days every month. The classes attract a kind of idle rich -- the
kind of people who've "rediscovered" the joys of cooking, and whose $100,000
kitchen renovations are featured in interior magazines. What with the Sub-Zero
fridge, the Viking range (gas elements, grill, convection oven, griddle,
warming and baking ovens), marble aggregate counters, stainless steel backsplash,
deep soapstone sink and pot faucet, wine cooler, steamer drawers and pull-out
dishwasher, why not take a course in pastry-making?
The line-up at the counter was clogged with a handful
of early arrivals for the class, a group of women who had stashed their
numerous bags under the counters and against the shop walls, and stood
sipping coffee and chatting with the owners and among themselves. I was
going to say that they were "gossiping", but that would have been misleading;
gossip implies leisure and idle time, and these women would never dream
of projecting a life spent so unprofitably. Instead, they barked at each
other and into their cell phones, running through the hectic schedules
that had led up to this brief moment of suspended effort.
"Honey, you're going to have to let the dogs out. They
were out all morning but it's been mad all day and I won't be home till
later," one woman growled into her cell.
Most of them sported streaky bleach jobs that made their
hair look like weather-tarnished gilt, deep tans, and stood by the counter
in a rigid posture: one hand planted on their hip, the elbow sticking out
at a sharp angle, derriere pushed out and up by the thick heels of the
suede boots they wore under tailored pants, eyes focused on a variety of
indeterminate points above each other's heads, the other hand occupied
with coffee cup, kahlua brownie, or cell phone. As a posture, it was guaranteed
to take up twice the normal amount of space allowed in most queues.
"The courier should be coming tomorrow with the plane
tickets. What do you mean no one is going to be there?" One woman, in a
cowl-necked sweater in some expensive shade of faded green, nubbly wool
keened into her phone in a cutting, nasal tone. Next to her, her friend,
in an oversized, fringed pony skin jacket, pulled a series of waxy tissues
from her purse and blotted her forehead and nose with them, her eyes shut
as if to shield them from the long, lethal nails gripping the tissues.
The single girl working the counter was clearly overwhelmed
with orders for coffee and sweets, but remained polite, even though the
narrow space between the display case and the marble counter with the sugar,
cream, sweeteners and cream substitutes was filled with bags, suede, leather
and elbows. In front of me, a woman in a worn parka rolled her eyes, sighed
noisily and left the line, pushing through the women and out the door.
No one seemed to notice this outburst of exasperation.
The owner and the girl behind the counter continued to
field orders and random questions from the crowd, usually turning back
to their phones while the girl waited patiently for payment, or while the
owner answered the question. I got my coffee just as the owner announced
that the class was about to begin, and led the crowd, pony skin, Prada
bags and all, through the kitchen to the classroom at the back.