It was a hot day in June. I sat in DeLillo’s Pastry Shop on East 187th Street in the Bronx, sipping an iced cappuccino and minding my own business when a guy came in and ordered two quarts of gelato. I did not recognize him but figured he was either a tourist or connected to Fordham University, which was four blocks away. He had the rounded shoulders of a midlevel administrator. I did not pay attention to what he told the owner’s son, who waited on him, until the conversation got heated. I distinctly heard the son say, “Well, if that’s what you’re gonna do with it, I can’t sell you the gelato!”
Before I tell you what prompted the son’s refusal, let me provide some context. This took place six years ago while I was living on Arthur Avenue. I bring it up now, because I overheard two related conversations just this week. I took this as a sign that I should write about what happened in the pastry shop. After all, I’m always looking for signs, especially ones that don’t exist (see Signs that Weren’t).
The conversations I overheard concerned the difference between Californians and New Yorkers. Both did so in reference to getting a flat tire. The comparison goes like this. In California, if your car breaks down and you’ve got a flat, people will sympathize with you and tell you how awful it is. Then they’ll go about their business, because, you know, they’re busy doing venture capital and private equity deals. In New York, if you get a flat and need help, you will be berated and called a moron for not knowing how to change it yourself. But then the New Yorker will roll up his sleeves and change the tire for you, taking every chance he gets to insult you and your ancestors. He will leave you with a final shake of his head and an expletive under his breath, but your flat will be fixed and you’ll be able to drive off into the sunset. This cultural difference reflects the value placed on being “nice” (i.e., California) versus being “kind” (i.e., New York). And it is making the rounds. Before publishing this post I saw it again, this time on that oracle of all things fantastic–Twitter.
Before hearing the flat tire comparison, I was familiar with another version of the same. This one, cruder and more succinct, goes like this. “What’s the difference between a Californian and a New Yorker?” “When the Californian says have a nice day, she doesn’t mean it. When the New Yorker tells you to go fuck yourself, he means it.” You see? Crude but to the point, which makes me think it was created by a New Yorker, or, at least, a New York transplant to California. In fact, it could have been me, should have been me, but wasn’t.
Back at DeLillo’s, it turns out that the hapless customer had made the mistake of saying that he was taking the gelato to visit a relative in Jersey. “Jersey?” the owner’s son asked suspiciously. “You mean you’re driving over the George Washington Bridge?” No sooner had the customer said yes than the young man told him he couldn’t allow him to take the fresh, homemade gelato in the heat in what would be an hour car ride. It would ruin the gelato. Stunned, the customer insisted. Adamant, the young man stood back, folded his arms across his chest, and refused.
By now, everyone stopped what they were doing to watch the standoff. Some took sides, mostly with the establishment. “It’ll melt all to hell,” a regular at the table next to me mumbled. Her companions nodded silently. The customer stood there, pressing himself against the glass display case that held the bins of gelato. The young man cursed under his breath.
Finally, the young man called an assistant over, asked for a styrofoam cooler with dry ice, and packed the two quarts of gelato into the cooler, securing it with duct tape for extra measure (see The Magic of Duct Tape). The customer, nearly crying with relief, all but kissed the young man’s hand, who warned him, “Just don’t take the slow lanes over the bridge!” The man nodded gratefully and rushed out of the pastry shop with the cooler into the heat.
We all went back to minding our own business, feeling better about the world but agreeing that the guy was a moron.
Such is kindness.
Image credits: feature by Lama Roscu; George Washington Bridge by Jessica Becker. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”