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A Few Things for Breakfast in New York City

I was in New York City recently, looking for a few things for breakfast. The scone was an unusual shape - round, looking delectable, with small raisins in it. It had the roughened surface common to baked goods that contain an excessive amount of cream, a kind of velvet-like resistance here and there where your finger is making its way across the surface.

I imagined the passage of the melting butter I would put on the scones in the morning - the yellow pat metamorphosing into gold dripping into and through the small caves and declivities of soft bread, scone-bread with jam or honey, preserves or mulched fruit or, perhaps, just more butter.

"I'll take three," I said to the woman behind the counter.

"You want 'em in a bag?" she said with a Bronx accent and the New York sensibility that my ordering of three scones was maybe an insult.

"Yeah," I grumbled.

She smiled. "So what else do you want?"

I looked around. "Well, I'd like some jam."

"We only got one kind. If you go down there to the end of the counter, you'll find it."

"What kind is it?" I asked.

"It's jam!" she said.

"Yeah, but I mean, what flavor?"

"Flavor!" she grumbled, although there was still a smile on her lips. "Raspberry!"

I walked to the end of the counter and found it. A sixteen-ounce jar of raspberry jam with a label on it that read "Made especially for us by Anne Marie and Rene Darbelin, Les confitures de la creation, Passy, SAVOIE," At the bottom right of the label was a round stamp-like logo that identified the importer: Eli Zabar, New York City.

I have been a fan of the Zabar family dynasty since the very day I moved to New York from San Francisco in 1999. I'd never heard of them before that, and had just moved into my apartment on 57th Street, near the corner with 8th Avenue, in a building called The Sheffield.

Getting to the Zabar's Market on Broadway near 80th had been a bit of a march, even though I was just out wandering and exploring the neighborhood. It was worth it because of the very colorful transit up Broadway and because Zabar's — into which I had wandered by chance — was such an immediate astonishment.

I ultimately lived in New York for two years, and cooked myself a meal twice. Because of the proximity of my place to Ninth Avenue and the remarkable number of cheap ethnic restaurants on that street, between 57th and 45th or so, and because of Zabar's, there was no real need to cook. It was cheaper to go to Ninth Avenue, and the quality of the take-out at Zabar's was higher than anything I could ever cook.

Many years later, visiting once again from San Francisco, and realizing that E.A.T. is part of the Zabar dynasty, I was happy to be here. What I forgot was that the neighborhood around E.A.T. is filled with remarkably wealthy swells and that the place itself is mid-town on Madison Avenue, a street on which even the simplest of window shopping can result in your immediate financial ruin.

As I was reading the jam jar label, I heard a woman's voice behind me. It seemed remarkably disapproving, although the woman was only talking about the raspberry lemonade you can buy here.

"Yes, but I want it colder," she was saying. "You aren't listening to me."

I turned away from the jam. She was about six feet tall, wearing jodhpurs, a short tyrolean green jacket with equally Austrian embroidery depicting berry bushes or some such, one of those round caps in which the settled wealthy go fox hunting. As a finishing touch, a pair of knee-high black riding boots that reminded me of those Herman Goering used to wear.

Her hair was blonde, each strand of razor-like brilliance. Her complexion was very pale and very perfectly polished. I'd say she was 45, although her voice sounded like that of a much older man. She also carried a large riding crop.

"But that's all we got, ma'am," the clerk said. He was a Latino of some kind, slight with a round face, and the shrugged shoulders of a New Yorker who has spent his life in service.

"I want it colder."

"I'm sorry, but we don't have it colder."

The customer stared at him a moment, then looked behind her.

"Trimble! Trimble! Come here, please."

I returned to the jam label. I also wanted to get a couple of ice creams since outside of E.A.T. on Madison Avenue there are some very convenient park benches on which you can sit to enjoy the passing crowd. Bea had asked me to get her a combination of lime sherbet and dark chocolate, while I wanted to get the same lime sherbet and mix it with the startling pistachio ice cream I remembered from when I had lived here.

The young woman behind the counter smiled once more. She too had been watching the equestrienne, and I sensed that both of us were awaiting — with considerable anticipation — the arrival of Trimble.

"You're gonna like this!" she said, putting a finishing swirl to the top of the pistachio.

Trimble arrived, also wearing jodhpurs and a pair of riding boots. He was 5'8". His pants were secured by tyrolean suspenders, and the sleeves of his white shirt were rolled up. He looked like a harried farmer, his gut ruining the slim line of the jodhpurs. The soles of his boots were peppered with a combination of hay and horse poop. His white hair seemed not to have been combed in quite a while. Springs of it lurched from his head, small lightnings herded into the sky. His demeanor as he approached his riding companion — I assumed she was his wife — was that of a man whose concentration on something important has been broken for no good reason.

"Yes, darling?"

"This...this gentleman here," she gestured toward the clerk, (the end of her index finger seemed to quiver with disparagement and had the look of a finger to the manor born) "refuses to get me a colder lemonade."

Trimble took the plastic bottle of lemonade into his right hand. He held it still for a moment. "It's cold enough, dearest."

"Trimble, did you hear me?"

"We have a refrigerator in South Hampton, don't we? It'll get colder there!" He glanced toward the clerk. "You deliver to The Hamptons, of course."

"Yes, sir."

"So, love, what's the problem?" he asked his wife.

"Is there anything else for you, sir?" my clerk asked me.

"Where do you suppose they keep their horses?" I asked her.

"They got stables over in Chelsea," she said. "You know, the horses go up and down in elevators."

She placed the three scones and the jar of jam in a paper bag that was printed with a logo for "Eli's Bread" with a quote from Eli Zabar himself that read, "The best, however you slice it."

"But I never seen it," she said.

She handed me the two ice cream cups, with two napkins and two plastic spoons. Ringing up the order, she awaited my money.

I paused for a moment, just as Trimble's wife turned away from him in a huff. I noticed she mouthed a somewhat vulgar profanity — about his sexual approaches to his mother, actually — as she retreated. She had left him with the raspberry lemonade, and he continued examining it, seeming not to notice that she'd gone.

The cash register computer screen read $55.00, and I thought for a moment that that must represent the change due me. But I hadn't paid yet. I looked at my companion on the other side of the counter.

"Fifty five," she said.

A bit dazed — confused, actually — I searched in my shoulder bag for my wallet. Trimble arrived behind me, the next customer. It took me a while to find the wallet.

"Hey, pal, you waitin' for the light to change?" he asked.

Five minutes later Bea and I were in the midst of our ice creams. It was a June afternoon, the Manhattan air lovely with a slight breeze. I hadn't told her about the $55.00 charge for the two ice creams, the jam and the three scones. I was too embarrassed. Even more, though, I was thrilled by the ice cream itself, which was cold and paradisiacal.

The next morning we heated the scones, and the butter I placed on them dispersed itself through the open chambers of each roll exactly in the manner I had imagined. The grand dollop of jam I spread across the surface of the broken-open scone seemed made of more raspberries than I ever would have thought possible.

Worth every penny, I thought.

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