Last weekend I was in New York City for a meeting about The Most Fabulous Project I’m working on for Serial Box: a thirteen episode serialized story set in the Restoration, and… okay, I’m getting off topic. I was in New York, city of my birth and of my heart, and even better, in the neighborhood where we lived when my daughters were born.
Lots of things have changed. You expect that in New York–particularly in a neighborhood that was going through growing and gentrification pains even before we moved away 13 years ago. The old-style restaurant down the block from P.S. 163 (my younger daughter’s kindergarten) has been replaced by a Whole Foods. Gabriela’s, our favorite Mexican restaurant on Amsterdam, has moved to Columbus Avenue and gone upscale. The McDonalds on Columbus and 90th is gone (I didn’t think McDonaldses ever went away). Some stores have had long-overdue facelifts. And Food City is closed.
I think–though I haven’t been able to confirm this–that Food City has a brief role in a wonderful movie called They Might Be Giants, in which the protagonists (George C. Scott, playing a judge who thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes, and Joanne Woodward, playing a psychiatrist named Watson) are cornered by the police in a large supermarket fronted by an empty plaza.* More importantly to this story, it’s also where I did my grocery shopping for the ten-or-so years that we lived near by. I fought skirmishes with my daughters over candy at the checkout counter. As a toddler my younger daughter had a pretend game she played where she would be an abandoned child who lived in Food City and hoped I would take her home and adopt her (the ladies at the checkout found it hard to keep a straight face when this was going on).
And on 9/11, I went over to the market to pick up a few things, because the world was looking a little chancy just then, and who knows if we’d need milk and apple juice? I’ve said elsewhere that what I saw at Food City moved me: people picking up a gallon of milk–but not two–a package of toilet paper, but not two, and so on. You could practically see the thought balloon over their heads: “someone else might need some too.” It made New York feel just a little safer, there in this little crowded down-market supermarket.
I have lived off and on in New York for a large chunk of my life. Things change. Tear down a building and you find the echoes of buildings that stood there before. Dig for a subway and find a cemetery or the bones of a ship beached centuries ago. But you get accustomed to thinking that some things are fixtures. Heaven knows enough “why is that place still there?” stores and buildings still exist. But I raise a metaphorical glass to Food City, where I knew where the flour, pork shoulder, and olive oil lived, and where I saw my city at its best.
* Really, find They Might Be Giants. It’s a perfectly lovely film that will repay the search.