Behind the Scenes
Midtown Skin Essay Series Part 3 of 5: Lunch Hour
Can we stop all this? Can we just stop for an hour?
The Indian buffet on 39th Street simmers as fat men in blue suits break their day into two unequal pieces. Neither piece seems palatable, at this juncture. The morning was dull and the afternoon will be a replete – so the whole day is a tangled mess, layers of nothing upon layers of too much. Clients have weighed in, money is on the line, and all of the executives are out of office (OOO) selecting window dressings for their new condos in MiMa.
In the far corner of the Indian buffet is a young man who opted for the $1.50 pizza slice, sold just opposite of the curry counter. He is dressed in a cheap tailored suit – the kind that he probably had to ask around about. Not from a department store, not even from an outlet. He probably got it through a friend in fashion, a low-ranking officer at Giorgio Armani who often rushes samples from a factory in Chinatown or on 7th Avenue to one of the Armani project lofts between the Flatiron district and Union Square. The friend probably gave him the address of a certain tiny contract sewing company that can make anything custom for under $600. With cheap fabric you can get the price down into the mid $200s.
This is particular savvy young guy eating the pizza and reading the Financial Times is probably a money guy. But from where? What company? Where do his parents live?
The pizza suggests American – or even Eastern United States. But maybe he seems a little too comfortable in the cheap restaurant with the Indian mid-level managers and the construction workers blowing their drinking money on a big plate of Southern fare, reading a car magazine and thinking about their wives, maybe wondering how or why the blowjob from the night before got markedly better towards the end. She probably didn’t cheat. But she might have seen something online.
So maybe the pizza boy is from the West. Maybe his father said “go East young man.” Go back to the white hot core of American power and corruption – go live inside that death machine. So he said “Yeah OK dad.” As I said, the suit fits him well.
On the opposite side of the street is an upscale sandwich place. Turning away from the order counter, a slim brunette finds a seat. She waits for a $11 turkey sandwich, served on a sustainably minded stoneware plate in a room full of women talking shop. This particular woman fucked the pizza-guy-in-the-suit the night before. She really liked it.
There was a dancefloor on the Lower East Side. No lights. Just Joy Division, cocaine, a cab ride, a walk along the West Side Highway. And her nice apartment. They both know she can’t afford it.
They met, not at lunch, of course. Lunch isn’t the place for meeting. It’s also not a place for pleasure. Strangely enough – it isn’t really even a place for business.
Lunch is a weirdo animal, perched between work and work. A discipline gargoyle of American business life, warning workers to stay on task, but also aesthetically easing them into another five hours of blowing their souls on a paycheck and the things a paycheck can buy. A tradition of escape into food, a little flash of movement in the street, perhaps a peek into a store that sells the kind of things you’ll want to buy when your career advances a little further.
Meeting for lunch is the most delicate gesture of daytime. It is reserved for people who are very good friends and people who have already seen each other naked.
At the nice sandwich shop again. Across the room from from the slim brunette, I meet with a creative director who works downstairs and also edits a growing fashion publication. We speak of our current projects. I interned for his magazine two years ago – things are different now perhaps. We remain friends. We remain distant, yet assured of our separate business orbits. I know what someday we’ll work together again.
“How is your department?” he asks carefully. And then, “They [the ad agency] still know nothing of my work at the magazine.” We nod and understand each other.
‘Going to lunch’ is not ‘meeting for lunch.’ Everyone is required to ‘go to lunch’ – to wade knee deep in the shitfood lifestyle of midtown day culture.
You leave your desk and maybe get swept up in friend economy of others, maybe not. Loneliness is always an option and sometimes a good one.
Chinese food is always downstairs and to the left. You can spend six dollars on a plate of silence that lasts for 30 minutes with a room full of quiet lower-middle-class Manhattan desperation. You can do lunch alone. It doesn’t matter because lunch is about work.