Corrado Bread and Pastry
New York, NY
After college, my friends and I decided to decamp en masse for New York City. We rented terrible hovels of apartments on the far Upper East Side. In hindsight we should have checked out Brooklyn, but this was back when you just had to live in Manhattan, and, oddly, the closer to the river you got, the cheaper it was. We lived in apartments a thirty minute walk to the nearest 6 station, apartments unencumbered by natural light or bathroom sinks (you brushed and spit in the kitchen), apartments with unmodulatable central heat and holes in the ceiling and rabbit warren bedrooms in which you could touch opposing walls simultaneously. So on weekends, when the weather was even remotely nice enough, we sprung ourselves free of our air-shaft bunkers and dawdled in the sun wherever we could find it.
Such dawdling primarily took place in Central Park and also at a coffee shop called Corrado, on the corner of 70th and Lexington, just north of Hunter College, where Lex begins to shed its hustle, the aluminum-signed bagel shops and techno-throbbing women’s shoe stores and sepia-tinted smoke shops dropping away like a wealthy woman letting her bag, her gloves, her fur fall to a marble floor as she comes in to her townhouse.
We would often stop at Corrado on our way to Central Park for iced coffee and overpriced panini sandwiches. The inside was incredibly cramped and busy—always a line out the door, always difficult to make your order heard over the train station din of the multiple espresso machines firing on all cylinders. But if we managed to corral one of the three or four small, wobbly outside tables, we’d never leave, feeling we’d been handed a tiny New York miracle. We would sit there for hours under the brown awning and debate the kinds of things you debate in your early twenties: Did we drink too much? How dangerous was cocaine, really? Did we want to go to grad school? Should we go see a movie? Was it bad to buy cigarettes from that one newsstand where they charged six dollars a pack instead of eight? Did this mean the newsstand was remitting money to terrorist groups? What did it mean to be socially liberal but fiscally conservative, really? Would we ever become inured to the soullessness of nine-to-five office work? When looking for a new shitty apartment, was it better to use Craigslist, or to pay a broker? Why hadn’t he ever called? (Had we sent him too many drunk texts? Did we have too much pubic hair? How expensive was a Brazilian wax, anyway?) Why did we feel so invisible? And, though our continued inability to conceive of our own mortality was made evident by the very phrasing of the question, we wondered: Did this mean we would die alone?
We’d go back inside for a second coffee and succumb to the lure of some gleaming fruit tart in the deli case. We’d watch small brown birds scavenging bran muffin crumbs under the tables, or read Sunday Times sections left behind by some rich and thoughtless adult. We’d eavesdrop on the Upper East Side conversations happening at the other tables:
He gets the apartment, so I can’t divorce him—I could never leave that Fortuny wallcovering.
My kids just love activated almonds. Don’t yours?
That parking spot costs as much per month as a small studio apartment. We should just leave the Range Rover in Connecticut and take the train out.
There used to be something so chic about working in publishing. Now it’s just tired editorial assistant schlepping out to Astoria every night. I could never—I’m so glad I got out when I did. Now I can be really present with my kids, you know? And focus on my charity work and my yoga practice.
She says Brad Johns does her highlights, but once I saw her going into a Dramatics on Eighth Ave. Don’t even ask me what I was doing on Eighth. This was when I was having the affair with John. He used to live in one of those “luxury” high-rises right next to the Port Authority. I mean, he was working at Goldman—he could have afforded Tribeca. So I made him move out. He got a place on Bank Street and that’s when I decided to end it. He was so much younger than me—at first it was exhilarating, but then I began to feel like his mother. I had too much power, you know?
We: knockabout, paycheck-to-paycheck, clinging to the very edges of Manhattan in our tumbledown apartments. Them: firmly ensconced in the bosom of Manhattan, nestled up against the park in solid, cozily recessed five-story townhouses, financially cocooned beyond our wildest dreams. Though our tables were practically touching, the space between us and them seemed as wide and infinite as Manhattan was not.
I would chug café au lait and later relieve myself in the tiny bathroom, knees pressed against the wastebasket. Everything was always cramped in New York, everything except those lazy afternoons on Lexington.
Excellent pastry and eavesdropping, if you can get it.
Liz lives and writes in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.