SCOOP DU JOUR is a weekly column by food enthusiast Hannah Howard about eating, cooking, and exploring her way through New York. From a visit with the City’s greatest grocer to discovering the “umami” of love, Fridays are packed with the unique flavor only Hannah can coax out of a culinary experience.
I got off the PATH train in Hoboken and set out to find a job.
I spent high school in a frenzied state of studying and editing literary magazines, and fencing (even though I hated it), and studying more, and burying my stress in massive slabs of greasy spanakopita and plumes of pot.
Then I got into college and everything changed. I was free like never before, the weight of a hundred Humvees unchained from between my shoulder blades. I had big plans for my summer. I wanted to do something unambitious like make eight bucks an hour scooping ice cream, read a lot of trashy mags, and sleep.
My parents moved from a house in Princeton to an apartment in Hoboken the day after my high school graduation, and I moved with them. I didn’t know a soul. A job — I needed a job.
I met Lonnie in the first five minutes of my job search. There was a shiny new restaurant with an orange awning, right outside the PATH station. First, I saw his hostess, unfathomably bored. I had a resume and a blazer.
“Hi, may I speak to a manager? I came to see about job opportunities.”
She rolled her eyes and disappeared. Then there was Lonnie, in chef whites, with a smile that contained its own conversation. He shook my hand and offered me a soda.
We sat, sipping from straws. I learned we were both poets. I learned Lonnie ran the business for his dad, with whom he was not speaking to these days. It was his 38th birthday.
“I was just thinking of opening a little gelato bar, outside for the summer. And now you’re here on my birthday. It’s a sign.”
“I could scoop gelato. I really like gelato.” Gelato is still one of my loves.
And thus concluded my job search. I was back the next week, rolling out Lonnie’s new ice cream cart to the patio, wiping it with a bleach-soaked rag until it shone. We debated: mint chocolate chip or chocolate chip cookie dough. He bought me a racehorse of a scooper.
I got into a rhythm: roll out cart, wipe cart obsessively, count my cash, wait, wait, read, wait, sell a scoop.
I liked the hazelnut the best. “The gelato is not for the staff,” Lonnie told me, but he’d fill up quart containers with strawberry and vanilla when the line was slow, the pink melting down the sides, and hand out cups to the menacing meat cook and the rest of his crew.
When the place was slow, which was often, Lonnie would come outside to chat. It was lonely — the gelato biz was not going so well — and I liked his stories. They rose and fell in giant crests. I remember one about cooking lobster for his girlfriend in a giant pot. “That bitch stole my pot,” he told me.
There were stories about whether or not to keep the girlfriend, who I imagined was blonde and wore pastel polo shirts and smiled rarely. Then he’d resume laughing with one of our regulars, or barking at his dad on the phone in his swivel-y office chair, feet up, door closed.
I tried not to let him see me read, which I did all day. It was really, really slow in the sticky New Jersey summer. Gelato customers were scarce. I wasn’t used to being bored, and wasn’t good at it. I cracked my fingers. The heat churned my stomach. I made up the elaborate details of the lives of the moms who passed by with strollers, and the teenagers in short, short shorts.
“Punch out.” Lonnie said, a week into my new job. We walked together to the park across the street, the Manhattan skyline drunk on its own beauty in the outrageous summer sun. “Do you smoke,” he passed me a joint, his face near my face, and held up a light. The heat was immense, as if his skin was all lit up. His cheek rested on my cheek for a moment, soft, and I stopped breathing for a few beats. When I got back to work I was no longer bored. The sky was translucent like ice.
I spent the rest of the summer at Lonnie’s apartment.
“Come over,” he’d text. “No sex, just wanna cuddle.” I didn’t mind the lie.
We watched movies, got high and giggly, or high and sad. The girlfriend returned his big pot, left it outside his apartment door, and was not mentioned again.
When I went to college, moved out from my parents’ place, I could spend the night with him. He woke me, 2 a.m., 4 a.m., or 6 a.m. “I need to go for a walk. I need you to come with me.”
He’d tie his scarf around my neck, and we’d walk and walk down Riverside Drive, the wind whistling, and he’d tell stories with punchlines missing.
Lonnie quit his job, called his father an asshole, was going to open a club in the East Village, and then was no longer going to open a club. He taught housewives to scuba dive. He did pushups. He went out. He talked about moving to Miami, or Berlin. “New York gets so cold,” he said, like he was already far away.
I came to his apartment after I got mugged; a black-coated man pushed a gun into my side and I gave him my wallet, all 20 bucks.
“You need to be careful,” Lonnie said, and took me up in the big, warm space of his chest.
“I think you should see someone your age,” he told me one day, soon after. His chin was scratchy, his eyes sad.
“I like seeing you.”
But Lonnie was gone. He didn’t answer his phone, his door. We didn’t have a world in common, friends, a life. I wrote him a letter, left it shoved under his apartment door.
“Like the lobster pot,” I thought. I cried a lot. His restaurant closed its doors, and a tanning parlor opened in its place. Winter came, New York got cold, and the cold cut through my bones, sharp and stinging and wild.
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