Perfect Day New York 2001 - Nita Rao
Photograph by Sylvia Plachy
And so it is afternoon on West 11th Street, 47 degrees Fahrenheit, and is that Gwyneth Paltrow's window? Gwyneth loves Mr. Knightley. Gwyneth hates Mr. Knightley. I wish I were Gwyneetha Paltrao. Outside MAGNOLIA BAKERY (401 Bleecker Street, 462-2572) is a grasshopper-colored bench where I sit and braid my hair, tying the ends with two black elastics from my back pocket. "Daisy, Daisy give me your answer true," sings a father to his small, prim daughter who is deliberating over cupcakes. She is a spelling-bee champion, a Calvinist, the sole long divider in Mr. Facinoli's first-grade class. All around there are corollaries to dissections, vowels upon vowels. "Grits is a cereal if you put sugar in it, and if you don't, it's porridge," pronounces the Contessa with the crumpled leather skin. "What's an isthmus, anyway?" a vagrant pirate growls into his spittoon. Then this final dispatch from a Coco to her fellow: "Harry, I swear, Ray Mancini the Cat prefers marshmallow fluff." Theirs is not a dalliance.
And so autumn becomes evening and East 9th Street becomes our night. Outside is 41 degrees Fahrenheit and smells like burnt peanut brittle, Vicks VapoRub, and gin. Chandeliers are strung awning to awning, and inside a shop shaped like a shoebox, wedding gowns hang from a rack, rice-pudding pinafores poured over Elizabethan hula hoops. At VESELKA (144 Second Avenue, 228-9682), the man who used to make my sister's heart hurt is eating a tomato sandwich, shearing off the crusts into four precise right angles. Each intersection is slicked with a mayonnaise patina. Observe the skin that skims his wrist, a seven-centimeter acre; it is the pristine gossamer of a milk bubble. He waves. She has moved on. You are who you are through experience, John Locke. "Merlin Olsen was never on Highway to Heaven," sniffs an uppity lipstick christener. Did she baptize "Forward Fig"? Along the way to Avenue A, a girl in a spangled paisley cloche stoops to retie her laces, a wispy Capulet for the ages. It is an inadvertent genuflection, but earnest, and suddenly this seems like enough. Petticoat. Daisy. Gwyneth. The End.