Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Upper East Side

Lexington Avenue at 77th. This is the upper East Side. Think "Seinfeld." Think New Yorker magazine. You have to be rich to live here. Not recently rich, but raised rich, and so rich that everyone else you know is rich and you rarely rub elbows with anyone who isn't. Except the servants and the shopkeepers, many of whom are white Europeans--Irish building contractors, Swedish au pairs, and Southern European shopkeepers.

Anticipating my visit to New York, and wanting to blend in, I'd purchased a bright fuchsia Perlina purse with fashionable white stitching and silver strap buckles. For the past few days, I've been puzzled, since all the women in mid-town and on the upper West Side are carrying serviceable black purses. Stepping out of the subway at 77th, I realized my purse had found its home: I saw pink bags, lime bags, and mango bags--just like in the catalogs!--and every woman had a purse with long straps so it could be carried on her shoulder, leaving her hands free to tote multiple designer shopping bags.

Ray's Pizza has an little outpost on the upper East Side and I stopped in for a slice of plain Neapolitan pizza. As I was sitting there nibbling, a very young couple came in pushing two babies in a vehicle that I guess could be called a doublewide stroller. Both doors of the restaurant had to be opened to get it inside. I realized I was looking at one of the $2,000 European baby carriages I'd read about in the Wall Street Journal.

I headed back to the subway, trying not to stare at women in pastel tweed suits and pointy-toed high heels, men wearing $400 chinos, and beautifully dressed children trotting dutifully along with their nannies. But then I saw something even more eye-catching. Standing at the corner beside me as we waited for the light, was a Satmar. A young man in his 20s, he was wearing a brown fur hat the size and shape of a small merry-go-round, a mid-calf-length shiny satin overcoat, knickers, white stockings, and black formal shoes. And, of course, payess.

This being the self-absorbed East Side, none of the locals even looked up from their cafe au lait and brioche as he strode across Lexington, hat flapping, and headed down 77th toward Central Park. That was perhaps the most New Yorker moment of all, for what would New Yorker be without the cartoons?

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