I Ain’t No Challah Bread Girl?
(Well, that’s what the waitress thought.)
We all have our triggers—the little things that make us react irrationally. I was recently reminded of one of my biggest irritants—being taken for a provincial, doughy, middle-aged Midwesterner. In reality, I’m only one of those things, okay two because I think it is fair to say I’m mid-life. But I’m a transplant and one who has lived in two of the largest metropolises in the world and traveled a bit more than most. Before my accent betrayed me I have been taken as a local in London and in Paris. I lived 11 years in New York City so I don’t consider myself a natural Midwesterner though I don’t deny I take to it very well. But my adopted region’s craft beers and fine cheeses have made me soft. They have rounded my edges and made me less the sophisticated, urbanite I once thought I was. I’m in the midst of an identity crisis. What I feel I am inside is not what the world sees on the outside and don’t I now know it.
My family and I recently dropped down to Chicago for the night because every so often I need to feel the rush of a big city again. And Chicago is lovely. However, three things stand out to me from this quick trip. In chronological order, I’ll begin with dinner. The waitress was hellbent on us enjoying our trip to Chicago. She wanted to know if this was our first time here and what we thought. I assured it wasn’t even our first time in this particular restaurant. But she kept whizzing by with laughable frequency until Richard preempted her fifth or sixth pass by raising his hand in a stop motion and declared the scallops were still good.
Later, walking back to our hotel, a woman who was no stranger to a grift or two, was trying to sell tourists postcards she’d clearly pocketed in bulk from a souvenir shop. When I told her I wasn’t interested she told me I should watch how I carried my pocketbook, that I could not trust anyone. It was too much. Whatever veneer of belonging, ease and naturalness in my surroundings that I thought I sported on my travels was clearly cracked and peeling. I snapped, “I have lived all over the world, I know how to carry my bag!” Boy, I told her, right?
It was the next morning though, that I had to completely surrender to my new image—the one that strangers saw but that I did not want to accept. We were in a diner to have breakfast and the young waitress told me without any request to do so what Challah bread was. Who the hell doesn’t know what Challah bread is I thought? I wanted to scream “I’ve been eating Challah bread since before you were born, don’t you dare try to expand my horizons with something you clearly only learned since taking this job! Don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs.”
And that was it. I had mentally compared myself to a wizened sage wise in all matters involving yeast (in this case) and found the situation ridiculous, embarrassing and angering. I complained aloud to Richard when the waitress had left and, no, I did not order the Challah bread. It turned out Richard didn’t know what Challah bread was. It wasn’t big in England. Sigh.
I know I often make my own problems but I was let down to realize you can take the girl out of the city and that time can take the city out of the girl. I need a pied à terre in New York. Some place to keep a toehold in urban comings and goings, some place to keep the gelatin from setting in my current mold. Who’s in? I’ll make sure we have plenty of Challah bread French toast for breakfast.