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A Taste of Union Square
The N train rattled and shook with thundering speed as it raced through the dark tunnels below New York City. I turned another page in the paperback copy of The Alchemyst lying in my hands. Sophie turned to Nicholas in surprise, her eyes wide... I allowed my thoughts to wander off as my eyes glided across the page. Union Square would be crowded. It was a Friday afternoon, and the city would be crawling with all manner of people, all eager to be anywhere but home, out and about and everywhere. It wasn't going to be easy finding my brother in a crowd like that. I blinked, my thoughts returning to the book. What was on fire? Realizing I hadn't remembered anything in the last page, I sighed and stuffed the book into my backpack.
The loudspeaker crackled. “Fourteenth street, Union Square!” the conductor yelled in what I thought was a thick Indian accent. I picked up my backpack, slung it onto my shoulder, and strode out of the train. The platform was packed. To my right, a man sat in a folding-chair playing a foreign instrument not unlike a violin, but also somewhat similar to a banjo. A tall gentleman with a black coat shoved his way past me onto the train just as the doors closed. As I walked by the banjo-man, I briefly considered dropping a dollar bill into the “violanjo” case at his feet, but I was swept away in the stream of people, the current too fast for me to just stand still.
My hand rested on the cold, shiny metal banister as I ascended the staircase. My legs had fallen asleep on the train, and walking up the stairs was a pain. “Why can't all the train stations be above-ground...” I grumbled to myself as I took the last step up. The smell of fresh, outside air immediately filled my lungs, and all the sounds of the city flooded my ears. Cell phones ringing on and off, people talking in every direction. Through a grate in the sidewalk I could hear another train take off, rattling and thumping as it rode away. An army of taxis raced by on the road, like a school of big yellow fish. To my right, a man in a brown jacket and winter hat sat on a small stool next to a small table with a chessboard. I saw a tall bearded fellow sit down on the stool across from him, and the two started a game. To my left, a small crowd had gathered in a circle to watch something I couldn't see.
“Leo!” I turned around at the sound of my brother's voice. “Hey,” he waved. I blinked, “Simon, what are you wearing?” My brother stood a few feet away from me, dressed in a fuzzy... something between a robe and a fur coat. He shrugged, “I dunno, it's comfy.” This answer was satisfactory enough, partly because he was Simon, an eighteen-year-old college student with his own strange self-developed fashion style, and because we were in New York, where a man can walk down the street in a bunny costume and nobody will even give him a second look.
Across the street, by the six-story mall with the words “WHOLE FOODS” in big green letters on the wall, I spotted a man me and most of my friends know as “Catman,” because he has a habit of walking around Union Square with a live cat on his head. A belly dancer handed out flyers under a nearby tree while a little Chinese boy in a tux sat playing the keyboard only a few feet away. Right nearby where we stood, a pair of men in tele-tubby costumes were distributing “FREE HUGS.”
New York. I often take it for granted, but it really is something spectacular. Big, loud, a jumbled mess of everything everywhere, and I love it. “Isn't it hard to believe sometimes that not everyone lives in a city like this one? Most of the world lives far away in quiet suburbs. They have to drive cars everywhere they go, most of their buildings are at most three stories tall, and they fall asleep to silence,” I said to Simon, “How do they stand it?” Simon looked up from his phone, “Sorry I was texting Mom. She’ll be here in half an hour. What were you saying?” I shook my head, “Never mind.”
“Is it just me, or are you starving?” he asked. “Yeah, it would be good to get something to eat,” I agreed. He looked around, “Whole Foods is a bit expensive, wouldn't you say? And I'm not really in the mood for tacos. Market?” I nodded, “Market.” We turned in the direction of the Union Square Green Market and started off. A man at the edge of the sidewalk, at an easel, waved to us and called, “Hey, wanna drawing?” I smiled but shook my head, and we kept walking.
If you've ever visited the Union Square Green Market, you'll know what I mean when I say it was busy. It was a Friday evening, and the place was packed with all kinds of people, buying and selling, browsing and eating and sampling. Pointy tarp roofs were set up over various counters and stands, loaded with boxes of all kinds of food. To my right there were vegetables; cucumbers of different lengths and various breeds of squash. Tomatoes (which, if you're picky, aren't actually a vegetable) were also present in many different varieties. Another stand held boxes upon boxes of apples and pears, in the many colors and flavors the two come. Neither of these seemed like a very good snack, so we walked on.
The most memorable thing about that market, in my opinion, is the cider. Hot, steamy, sweet apple cider for warming you up on a cold autumn afternoon. Just walking by the stand and smelling the rich, sweet, lofty aroma of the juice gave me the shivers. A woman in a gray sweater stood by the plastic barrel, filling up cups for $2.50 apiece. Across from the cider stand, under a blue tarp, stood the baked goods counter, and it was there that Simon and I stopped. Simon picked up an apple scone wrapped in plastic, looked it over, and then put it down. I counted six dollars in my pocket, just enough for two of most anything on the counter. We bought a pair of cranberry-apple scones and headed for the park.
Just around the middle of Union Square Park, there's a small area full of bright green chairs and tables, each with its own table-umbrella. Simon and I took a seat at one of the tables and unwrapped our scones. On the table was a copy of New York Magazine, “FOOD!” issue someone had left behind. The cover was lined with different loaves of bread. I flipped it open to around the middle, where I found an article about the cleanliness of the tap water in New York, and bit into my scone. The inside was tart and sweet, the taste overwhelmingly strong. The outside layer of dough was flaky and soft, and the whole thing was delicious.
A curious gray squirrel crept over to the foot of the table, then suddenly changed its mind the very next second and darted off into the bushes. Simon laughed, held his arm out to where the squirrel had disappeared, and produced a series of sharp clicking sounds. The rodent poked its head out, took a few hesitant steps forward, and sniffed at Simon's finger. I frowned, “Careful, it might bite you!” Simon laughed again. “It's not gonna bite me,” he said, and though he sounded certain, he withdrew his hand. The squirrel looked around in every direction and darted off again, scampering up a nearby tree and disappearing from sight.
As the sun slowly set behind the tall building with a Starbucks on the first floor, Simon and I chatted away, speaking of how his life was going at college and what I'd been up to. We didn't notice as the moon rose, and how afternoon turned to evening. We didn't know how that Friday evening would end, perhaps when our mother came we would head to a movie theater or a restaurant, or maybe there would be some kind of interesting live show going on at Times Square. It seemed as though the entire city was heading somewhere, in an undetermined direction, with no end in sight, and we were part of it. We didn't know where we were headed as we sat there at that bright green table, but we knew that we'd be glad when we got there.