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Thursday, May 9, 2013

fancy yokel

So here we are.

Last week, I had a slightly awkward situation: My Pittsburgh was showing.

There we were, husband and I, at the swank-tastic CafĂ© Carlyle to see Paul Williams, legend and pal. Fancy nights like these are somewhat rare for us. It’s not that we’re hermits; we’re simply humble… not to mention that there are certain factors that play into whether or not we find ourselves where the elite meet to eat (or alternately, where the refined combine to dine). But when the stars align -- seats are available/schedule is free/nothing good is on TV -- and we find ourselves with the appropriate disposable income, it’s a treat to play dress-up and play the Manhattanites that our zip code suggests we should be.

I’ve been living in New York City for just shy of two decades, and even though I have hit all the necessary rites of passage to call myself a New Yorker, there are times when I walk into the sweller city establishments and can sense every affluent head snapping up in unison, like forest creatures who have just smelled Man: something is not right. The waitstaff size me up, and I feel like a Zooey Deschanel character without the huge eyes and inherent charm. I smile, and hope that my new lipstick will fool them.

Can they tell that I don’t drink, and therefore will not be running up a giant tab? Or is it that I chose not to check my coat? Neither of these actions are cost-cutting: I rarely drink, and I’m usually chilly. (There must be something about the wealthy and well-bred that prevent them from being cold. The ladies are always sleeveless.) Or do they know the truth - that I’m from Pittsburgh?

Pittsburgh is not a hick town by any stretch of the imagination, even if it’s technically flyover country. It has more than its share of culture, this city that gave the world Warhol and Wilson and Carnegie, the city where Previn held the baton and where radio was born, the city of cathedrals and rivers. But it’s also a land of pierogies and Steelers and cans of Iron City Beer washing down a hoagie. To put it bluntly, no restaurant would dare open near the Three Rivers that offered a $75 fish, even for the richest, snootiest Pittsburgher who’s working to ditch the accent. Granted, I’ve been gone a while. But I don’t think I’m wrong about the fish. 

I shouldn’t care about any of that. I really shouldn’t. But just as I’m not brave enough to wear a Yankees cap at Fenway, so too am I not brave enough to let my Pittsburgh show at fancy times, wherever the glitterati embody to party. Perhaps I tip my hand when I express joy at the fact that the Diet Coke is served in classy little glass bottles, or when they have those fabulous thick hand towels in the ladies’ room (they are great for cleaning glass), but I play it cool as much as I can.

I try to be a polite person under normal circumstances, but when I am nervously treading social waters, my manners go through the freakin’ roof. I suppose it’s my “tell,” to use the gambler’s phrasing. Everything is lovely, nothing is troublesome. Do not even glance at the prices. You have seen and eaten double-digit bisque before. Yes, please, pepper would be lovely. Certainly, yes, bread would be lovely. Everything would be lovely, as there is no other adjective I can think to use other than lovely. And where, may I ask, is the la-va-to-ry?  Zooey Dechanel is gone; now I am Jennifer Tilly in Bullets Over Broadway. Charm, charm, charm…

Paul’s show was fabulous, and the magical thing about the Carlyle, as everyone who has been there will tell you, is the sheer intimacy of the space. You are there and then some, all together, artist and audience communing as one. That room is probably where the term rubbing elbows came from, as there is much of it literally occurring. But the best part is that once the house lights go down and the spotlight comes up, nobody cares where you’re from.

At the end of the show, the little leather folios came out en masse. It had been previously established that the evening was my treat. (Lucky am I to have such a progressively-minded husband that he doesn’t mind this at all.) I’d done a mental tally of the cover charge and our appetizers and dessert and several little glass bottles of Coke - diet and classic - and I was ready to splurge. It had been a great night. We never do this. Bring on the truth. 

And then I started giggling. Uncontrollably. So many numbers. So many gratuity lines. I’d never had the option to tip a captain before. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t want to Google captain tipping. But I kept giggling. My shoes grew 6 sizes, my dress hung on me like a caftan - I wasn’t a New Yorker enjoying a night out on the town. I was a little girl playing dress-up. A little girl from Pittsburgh, giggling at a fact she could barely fathom:

The little glass bottles of Coke were eight bucks. Each. 

It’s New York’s little secret that no one likes to talk about: no matter how long you’ve lived here, you never truly get over the sticker shock, unless you’ve hit the motherlode. And even then, I would wager that billionaires like Mike Bloomberg would still widen their eyes at the notion of an eight-dollar Coke in a little glass bottle. That’s a dollar an ounce, Mr. Mayor. A buck for ten measly calories. Not even he would have the gall to add a soda tax on top of that. 

And I giggled, not just because it was ridiculous, but also because I could hear the thickly ‘Burgh-accented voices of my late grandparents, and my mother, and my uncles, listing all of the other things that eight dollars would buy, as they were wont to do - and still are: You gotta be kidding me! Eight dollars? You could get a *blank* for that! You could get a *blank* plus a *blank* to go with it for that! You gotta be out of your mind! Eight dollars? No thank you! And that was my Pittsburgh showing. Because I was thinking the same thing. 

I eventually composed myself, grinning in a big stupid way that no one should grin when they are doing math on a number that big. Sure, my Pittsburgh was showing, but if I tipped 22% post-tax, no one would care.

It was totally worth it. Plus, I like ramen noodles and peanut butter. 

Yes indeed. Welcome to me.


  1. I read this post while drinking a far cheaper diet coke... and nearly spit it out all over my monitor when I got to the price. That sounds like a lovely (sorry) evening though! Are there pictures or other writeups about it anywhere? :)

  2. Wait, I don't think you're supposed to tip on the cover charge, are you? And we subtracted my $24 glass of champagne from the total, too, and tipped on that (greatly reduced) sum.