By now you may have heard that the 9th Street Bakery is closing after 87 years in business. The landlord has doubled the rent. So I went inside, on a freezing winter's afternoon, and sat down with a cup of hot coffee.
The bakery was cold. The tops of the tables like slabs of ice. I kept my coat on. The radio played classical music, Beethoven's "Appassionata." Now and then, a customer came and went.
1. "Can I have an onion rye?"
The air judders with the vibrations of the slicing machine.
2. "Do you have a small challah, besides this one?" She coughs and lowers her grocery bags to the floor with a heavy sound. "That's Beethoven's sonata. Nice to walk into a store and hear something like that instead of the garbage they play everywhere. I listen to almost nothing but classical music. I guess I'm more monochromatic that way."
She leaves. The refrigeration condenser comes on growling, rattles on a bit, then stops. The bakery man counts money. It shuffles softly in his hands. A voice on the radio tells us it will be cold tonight and snow will fall but not accumulate. The bakery man yawns.
3. "Can I have two whole-wheat rolls? And a large rye?"
"No, thanks." The young woman waits, softly humming and bouncing on her heels.
Across the street, the Bean mini-chain is full of people--drinking coffee, eating pastries, all gazing into the light of their laptop screens. People walk by the 9th Street Bakery, smiling lovingly into the faces of their iPhones. Inside, one customer departs, minutes pass, and another enters.
4. "Challah, please. Oh, I want to come in here with claws on and just make people have tea! I love this place. There's no TV, so it's a good place for conversation. So much better than the other places." She wishes the bakery man luck and leaves with her challah loaf.
5. "I'll take a coffee and a doughnut. And I'll give ya 20 dollars tomorrow." He sits without paying (he must run a tab), hurriedly dunks the doughnut (chocolate glazed) in the coffee, gulps it down in sopping, dripping pieces, and leaves.
Outside, it's getting darker. In the headlights of an idling black SUV, snow begins to fall, just like the radio promised. The classical station flickers out, breaks into static, allows a voice from a neighboring station to intrude, screaming: "Check out the awesomeness! Yaaaah!" The room's blood pressure jolts. But the bakery man fiddles with the dial and soft music soon returns us to our reverie.
6. "Apple strudel and coffee, please." He sits down in his black beret and opens a book on the table in front of him. "Is that a Mozart French horn? I believe it is. You always have good music in here. I approve."
Now it's my turn to leave. I step outside feeling transformed by the 9th Street Bakery. I feel calm, less angry than I usually do on the street. It's as if I've been drugged with some mild and delightful soporific. The East Village seems benevolent, and I find myself humming as I walk through it. More and more, we are losing the places that make us feel better about life and the city. What happens when they're all gone?