It is depressing enough to allow yourself the indulgence of piling on food items from the buffet at the Lower East Side Whole Foods and then go to the upstairs dining area to consume it alone on a Saturday night. But what’s actually more depressing is eating while looking up at images of African children with names like Rosine (age 13) from Congo whose future ambition is to become a surgeon, or Gladys (age 11) from Côte d’Ivoire, who wants to be a mechanic. Evidently, Gladys is a man’s name in Côte d’Ivoire.
While, yes, Whole Foods is doing its best to be uplifting and assure that it’s not secretly just another evil empire, all it’s really iterating is that you’re a dickhead for eating steamed broccoli and goat cheese-packed zucchini while the photograph of Rosine stares back at you with hopeful eyes that say, “Please help me become a surgeon.” You know she’s never going to become one. In the meantime, the unignorable crooning of Frank Sinatra’s “Saturday Night Is The Loneliest Night of the Week” serves only to make this suffering you can’t affect all the more vivid.
Éric, recently moved to the Lower East Side for a translating job at, what else, a startup for a French restaurant locator app, didn’t want to end up at Whole Foods, per se. And yet, it seemed to be happening a lot lately. Maybe it had to do with how non-judgmental a setting it was for being the sort to dine alone. After all, Éric had only just moved to the city a month ago from Lyon. He had counted on making, at the very least, a few acquaintances at his new workplace, but he quickly discovered that working in New York did not guarantee a built-in social system.
The only person who ever bothered to even ask him to go to lunch was Veronica, a svelte, pale developer in her early thirties with short black hair that was always slicked back to look like a swim cap. Éric, starved for attention and female companionship, relished these outings with Veronica to places like The Spaghetti Incident and Taquitoria. He felt she knew everything about where to go to eat, except, of course, when it came to French restaurants. Lately, she had been asking him to drinks after work, too, and he wondered if she was trying to hint at something more between them. But, in all his French male feyness and timidity, he couldn’t bring himself to confirm through some physical advance if his suspicions were correct.
So here he was, alone at the Whole Foods, forced to think about Rosine and Gladys instead. Maybe being totally alone in the world wasn’t as bad as being poverty-stricken and starved–though it didn’t always feel that way.
Looking down at the remainder of his “hot bar” meal, Éric became awash with melancholy. Was it worth it to have left the established relationships he had back in Lyon all for the sake of money and professional advancement? It didn’t seem so after so many Saturdays spent in solitude at this godforsaken grocery store.
The girl he had left behind after two years together, Mélodie, had also been haunting him of late: her pathetic expression when he told her he would be moving, the way the ash from her cigarette–which she seemed to clutch to for comfort–needed to be shaken off, but in her haze of disbelief she just let it burn.
What if Mélodie was the only person who could ever love him and he had just hastily thrown her away for the sake of some disposable New York lifestyle? Thus far, Veronica was the only viable replacement, and he was really only into her because she was semi-attainable. Continuing to poke the remainder of his food around–mostly artichokes that looked good at the time he chose them out, but now appeared shriveled and puke-like against the backdrop of the box–Éric glanced over at the gray-haired man who had just sat down on the step next to him. Judging from his haggard aesthetic, he had lived in New York City for most of his life.
Angling his body away from the old man, Éric thought to himself, “Is this going to be how people here react to me when I reach that age? Like I’m diseased, emanating off some contagious sickness of dejection.” This glimpse into the future made Éric shudder. Either that, or it was the artichoke he had just tried to get down.
Though he knew he would be disappointing Rosine and Gladys in doing so, he tossed the remaining untouched food into the trash. Like William Holden as Joe Gillis said in Sunset Boulevard, Éric “just had to get out of there…had to be with people [his] own age…had to hear somebody laugh again.”
But stepping out onto Houston Street, there was no laughter, simply the abrasive sound of horns clamoring to be heard and the occasional snatch of First World problem conversation between couples contemplating where to get their inaugural drink of the evening. Éric was alone, yet again.