An L.A. Orange in Manhattan
Transplanted Californians love to drone on smugly about how impossible it is to find superior produce, “real” fruits and vegetables in New York, like New Yorkers don’t even know what that stuff looks like. And usually one just blocks them out–umm, excuse me, ever heard of Federal Express?
But that was before the Day of the Orange, when our beloved returned from an otherwise fruitless trip to Los Angeles bearing half a dozen gigantic citrus picked up for 20 cents a pound at “oh, you know, just a little stand off Fairfax.”
They were oranges–or were they? They were as big as large-size grapefruits, barely fitting in one hand. What’s more, they had these pores on top–what would be called navels in a regular orange–except that these navels seemed to be sprouting, sprouting little mini-oranges caught in ravenous midfeed at Mama Orange’s belly.
Truth be told, they were grotesque. You brandished one at co-workers and they flinched. You felt faintly embarrassed to have it on your desk. People walked by and took potshots at it.
Still, it was perturbing to not be able to find a replica of this Angeleno super-orange in New York, where you’re supposed to be able to find anything . A Valentine’s Day jaunt to Gourmet Garage turned up blood oranges stained with red like Lady Macbeth, charming little kumquats, Joe-average navels–all presumably imported with commendable haste from exotic locales–but no fecund, grapefruit-scale oranges. Juan Vargas, the produce manager, promised he could get some, but he was vague about when, exactly. “The big ones–oof,” he said. “It’s very good fruit. Very nice and very sweet.”
But Mr. Vargas was missing the point. These were not nice, sweet oranges. These were killer. Perhaps too killer for the Manhattanite’s neurotically refined taste (which, let’s face it, tends to prize things like fingerling potatoes and baby carrots).
Peter Romano, produce manager at Fairway, seemed to suggest as much. “Those are big monsters,” he said as someone clamored for pignoli in the background. Apparently he’d been hooked up to the mega-orange by a special source in Florida, but turnover hadn’t been great. “I did O.K., I didn’t do too well,” he said. “Unfortunately, people have to get used to them. If I were out on the floor a little bit more than I should be, probably I could be a salesman about it and make people buy them.”
A phone call was placed to Dean & DeLuca, where a breathy recording eventually turned up a Kevin Pollack in produce. Did the fancy-dancy store stock the gigantic oranges? “Yes, we do, but what we have is a limited amount,” said Mr. Pollack. “They’re from California and also from Florida. They are a hot seller that we carry.” Had customers expressed any shock–needed any explanation? “Not in particular. They kind of speak for themselves,” said the produce manager in a tone suggesting that the average Dean & DeLuca shopper was worldly enough to handle oranges the size of bowling balls.
However, a trip to the actual Dean & DeLuca physical plant at 560 Broadway in SoHo revealed small, luscious persimmons jetted in from faraway lands, tangelos with obscene little nipples, a bin of Joe-average navels (priced at an astounding $1 each) and people in black leather blazers clutching espressos, and exactly zero rudely spawning King Kong oranges.
Down the street at Balducci’s, assistant produce manager Mauritzio Madonia claimed that the time for the uncommonly huge citrus was past. “It’s a very short season for those oranges,” he said. “They are out of stock, they are not available no more. We had it about two months ago, that’s it. It was the first time we got those oranges.”
Did they cause a stir?
“I had no problems with those oranges,” said Mr. Madonia “Nobody complained about it, you know. I don’t know, to me it looked all right. I cut one. It was not bad. It was good. The medium, that’s much better … We sell more of the medium than the large. It’s not scary, just people, they don’t know. They say, ‘Oh, it’s so big, what am I going to do with it for one person?'”
Perhaps New Yorkers are simply too selfish to understand, let alone to demand an orange that must be shared.
Web Purist Richard Metzger
Richard Metzger, 34-year-old founder of Disinformation.com, a Web site devoted to conspiracy theories, aliens, “magick” and the occult, stood in his West Village apartment showing off his treasures.
“This is a self-portrait of William Burroughs he did with George Condo,” Mr. Metzger said. He was pointing to a narrow wood box topped by a basketball, barbed wire and one of Burroughs’ distinctive hats.
His girlfriend, Naomi Nelson, 19, a former ballerina and now a student at Hunter College, was lying on a green couch across the room. “Everybody has tried it on,” she said of the hat.
Mr. Metzger pulled a pair of beat-up eyeglasses out of a plastic bag tacked to the box. “These are William Burroughs’ glasses!” he said.
Mr. Metzger grew up in Wheeling, W.Va. (population 34,000), where he spent a lot of time reading occult books in the public library. Now he has all this–the New York life, with the Burroughs souvenirs. On the logarithmic scale of Internet-gold-rush success, his ambitions look almost quaint. There are no I.P.O. stars in his eyes. Now, as a new batch of Web entrepreneurs compete with one another to do things like sell pet supplies or vitamins over the Net, Mr. Metzger looks like a purist simply because he still has a keen interest in what he does–not just faith that his business plan will be the next big thing.
He also worked on a TV show, for Britain’s Channel 4, called Disinfo Nation . One of the programs was about people who think they were forced to participate in C.I.A. time-travel experiments on Montauk Point, L.I. Mr. Metzger wants to expand the brand: books, more TV shows and Internet sites for people who watch every X-Files episode and believe the National Security Administration may be monitoring their phone calls.
“It’s not going to be for everybody,” he said.
Mr. Metzger concedes he wants to get rich. At the Disinfo.Con, a conference held Feb. 19 at the Hammerstein Ballroom on 34th Street, Mr. Metzger told his audience of 800 people: “In a society where capital is king and when every fucking dipshit with a dot-com is making bank like they are printing cash in the cellar, and perhaps many of them are, the point should be to get as close to that AOL-Time Warner-AT&T-CNN-CBS-ABC-NBC-RCA money as you can.” He added, “If they will give it, you should grab–and not think twice.”
That’s exactly what he’s done. He started developing Disinformation in 1995 with funding from Tele-Communications Inc., a telecommunications company run by John Malone. Weeks after the site launched, TCI got wise and pulled the plug. Mr. Metzger was given the brand name from TCI and built Disinformation on his own. Last summer, he sold the company to Razorfish Studios, an I.P.O.-flush New York interactive agency.
After Mr. Metzger was kicked out of high school for smoking hash, he moved to Amsterdam. “I had been reading in one of those Time-Life travel books that pot was legal there,” he said. In 1984, he ended up in New York. He took a job doing computer graphics for the Colgate-Palmolive Company and eventually started thinking about TV.
The whole Disinformation idea started out as a development deal he got with Showtime in 1992 for a documentary series called Weird America . It never aired, but Mr. Metzger kept at it. A break came when he cold-faxed a proposal to Oliver Stone. Mr. Stone, filming Heaven and Earth in Thailand at the time, put Mr. Metzger in touch with people who eventually got him in the door at the TCI-funded company where he started building the Web site.
On his apartment tour, Mr. Metzger moved on to a 1918 painting by “magick” expert Aleister Crowley. The painting cost him $6,000.
“This became available on, of all places, Ebay,” the on-line auction Web site, Mr. Metzger said.
“Of course,” said his girlfriend, rolling her eyes.
“On the very day we made our deal with Razorfish, I bought that,” Mr. Metzger said. “It was a good day for me financially, and I knew I had to have it.”