Where the Shoppers Go … Back to Soup

Where the Shoppers Go

Shoppers at the Century 21 on Cortlandt Street have always faced a grave problem: too many customers and too few dressing rooms. For women, the wait for one of the store’s 22 quasi-private changing stalls can last up to 10 minutes. For men, the situation is even worse–there are no dressing rooms at all.

But Century 21 shoppers are nothing if not ingenious, and some have found an alternative place to try on their potential purchases–the two restrooms at Starbucks Coffee across the street. Unlike the Century 21 dressing stalls, the restrooms at Starbucks are spacious, clean and have doors.

“People just walk through, go straight to the bathroom, change and go home,” said Duckee Adule, a Starbucks cashier. “And they leave a mess.” Mr. Adule said he has found pins, wrapping paper and even shoe boxes in the restroom.

Cristina Medellin, Mr. Adule’s co-worker, said she frequently sees price tags strewn around the bathroom floor. “Some people will just order a water so they can use the facilities,” Ms. Medellin said.

Sure enough, during a visit to the lady’s bathroom recently, The Observer found a Vivienne Tam tag on the floor and a Century 21 shopping bag stuffed into the wastebasket.

Twenty-eight-year-old Lisa Degliantoni had no time for the lines at Century 21 recently. She snatched a $16 knitted GoGo Wear number off the rack and walked across the street to Starbucks, went into the bathroom and tried it on. Ms. Degliantoni thought it cheaply made, so she returned it–Century 21 has a 30-day return policy–and she still had time to make her movie date. “There’s even this black cubey thing in there that holds a shopping bag just right,” Ms. Degliantoni said.

Krissy Loftus, a stylist in her 30’s, said she uses the Starbucks changing room to get a quick hit of shopping without paying for it.

“When I feel the pressure of spending too much money, I’ll go straight into Starbucks, try something on and then return it,” Ms. Loftus said.

Then there’s Lydia, an 18-year-old student, who was standing at the Starbucks milk and sugar stand. She was wearing a black cardigan, green jeans, a studded belt and flip-flops. Lydia had just tried on some Century 21 underwear in the Starbucks ladies room. She’s been to other Starbucks locations to try on clothes from other stores, but this was her first time at this Starbucks.

“I was in the underwear department, and they said there was a 30-day policy on returns, and I said, ‘No way am I schlepping back here,'” Lydia said. The lines for the dressing rooms were too long, so Lydia went to Starbucks. “They don’t mind if you come in, as long as you buy something,” she said.

–Maccabee Montandon

Back to Soup

Hale and Hearty, you’ve got the best of me again. Just call me Weak and Submissive.

You were the only sensible lunch place in the neighborhood. I remember when I first discovered your white bean and spinach soup, seven-grain (or sourdough) bread on the side for $3.50 plus tax. Every day I would stand on line with the rest of my fellow professionals, patiently enduring the brushed-steel appliances and boppy Ella Fitzgerald soundtrack so that I might bring my cheap, nourishing lunch back to the office in a little sack.

After a time, my loyal patronage was rewarded with the frequent-soup-buyer rewards program, or as you so cleverly put it, the “Bean Counter.” It was more exciting than the buy-10-get-one-free MetroCard! Every time I paid, I’d get a punch-hole in the shape of a tureen (or was it a kidney bean?), a satisfying progression of holes leading toward that happy day when I would get a free soup. It felt good. Like getting a star from the teacher. I loyally ignored all those stories in The New York Times about how soup was, like, so over.

Then one day, a piece of spinach stuck in my teeth, and I realized that I hated you. It occurred to me that there was something … well, sweaty about soup. I began to think of all the cute outfits I could buy with my $75.80 monthly lunch allotment. I started tucking a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into my purse every morning. When people said, “Hey, wanna go to Hale and Hearty?” I’d say “No, thanks.”

You diversified into salad, but I stood firm. How I sneered at others’ $8 mesclun concoctions (rewarded by the Green Card); their wax-paper refuse; the pathetic scraping sound their plastic spoons made on the bottom of their cups as they chased down that last piece of pastini.

Recently, however, the temperature sank below 60 and a chill wind arrived from the north. Suddenly, soup–like bobbed hair and Gore Vidal–seemed new again. The door swung open, and Hale and Hearty’s brawny arms urged me in. I let them.

–Alexandra Jacobs

We Need a War

These days, everyone’s so well-fed and content it makes you wonder if the county isn’t getting a tad soft. Like what we need is some toughening up. No, kids, not boxing classes at Equinox. I’m talking about the sort of toughness that only a conventional-weapons conflict, fought on the ground by opposing nations, can instill. You know, a war!

Everyone sure seemed satisfied in Bryant Park, lounging on white fold-up chairs in the sunlight one recent afternoon during Fashion Week. Joe Roby, a preppy-looking 24-year-old advertising salesman, was eating a sandwich and girl-watching.

“Every other generation has had its war, their conflict of some sort. Where’s ours?” Mr. Roby said. “I want it!”

Pieter Van Hattem, a 26-year-old photographer, was lying down in the sun. “War is fucked,” he said. “But there would be positive things. The economy gets going on and nationalism, patriotism, blah, blah, blah. I’m against war, but there are positive things that happen.”

Do you ever think about combat?

“Oh yeah! I would be so fucked. I was watching Saving Private Ryan and I almost had to leave. There is no way, no way I could get out of that. I would be freaking out. I’m a pretty big pacifist.”

Doug Clark, a 27-year-old banker, was smoking a fat cigar. His hair was shinny with hair goop. “I wouldn’t doubt it if, within this country, there was a race war,” Mr. Clark said. “One spark that comes to my mind is, say we have an African-American who’s running for President. Very popular and somehow doesn’t make it into the White House. Could spark a lot of unrest. Or he makes it and gets assassinated by some psycho white guy.”

Mr. Clark, who is white but has friends of varying ethnicities, said that a race war would be especially tough on him. “I don’t know if I would have to stay with the white side or the black side,” he said. “It would suck all the way around.”

Two reporters from Technology Investor Magazine , Michael Stevenson, 28, and Lenny Grant, 26, were eating food from McDonald’s. Mr. Grant wore blue sunglasses and a tongue ring.

“Nobody needs to die so we can say that we, the people that were born in the 70’s, actually did something with our lives,” Mr. Grant said. “But we have no patriotism. If there were a war tomorrow and the draft was enacted, I would be the first person in Kuala Lumpur. I would be gone. I was actually in the Air Force Academy and I resigned. Wound up hitchhiking away from the place. It just scared me, the entire mentality. You’re sitting in a lecture hall watching the commandant of the academy flip through slides and showing, like, ‘This is a loser,’ and it’s a guy behind a Harley, like the double-bicep thing with like a Bud can, ‘and this is a winner,’ and it’s a cadet in a uniform on the field, saluting.”

One big problem, both guys agreed, is the lack of a worthy enemy.

“It would have to be that every other country in the world gangs up against us,” Mr. Stevenson said.

“Or if there’s things in space, if they all decide to get together and invade, that might do it,” Mr. Grant said.

Carolina Herrera Jr., a filmmaker and daughter of the fashion designer, was sitting by a big white tent in the middle of the park.

“I’m not a big believer in war,” she said. “I’m not very politically conscious; I’m not very conscious in that way. I’m conscious that I’m not conscious. I did think about war a lot yesterday because I saw, for the first time, Braveheart . I was thinking, ‘That’s a war!'”

–George Gurley