Sunday, March 08, 2009

Too Kool for School

As Seinfeld would have put it, last century, "What's with 'cool?'"

And by 'cool' I don't mean that universal answer people under 35 give - no matter what you say, they inevitably answer, 'Cool'.

"It looks like rain."
"Pass the salt please."
"The curry is rather hot."

No, I mean the cool as in minimal. At least I think that's right. I had thought that minimal went out with pink pashmina scarves and Bill Clinton jokes. But apparently not. The new cool is the new minimal, sort of minimal in comfort rather than style. Or that's the impression I got after we left Subtle Tea.

I was with my brunch friend Alice. Alice is super cool but doesn't know it. I suspect the not knowing it is part of what it means to be cool. If something's cool, Alice will know. Now me, I might think it is just uncomfortable, impractical or ugly. But I wouldn't know. I am not 'cool'.

But back to the Subtle Tea. We were both tired and prickly, having endured a New York work week. Alice said hers was worse than mine as she works on Wall Street. We'd hoped to unwind but we had unwisely chosen for our 3:00pm brunch a British-Indian restaurant that was decidedly uncool. Even I could recognise its uncoolness.

Chez le Chef
We hadn't enjoyed our uncool curry, and so Alice thought we should try to recover what was left of the day and she suggested tea. Cool. We left Curry Hill and walked west down 30th. We passed a place called "Chez le Chef". It speaks for our New York work-week-exhaustion that we both stood gawking at the storefront, wondering what type of cuisine it served. Alice thought it might be German. Uncool ...

We walked a bit further until we reached Subtle Tea, and went in. I found it most odd. There was nowhere to move and on the central bar where everyone was seated, there were strange devices that looked like those dryers they have in nail salons. I looked around expecting smiling Korean ladies holding bottles of nail polish, but there were none. So it really was a tea room. The nail dryers must've been something else. Probably outlets for plugging in Apples. The place would obviously not tolerate a PC.

Alice had told me earlier, that the place was comfortable. "Look", she whispered (cool), "there's sofas".

Subtle Seating
I looked. There was about an inch of sofa to perch on, the rest of the 12 inch seat being taken up by fluffy cushions. No wonder no one was sitting on them. We sidled around past the non-Korean young people plugged into the dryer things. And perched. "Where do we put our cups of tea?" I prickled at Alice. She looked glum, and vaguely waved in the direction of a white plastic chair with a concave seat, six inches away. "I'm not balancing a cup of tea on that!" I snapped. "Let's go", she answered.

And we did. Once outside Alice explained the place to me. She sounded patient, sort of as if she felt sorry for me, or as if I were hard of hearing. "That place is too cool", she told me. "It's for young people, cool people. It's minimalist."

"I don't call dryer things crammed on narrow bars and nowhere to sit on empty sofas minimalist and anyway minimalist is so last century", I snapped back, failing abysmally in a pathetic attempt to be cool.

"Well it IS for young people", said Alice. "Well NEITHER of us is young. We are hardly co-eds", I retorted. Her face fell. "No we aren't". I felt mean.

Still the day ended well. We found a big airy Californian-looking place, aptly called Californian Pizza Kitchen. "Californian", I muttered. "I don't feel like soya beans and decaf". And to myself, "Lighten up, enough is enough!" And then, to Alice, "Yes OK, it looks OK."

We went in and sat down in real chairs. The staff were friendly and cheerfully served us "just coffee". We sat there for about an hour; the waitress topped up our coffees at regular intervals. Unwinding. Relaxing. When the check came it was $4.80. We left $10.

Now that's what I call really cool. A big airy place full of polite and friendly waiters. A cholesterol-filled menu with heaps of trans fats. Room to walk between tables. Lots of little lights and big carbon footprints.

So NOT Californian. And oh, so very cool.

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