When the answers are worn out and the kitsch is too

When the answers are worn out and the kitsch is too

First, a hard thing I wrote and then, a happy meal

I went to New York City for spring break with my kids. It was really special. And also very difficult because of an extenuating circumstance I like to call “being a parent in America.” I wrote a piece about it for Harper’s Bazaar. The essay is about trying to find impossible answers to the impossible questions that America’s first-person shooter culture forces us to ask. It’s also a love letter to New York City and my kids. I hope you read it. 

What are we going to do?…there are no answers to my daughter’s question at an individual level. So in America, the land of the individual, there are no answers and there will never be enough time. 

It is still wild to me that people take the time to read my work. I am really grateful to be read by the folks over at Longreads (my piece was an Editor’s Pick!), the amazing Kaitlyn Greenidge (who also edited one of the best things I’ve written.Good editors equal good writing!) and Rainesford Stauffer.

I am also so grateful to be read by you. I know there’s never enough time. Thank you for sharing your never enough with me. Thank you for letting me share my never enough with you. 

Read the essay.

While we were in New York, I tried to think of things that would seem vivid to my kids now, but would certainly fall flat later. For my fourteen year old, that meant a visit to Serendipity 3. 

When Serendipity opened in 1954, the entrance felt like a rabbit hole that led to a little Alice in Wonderland pocket dimension. The walls functioned as Andy Warhol’s first art gallery. The food was a gluttonous rebuttal to a midcentury emphasis on meat and potato convenience. 

It’s kind of wild to think of Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy all sitting beneath Tiffany shades eating “footlong hot dogs and caviar omelets.” Serendipity sold viral food in a viral setting before virality was even possible. I respect the hell out kitsch for kitsch sake. 

I didn’t get to Serendipity until 2001, the summer before the Twin Towers fell. I was sixteen. By then, the restaurant was more tourist attraction than artist den. But there were no smart phones or social media. Immersive experiences weren’t created to be photographed and then Instagrammed. So they still had a sense of place, even if the place was well-worn. For a young west coast girl, Serendipity could still feel surprising and vital. 

When I walked down into Serendipity, I was transported. But maybe Serendipity was transported by me too. I thought it was still something, and so it was something. Together, Serendipity and teen me created a space that only existed while we shared it.

Now, there are a lot of places that look, feel and taste like Serendipity. Kitch is for influence’s sake. Social media shares make great marketing. Walls function as potential backgrounds for Warhol’s predicted fifteen minutes of fame. Serendipity has to increasingly rely on having once been special. Well, having once been special, brand collaborations and product launches. Which I suppose is how most aging ingenues survive.

My fourteen year old doesn’t have social media. So maybe some immersive moments get to be experienced on better terms. Maybe walls still exist to hold art and beams. But she’s much more perceptive than I was. I think even by sixteen, the little 60th Street restaurant would feel like an imitation of whimsy to her. And she’d be right. 

So I am glad we got to the restaurant when she was 14 years, a month and a few hours old. It was the perfect age for the outing. She was young enough for Serendipity to still live up to its name but old enough for the Andy Warhol wallpaper in the bathroom to make sense. 

She sat up straight, took photos to send her friends and clapped when her big sundae came out at the end of the meal. It was lovely. I’ll never take her back. Like Brigadoon, this version of the restaurant disappeared the moment she walked out of it.