Pine Box Rock Shop popup shop
Saturday, April 12 2014
It was a warm spring day, and Gretchen and I spent it down in the City. First we drove to a run-down post-industrial part of Brooklyn called Bushwick, parked on the street at a place where someone's car had been broken into (the street was covered with tiny cubes of shattered safety glass) and walked to the Pine Box Rock Shop, an avowedly vegan bar in the site of a former coffin factory. The place was mobbed by a huge crowd which spilled out into the street because today was the day of the Vegan Shop-Up (a kind of pop shop, that is, a temporary mini-Farmers'-market-type sale of mostly edible goodies). It was an eclectic mix of people. Most of those present were young white hipsters, of course, though there was also a good smattering of African Americans, Asians, and even a few unstylish older people. Some of the younger unstylish people may have actually been rocking the so-called "Normcore" look, which may or may not actually exist and which I've only seen mentioned on Slate.com. In my khaki trousers and nondescript dark-blue sweater-shirt, I was a bit less hip-looking than I normally make myself before leaving the house, and, late this morning when Gretchen had expressed surprise at how preppy I was looking, I'd joked that perhaps I was rocking the Normcore look. She'd never heard that term, so I'd summed it up by saying the look it goes for is that of the "bewildered Icelandic exchange student" (a line I'd seen mentioned in a teaser to an article in Slate).
There were, of course, plenty of people there whom Gretchen knew, and some of those people even I knew. We spent most of our time at a place along the bar with Stacy (the abortion doctor) and Keith, and also this woman Anne. Later our friend Eva (who has a weekend place in Woodstock) arrived.
The first order of business was to get bloody marys at the bar. I wasn't really in the mood for drinking just yet, but I've learned that whenever Gretchen feels like drinking is probably a good time to do so. We were also both extremely hungry, and though the Pine Box Rock Shop's bloody marys are festooned with celery, pickles, jalapeños, green beans, and even okra, salad is not what you want when your stomach is empty. So Gretchen went out to try to get us some vegan sliders (little "cheese" burgers) from the folks out front who were selling them. Because they'd run out of burgers, Gretchen decided to buy the models instead (for half price). The models were the first burgers of the day that had been put on display so people would know what to order. They were completely cold and had probably been sneezed and coughed on multiple times. Also, knowing that I like all my food spicy, had used hotsauce on mine as though it were ketchup. So not only were they cold and disease-ridden, they were impossibly spicy. I ate about half of one one before some agent in my brain told me to stop. That agent almost never gets his way, especially when I'm hungry, but those models were that gross. It took the rest of my bloody mary to clear that clammy spiciness from my mouth. To tell the truth, I wasn't really that into the bloody mary, so all the other drinks I had there were beers: two IPAs and a pale ale. Yes, somehow we managed to stay at the Pine Box Rock Shop for over four hours. Periodically we'd go off and graze from the vendors. I had a surprisingly-good veggie hot dog made by a company called "Yeah Dawg," then Gretchen bought a rather good crêpe and then a yummy tofu-wrap. Finally I went and got some veggie sushi (though it wasn't very good).
I don't remember all the conversations I had, though I do remember pointing out how very white Eva is. Her dark hair makes her skin look even whiter than it is, and my conclusion was that she must be a vampire. A vegan vampire, but a vampire nonetheless. By this point our friend Anne was drinking a margarita based not on lime juice but pickle juice. She had me try a sip and it tasted disgusting, like throwing up a little in your mouth.
Gretchen struck up a conversation with a dapper-looking 50-something African American gentleman (his style reminded me of Ray) who wandered in just to see what had drawn such a large crowd. He was not vegan, of course, so the ladies all tried to convert him using their various proselytizing techniques.
At around 7:00pm, Gretchen and I left the Brooklyn and drove over to the East Village, where we'd been invited to a seder at John's, an old Italian restaurant that advertises a vegan-friendly menu. The idea of having a seder at an Italian restaurant is patently ridiculous, but it wasn't Passover yet, so it didn't really actually have to be a seder. What it ended up being was an expensive sit-down meal with friends (and strangers) at various tables in half of John's backmost dining room (a space dominated by huge white Christmas trees of parafin, the legacy of candles that have supposedly been burning non-stop since the end of Prohibition). Gretchen and I sat with Stacy and Keith and a younger couple, the male half of which reminded me of my old college chum Matt Rogers. The Matt Rogers guy was a software developer like me, but when Gretchen whispered in my ear that I should exchange business contact info with him, I demurred.
Gretchen and I split two main courses: a plate of ragu linguine and a plate of ravioli. Once salted, the ragu linguine was pretty good, but the ravioli was surprisingly bad. It contained hard little fibers of kale or some other vegetable and a funky faux-parmesan (or perhaps fungal) flavor that Gretchen described as "tasting like a bathroom." I'd also ordered the stuff mushroom appetizer, which was surprisingly meh. Gretchen had heard bad things about John's, though Keith and Stacy insisted they loved the place and that what they'd ordered had been awesome. While the food (at least the vegan food) at John's isn't very good, the atmosphere is delightful and just reeks of competence and good times. There are lots of waiters, all of them men, and they have a great no-nonsense sincerity about them. They swoop in with the food, shouting what each item is to insure it goes to the right person. Then they're gone, never interrupting the conversation. It's all very traditional (yet authentic). Indeed, according to Keith there are scenes of Boardwalk Empire that had been shot in the very room where we were dining.
The big downside of John's ambience is that it is incredibly loud. Everyone shouts their conversation to everyone else and the effect is that nobody hears anything and everyone is forced to lip-read. The only people I could hope to engage in conversation were Stacy (sitting directly across from me) and Gretchen (into whose ear I could talk directly). In one of several conversations with Stacy, she told me that her job as an abortion doctor had demonstrated to her that the women of today are uniformly shaving off their pubic hair. Usually they shave it all off, though on some occasions they leave a narrow landing strip. No wonder the crab louse is an endangered species! And how did this come to be? It's one of several unexpected consequences of the sudden widespread availability of porn to people of all ages due to the existence of a free and open internet. Back in the 90s when I used to regularly see the pubic patches of a variety of women, none of them shaved. The first time I'd ever seen evidence of any shaving at all was when I went downtown on Bathtubgirl, who, in 1998, was sporting a "Hitler mustache."
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