Tuesday, July 28, 2009

World Peace Through Starbucks, Pizza Hut, and the Coolatta

The comments thread under my Saturday blog entry, about Henry Louis Gates’ overreaction to the police, contained a couple jokes about Starbucks as a place of ethnic blending — and that’s fitting, of course, since even in other parts of the world, American-style franchise restaurants (much as the cultural-protectionists of both left and right, not to mention that recent Starbucks bomber near me, may hate to hear this) often become a sort of calming, neutral safe haven for people needing a little escape from all the local culture. (Or as a friend of mine from a rural background once put it: sure, small towns have rich local cultures — that’s why so many people want to get away from them.)

Almost as interesting as seeing commercial space become ethnically-neutral and thus liberating space is seeing commercial brands that have fought so hard for individual recognition sharing space. The brand-watching modern mind reels in much the same way hardcore racists of old must have recoiled at mixed-race individuals: How can a Baskin-Robbins and a Dunkin’ Donuts exist in the same space at the same time?! That strangeness is celebrated to hilarious effect in a hiphop song (pointed out to me by Helen, who is obviously more street than I) called “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.”

I am reminded of Kramer’s bafflement on Seinfeld in the implausible episode revealing he’d never been downtown, climaxing with his panic upon reaching the intersection of First Avenue and 1st St. and thinking he “must be at the nexus of the universe!” (That was clearly one of the most sci-fi-influenced jokes in sitcom history, with perhaps the most out-and-out nerdy being the moment on Seinfeld when the “Bizarro Jerry,” with essentially no background explanation for the uninitiated, ended the episode by declaring “Me am so happy!”)


Turnabout being fair play, I notice that in New York City at least, Indians appear overwhelmingly to staff the Dunkin’ Donuts shops — one of those relatively random and probably in no way sinister ethno-commercial flukes that renders the equal-representation-everywhere expectations of affirmative action and EEOC defenders ridiculous. (Does anyone really think the Indian hegemony in the U.S. oppressed all the white applicants to Dunkin’ Donuts? More likely, word of mouth and path-of-least-resistance social ties contributed to friends and relatives of the first workers there attracting the next, etc., no more mysteriously than a Chinese man who opens a restaurant thinking, “Where will we find chefs? I know — call my cousins!”)

This is important to me for two reasons: 1. my apparent affinity for India and 2. my need for the occasional Coolatta.

1. It seems as though there have almost always been a few prominent people in my life with ties, ancestral or otherwise, to India, it occurs to me — my naturally-surrealist friend Prasad Kantharaj in elementary school (influencing my sense of humor forevermore by being prone to say things that made no sense in any cultural context, such as a whispered “This sheep is Julius Caesar” during class, often punctuated with “arooga” noises and other manmade sound effects), college acquaintances Viraj and Munia, Kaplan co-worker turned purported “quantum healer” Sangeeta Sahi, a couple writer acquaintances, and of course ex-girlfriends Indrani and Koli (and I’m not even counting possibly-related phenomena like my friend Diana now moving to India or the time I kissed a Pakistani woman named Teniyah I met on the bus while we were still on the bus, only to have her bid me a sad farewell and reveal her engagement ring — which I swear I hadn’t noticed — when we exited after this very brief affair, which, given her very anti-Bush and somewhat anti-U.S. sentiments, my friend Ted Balaker may have been correct to declare a shameful triumph of gonads over principle).

Indeed, Helen thinks I have two main “types”: Indians and “theologically-troubled blondes” (two members of the latter category having announced their weddings in the past month or so, as it happens). If these two types are actually important parts of my psyche and not simply side effects of me seeking out intelligence (don’t forget the Jewish exes, after all), then there’s probably an ashram near Deli [CORRECTION: make that Delhi -- Foodian slip] that would be a paradise for me, as long as none of the residents are mystics or hippies, but that seems unlikely, by definition.

2. Also, the ashram would have to be within walking distance of a Coolatta machine.

The coffee Coolatta is, of course, the wondrous frozen beverage from Dunkin’ Donuts that tastes for all the world like a sub-zero thermos full of coffee mixed with a sugar packet as big as the entire beverage. Since discovering it, I have been attempting to wean myself off the more acidic and less fun Starbucks mocha frappuccino — and often trying in vain to find places with working Coolatta machines, since my impression is that they’re frequently out of order (perhaps suggesting a market opportunity for Coolatta-machine engineers — or rival beverage-makers — out there).

Admittedly, a few times after discovering them, I was stymied by mistakenly asking for one in a Baskin-Robbins. You see, the first one I consumed was from, yes, a combination Baskin-Robbins/Dunkin’ Donuts, and (demonstrating the danger of mixed branding) I misunderstood which chain was responsible for the divine drink. Now I know — and there’s a Dunkin’ Donuts one block from my apartment (where I am now, taking the week off) but none at all near the ACSH offices on the Upper West Side for some reason, so perhaps I should stroll over now while this unusual mid-day opportunity presents itself.

1 comment:

Jake said...

Principle hasn’t got a prayer in the fight against gonads.