While I love life in New York City, there are times when I miss the supermarkets of my suburban childhood, places so big and sprawly that their roofs could have doubled as runways for jumbo jets. Grocery stores in Manhattan tend to be small, cramped places filled with products marked with dubious expiration dates and priced in a manner that the rules of supply and demand cannot explain. In my neighborhood, Carnegie Hill, on the far Upper East Side, there are a number of small groceries that are very good at providing the last-minute things you forget to buy when you are about to cook that cassoulet for visitors who have overstayed their welcome, things like onions, beans, rat poison, and boxes of chicken stock, but you would never do a major shop there. What these stores lack in vastness and selection, however, they make up for with home-delivery.
This is the great miracle of Manhattan. Every store hoping to stay in business offers home delivery at no charge. My wine store will deliver a bottle or a case of wine, or multiple cases, to my building, and its delivery man (I have yet to see a delivery woman) will either bring the wine up the service elevator or, if it is evening and the service elevator is closed, he will leave it with my doorman, who will call me on our intercom and then put the wine on the elevator and send it up to my floor. This is so exquisitely magical I cannot stand it. When our intercom buzzes, my wife and I beam at each other. “Hmm, I wonder what that could be?”
Delivery is such a refined art in my neighborhood that you can set up standing accounts with all kinds of retail shops, even Feldman’s, a housewares store that lets you order goods with a phone call, everything from space heaters to scented candles to humidifiers and a solar-operated Pope Francis who waves whenever it is sunny. I like to think Feldman’s would deliver a single bolt and washer, though I have not tried to test that theory. My butcher will deliver a nice pork shoulder and some pancetta and a few pounds of flounder. He loves terrible weather, because that’s when demand surges, though I have to wonder whether his delivery people share his delight. My wife orders firewood from a grocery store nine blocks away. This is another miracle. The firewood comes from Estonia. Her mother is Estonian. It comes to the back door of our apartment and a nice man carries it inside.
The greatest miracle of all is Christmas, and I am not talking about religion here. I am talking about walking four blocks to the Christmas tree market at Lexington and E. 96th St., choosing a nice Frasier fir, and then walking home, followed in short-order by the tree, which a young man carries into our apartment. Last Christmas not only did he deliver it, he set it up in a green plastic stand which we got to keep for future use. Being veterans of many past Christmas forays involving trees tied precariously to the roofs of cars with twine knots that froze solid during the drive, this was to us a revelation on the order of having Joseph and Mary knock on our door and ask to borrow our fold-out couch for a night or two.
One day if or when I go crazy I will spend an entire morning on the phone ordering things to be delivered and see what happens as legions of people on battery-assisted bicycles or pushing dollies and handcarts, arrive at my building. I picture a scene like something from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment of the film “Fantasia,” with bags and boxes of food and wine and wrenches and duct tape and solar popes and Thai shredded garlic—with a side of sticky rice and imperial rolls—rising higher and higher and my intercom buzzing non-stop like some gigantic enraged bumblebee until someone calls the NYPD’s crack ‘emergency services’ unit and cops in jumpsuits come rappelling down to see what in flaming hell has happened to the occupants of apartment 8D, only to find a man of a certain age smiling contentedly with a napkin tucked into his shirt and asking, “Did you by any chance bring any Sriracha sauce?”