original writing May 2010: Ode to a paper cup

May 10, 2010

It’s a cup. A paper cup for coffee.

But it’s also New York City in your hand. Or it was in mine.

I’d been to Manhattan a few times, enough to have walked many times the foot-punishing trek from midtown down to the southern tip, at Battery Park. Starting, staring up at Grand Central’s spectacular facade, then down 42nd past the NY Public Library’s Bryant Park to Times Square, turning south to the Empire State Building, the awe-inspring Flatiron building and, further down Broadway to the farmer’s market at Union Square, then past the many-stepped court house at Foley Square, to the foot of Brooklyn Bridge, never stopping too long for fear of looking too much like a tourist. And, truth, for fear of piercing the illusion of walking not through a mere, mortal city, but a film still rolling, begun in childhood with Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Apartment, On the Waterfront, An Affair to Remember, Rosemary’s Baby, Midnight Cowboy, Panic in Needle Paark and continuing through TV’s Sex and the City, Law and Order, NYPD Blue and Rescue Me.

Being a Winnipegger, I love land travel and since the Montreal-New York train takes too damn long, I’d taken the red-eye bus that arrived in NYC shortly before 5 a.m. one Thursday morning, maybe 13 years ago. It was my first time in the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 42nd St. I was groggy, having fallen into a cough-syrup induced coma shortly after crossing the border (I should perhaps say it was a medicinal, not recreational dosage). I followed the crowd out to the street, which smelled even at that early hour of beer, urine, hot dogs and amusement park doughnuts. I needed sustenance, so much so that I was too dopey to know that I was about to lurch into traffic.

“Whoa, whoa! Wheh you goan?”

I just stared at this cop: bald, loud, middle-aged, uniformed and straight out of central casting.

“Coffee, ” I managed. “I need breakfast.”

He wheeled and pointed to a grey-yellow beam of light weakly shining from what looked like a hole in wall of posters and boarded up windows.

“Best. Cawfee. Eveh.”

The Anthora coffee cup, photograph by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com, via Flickr

I doubtfully pushed the door open to a warm, busy diner and bakery. The only other customers were a couple more uniformed police officers.

The eggs I must have eaten, but all I remember is the coffee cup: a blue paper cup with Greekish design, hot in my hands but also, I suddenly saw in my mind’s eye, in the hands of  NYPD Blues’ Andy Sipowicz and Law & Order’s Lennie Briscoe and a shuffle of other New York characters. A cup that I now know is called the Anthora, described as a “pop cultural totem” of NYC in a recent New York Times appreciation of Leslie Buck, credited with designing the cup and who died at age 87. I haven’t seen the cup again since, but neither have I been back to the diner, whose name I purposefully didn’t remember. And I didn’t pocket the cup, though I considered it before leaving it, pristine, on the table of the diner that smelled of coffee and bacon and croissants. Thank you Mr. Buck, for your paper cup and my fave New York memory.

– Denise Duguay


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