Josna Rege

384. Auntie Bette’s Litmus Test

In 1980s, Britain, Family, Food, people, Stories, travel, United States on June 28, 2016 at 9:35 pm

TrumpTower

My Auntie Bette has always had impossibly high standards and we were anxious not to disappoint her. In the summer of 1984, older then than I am now, she stepped off the plane at Logan Airport looking regal in a powder-blue jumpsuit, as ravishing as if she had just stepped out of a beauty salon, rather than having survived the ravages of a seven-hour transatlantic flight. England, of course, was the pinnacle of perfection and in her eyes, the U.S. would always be playing catch-up. For years she sent us massive care packages at Christmas, telling the neighbors, sweet-shop man, and post-office clerk that it was “for my poor sister out there in America who can’t get a good Christmas pudding for love nor money.”

So when we took her to New York City we wanted to show her something really impressive. But was there anything there that could match London? She didn’t think so. FAO Schwartz wasn’t bad, she conceded; the Statue of Liberty: well, all right if you liked that sort of thing; bagels, meh. We’d heard of this building that had just opened a few months before and which we hoped would be just Auntie Bette’s cup of tea: unashamedly luxurious, in-your-face-opulent, totally over the top. It was named Trump Tower, after some wealthy toff who had developed it, no shrinking violet himself, by all accounts.

Atrium, Trump Tower

Atrium, Trump Tower

The building’s massive foyer—the Atrium, they called it—was dazzling with gold glinting and reflecting off every surface. The walls, the ceilings, even the escalators were gold. Auntie Bette didn’t think so. Gilt, she was sure, and showy; she remained singularly unimpressed. We checked out the restaurant, but no dice: the menu was ordinary and overpriced, and you couldn’t get a good cup of tea. Suddenly Auntie Bette said, “What about the loos? Are the seats made of gold? Now that would be something.”

There ensued a half-hour search—upstairs, downstairs, and in my lady’s chamber—but most of the building consisted of a hotel and high-end retail stores, and we couldn’t find a public toilet anywhere. Finally, deep in the bowels of the building, in some lower basement, we found it. There was a line of expensively-dressed ladies waiting outside in the corridor for a few miserable stalls to be vacated. We joined them, shifting impatiently from one foot to the other until it was our turn. What a disappointment! They were just ordinary toilets; no gold seats or gold faucets, in fact, not a glimmer of gold anywhere in sight, except on the ladies’ fingers. “I thought so,” said Auntie Bette; “All show and no substance.”  Or words to that effect: maybe she said, “Flash waistcoat and dirty knickers.” You can always judge a place by its lavatories, says my Auntie Bette, and I fully concur.

photo by Joseph Burke (josephx.com)

photo by Joseph Burke (josephx.com)

Thankfully, America did redeem itself that day. On the drive home we broke our journey at the legendary Secondi Brothers truck stop where Andrew’s brother Dan always had breakfast on his weekly food co-op truck run to New York. (Sadly, the restaurant is no more, only a gas station and convenience store.) This was a place guaranteed to fill the stomach of the heftiest trucker, but Auntie Bette is a good trencherwoman and more than a match for anyone. And breakfast is her favorite meal.

She asked for a fried-egg sandwich, with home fries on the side. If I recall, she gave the amused waiter detailed instructions about how she  liked her eggs and how many pieces of toast she wanted. At least, he started out amused; by the time he had finished taking the order he was quaking in his boots. It was going to be hard to satisfy this customer.

But Secondi’s delivered. When the massive platter arrived, steaming hot, with the food threatening to fall off its edges, even Auntie Bette was suitably impressed. There was silence all round for a few minutes, as she did justice to the order and we all looked on, amazed. Her only remark, halfway through, was, “three eggs!” And at the end, she went up to the front personally to thank the cook. “Now, they know how to do breakfast,” she pronounced, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief. Secondi Brothers had her seal of approval.

Trump Towers, however, failed to pass Auntie Bette’s litmus test. And I suspect the man behind the (gilt) curtain would do the same.

(from the guardian.com_

(from the guardian.com)

 

Note: Word must have gotten out that the TT toilets had failed to pass muster because, in search of images to illustrate this story, I found a 2012 article listing the locations of the top ten public bathrooms in New York City, guaranteed to “make you feel like royalty.”  Whaddya know? Listed at number seven was Trump Towers at Columbus Circle.

(not at Trump Towers)

(from 212access.com)

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  1. Nice

  2. classic! brit humour and all…:)

    • Thanks, Jaya! As Kristin said in her comment, we need a little humo(u)r at the moment, especially when all the news pertaining to Britain has been so dire. (By the way, my father-in-law cut out an interesting article from the New York Times comparing Britain’s referendum to quit Europe to India’s effort to get Britain to leave them. And also warning that, as in the colonial example, such an exit could mean not only the break-up of not only the entity it was leaving, but also in further internal break-up.) x J

  3. hahahaha! A nice relief from the news of the day! That gold toilet photo was probably photoshoped 😀

    • Thanks, Kristin. Yes, we all need some comic relief. That hadn’t occurred to me about the toilet. I found another telling photo which I didn’t use, a more recent photo of the outside of the TT toilets, with gold walls and doors, and a pathetic-looking young washroom attendant standing outside them. I wonder how much she got paid?

  4. The cheapskate toilets at Trump Tower would seem to speak for the reality of this man who could become the US president. We, ourselves, in the UK, are contending with the spectre of BoJo the Brexiteer: the man who could become prime minister.
    I liked the fact that your aunt took the trouble to thank the chef for her piping hot, and plentiful, fried egg sandwich. This also speaks for the quality of the person.
    Ex

    • What a terrific comment, E.! Yes, I hoped readers would make that link without my having to be in-their-face explicit about it. And yes, I’m watching anxiously at the troubling developments in Britain, and wondering how the two sides of the Atlantic threw up these lookalike bozos.
      On a decidedly more cheerful note, when Auntie Bette expresses her appreciation for any food, it is praise indeed. The short-order cook in Secondi’s certainly trumped the other guy, who failed miserably in living up to her standards despite all the glitter. J x

  5. […] Auntie Bette’s Litmus Test […]

  6. Sometimes the sniff test is all it takes. So often a full-blown sampling plan with a tidy design of experiment is just overkill!

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