It's not fall or winter in our fair city until I smell a hot pretzel from a hot dog cart. The warm bread, the hot charcoal and the snow white salt will always be the seasonal salmagundi that reminds me of a rainy gray October afternoon or a boreal November night leaving Madison Square Garden with my dad. Hearing the squeak of his brown leather bomber jacket and his nose running from the cold. Looking down at me with a smile on his face that could power a small town.
We've all heard the beck and call, the Siren Song of those fucking "Nuts-4-Nuts" carts. Chilean cartworkers flip and churn those hot nuts until they have the entire goddamn street marching towards their carts like sweet-toothed zombies begging for boiling bags of almonds, cashews and coconuts. They smell so sweet, so delicious and tempting but thats where it ends. They may smell like your first kiss, but they always taste like hot cardboard. Heed my word and don't fall for it, kids.
But for years I thought the pretzel was different. I thought the New York pretzel was invincible. I thought it would always smell the way it did and taste just as delicious. Alas, most of the New York pretzels have gone the way of the Nuts-4-Nuts.
Thing is, I don't think the Nuts-4-Nuts ever tasted good, they only ever smelled enticing; those disingenuous little assholes in little wax paper satchels. Whereas the New York pretzels were a fucking institution since I was a kid and years before. The pretzels were never misleading; never once was I fooled by the unmistakable waft of a hot New York pretzel... until recently.
And taste buds, like habits, die hard. I crave those pretzels when I smell their glow but they just don't taste the same anymore. I ask the guy for a "nice, hot one", I even request "a good, salted one" and out it comes. Usually its cold, or lukewarm at best, its never hot like the old days, ever. I think the charcoal is just for show. I'm starting to think the salt is just for show, too. Because these pretzels are as big as my head and I'm not tasting a goddamn thing. I'm actually tasting in reverse. I'm tasting the absence of flavour. It's not even a foul taste, it's simply empty; a great void; a hollow chew.
I've given them a few chances and it is with great grief I feel ready to close the door for good. I'm ready to climb the church tower and ring the death knell for the New York pretzel. I am ready to admit the end of an era; the end of my fucking childhood!
Long gone are the sweet, carefree days when a warm New York pretzel smelled just like a cold, winter day in Manhattan when you could see your breath as you spoke, your eyes watered from the wind and your cheeks became red and rosy the moment you got off the subway.
Long gone are the sweet, carefree days when a warm New York pretzel tasted like a cozy blanket on a cold rainy day, watching a movie with a warm dog; counting snowflakes from inside your apartment, out the window, 5 storeys up with your feet by the radiator and an endless cuppa Prince of Wales.
I don't know whats going on in our fair city and I'd never claim to know whats happening in our crazy world; alls I know is, the nuts smell still like candy and taste like cardboard and the pretzels smell like my youth but now my youth tastes like a hot, wool sock.