Time transforms the Elm City, a flâneur frets

“Lazy Susan’s Café. Coffee Pastries Sandwiches.”

So reads the sign at 214 State St. That beige, brick, three-floor walk-up stands kitty corner to the Knights of Columbus building. Its second- and third-floor windows are obscured by a cast-iron fire escape. Lazy Susan’s Café occupies the first floor.

In the big front window, blocking the view of pretty hardwood floors shining faintly in what sunlight gets past is a large plastic sign: “FOR SALE. CALL OWNER DIRECT.” A number follows.

214 State is a few blocks and a world away from today’s global and globalizing Yale University. It watches the path to the train station. I never entered the café; nor, I would wager, has any reader of this column. A little part of me can’t help but worry about a world in which no one has time for a cup of coffee with Lazy Susan.

Of course, I have no idea why Lazy Susan closed up shop. But that sale-by-owner sign adorning Lazy Susan’s Café made me consider the other things we don’t notice. In the spirit of the impending commencement exercises, my own liminal status and the mortgage crisis, I decided to take a look around.

The path from Silliman to the train station marches under the careful review of dozens of other signs. At 400 State St., peeling white capitals shout, hoarsely, on a green background: “These plaques commemorate the world’s first commercial telephone exchange, opened in 1828 at the corner of Chapel and State streets, several hundred feet away.” The plaques are gone. Only a warning remains — “Private Property No Trespassing” — and I wondered whether that was a command or an observation. We have no trespassing here! And no punctuation either, apparently.

Until I set out to catalogue what I hadn’t noticed, I never knew about the strip of Elm from Orange to State. What an old-fashioned block! Here, an historic house calling itself the “Thomas Bishop House, circa 1816” (Circa, mind you, as if it were a story so old that no one can even remember what’s been forgotten.) Across the street are Del Monico Hats and A.D. Perkins Rubber Stamps Marking Devices Established 1876. Did Yalies once patronize these stores? Do any of us today?

Yalies today tear into each other. We are tools, hacks, gunners; we sell ourselves for our resume like we’re the world’s oldest professionals. (Or so we say behind each others back.) We tell each other again and again that we need to relax, stop stressing out, don’t worry so much about grades, about titles, about honors. Of course, we can’t stop. Ours is no longer the aristocratic Yale of yesteryear. Once, a gentleman’s C could get you the same job running your father’s factory that A’s did. Today, a couple of points on the GPA punch your ticket to a better law school or investment bank.

Our meritocracy compels us to produce and to produce: win this prize, be that officer, beat the other curve in class. But in our haste to eliminate what smacked of aristocratic laziness, in our efforts to increase utility at every margin, we cheat ourselves. In our rush toward the immediately profitable, we have forgotten that laziness can be a virtue. We think that history is not worth learning because it has never happened to us. We look at facts and figures and never wonder why we look at them.

Green paint and gold trim surround the first floor of 422 State, a four-story building. The upper stories are for lease by “College Street LLC.” Visible on the first floor is a double size restaurant. “Special Catering Friendly Atmosphere. ROBERTO’S Breakfast Lunch Soups Grinders. Great Food Eat In or Take Out.” Roberto’s proclaims, “Yes, we’re open,” and although the lights were out when I walked by during lunchtime, menus were out and ready to be read by whatever ghost patrons might come by. Someone has posted three smaller signs inside the door. The first instructs you to “Pull” against the backdrop of a pack of Camel Cigarettes. The second, in bright red, reminds you that this is a “No Smoking Restaurant,” which must disappoint those same Camels. And the third points you to another door, which I couldn’t find. Someone has also slapped a bumper sticker promising that “A vote for Bob Bayuskin Member’s 1st Experienced slate is a vote for your future” in Teamsters Local 443. I wonder whether he won the election.

Someone should find out.

Maybe at Roberto’s we will recover the laziness we never shared with Susan; not out of entitlement, but out of a recognition that reflection has its benefits. Of course, Susan may not think so. When I asked the only person standing nearby Lazy Susan’s Café what had happened, she responded simply, “They weren’t making no money.” Noticing my sadness, she continued, “Something else will move in there, though.”

Housing crunches and graduation be damned. Something else will move in there. And maybe somebody else will think, one day, to ask about what had been there years before.

Michael Pomeranz is a junior in Silliman College. His column usually runs on alternate Mondays.

Comments

  • anon

    You are being a little selective with your choice of establishments -- given that within a block you also have the best jazz club/recording studio, Malaysian restaurant and bar in New England, and a high-end 500-unit apartment tower about to go into construction. Also, that hat store is great -- you might not know this, but 80% of its business comes from online sales to an international audience of hat-buyers. Things are not always as they seem.

  • Adorno Fragt

    In the tradition of Benjamin -- are these New Haven's equivalents of the Paris Arcades?

  • Ida

    Wonderful trip down "what was never in our memories" lane. Did you know that there is an Ernest DelMonico behind DelMonico Hatter? Did you know the hattery was named "Hat Retailer of the Year" by The Headwear Association? [See http://www.infonewhaven.com/
    With the admonishment from anon #1, any Yalie who does not go searching for the unnamed "best jazz club/recording studio" has only himself to blame.