Every weekend of the summer, I pitched a tent along the East River to sell pasta at the Smorgasburg.
The pasta I sell is organic, comes in over 70 flavor varieties. “Do you make the pasta?” is the question I get asked the most. “I don’t,” is the answer. It’s made near Rochester by a bearded man named Jon who makes the 6-hour drive to Brooklyn once a month to deliver a few hundred pounds of dowel-dried noodles.
The pasta sells at $10 per pound. I get a lot of eyebrow raises and polite Thank you’s as people backpedal home to Barilla. But I believe the pasta I sell is worth the price. It’s got a thick, meaty texture when it cooks up, and you can actually taste, say, the lemon and garlic in the Lemon Garlic Fettuccine. I’d even say I’m proud of the pasta I sell, proud of helping a food maker in one of the state’s most industry-barren areas grow his business.
Most Smorgasburg visitors though don’t want food you have to take home and cook. They want to pull up a chair at one of the gingham-covered tables in the middle of the market, or flap blankets out on the lawns where the dogs were pooing earlier in the morning and gnaw on $16 lobster rolls, $9 fried chicken on a biscuit, $5 gourmet sliders, $3 hot dogs with Asian-fusion toppings, spicy noodles, fish tacos, fried anchovies, smoothies, doughnuts, mini cupcakes.
Still, I do what I can to lure people to my table: I make eye contact, or at least assume I’m making eye contact through their vintage sunglasses. I smile as a girl outfitted, head-to-heel, in hot pink—hot pink flats, skirt, wide-brimmed hat, nails, hair, lipstick, leash on tiny pooch—floats towards my table, eating a pinkish hot dog topped with pickled pink slaw. She says to her septum-pierced boyfriend, “Should we get pasta?” In response, her boyfriend licks a plum-cinnamon popsicle from his fingers.
I try not to feel jealous when the tattooed fried anchovy guy crosses out items on his meticulously printed chalkboard menu, or when I hear the bearded oyster guys next door tip their coolers at 3PM, stretching triumphantly, to signal, Sold out!
Most days, I don’t have time for jealousy to ferment, and on the days when I do have downtime, perhaps because a bogus rain prediction has colluded with a finicky L-train to rob us of customers, chances are all of us vendors will be in the same boat: standing around, checking our phones, shrugging at each other as we curse fate and the MTA.
On these days, the overriding thought is about how little money we’ll all be taking home (after paying rent and our suppliers). We’re so worried about money and angry at how sore our calves are (for nothing!) that maybe it takes us a full minute before we notice that one of the oyster dudes, who knows we haven’t taken a lunch break (we never do), has set aside a couple fresh Malbec oysters, shucked and dozing on a bed of crushed ice. A gift. For us. And even though we think oysters taste like sea snot, we squirt them with a lemon wedge anyway, slurp down the briny gelid offering, and say, reduced to monosyllables of gratitude, “So good. Thank you.”