One weekday afternoon, my household (which at the moment includes me, a spouse, and a teen-age son) went out for lunch at an Oklahoma-barbecue place called Au Jus, in East Harlem. The temperature was in the thirties, but the sun was shining up Lexington, at this hour favoring the east side of the avenue. We placed our orders indoors, then sat curbside, in a wood frame without walls, at a picnic table chained to a signpost. A waitress brought out brisket sandwiches and a carafe of ice water. We snarfed down the sandwiches before le jus could cool. As soon as the sun dipped behind the Tuskegee Airmen Bus Depot, a block south, we didn’t want to hang around. This was no three-Martini lunch. I couldn’t even brave a sip of ice water.
In “Alive,” the story of the Uruguayan rugby team stranded high in the Andes after a plane crash, the survivors, sustaining themselves on the frozen corpses of their companions, wait seventy-two days for a rescue. It is hard to fathom this feat while one is dining outside, at sea level, in New York City. Two months? Try an hour. The first twenty minutes are a snap: Why haven’t we always done this? The second twenty start to smart: Is it just me, or is there a draft? The final twenty: Who do we eat first? Usually, it’s the legs and feet that let you down. Even with the gatkes, the cold starts to rise from the ground as the blood retreats to the core. Some restaurants offer blankets, but, like those on a commercial flight, they have to be washed after each use. Cleaned and resealed in plastic, they can cost a restaurant almost eight dollars each. At the Odeon, waiters pass out packets containing space blankets, which are more like fifty cents apiece. These the Uruguayans did not have.
If a table is warm enough, it’s probably not outside enough.