I hate Times Square. Most New Yorkers do. Unfortunately, it tends to be unavoidable, especially when you work in the lower part of Midtown. There are, of course, easy ways to avoid it, but today I found myself craving a falafel, and the best place to buy one was at a cart on Forty-fifth Street, between Broadway and Seventh Avenue. I had been waiting here a while, and at the moment, I was fifth in line. Behind me stood five feet, six inches of casually dressed fury. "Come on!" he shouted to the front of the line. "When you're standin' in line for fifteen minutes, you can have your money out!"
Now I was fourth in line.
"Jesus Christ! What the hell is so hard about this! He hands you the falafel, you hand him the cash! What is this? Rocket science?"
He was not nearly as obnoxious as the gentleman in front of me. I say gentleman because that's exactly what he was, with his tailored, charcoal gray suit, brown, patent-leather briefcase, and the shiniest pair of shoes I'd ever seen. Being a businessman in the twenty-first-century Manhattan, a Bluetooth sprouted from his ear. "A falafel!" he shouted. "Falafel! I said falafel! Fah-lah-ful! Falafel! I said falafel, what do you think I said? No, I didn't say that, I said falafel!"
Now I was third in line.
"Come on!" yelled the man behind me. "You can't buy a falafel off a cart with a credit card!"
"Falafel!" yelled the man in front of me. "Falafel! F-A-L-F ... No, wait! F-A-L-A-F-F... No, wait! F-A-L-A-F-F ... No, wait! F-A-L-L-A ... No, wait!"
I leaned over. "F-A-L-A-F-E-L."
He turned to me with an expression halfway between "Did he do that?" and "Oh, no, he didn't!" He snapped, "Excuse me, jerk-off, do I listen in on your private phone calls and tell you what to say?"
He returned his attention to the thing in his ear. "Not you! I was talking to this jerk-off in line behind me. Jerk-off! I said jerk-off!"
I was now second in line.
From behind me, I heard, "Come on!"
"Give me a minute," the gentleman told the vendor, "I'm in the middle of an important call."
"Falafel!" the gentleman informed the Bluetooth. "I said falafel!" He then turned to me. "How did you say that was spelled?"
"F! A! L! A! F! E! L!"
The vendor asked the gentleman, "You want falafel?"
"Excuse me," he told his earpiece. To the vendor, he asked, "Do you have a hot dog?"
"No hot dogs. Only falafel."
"Are you sure?"
"You can't make one special?"
"I cannot," the vendor replied.
"Jesus Christ!" yelled the guy behind me.
"Well, all right, then," the gentleman said and left the line. As he disappeared, we could hear, "Hot dog! Hot dog! I said ... "
Now I was first in line. By this point, the word seemed funny, so I held up my index finger.
"Hurry it up!"
The vendor wrapped the stuffed pita in paper, told me the price, and I replied, "That's not right."
"Says on the sign," he told me.
"The sign says a different price than the one you just told me."
The vendor stretched his neck out of the cart to see what was posted. "Price go up."
"I only brought enough for the price on the sign."
"Then no falafel," he replied.
"There are other people in line here!"
"I'll make you a deal," I said. "I'll pay yesterday's price today, and when I come back tomorrow, I pay the difference."
"How I know you come back?" he asked.
"Because I'm here every day."
He thought about it for a moment while the man behind me offered some helpful advice. "Just sell him the stupid falafel!"
The vendor took the cash and handed me the food. "You come back?"
"You've got the best cart in the city."
"Thank you, my friend."
I stepped away from the line and toward my freedom.
"Finally!" was the last thing I heard.
Walking back to work, I unwrapped that for which I'd fought so hard, and just as I brought the savory taste of the Mediterranean up to my lips, I saw something that made me drop it.