On Friday morning I took the train out to Brooklyn, near where I used to live, to help my friend Ben in the kitchen. He occasionally sidelines as a chef, and we've worked together in the past. He was preparing for his most recent gig: an 80-person dinner party.
We cooked in the large, professional-style kitchen of the building where Ben holds his day job. I wasn’t there for long because I had to head off to an interview, but he remained the rest of the day, and the next.
Ben moves with confidence in the kitchen – bending over the stove, tasting sauces from steaming pots, maneuvering sharp knives as he fillets large cuts of fish, which are riddled in pink and red. I was not nearly so comfortable. It’s been a while since I last cooked under pressure, or for a group of more than 4 or 5. It’s been a while since I was last in a kitchen larger than the size of a breadbox, period. There, in the bright room that smelled of swordfish and lemons, the knife in my hand felt heavy and awkward. The pots were ungainly, and the stove, too hot.
I didn’t do a whole lot that afternoon. I pitted a crate of dates and helped to churn some ice cream. I seasoned ricotta with lemon zest, nutmeg, and salt. I poured a heavy-scented pot of garlic confit into plastic tubs to store. When I left, a couple of hours later, I took a deep breath. Everything felt unfamiliar.
I walked back to the subway on a street lined with brownstone apartments in Park Slope. I used to walk that way everyday, back when I lived in the neighborhood. The buildings are uniform in their russet-colored brick, locked together like a row of soldiers at attention. There is one block, however, where something is different. I had forgotten about it in the year and a half since I had moved. But walking by on Friday, I recalled: There is one building, toward the end of a block, which is painted a bright, screaming pink.
I stopped in front and smiled. I had forgotten about the pink.
A few years ago, on a Saturday afternoon in the fall, I strolled down this very block with a few friends, on our way home from Prospect Park.
“Why would someone paint their house that color?” a skeptical friend asked when we passed the home.
I shrugged. “Who knows,” I said.
“The people who live there must be crazy,” he concluded.
Secretly, though, I loved the house. It reminded me of summer and, perhaps, my childhood fascination with flamingos. Sometimes I even went out of my way to walk by its birthday cake-like exterior. It made me smile when I passed.
But this last Friday, heading away from the kitchen, I was surprised by the vivid pink. It didn’t seem right, bursting in color there in the leafless cold of a New York winter. It looked strange and slightly awkward. Like the way Ben’s chef knife had felt in my hand a few minutes earlier.
“I wonder who lives there,” I thought. I kept walking.