The day was supposed to be a date with my husband, without my daughter, that included lunch and a visit to the New York Public Library to see Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, an exhibit of texts from each religion.
We decided to stop at a restaurant where we could order white pizza and, after a discussion of whether we should get a small or medium, decided on the medium size. The waiter brought a huge pie to our table. Clearly, we should have chosen the small.
“It’s okay,” I assured my husband. “We’ll take the leftovers with us and eat it for dinner tomorrow.”
At the end of the meal, the waiter kindly provided a plate and bag, instead of a cumbersome box, and off we went toward Forty-Second and Fifth for the library.
The security guard gave my purse a cursory look and accepted my comment that we had pizza in the bag but wouldn’t eat in the building. We walked over to the Gottesman Exhibition Hall where another guard stopped us to look in our bag.
“You can’t bring food into the exhibit,” she said.
“That’s okay,” I reassured my husband. “We’ll check it in the coat check room.”
We walked over to the coat room and the clerk asked what was in the bag.
“Pizza,” I said.
He picked up the phone and called his supervisor to ask if he could allow food in the coat room. He hung up the phone.
“Sorry,” he said. “I can’t take the bag.”
“It’s just for an hour while we go to the exhibit.”
“Sorry. I called my supervisor and he said no.” He waved to the bag. “If he comes down and sees the bag I’ll get in trouble.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Let’s just throw it out,” my husband said as we walked away from the coat check room. “We’re here to enjoy our time together not worry about food.”
“We’ll find some place for it,” I said.
I walked over to the information desk and listened as the woman, probably a volunteer, cheerfully gave instructions to a man curious about volumes on other floors.
While she was talking, I noticed an empty stool by her desk and figured our problem would soon be solved.
The man walked away and the woman turned to me.
“How can I help you?” She smiled.
I explained our situation and asked if I could leave our bag on the stool while we looked at the exhibit.
Her smile faded. “We can’t hold any food.” She turned away from me and busied herself with straightening papers on her desk.
Now I have been known to throw out food that has grown old and moldy in our refrigerator, but the thought of throwing out fresh food gnawed at me.
I returned to the guard in front of the exhibit hall.
“I’m not going to open the bag and eat in the exhibit,” I said.
“I know that,” the guard said. “But there are cameras all over and watching me. I can’t let you in with the bag.”
“Would you like some pizza to keep for later?” I ask. “It’s fresh and I don’t want to throw it away.
“Thank you. I can’t.”
“Let’s just toss it,” my husband said.
“I’ll be right back.”
“Where are you going?”
“To find a homeless person. I can’t throw this away.”
I ran down the library steps and headed to Bryant Park. It had turned into a shopping mall for upscale gifts of chocolate, hats in every color, and objects of no use except as presents for a person who had everything.
I was looking for a person who had nothing, and with all the shoppers and tourists about it was no wonder I couldn’t find anyone.
I ducked out of Bryant Park and rushed to the subway stairwell first on Fortieth Street and then on Forty-Second. No luck. I passed a worker dressed as Cookie Monster and wearing a backpack large enough to hold my bag if he or she wanted pizza for dinner. But I decided not to interrupt Cookie Monster waving at the passersby.
I knew my husband was waiting and wished I had asked him to come with me so we at least could share this search together. But since I didn’t, I knew I had better get back soon. I said a silent short prayer, please help me find a hungry person.
I cut through the shopping village and saw a policeman.
“I can’t bring food into the library and this is fresh pizza. Do you know anyone who’s hungry?”
“A guy was just here,” the policeman said as if my question was the most natural thing he had heard all day. “He usually sits at the fourth table back.”
The cop started walking and I followed. We stopped at a small green table with a dirty folded New York Post.
“That’s his paper. He sits here,” the cop said.
“If I leave the bag, do you think he’ll get it?”
“He’ll get it.” The cop walked away.
I placed the bag on the table and raced back to the library.
My husband was waiting at the base of the lion.
“I found someone.”
“You did?” He seemed pleased, and then added, “Just be glad this isn’t our first date. That’s all I’m going to say.”
We passed through the guards and entered the exhibit hall to learn about three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and how they share common tenets: Monotheism, Abraham, Revelation, and Scriptures. The free exhibit was a feast for mind and eye.
Near the end of the display, a section featured private prayer. I read the panel which included an English translation of what I realized was the shehecheyanu, the Jewish prayer said upon arriving at a new occasion:
“Blessed are you, Lord, Our God, King of the Universe who has given us life and sustained us, and brought us to this season.”
To this I added: Thank you for the policeman.
And one more thing, God. Don’t worry. Next time we’ll order the small pie.
-Bonnie Beth Chernin