Every so often, I get jaded. I start to believe that since I’ve lived in NYC so long, I’ve seen everything. People tossed from cars into fountains? Seen it. Bodies from 1930’s mob hits unearthed during a prep school renovation? Doesn’t even make the news. Hurricanes? Subway strikes? Exploding manhole covers? Yawn. Some guy scaling a building like he’s going up the North Face? Yeah, that – AND the copycat who showed up less than 2 hours later to try the same stunt .
But this week, a news story hit that really made me sit up and take notice. This is a story that combines several NY obsessions: random crime, hidden menace, and brunch.
Granted, if this great city were able to deal with mental health issues effectively, half our news items would disappear – including this one. But we don’t. We allow the mentally deranged to roam our streets unattended, unaided, and untethered from reality until such time as they break a law. Anyhoo. Let’s get to the story.
One fine day, the employees at Sarabeth’s on the Upper West Side show up for work. It was a typical Sunday morning. Sunday, by the way, is brunch day in Manhattan. Brunch is an institution here, and the best brunch places often refuse to take reservations. You get your group together, you put your name and guest count on the list held by the greeter at the front, and you wait on the sidewalk outside until someone calls your name. The kids run around, the adults chat, and everyone peers jealously at the lucky diners who are already seated and being served mimosas in festive glasses.
The wait is never less than 30 minutes; 30 minutes is fine. People usually start balking when the time goes over an hour, but there are hardy souls who will queue up for a really great brunch place and wait for 90 minutes or more. It sharpens the appetite.
Sarabeth’s is one of those places. It is justifiably famous for its range of jams and fruit spreads which are available for purchase wherever fine food products are sold. The pancakes, waffles, omelets, brunch drinks – delicious! If you are motivated enough to show up at the crack of dawn (8 am, when it opens), you’ll be spared the longest waits and the muffins are hot out of the oven.
On the other hand, those who work in the restaurant industry between auditions tend to hate brunch. I have a friend who, to this day, can’t bear the sight of a poached egg. If you’re thinking of working in a restaurant while auditioning for your one big break on Broadway, you’ve come to the right place. Brunch cafes almost always need charismatic, talented actors who can plate and serve hundreds of eggs Benedict per hour. You’ll need a cool head and physical strength.
This combination of skills came in handy for the staff last Sunday, when a man unexpectedly emerged from the freezer in Sarabeth’s kitchen. He said he was attempting to escape from Satan. The man, unrecognized by any of the staff, seized a knife and began to menace the employees. News reports stressed that no one in the kitchen recognized him. This is important: apparently the sight of enraged, murderous ex-employees is not uncommon in the seedy underworld of brunch service.
The staff were able to disarm him and take him to the floor. At that point, the knife-wielding crazy person claimed HE was the one who needed help, and asked for an ambulance. When the ambulance arrived, it was too late. The mystery man was dead.
There are so many unanswered questions. I’m willing to grant that Satan was after his soul, but how did Satan get this guy into Sarabeth’s? Subsequent reports gave the man’s name, the fact he was recently released from jail in Boston, and was a suspect in a murder case from 1988. Why was he in a freezer? Was he there since 1988? The cause of death was heart failure, but how? Does Sarabeth’s really keep the fridge so cold that it’s lethal? You’d think a brisk knife-attack with Satan at one’s back would warm up the blood to room temperature pretty darn fast. Furthermore, he’d been inside for 3 hours or more – do you really mean to say no one needed to reach in to defrost more hollandaise until 11 a.m.? On a Sunday, the busiest brunch day of the week? That’s surprising.
As mysteries go, this is minor. It’s not the Mary Celeste. It’s not a vanished Malaysian flight. Still, if I were the manager at Sarabeth’s or any other popular brunch spot, I’d change the locks, institute regular before-closing and after-opening checks of all storage spaces, and maybe get some sage candles and holy water from a local Botanica, just to be on the safe side. And I’d definitely 86 the deviled eggs from the menu.