Thursday, April 29, 2010

Not Ready for My Close-up

"Food Network taping in Lincoln Square this afternoon." You've got to hand it to my friend, Mary--she knows how to craft an email subject line.

I clicked on the link to an article she forwarded and yes indeed, the Food Network would be filming at Lutz Bakery, maybe a 15-minute walk from my house. Taping, according to the news item, was already completed for a kitchen-centric segment but the public was invited to come on down, between 2 and 4 p.m., and participate in a scene yet to be filmed in the cafe. Thanks, but no thanks, I typed back. Camera shy, I said. Not a fan of Lutz, I added.

Of course, I went.

I am not, I should quickly point out, a fame whore. I never so much as tried out for a school play, and barely suffer to pose for family photos. I prefer to fly under the radar. But I have an obsession with bakeries. While I had no intention of worming my way into a Food Network shot, I was interested in watching how the show was put together. Honestly, what I really was hoping for was a sneak peek into the inner workings at Lutz. In my dreams, I pictured the owner taking a shine to me--a quiet bystander--and shuttling me back into the kitchen to give one of his giant Hobart mixers a spin. (I don't know, for a fact, that Lutz uses a Hobart, but I've never seen an industrial mixer that was anything but.)

So I sauntered off to Lutz under the pretense that I was simply a gal in need of a sugar fix. Just in case I arrived and, surprise, a Food Network taping happened to be under way, I made a little extra effort with my hair (which was two weeks overdue for a haircut) and put on my cropped blue corduroy jacket, which pretty much serves as my wardrobe's little black dress.

As I walked up Montrose Avenue towared the bakery, I wondered if I had read the information wrong. I've come across a few movie crews in my day--where were the trucks and trailers? Where was the throng of gawkers attracted by any display of lights and cameras? Instead, the sidewalk was deserted, like it always is. This stretch of Montrose isn't exactly a mecca for foot traffic and it always surprises me that Lutz, which opened in 1948, has survived at this address for as long as it has. I mean, I've lived in the vicinity for nearly 10 years, have a massive sweet tooth, and this would only mark my second visit. Because I forget the place exists.

I tentatively approached the doorway and spied a sign in the window informing patrons of the camera crew on premises. I took a breath and entered close behind a handsome young-ish man in a gray pinstripe suit. Because I don't have cable, I rarely catch Food Network programming, so I'm not as familiar with its personalities as I'd like to be. Could this be the host?

Um, no. Turns out he was Lutz' loan officer, which I learned by totally eavesdropping on his conversation with a woman who seemed to be the owner/manager/person of importance. (To further shake your already diminished confidence in our banking system, the gentleman had apparently doled out large sums of money to Lutz while never before bothering to visit to determine whether it was, in fact, a decent investment.) There was no camera crew in sight and precious few customers besides myself, although I did witness much flurrying of staff--people popping out from the kitchen who clearly rarely visit the front of the shop.

Apparently I had ill-timed my arrival. The Food Network was between set-ups and in the hurry-up-and-wait world of Hollywood, everyone was cooling their heels for the next segment to begin shooting in the outdoor cafe (typically not open until Mother's Day but I guess the Food Network gets what the Food Network wants). I lingered in front of the bakery cases, pretending to peruse the merchandise while hoping to overhear a more definitive filming schedule and waiting for that chimerical invite into the kitchen. It did not materialize.

Eventually I could loiter no longer, what with there being no one else for staff to wait on, and selected a couple of treats that I didn't particularly want to buy or eat. (While I give Lutz credit for eschewing the cupcake trend and sticking to its European roots--strudels and tortes and bite-sized cookies--I find their cakes to be fairly dry and tasteless. Sorry.) As I waited to pay at the register, I seized upon an opportunity to insert myself into the tete-a-tete between the banker and the owner/manager/person of importance. Playing innocent, I asked, weren't the Baumkuchen samples on the counter featured in the New Yorker? Why yes, the PoI responded. Seems that's what had sparked the Food Network's interest (as if I hadn't already guessed). Suddenly banker boy was the third wheel and I was one-on-one with the PoI. "Do you know 'Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives'? Guy Fieri?" she asked. Mercifully, I did after wallowing in satellite TV on our last vacation. "He has a new show, 'A Kid in a Candy Store.'" (This contradicts info sent in Mary's link. Who to believe--a local reporter or a PoI?) The focus is on sweet shops, the Lutz segment should air in three or four months. How very exciting, I replied.

Then I paid for my slices of strange-looking pastries (one, a hazelnut log, and the other, I swear, called something like "The Plucker"), collected my change and left. Not five feet out the door and I was kicking myself for not staying. At that point, I could have turned around, I should have turned around, but every step I took toward home made that outcome less and less likely.

I don't know why I couldn't admit that I really wanted to watch the taping. It's not as if banker boy felt the need to engage in subterfuge--he was at Lutz for one reason and one reason only. I don't know why I didn't just ask the PoI if it was OK to hang back and be a fly on the wall.

I don't know why I'm so shy about doing or getting what I want.

When I was a little girl, my big sister, Anne, would take me by the hand, walk me over to my best friend's house, ring the doorbell, and ask if Amy could come out and play with me. If only Anne had been with me at Lutz, I have no doubt what would have happened: We would have marched into the bakery, asked about the taping, grabbed ourselves a table in the cafe and gotten ourselves on TV. Barring Anne's magical appearance from two states away, what I really needed was crowd. Us shy folks, ironically, find safety in numbers. Crowds give us cover, crowds give us anonymity, crowds give us permission to do whatever everyone else is doing without drawing any attention to ourselves.

I keep wondering when I'm going to stop wanting to be so invisible. When I'm going to stop observing from the sidelines and become an active participant. When I'm going to blossom into the assertive, confident woman that Oprah insists I should be by now. I keep wondering when I'll stop worrying whether I'm pretty enough to have my picture taken. Whether I'm smart enough or funny enough to hold up my end of a conversation. Whether anyone will want to come out an play with me. When I'll stop needing someone to hold my hand.

This was not that day.

Later that night, I sliced "The Plucker" in half and shared it with my husband (the one thing I did reach out and grab--perhaps I blew my whole wad with that one act of courage). The icing was hard and completely separated from the cake, which was as dry as expected. It didn't really matter; at I ate, all I could think about was how I had come to buy the thing in the first place. It could have been the sweetest of treats and it would have left a bad taste in my mouth.


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