Crumbl in the Jungl
Literary journalism incoming...
It is Eid this morning, and we all know that means, team. It means I am no longer a pissy little bitch during the day. It means I have been freed from the shackles of God, and now we celebrate in my newfound liberation (having normal blood sugar levels during the day), to the delight of everyone who is forced to interact with me in person.
At the moment, I’m staring down a bag of donuts. For some reason, I associate Eid with donuts—specifically, Krispy Kreme—and so last night I desperately, unsuccessfully toiled in fruitless quest (moved thumbs around Google Maps) for a donut place around Syracuse not named Dunkin’ that I could attend this fine morning. I set my sights on an establishment attached to an American Legion outpost, about 20 minutes out of the way, simply because it seemed they sold yeasted ones—the superior varietal. Reader, they did not. While I won’t divulge this local business’ name, I must reveal that they, too, traffic in boo-boo ass cake donuts, not to mention the added embarrassment of my dropping a “How we doin’ fellas?” to the sturdy old WW2 vets loitering about and receiving complete silence in return. Next time I’ll try “Eid Mubarak!”
As it happens, though, this is the second time this week I’ve been disappointed by pastries. Let me walk you all through a recent day in my life. Don’t go. Stay. This is what you’re here for, right? Where else on Substack can you find this level of service journalism, this pure a grade of cultural anthropology, in which I, ultimately and inevitably, somewhat condescendingly describe this part of central New York in a manner both twee and patronizing, so as to erase the reality of the very fruitful and agreeable lives many people lead here in favor of making some cheap jokes like calling someone the “Blaketheman1000 of Syracuse” ironically? Hm?
It began as such
I woke up this past Wednesday and read a bit of Hernan Diaz’s Trust (object detail to assure you of my intelligence as well as remind you that I’m in *grad school*). Then I hopped in the #KiaForte to make my way over to Manlius, NY to pick up my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer, which was being serviced by the only place nearby that is licensed to service Kitchen-Aids: a vacuum retail store called “Empire Vac.”
This was my second time in this store (the first being my trip there to drop the damn thing off), and I thus completed a perfectly circular business transaction: $33.62 in exchange for fixing the ‘Stir’ speed so that flour doesn’t blow the fuck up every time I tip some in. The self-employed man running the place (a fascinating guy) told me that he owns five Kitchen-Aids at home (he comes by them frequently in his line of work), because it’s a perfect setup for baking large batches of cookies for church, but when it comes to making mashed potatoes, they just can’t live up to the twin beaters of his vintage Sunbeam MixMaster. Then we proceeded to have this exchange, verbatim:
That Guy: “You see all these Dyson v8s?”
Me: “Yes. I do see them.”
That Guy: “Where do you think I got ‘em?”
Me: “I’m not sure. Where?”
That Guy: “Bed Bath & Beyond.”
Me: “Oh, cool.”
That Guy: “I cleared ‘em out of v8s. You walk in there right now, you can’t find one. Who do you think got ‘em? Me. I walked in and said, ‘How many v8s you got?’ and he said, ‘17,’ and I said, ‘Put ‘em on a cart, I’ll take them all.’ Yup.”
Me: No way. That’s awesome.
I thanked him and hooked the stand mixer under my arm and left the store, driving back east down Genesee to my next destination.
The next stop in my journey
It was only twelve minutes later that I stopped in the aptly named Shoppingtown Mall area of Erie Boulevard, in Dewitt, NY. I had a few errands to run.
First, I popped into Ulta Beauty to buy sunscreen for my face. One time I walked in here and was cajoled into signing up for a rewards program, which consisted of five minutes of my laboriously providing my name (spelled twice to ensure she got it right), my email address, my phone number, and my mailing address. In a world now almost sanitized of human interaction, this one was particularly excruciating.
Not today, though! Supergoop sunscreen in hand, I took a sharp right out of Ulta Beauty and confidently pulled open the door to Golf Galaxy, where I hoped to find a used set of clubs for less than $500 to prepare for the summer.
Alas, this did not happen. Only an idiot walks into Golf Galaxy and assumes he can find a used set of clubs for less than $500 to prepare for the summer. The teenager working there told me as much. His nametag, which did its job and provided his name (Jake), also offered this: “My passion is: GOLF.” I could have guessed this, given that he worked at Golf Galaxy, but I was glad to have my suspicions confirmed.
Here’s where things get interesting
Coincidentally, just a few days earlier, noted diaspora legend Priya Krishna had published a laughably noncommittal article in the NY Times about what seems like the worst business I’ve ever come across: Crumbl Cookies. Here’s the article’s accompanying photo of the founders, neither of whom “had any baking training…[but] figured that those knowledge gaps could be filled through technology and user research.”
And so, here I was, in the parking lot of Shoppingtown Mall on Erie Blvd, pressing the unlock button on my #KiaForte key fob—when most I squint, then do mine eyes best see (Shakespeare reference, for those keeping score)? Across the vast, concrete expanse. Glaring, a tractor beam in the distance. Crumbl Cookies.
I had encountered this foul beast before, had heard tell of its supposedly scrumptious flavors, which are made known via weekly flavor reveals on TikTok. A month ago, another contributor to this Substack (who shall go unnamed) and I chanced a visit to this very same Crumbl, only to be stymied by a crowd clamoring to order on one of their multiple iPads.
This type of place is anathema to to my pretentious, cosmopolitan sensibilities. You all could have guessed that right off the bat. This is as predictable as knowing that I would be first in line to watch Air (Affleck, 2023) and love it.
I hate businesses like these that poison the wells of Gamma- US cities. I fucking hate ordering on iPads. I hate the specialized machinery this company uses to bake their cookies, because commercial ovens can’t produce the correct level of doughiness and aren’t scalable enough for their rapidly expanding product. And I especially hated, after placing an $18 order for four cookies, how the sales associate eventually called my name, box of cookies in hand, and, with a practiced corporate rigor, turned to present me the open box and really made a meal out of showing the cookies to me and only then closed the box before she passed it over the counter. But I had to do it. I had to buy them. I needed to know my enemy intimately before I could know myself.
And after waiting till sundown to try these vile concoctions, my simpleton tastebuds were overwhelmed with sensation. I could only conjure such adjectives as “hmm,” “raw,” “uncooked,” and “ass.” This was how I broke one of my last fasts of the Holy Month. In the end, Iblis won. The Yakubians claimed victory. After hours of abstaining from the cheap fruits of the material world in search of spiritual integrity, I had placed a piece of food engineered by a man named Sawyer Hemsley into my poor, starved mouth.
With that, I offer you a solemn, defeated, humbled, “Eid Mubarak.” Go forth with God. And to the good folks at various businesses both small (Empire Vac, S***** Donut Shop) and mid-sized (Ulta Beauty, Golf Galaxy, Crumbl Cookies, The American Legion)? I salute you. Keep selling your goods in exchange for cash revenue. It’s all we can ever hope to do in this lawless abyss.
Damn dude, you wrote this in a morning? This is one of the best posts you’ve ever done. Shit I gotta up my game….