Leslie Buck, RIP


This is the most beautiful place on earth.

There are many such places. Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary. A houseboat in Kashmir, a view down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, a gray gothic farmhouse two stories high at the end of a red dog road in the Allegheny Mountains, a cabin on the shore of a blue lake in spruce and fir country, a greasy alley near the Hoboken waterfront, or even, possibly, for those of a less demanding sensibility, the world to be seen from a comfortable apartment high in the tender, velvety smog of Manhattan, Chicago, Paris, Tokyo, Rio, or Rome — there’s no limit to the human capacity for the homing sentiment.

So begins Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire; he perfectly captures a notion of perfection that Plato would have hated… and been secretly envious of.

I have heard it argued that “there is no such thing as perfect”. I disagree, of course; my view, instead, is that there are many perfect things; ask a new parent (do so before diaper changing gets old–you have maybe a day or two). Monday saw the passing of the designer of one perfect thing. I had never heard his name before today’s obituaries, but I knew and loved his design, as did literally millions of other people.

Leslie Buck (born Laszlo Büch) was 87, a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald (that alone is worthy of note), designed the coffee cup that embodied New York City, the classic blue and white “anthora”, with its Greek Key border, pair of amphoras, and the perfect three golden cups of steaming coffee under the words “We are happy to serve you”. Buck designed it to honor (and, to be honest, to sell to) the Greek diners that populated New York. Hundreds of millions were sold each year (currently, it is no longer in standard production, although it may be custom ordered).

Greeks traveling to the US were welcomed by their countrymen who had already made the journey. Some of the most successful of the earlier wave were the owners of diners–Greek diners, yes, but also many others; because success breeds success, the diner niche in New York was filled by Greeks (oddly enough, I did not learn this in NY, but in Greece, from a historian there). Buck’s design was a shrewd marketing ploy, and it paid off royally. The cup is perfect, and perfect New York.

Last time I was in NY, I and a friend had breakfast in a Greek diner. With the news of Buck’s death, I regret that we did not get our coffee to go. Oh, well. And it is getting harder to find the cup these days, with invasive species of coffee growing unchecked in the city.

Nothing could be finer
Than a New York City diner
With a perfect cup of coffee in your hand
And I wish I had, once more, a
Paper blue-and-white anthora
There’s no better cup you’ll find in all the land
With a bit of Greek confection
And a cup o’ Joe, perfection
Could be found, it seems, on every city block
So, Leslie Buck, here’s to ya
Though I never even knew ya
Both the cup and the designer… out of stock.

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