I didn’t go to a restaurant on Saturday. It was Valentine’s Day on a Saturday night and I was in no mood to deal with that weirdness. Instead I found this piece of writing and worked on it over the weekend. Enjoy and we’ll see you tomorrow!
This is an excerpt from a story I wrote for a one-off magazine (no advertising sold for that one either) I published a before I started blogging called “Bar Crawl.”
A lot of times when I’m writing a “travelogue” type story, you push people’s buttons to try and get a reaction out of them, but then it turns into real life, if you know what I mean. Kind of like performance theater turning into a real situation. This started out as me intentionally goofing with an owl-eyed freak in a diner and ended up with me really hating him and this fucking old-school waiter. Read on and see what I mean.
Grilled Cheese and Owl Eyes at the Flame Diner in New York City
Well I’ve been wandering and it appears I’ve wandered right into the middle of a diner called the Flame. Which is good because I’m starving. This joint is a real old school New York diner. No fancy trappings, just good old diner atmosphere and food. There’s your standard grey counter, wooden tables, booths and best of all, single-sized booths in the middle of the diner.
I plop down in a single booth and within seconds a grey-haired waiter appears bearing a menu and a glass of ice water. He’s dressed in your standard diner man’s black pants, white shirt with a maroon apron. A grey dishtowel hangs from his left back pocket.
“Good evening sir,” he says as he’s handing me the menu and placing the ice water in front of me. I notice he’s got that Greek/Italian accent that you hear so often in a high quality diner. Oh this guy was born to be a Diner Man. He’s got all the characteristics.
“I’ll be back momentarily for your drink order sir,” he tells me. And then—and I swear to you this is true—he clicks his heels and walks towards the kitchen area. Like I said, this guy was born to be a Diner Man. No doubt about it.
Within two minutes he’s back at my booth, order pad in hand.
“Have you decided on your drink sir, or do you need more time?” He questions.
“I’m ready and I’ll go ahead and place my dinner order as well,” I tell him with an air of confidence that comes from placing hundreds of orders in diners all over this city.
“Oh, very good sir, very good! What can I bring you?” He says as his pen looms lightly over his order pad.
“I’ll have the vodka pink lemonade for my drink and for my dinner I’ll take the grilled cheese deluxe. And I’d like my fries extra well done,” I say without even looking at the menu. I could tell Diner Man was impressed.
“Excellent choices, sir, your drink will be here momentarily.” He took my menu and then he saluted me.
A true Diner Man, through and through.
In less than 57 seconds he was back with my drink.
I ordered a vodka pink lemonade, which according to the menu was, one and one half ounces of vodka, one half ounce raspberry liqueur and two ounces sour mix. It sounded delicious and refreshing.
With a flick of the wrist, Diner Man sets it down in front of me and then waits for me to take a sip.
“Is it to your liking, sir?” He asks as I sample the drink.
“Perfect,” I answer. Actually it’s terrible, it tastes like bug spray, but I was afraid if I told him this, he’d stick a steak knife into his stomach hara-kiri style. A little white lie never hurt anyone.
“Very good sir,” he replies with a hearty smile. “I’ll check on your dinner order,” and whoosh, off he goes.
A few minutes pass and I notice the paintings on the walls are all paintings of waiters waiting on people in diners. It’s strange to be sitting in a diner, while staring at a painting of a waiter waiting on someone in a diner. It almost feels like I’ve landed in the fourth dimension and I have to admit, it’s kind of disturbing to me.
My concentration on the paintings is broken as a man sits down in the single booth directly across from me. He’s a small man with a light moustache and a balding head. His head is inappropriately large for the small size of his body. I would guess him to be in his mid-thirties and he’s wearing very thick eyeglasses that make him appear very owlish in appearance. He’s not a very pleasant looking fellow at all.
Within seconds Diner Man is handing the owl man a menu and telling him he’ll be back for his drink order.
“I’m just going to drink water,” the Owl tells Diner Man.
Oh brother, this guy knows nothing about eating in a diner. You always get something to drink in addition to the water. You’re at a diner for God’s sake! It doesn’t have to be a liquor drink, get a Coke or a milkshake or something. I could see Diner Man wince, but it didn’t effect him long, this guy’s a pro.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes for your dinner order,” he tells the Owl in tones that I would call halting.
Then he turns to me and says, “Your order will be ready very shortly, would you like another drink sir?”
I think he did this to rub the Owl’s nose in his no-drink order.
“I’m fine, but thank you for asking,” I answer holding up my drink which is still more than half full. I had been at a bar before this and already had about seven beers, so I was pretty good to go.
“Very good sir!” He replies and then speeds off.
Out of the corner of my eye I see the Owl playing with his napkin. Amateur!
Moments later Diner Man appears with my dinner, places it in front of me and asks if there’s anything else I need at the moment.
“No this looks great,” I tell him. He thanks me and then turns to the Owl.
The Owl orders and I don’t believe my ears. He orders the baked chicken dinner and then for the soup he orders chicken noodle. Chicken noodle? You’ve already got chicken as the main course, order the matzo ball soup for God’s sake! What a dolt.
Once again I see Diner Man wince, but he begrudgingly takes the order and hurries off towards the kitchen.
I start in on my dinner and it is four stars good. Extra crisp fries and a perfect grilled cheese. It sounds strange, but it’s really a challenge to get a place to cook the fries extra well done and these were perfect. Simply delicious. I choke down a little more of the vodka pink lemonade so as not to hurt Diner Man’s feelings. I’m about a third of the way through my sumptuous feast when Diner Man brings the Owl his chicken soup.
The Owl doesn’t even thank him. Typical.
Diner Man asks how my meal is.
“Perfect,” I tell him. “My compliments to the chef and your service has been excellent.”
Diner Man was glowing.
“Thank you sir, it’s been a privilege serving you, let me know when you’re ready for dessert,” he says while bowing in my direction and then bolting back to the kitchen area.
I happen to look over at the Owl and he’s eating the crackers that accompanies his soup. But he’s just eating them plain, right out of the pack. He’s not putting them in the soup at all!
Unfuckingbelievable. The crackers go in the soup, that’s why they put them right next to the bowl. Did this guy know nothing about diner etiquette?
And now to make matters worse he’s yelling out in his whiny-ass owl voice to Diner Man that he’d like more crackers. I swear to to the sky and all things in orbit I have never seen anything like this.
Of course Diner Man promptly brings him the crackers—three more packs. And the Owl continues to eat them separately. As I said before, unfuckingbelivable. And now the Owl is staring at me, because I’m staring at him.
“Can I help you with something?” he asks all owl-like. I notice he’s got a bit of a hair lip going on as well as the owl eyes, fucking frightening.
“I was just noticing that you’re not putting your crackers in your soup,” I explain.
“So?” He sneerinlgy counters rolling those scary-ass owl eyes around which, by the way are severely distorted from his Coke bottle glasses.
“It’s just a little...weird,” I tell him, not trying to sound judgmental, just a little surprised.
He just continues to eat the crackers.
“You’re not going to put any of those in the soup?” I question while pointing to the remaining two packs.
With this said, the Owl picks up his soup and water and moves to a booth all the way to the front of the diner. Diner Man approaches him and I see the Owl pointing in my direction while whispering a mile a minute to Diner Man.
After a brief discussion between the two of them, Diner Man approaches me, violently rips my check out of his pad and slams it on my table.
“You can pay at the counter,” he says in tones that have ice dripping from them while staring dagger's at me.
I can’t believe it, he’s taking the Owl’s side.
“He’s not putting his crackers in his soup,” I say to Diner Man. “You don’t think that’s just a little weird? I mean you’ve given him like five packs.”
Diner Man just stares at me for a full minute, then turns and walks back to the Owl and asks loudly, “Would you like some more ice water sir?”
Well that’s too much. Fuck this place. I shovel the the remains of my dinner down and go pay my bill at the counter. As I do this I see Diner Man and the Owl watching my every move. After collecting my change I calmly stroll back to my table, pick up my vodka pink lemonade drink and walk in a straight line right to the booth where the Owl and Diner Man were cavorting.
“This drink,” I say while putting the offending cocktail on the Owl Man's table, “tastes like bug spray.”
Diner Man physically slumps and looks like he’s in a state of shock as I pitifully shake my head in shame at the Owl. Why even waste words with a foul creature like him?
I walk out of the Flame Diner, with my pride intact and ready for more beer. This has been a bad encounter, but the evening is young and I must continue on my journey. I’m not sure where, but sometimes that’s the fun of an unplanned journey, never knowing where it will lead you.