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From the Acropolis to Zeke the Greek’s Midnight Buffet*

Too much to drink yesterday calls for omelets today. My delicate condition reminds me of diners, another great American institution inexorably linked to immigrants, teenagers, the open road and late night cheese and gravy-covered fries. My first experiences at diners were with my grandparents, great fans of split pea soup and other culinary mysteries. They liked the depression-friendly prices, the familiarity of weekday specials and I would like to think, the small pleasures of squeaky pleather booths and mesmerizing pie carousels. We even went to a diner after my grandfather’s funeral and toasted Jack’s memory with dirty cup and saucer coffee. To this day if my grandmother and I are out on the town having a browse she will inevitably ask if we can stop at the Saybrook, where I always take pleasure in paying the bill before she notices but then later find that she tucked $5 in my purse when I was in the bathroom. We all have our routines.

In high school the neon and chrome diner loomed large over our suburban nights. It certainly didn’t explain the entire 6.5 hours spent outside the familial home which also included getting a little stoned on a beach/wooded area and driving up and down Rt 1 but it was a suitable enough alibi. We always ended up there eventually. The atmosphere was different depending on who you were with. If it was a theater kid honors group you could count on my ordering milky tea and cinnamon toast, if it was with a later crowd I might have even dared smoking a cigarette in public just to see how it looked (awesome). There were rules: you flirted with boys from neighboring towns but never gave your phone number; someone would try to order an alcoholic drink but since that area was presiding over by the mustachioed owner he was always unceremoniously denied; you drank as many refills as you were allowed and thought about rain and Nirvana while you made an ironic selection from the tableside jukebox. The waitresses were varicose-veined, crows footed cliches but never made us quiet down or sit down as 12 of us hovered around one table. Those women are saints.

In college there was nothing illicit about staying up to all hours boozing with the boys form the first floor. But a trip off campus felt deliciously like cheating. In this incarnation the diner was a cozy refuge for conspirational conversation and a dose of reality. It was in the unfashionable end of town. You didn’t have to furrow your brow and contemplate Feuerbach while you enjoyed your Tom Soyer on multigrain. There were actual perverts and marginal characters, hunched over their hot open faced turkey sandwich. At this point I must mentioned that despite my confessed family conventions I do not trust anyone who orders a full dinner at a diner. It is not the place for overcooked veggies; it is the hour for egg and cheese on a hard roll. You know this. There were many episodes of truth telling, sobering up and deep exhalations during this formative time. It was after graduation that we took to frequenting the place on hungover Sundays. We were already nostalgic for those innocent days, I suppose. Which is, to be sure the entire point of the diner. It’s kitch without snicker and unscripted reality. It’s less than perfection and just getting by, it’s a promising business for men and women who work hard and believe that you can serve an egg at any time of day or night and it will provide nourishment both physical and spiritual and minister to lost souls from every walk of life.

* a made up but very excellent name

There Are 4 Responses So Far. »

  1. Being one of the mentioned boys from the first floor, I also enjoyed the Acropolis. The $3 “three waffle and coffee” special was unbeatable at two in the morning, whether you trashy fourth-floor girls were there, or not. 🙂

  2. Be careful how you use the words “delicate condition”….unless you want me in the Casita by Tuesday.
    Love you!

  3. For an Indiana boy, White Castle at 2 am for a bag of sliders was the best end to an evening. I can still smell the onions.

  4. Ah the memories! The good ole’ diner was always the best place after a night of “bowling” or “the beach”. love ya!

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