Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Diner

The other piece of Americana out here at the edge of Brooklyn - right under the bridge that they are doing stupid stunts on in Saturday Night Fever, you know - is the diner. The closest diner is a weird mix which could exist nowhere else in the world.

It is a low, concrete building, with an ample parking lot in front. Still, most people walk here, this diner is for the locals. There's no traffic through this area, it's all people who live here or who come to visit their relatives. Here you meet all the cliches.

In the boot behind me, two men discuss what they will do if they get crossed, in heavy fake-russian accents. They loudly flirt with the waitress, in between describing their favourite weapons. With them is a woman with a blue wig and an old handbag. As they leave, my New York connection murmurs "bad actors. Really need to work more on that accent if they want to pass the audition. Not to mention their table manners."

The waitress they were flirting with is no little spring chicken. She banters with her guests, yells across the room, and calls everybody "love", "honey" or "darling". She wears white sneakers with the black skirt and vest that's the diner uniform, and a white towel, tucked into the belt of her skirt, trails her as she jogs by. The service is quick and efficient and definitely no-nonsense. And with the food you'll get her opinions on just about anything, just give her a moment of chance. It will also be freely shared with the rest of the people in the diner.

Not that the guests are a private lot. In five minutes after the wannabe russian mafia has moved out, we learn all details about an aunt's chemotherapy and the relatives coming over from Manhattan for dinner, tonight. And where is a good restaurant? My New York connection joins into the common sharing of local restaurant lore, and suggests my favourite restaurant. 30 seconds later three waitresses are trying to lower their voices while they explain to the lady that THAT restaurant is just too... Well, you should have seen what they do... how they behave... so stuffy... and the food is just odd...

We quickly learn the names of all the waitresses, as they are yelled across the room. Only the one male waiter is somehow outside of this. He is serving in the table section, not the boots. He moves quietly and quickly back and forth, silenced perhaps, by the massive - in all ways - femininity ruling the booths.

The diner isn't bad. The food is OK, and the servings are good for at least two meals. The cakes are huge and overdone, and the desserts are a punishment, not a treat - unless you share them with eight. They have a cocktail lounge, which means mainly that you can get all kinds of cocktails. This is where I had my first Long Island Ice Tea. It was served with a snicker, and I am never doing it again. If you don't know what a Long Island Ice Tea is - well, let's just say, it's an experience.

This may sound like a nightmarish experience, but it isn't, it's just really different. I think the reason why I like it is the people who come here, and the way they are received. Old ladies who can hardly hear are treated with the same offhand manners as their yuppie grandsons. Pretty student girls bend quietly ignored over their books in the corner boot, while kids going trick or treat are taken in, treated, have their costumes discussed and then are sent off again with tips to where they should go. It is an institution, abrasive and brash, yes, but also alive, vigorous and in synch with the people who live here and use it. And despite its fake stained-glass decorations, complete with clashing music selections at each booth, it could only exist here. I do think it's a place outside of time though. I have seen it in movies for 80 years.

1 comment:

Alfred Thompson said...

This is the second post in two days I have read by someone in Brooklyn and I am amazed by how much these stories make me miss it. I had thought I was beyond that having moved away over 25 years ago and not having been back in a bunch of years. Thanks for sharing.