When I was 12, I had a terrible ear infection. We had just moved across the country to a new town. I didn’t know anybody, couldn’t go to school, was in pain, had balance problems, and was just miserable. But I found weekly salvation in the kindness of a short-order cook and my father.
For months in the winter of 1966, at 5:30 a.m., my father and I would drive from Stony Brook, Long Island into Manhattan where he had his electrical shop, and I had my dreaded once-a-week appointment with the hated ear doctor.
We left at that God-awful early hour because my father could not stand commuting in traffic. He was a morning person. Cheerful. Alert. The whole drive he would try to entertain me with stories about my childhood imaginary friend Timmy and history lessons. I, much too sophisticated for imaginary friends, sat sulking, bleary-eyed, and often tearful and terrified at the prospect of another tortuous appointment with the doctor.
We would arrive in the city so early that even the act of finding a parking space near my father’s shop at 1204 Lexington Avenue wasn’t impossible.
My Friend, the Short-Order Cook
Car parked, we walked a block or two in the freezing cold to a tiny restaurant. It was no wider than a railroad car. Just a grill, a Formica counter, and 10 stools. The place was old, humid, always packed with people, and oh, so welcoming.
The man at the grill never fully turned around, just swiveled his head slightly to acknowledge the newest person to grab a coveted spot at the counter or listen to the take-out order being shouted at him by the person standing over the shoulder of somebody seated. He provided equal service “first come, first served” to working-class men in coveralls and Wall Street guys in pinstripe suits.
There was only one customer he ever took the time to talk to and that was me. He knew what I was having. My order never changed. It was a duplicate of my father’s — a hard roll with butter except I had hot chocolate with whipped cream from a can instead of my dad’s black coffee.
“You’re going to that mean old doctor today, kid?” he’d always ask with great sympathy as the potatoes sizzled in the back. “Well, give him a little kick when he’s done. That’s what I’d do.” Then, he’d wink at my dad and turn back to the griddle and the 10 orders of eggs, bacon, and pancakes he was preparing.
My Father, My Protector
My father and I would sit there silently, smearing the softened butter from those little packets onto our rolls. We’d eat. Then, head to his shop. He’d open the metal gates and greet his workers warmly. Then bark orders to them. They’d smile at him, pat me on the head, and head out on the various service jobs they had lined up.
All the while, I’d sit there and read. Sometimes though, I’d look up and watch my father. Just like the short-order cook, he treated everybody the same, be they, housewives with a toaster to repair or clients with fancy brownstones on Fifth Avenue, or a man down on his luck begging for a dime for a cup of coffee.
After a few hours, my father would look at the clock on the wall and nod. Off we’d go to the doctor, my hand clutching his big bear paw. Somehow, I’d get through the appointment and the day. If I was lucky, we’d go to the Natural Museum of History afterward.
Finally, we’d drive home. It would take a long time. There’d be lots of traffic. My father would sigh a lot but still managed to tell me stories. Relaxed now, I could laugh. Invariably I’d find a crumb or two from the morning’s hard roll on my coat.
I remembered all this last Saturday when Handsome Hubby and I went out to brunch. Our favorite diner was packed. So, we sat at the counter. I watched the short-order cook at work, marveled at his skill, and also, had a little cry. HH just hugged me. He knows this story about the NYC short-order cook and he also knows how much I miss my father.
https://karengalatz.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Short-order-cook.jpg436500Karen Galatzhttps://muddling.me/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/new-logo3.jpgKaren Galatz2022-09-28 08:01:302022-09-28 14:35:19In Praise of a Short-Order Cook