Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Salt Flash Pepper Blast Ketchup Memories

By Pauly
New York City

Memory blast.

That's the best way I can describe the last few days in New York City. I have been under a constant bombardment of memories. Around every corner. With every step. On every block. Flashbacks from as far back as kindergarten. I can't explain why I'm oversensitive during this particular trip. Maybe my mind is fresh because this has been the most I've been sober in a month. I'm not one to live much in the past, so perhaps I'm just feeling nostalgic, but why now?

The memories are mostly good with a few glimpses into the painful past. And even when those do pop up, I can quickly make them fade by grasping onto another halcyon moment.

I presume that I'm under too much stress during trips to New York in November and December, so my mind is preoccupied as it prepares for a mental siege from my mother. This trip was a lot different, so I wandered in without the emphasis on another failed family holiday. Sure it's Easter, but because it's religious at the core and even though we grew up Catholic, we're essentially Cafeteria Catholics which means we don't care nor recognize any religious significance to Easter aside from the fact that I had to wear a suit to church that day. Christmas and Thanksgiving are family holidays and any semblance of religiousness is stripped away, so we gather to eat food, dodge insults while re-hashing wounds and pick off scabs from former skirmishes from two and three decades earlier.

I can't recall the last time I was home for Easter. It had to be when my grandmother was still alive. Six years? I think it was 2004 because in 2005, I spent Easter in Las Vegas. Grubby and I went to a couple of strip clubs that were empty because of the holiday. I wrote a short story about how I encountered a lush who gave me the worst lapdance in my life. That was God's way of punishing me for visiting a strip club on Easter -- a drunk stripper.

Anyway, after disastrous holidays in 2009 (Turkey Day and Christmas), we had a welcomed surprise with a smooth Easter. I escaped unharmed and was in a relatively pleasant mood. So perhaps I was in a good mindset to absorb the flashbacks and allowing the memories of the old neighborhood to dig in. Deep.

I went to the Greek diner. Business as usual for them, but it was a special treat for me. I sat at the counter and ordered a cheeseburger.


The owner speaks fast, and with a thick Greek accent even though he's been in the Bronx for almost forty years. He works six days a week and take a month off every other year to go home to Greece. He owns the diner with his brother, who also works six days a week and gets to go to Greece on the year his brother doesn't go.


He wanted to know if I wanted salt, pepper, and ketchup on my burger. I nodded and settled in with my CrackBerry. Back in the day, when they still had newspapers, I would sit at the counter and thumb through the Daily News, from the back to the front of course, because I always started with the sports pages. These days, I read news feeds from my CrackBerry and that morning I was reading about how the Knicks on their west coast roadtrip when I got a flashback about the old set up of the Greek diner. The grill used to be near the front when you walked in and you used to be able to stand at the window and watch the guys cook up burgers on their special grill. That flash was a good 25 years old.

The place next door used to be a pharmacy. Old school pharmacy with a soda jerk and everything. They got beat out by the chain drugstores and eventually closed up shop. They turned that space into a pet store for a while, then just a pet food store and then a vet. Two doors down used to be a bar where my old man used to frequent. Heck, sometimes my mom and her friends would go there. It was a true neighborhood bar. The JV basketball coach at my grammar school used to tend bar there. Sometimes, he'd be late for practice and one of us would have to walk inside the darken bar and find him. When I was a kid, I used to think he was working. When I got a little older/hipper/wiser, I realized my JV coach was knocking back cold ones before he ran our layup drills. I don't remember when, but they closed down the bar and turned it into a beauty salon.