As I entered the fluorescent bathed diner, I felt as if I were in a Flash Gordon movie. But a Greek restaurant in the middle of Albany was not a movie set. It was a place with palpable character. The food was good. Its soul was better.
It was not easy to be a first year medical student. Study to pass, perhaps to learn. Study hard, all the time, rarely a break, only to eat, sometimes to play, occasionally basketball. At mealtime, I yearned for something different, a break from preparing my own meals. I found the restaurant one evening, and I was hooked. I dined alone and spoke little so I could watch the show, undisturbed.
I walked in to “Hi butty, how ya doin,” and I felt comfortable. The counter was my usual place. It was crowded on Saturday nights. The florescence gave the customers a pale paste. Shadows from above made them glow like white wax, “Wax people,” I thought. They should have their blood checked. I was a medical student.
I had no desire to speak to anyone. I wanted to eat and get back to my study. The boredom of study was interrupted by the dance of the Greeks.
The counter man and the cook were brothers.
“What chu want, Butty?” as he slapped down a knife, fork, spoon, thin paper napkin and a scratched glass. The counter was plastic. Silver napkin holders dotted its landscape. Cooking hoods matched the silver.
“No hotdugs and bakesz beanz toonite?”
“ Ou-one rusth biff sammich,” he yelled to the brother.
“Smash pudadu,” he barked.
“Make that a roast beef sandwich, mashed potatoes with gravy and a cup of coffee.”
“ O-ke. One rusth biff sammich” with a quick turn of his head.
“One cupsz cuffee” as he whirled turned, pulled the handle, and in one motion, I had my cup.
“Ok, zat it?’
“Yes, thank you.”
“O-ke, one rusth biff sammich, one smash pudadu wiz grevy, one cupsz cuffee cumin up.”
For dessert,“Appul pi wid iscz crem.”
I loved the ritual and the lingo. We were proud of his restaurant.
It was good. I felt well, comfortable, at home.