Sunday, March 15, 2015


            Years ago I worked as a short order cook in a diner.  The job didn't last long because the rule was that whatever you screwed up, you have to eat...and pay for.   Maybe it was for the best because in the less-than-a-month that I was on the job I think I gained about 15 pounds!   Perhaps it was the closeness, the atmosphere of the place, or the wonderful language of the diner...but that short attempt at being a cook has stayed with me, and it's a treasure.   This is from an article from the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, and why this is in there I haven't a clue...but it's good.   The waitress at the counter sings out "Two chicks on a raft - wreck 'em, shingle with a shimmy and a shake in the alley, Zeppelins in a fog, city juice 86 the hail, drag one through Georgia and sweep the kitchen floor!"...and because you work in a diner, you know what that means.  The words are obviously English so it can't be a foreign language. Nor is it a couple of spies greeting each other with a pre-arranged code. It's an example of what you might have heard a waiter shouting to a cook in an American diner, luncheonette, or cafeteria before fast food restaurants changed the way that Americans eat out.   American diner slang could have been heard in any cheap eatery across the US at one time, but sadly is now a dying language thanks largely to the customer service standards of large restaurant corporations and their ubiquity in the business of eating out on the cheap. Oh, and the translation for the above is 'Scrambled eggs on toast, a side order of toast with butter and jam, sausages and mash, a glass of water with no ice, Coca-Cola with chocolate syrup, and an order of hash'.   A number of diner slang terms have already passed into everyday use, such as 'mayo' for mayonnaise, 'BLT' for a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, and both 'stack' and 'short stack' for an order of pancakes.   There are others, of course, but the regimentation of all things came to the food industry quite a while ago.
            Those of you of a certain age may remember when all cars had their shift lever on the floor, between the driver and the passenger.   This arrangement presented both opportunity and disaster.   Changing gears, using the clutch(remember that pedal on the left?) meant that it brought your hand into close proximity with your date's leg.   Ah, that was the opportunity...your hand might accidentally slip off the shifter and land on her leg, and you might get a shy smile...or you could get a slap in the never knew which one, unless you had dated this girl before.   If you didn't get slapped, you headed for the nearest "lover's lane" where some serious smooching could take place.   As was the case with a lot of guys, me included, we tried to get to the lover's lane without having to spend money on ice cream sodas, or a movie, but that didn't always work.
            During World War Two it was the patriotic thing to do to donate anything that could be used for the war effort.   So, it wasn't unusual to see kids pulling wagons filled with all sorts of glass bottles, old tires, crushed pots and pans and even clothing.   We used to scour the neighborhoods looking for these things, hoping to be the first to find them and, if we didn't find them sometimes we just took them.   Back then it was a common thing to see a freshly-baked pie or cake cooling on the porch.   We'd snatch up the cake or pie, and after it was devoured, we'd take the pan to the recycle center...a good thing all the way around.   One kid showed up with a tire that he said he'd taken out of his father's garage...and we learned later that it was a brand-new tire, which were hard come by in those days, and he was saving it for when one of his tires went bald...and THAT would be the tire he'd donate to the cause.   Patriotism was alive and well back then and we were all infused with it.
            Schooling was quite different back then.   Oh sure, we learned the three "R's", and along with that we learned how to parse out a sentence(something I have had no use for over the years), we learned about the different countries that existed then, and how they lived, prospered, and sometimes disappeared after the war.
Handwriting was a learned skill that you had to have because nothing said "personal" like a hand-written letter or a card...typewriters were a luxury that only "big business" had.   Small businesses were important too, and in just about every neighborhood where I was brought up, you had your favorite candy store, Italian and/or Jewish restaurant and you went to your favorite barber and while you got your haircut you also got a news report on everything and anything.
            People were more polite then, I think.   Men tipped or removed their hats in the presence of a lady.   It was a time when most men wore hats, and maybe that's why I have a hat collection now.   Men wore suits just about everywhere and if you see an old newsreel, even at a baseball game, they are wearing suits and hats.   Something that has always puzzled me, though, were spats...whatever were they for?   My family went to the World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, NY, in 1938 and it was a wonderful place, or so I'm told.   At 4 years old, the memories are of funny-shaped buildings(the trylon and perisphere) and machines that talked.   Oh, and I think there was food, too.   The United States was sitting on the edge of a conflagration but we didn't know, or care...I don't know which.   As the war progressed and we were drawn into it, my reading skills were blossoming and we kept a wall-map of Europe where I eagerly put pins to show the battles.   It was unthinkable that we could lose...we were America!

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