Sunday, August 16, 2009
Lawrence - My Hometown
By Richard E. Noble
For a time back in the 60s Route 1 became the place to go for laughs, entertainment, and the mingling of the potentially mature of both sexes.
Route 1 was a long row of eateries and nightclubs. Clubs like the Flamingo, the Wigwam, and Lennie’s on the Turnpike were broken up by restaurants like the Kowloon Chinese restaurant, the Hilltop Steakhouse and the Ship. And in between those places were auto repair shacks, truck stops, diners, trailer parks and junk yards. Restaurants and nightclubs went in and out of business. There seemed to be a new and different hotspot opening every other month – and it was the same with the restaurants.
Jack Sheehy, Frank Dutchnowski and I would wander around from club to club looking for love in all the wrong places until finally we would get weary – or hungry. Most often we got hungry. Nothing peaks a man’s appetite like a hundred and forty-six bottles of Black Horse Ale or three hundred gin and tonics. Consequently we would then go wandering up and down Route 1 hunting that “new dining experience.” We were of a similar mind and most often our quest ended at a diner or some greasy spoon type joint. But every now and then we would flip out – mostly at Duchy’s instigation. He was always searching for that unusual dining experience or that unforgettable once in a lifetime happening. He would leave no rock unturned, no door closed, and no passing female untormented.
At this point in our evening we had tormented enough females to call it a weekend and we - or should I say, Dutch - was into meeting the most exotic “food” dish of his life. He wanted to go “upscale.” He was tired of all the hunchback diner type waiting staffs and the gum-chewing, plastic bracelet waitresses. He wanted to go where the “rich” people go.
Jack was always rather indifferent to Duchy’s extravagancies. “You know,” he would say. “A chicken is a damn chicken. You can have a $1.95 piece of chicken or a $14.95 piece of chicken.”
One weekend the Three Stooges went to Chinatown in New York City. In the middle of Chinatown we went into a Chinese restaurant – of all places. Dutch and I ordered two unknown never experienced before Moo Moo Cow Pies and then came Jack.
“You got any American chicken in this joint?”
Jack had been somewhat turned off by all the unrefrigerated “Chinese” chickens dangling in the fresh air out on the sidewalks and in all the Chinese grocery store windows up and down the streets of Chinatown.
“American Chicken? What you mean American Chicken?” responded the frustrated Chinese waiter.
“I mean American chicken – you know raised here in America?”
“All our chicken waised in America. Eb-bee-ting here waised in America.”
“Could you go to the kitchen and get an American chicken that I can look at?”
“No lookie … you order or you get out … We American and we sell American chicken.”
“Okay, okay … don’t get your chopsticks all bent out of shape. I’ll have an American Chicken sandwich with extra mayo, light on the lettuce, hold the tomato, and I want that on American white bread, no butter. You got Wonder bread?”
“No Wonder bread. We got American white bread - no Wonder bread. You want Wonder bread get the hell out of here and go get Wonder bread.”
“No Wonder bread … can you believe this place?”
At the World’s Fair, Expo, in Montreal Canada in 1967 at the restaurant inside the Japanese Pavilion John Robert Michael McSheehy Sr. ordered the Pearl Harbor Special.
“What you talkee about? Dare no Pearl Harbor Special on dis menu?”
“I know, I know … surprise me. Give me anything that wouldn’t be considered poisonous in America, okay?”
I think Jack was the original model for the movie the Ugly American. But as hard as this is to believe Jack was the John Wayne, the Quiet Man of the group. He was very Garry Cooper-like. He didn’t say or do a whole lot but when he did, it was usually serious and often difficult for the average bystander to grasp fully. Of course, Dutch and I sat like mannequins. We always figured Jack spoke so infrequently that when he did, the moment should be honored. When Jack spoke … Jack spoke – and that was it.
So there we are wandering up and down Route 1 looking for Dutch’s new “dining experience.” Suddenly there it was. It looked like a mirage, something out of the Arabian Nights … or the Italian Nights or the Greek Nights. We pulled into the parking lot. It was snowing. It had been snowing lightly but now it was starting to accumulate. Jack parked his used, green, Ford Valiant with the large dent in the driver’s side door and the plastic statue of St. Christopher on the dashboard, between a Lincoln Continental and a fire-engine red Corvette and we went hustling up to the ornate, Ali Baba-like entrance. This was a real fancy joint.
“The chicken in this joint is probably $18.95,” Jack suggested.
We stepped inside the lobby and began stamping our feet on the royal blue carpet and dusting the snow off our Eisenhower style wool lined windbreakers. Dutch was just about to pull off his knitted black winter cap. His mother knitted it and Dutch liked it because when it got really cold he could roll it down to cover his ears. But before he even removed his cap or wiped his runny nose, the maitre d’ in his tuxedo with the frilly white, lacy cuffs sticking out of the sleeves was on top of us. He was a little guy obviously suffering from a Napoleon Complex. He rushed over to us and very aggressively grabbed onto Dutch’s arm and started ushering him to the exit.
“This place is not for you gentlemen,” our little friend remarked sarcastically rounding the three of us up like cattle. “There’s a nice ‘diner’ up the road that you guys would really like a lot better – lots of baked beans and greasy fried potatoes. This way ‘boys’.”
Dutch was suddenly inspired by the little man in the tuxedo. Without any hesitation, he removed the man’s hand from his arm and as he straightened his wool cap and wiped his runny nose on the sleeve of his jacket, announced.
“We ain’t here to eat, pally. We are here to get a couch. There it is right over there – that purple one with all the roses on it. You guys are six months behind on your payments for that couch. We’re here from the furniture company. They can’t wait any longer.” There was a fancy couch sitting in front of the receiving desk. There was another fellow in a tuxedo taking reservations over the telephone. “Let’s get it Ralphie,” Dutch instructed while looking towards me.
“Well, okay Alice,” I said to Dutch. And the two of us went over and each grabbed an end of the couch.
The little tuxedo ran up to the big tuxedo and the two of them began whispering to one another. The big tuxedo began dialing his phone like a mad man. The little guy didn’t know what to do.
We were half the distance to the entrance (and/or exit), with the couch in hand, when the little guy came running to Duchy’s side. “Hey guys give us a break. This is the weekend. We’ll straighten it out Monday.”
“Yeah, the boss said you said that last time. This time he told us not to accept any excuses. The couch is going back. You can call Monday and cry on his shoulder. But we got to get going. We’ve got two more stops before we can bring the truck back to the garage. The snow is already piling up. We got to get moving.”
At this point what appeared to be the entire kitchen staff, complete with cutlery and other weapons came strutting menacingly into the lobby led by the large tuxedo. Dutch and I had the fancy couch almost outside the glass French style door entrance. Jack had anticipated the eventual outcome of Dutch’s strategy and the get-a-way Valiant was puffing smoke a few feet away. We dropped the couch and jammed it against the doors from the street side. As the cutlery crew pushed and shoved at the blocked entrance, we hopped into the Valiant and Jack slipped and slid out of the parking area.
We decided that it would be wiser to proceed toward home and evacuate Route 1 as quickly as possible.
We stopped for chow at the Danvers’ Diner. We all had bacon and eggs, greasy fried potatoes and lots of Boston baked beans. Jack always put ketchup on his baked beans and Dutch liked to mix everything together like it was a stew or something. I liked everything in its own place and I got my beans on the side – no ketchup. I hate it when the beans touch the bacon or the egg yoke gets onto my greasy fried potatoes. It makes me want to gag.
And that little guy in the tux back at Abracadabra’s restaurant thought we had no class. I hope that we were a lesson to him – never judge a book by its cover or underestimate the ingenuity of three guys in windbreakers and one guy in his mother knitted wool cap that could be pulled down over his ears when it gets really cold.
Richard Edward Noble is a freelance writer and columnist. His local column, the Eastpointer, won the first place 2007 humor award from the Florida Press Association. He has published several books. All of his books can be viewed and purchased on Amazon.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for bookstore discounts and volume sales.