“Hey Al, it’s almost lunchtime. Want anything across the street?” yelled my father to his co-worker Al Giblin, one of two non-family members who worked at General Plating Company, GPC. “I’m sending Karen.”
I cringed waiting for Al to answer. I knew the one food item I didn’t want to hear any one order. A meatball sandwich.
“No thanks Armen.” yelled Al in return.
Yelling ruled at GPC. My father, my uncle Ted and Al all yelled, even when the heavy machinery and spinning tanks weren’t piercing the air with a deafening drone.
I exhaled audibly.
On the days my mother didn’t make my dad’s lunch, Mike’s Lunch across the street filled in.
My father hadn’t asked me if I wanted to go to Mike’s before he bellowed to Al but I knew that as a 15 year-old working at GPC, you did what any adult asked. Whether you wanted to or not.
“Karen, here’s two dollars go across the street and get me a… let me see do I want a turkey sandwich or a…?”
“Please don’t say meatball sandwich,” I said to myself.
“Meatball sandwich. Yeah, get me a meatball sandwich.”
I shuddered. Then stuffed the two dollars into the back of my jeans walked up the stairs out of the shop, crossed the one way street, pulled open the screen door at Mike’s. Entered quietly, desperately trying to fade into the woodwork.
Mike’s Lunch may have been owned an operated by a Mike at one time. But at this point, husband and wife John and Edie Vartanian owned and operated the small mostly take out restaurant. A few ripped vinyl covered stools hugged the short counter where Edie stood taking phone orders and ringing up sales. A grease pencil in one hand and the phone in the other she wrote the orders on the back of a brown paper bag.
Edie, a once attractive woman, applied her full-face makeup with a trowel. Despite the dirt and grime sailing through this costume jewelry-manufacturing district, Edie was always made up down to the bright red nail polish. She wore a fabric headband to keep her jet black dyed hair away from her face.
Slews of big beefy men dressed in their blue-collar work clothes piled in before 12, anxious to place their order and start chewing.
Buster, the short order cook, occasionally emerged from the back wearing a knitted ski cap and a stained white T-shirt while he wiped his greasy hands on the apron tied around his waist.
Edie kept track of her customers, she knew who arrived when and called on them in order. All while filling coffee cups, answering the phone and kidding with the regulars sitting at the counter.
She didn’t know me by name but by association. When I arrived, I doubled the number of females in the place.
She leaned across the counter and said, “Liz’s granddaughter, right?”
“Yes, Armen’s daughter.”
“What’ll you have?” she asked while checking her nails for chips and cracks.
“My dad wants a meatball sandwich,” I answered softly.
She smiled. “Tell your grandmother I said hello.”
And then she placed my order in a voice that could summon the troops.
“Hey Buster, two balls on a roll. Traveling.”
On cue, every customer laughed and hooted, loudly. They looked at me and kept laughing. They pounded their feet and applauded.
I desperately looked for a corner to hide but none existed. My face flushed, I waited in silence for her to hand me the paper bag holding my father’s dreaded lunch and run back across the street.