“New York is an ugly city, a dirty city. Its climate is a scandal, its politics are used to frighten children, its traffic is madness, its competition is murderous.
But there is one thing about it – once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough.”
― John Steinbeck, America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction
From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, June 11, 1997:
It was almost twelve years ago, I had only been working here for a couple months. I had only thirty minutes for lunch and I had only found one place I could get to and eat in half an hour. It was a little hole-in-the wall Chinese food joint down on Jupiter across from E Systems – the Egg Roll Inn. A handful of tables, twelve lunch specials in plastic letters on a board behind the counter, steam tables of prepared food, foam tricompartment plates and plastic dinnerware, little plastic packets of soy sauce, duck sauce, and hot mustard. Every city has hundreds of these places, not really very good, but cheap and fast.
I had received my allotted lumps of lunch special and steamed rice, divided by a soggy eggroll, when someone stuck their head in the swinging door, “Anyone in here drive a blue Ford?” he asked.
“I do,” expecting to be told my lights were on, it was an overcast day.
“Your car’s on fire,” was the reply.
I ran out to find the front end pretty much engulfed. For some reason, the thought of calling the Fire Department never occurred to me. I guess I didn’t imagine that there was someone who would come put out my fire for free. The owner of the restaurant said he had an extinguisher and I went in to get it. The fire looked bad, but it was mostly burning hoses and belts and wasn’t hard to put out.
I returned the extinguisher and then had a moment that was actually worse than the fire itself. I was a bit shook up and sweaty from battling the flames, my vehicle a blackened hulk out in the parking lot, everyone was staring at me (most had walked out to watch the free entertainment) but there on the table was my untouched Moo Goo Gai Pan (today’s watery special). I decided to gather up as much dignity as possible, ate my lunch, then walked back to where I work. It was a calm day and on the entire walk I could look up and see a slowly dispersing column of black smoke from my incinerated car. It was embarrassing and sad.
After that was an unpleasant week of phone calls; trying to get the title straightened out (I was woefully negligent in paperwork those days) so I could get a scrap dealer to take my car, I had to pay the owner for recharging his extinguisher, and had to make arrangements for getting to and from work until I could buy another car (I ended up buying a Renault Alliance – I can sure pick’em can’t I?). The money from the scrap dealer – minus the cost of the fire extinguisher – left we with enough money to buy two compact disks from the record store.
Not a horrible experience, but one annoying and humiliating enough to sink below the radar screen of memory. At least until the physical experience of firing off a cloud of dry powder brought it back. I was so embarrassed I never went back to the Egg Roll Inn. It’s still there, I doubt they’ll remember me after twelve years. I wonder if they have a vegetarian stir-fry? I don’t miss the food but maybe it would be worth a three dollar plate of limp broccoli to exorcise some demons.
And today’s flash fiction: