Saturday, October 24, 2009
George and Harry run the Morning Star Restaurant in Midtown West near our hotel. People think of New York City as this big monolith, a huge impersonal machine. Mew York City is really a collection of small neighborhoods much like yours or mine, only a lot more of them. The Morning Star is a neighborhood place.
A mother and a daughter come in for their regular breakfast. The little girl is about six and beautifully dressed with a huge red bow in her hair. She is Asian; her mother is white. They sit at the counter on stools that the daughter spins around and around. The daughter complains that she doesn't want to go to school. George looks into the kitchen at a large stack of dishes and acts delighted that she can stay and help him wash all the dishes. She picks up her backpack without complaint and heads out the door. "Hey, wait, who's gonna wash all these dishes?"
We eat delicious omlets, home fries, fresh-squeezed juice and toast. Harry waits on us. He has a goatee and a ponytail held in place with four precisely spaced rubber bands. He tells us that he is one of 8 kids and the only one born in America. All his siblings were born in Greece. "All of of us are educated, we all work in restaurants." George is fifteen years older than Harry. "I was a mistake, I think," he says, laughing.
Harry offers personal service. A touch on the shoulder with the coffee refill. "We all worked in the restaurant in Brooklyn when we were kids. Someone sees me and my brother in the back peeling potatoes. They call Child Protective Services. They come to interview us and my older brothers are smiling at the social worker. They say in Greek, still smiling, "If you complain, we kill you." The social worker tells my father that there are slavery laws. "What slavery...this is a family!"
Hungry diners come in, others are paying the check and leaving. Individual boxes of corn flakes and Rick Krispies are stacked high and a multi-layered yellow cake with chocolate frosting waits under the glass. Conversation rises and falls, coffee is refilled, juice is fresh squeezed. Horns sound on the street outside and the walk signal changes from Walk to Don't Walk over and over.
There are a million stories in the naked city.