Paul Vee eats breakfast...
The Corfu Diner squats on the southeast corner of 10th Avenue and 18th Street and, until they redid it in neo-stucco a few years ago, it looked just like the fake railroad car diner that was planted there forty years earlier, with forty years’ worth of wear and no maintenance.
Anyway, we would cruise the city and point out divey-looking diners. “Oh, we got to hit that one, Paulie,” he would say. I would forget about it, but a week or two later, after the morning run, Frank would direct me to head there, and we would soon be sampling the breakfast fare. We used to pass the Corfu every day on the way uptown. It reeked of decay. The sign and the facade looked as though they had never been painted or cleaned. It was surrounded by auto and truck repair shops. It looked as though it had been closed for years, but it was open. It became a standing joke: “Maybe we’ll do that place on Tenth today, Paulie.”
In our pursuit of gross cuisine and in honor of the occasion, Frank and I each ordered the same thing: “Two eggs, over easy, with bacon and sausage.” The grill man gave us each a tiny glass of juice and we turned to each other to talk some shit, but raising our eyebrows at the same time to signal that we each thought the guy was a little strange. We started to talk, but I don’t think either one of us knew what we were saying. It was just words. We were both too interested in the show that was going on right in front of us at the grill. The guy was moving at hyper speed, breaking eggs with one hand, throwing bacon on the grill with the other, and pulling some gray, otherworldly-looking sausage links from beneath the grill and slamming an iron weight on top of them. Four pieces of white toast went into the toaster about two minutes later, all at double speed. We had passed the pretense of faked conversation, and were just staring at this guy in action.
He slid the eggs onto each plate, scooped up the bacon and threw it over the eggs, and pulled the toast out of the toaster while the sausages were browning. He buttered the toast with a small, oval-shaped spatula at rapid speed, and it all reminded me of someone who was shuffling a deck of cards really fast. He was using some yellow butter substitute from a cube-shaped, stainless steel serving vessel to the right of the grill. During all this scooping and smearing, a piece of the fake butter flew against the stainless steel spatter shield behind the grill. His hand shot out and he scooped it off with the spatula and spread it right on the toast. Frank’s jaw dropped and his cheeks filled with air as he stifled a gasp and a laugh at the same time. I could feel my eyes widen. Another big chunk of the yellow spread landed on the grillman’s chest. Without missing a beat, he scraped the stuff off his apron and put it onto the next piece of toast, all with the manic motion of someone sharpening a straight razor at high speed.
At this point, both of our mouths opened in silent screams. Frank’s fists were clenched in front of his face and I was shaking my head. We both started groaning “oooohhhh...”
Some stories, like certain diners, just seem to get better with time.
Paul is back at home with more endless e-mail and still hosting
Photo Credit- Perry Voli, 1997