Can.Say Logo

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.

Frank and I had an ongoing dare with each other about going there to eat. Our hobby, when not making deliveries, was eating at the grossest-looking diners in the city. It was a trucker thing. It was also a good way to stretch the day. When driving alone, I would haul ass and be the best delivery man in the world. Frank was like a zen master in making a short workday long. When we went out together, it was an exercise in creative time management. We would make the deliveries in record time so that we could then waste time eating and getting paid for doing nothing. A big breakfast was an important ritual in Frank’s day. His favorite place was the Vega cafe, on lower Greenwich Street, where they would give us fistfulls of bacon on our bacon&egg-on-a-roll sandwich. He used to speak Spanish with them and we would give them cakes. Frank also loved the Jones Diner, where I first witnessed how he ate corned beef hash and eggs. He chopped the toast carefully into little cubes, then made a stew of the hash, eggs, and toast cubes, a lumpy yellow and brown glop which he ate with a soup spoon.


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.”

“ What, the Corfu?” and Frank would start laughing like a hyena.
“ Oh man, the Corfu...”

and we would drive on. This went on for over a year. We kept sampling other diners and kept passing the Corfu. The old place began to take a strange hold on my imagination. Neither one of us was in a hurry to eat there, though. It just looked so old and dirty, even for us.

One day, we were driving up Tenth talking about where to eat, when the Corfu crept into sight on the right and Frank said “Let’s do it, pull over.” I swerved the truck over quickly and we got a space right in front of the door, on the corner. We grinned at each other as we got out and shut our doors, then grinned at each other again right before we walked in the front door of the Corfu. Frank was wearing his black baseball cap that said “Bronx” on it. My heavy plastic sunglasses stayed on, as usual. I just said “Oh, man” while Frank threw back his head and laughed that hyena laugh of his.

We sat at the counter. Behind us were six ancient booths. The menu display frames overhead were filthy and filled with old, yellowed stick-in letters and menu items handwritten on torn cardboard. The grill man turned around and asked us what we wanted. His eyes were glowing in that funny way that sometimes happens to people who work for too long around a grill or an oven. He looked as though he was thinking really hard about something else. He had a manic, jerky energy to his motions.

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...”

The grill man finished his three minute masterpiece and spun around with the two plates, a serial-killer intensity to his eyes. The sausages and bacon were popping and bubbling on the plates. Frank and I looked at each other, shrugged, and dug in. This was the first time I ever saw Frank leave meat on his plate. We both ate the toast, though, and all day in the truck we talked about the Corfu and the grill man who’d made us breakfast. In fact, we told everybody the story of the grill man’s apron for months.

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 psychotic chatrooms.

Photo Credit- Perry Voli, 1997