There is something magical about going out to eat with good friends. Last week I sat around a table with my work buddies, who tend to the same crew of developmentally disabled clients. My funny stories about my daily experiences there are their stories, too. We love our charges in the same way. These folks are my family.
When family makes a recommendation, I listen. So when my co-worker Jake said earlier in the week, "Whoa, you gotta check out this one place," I took his advice and went to the Granada Cafe. It is the restaurant that time forgot. Half of it is a big bar, full (well, relatively full) of people in their 60s. An old-fashioned jukebox plays Tony Bennett songs. The most exotic beer for sale is Heineken, and nothing is on tap. The owner is in his 90s, and gets up every day to buy fresh produce for his Italian restaurant. There are no lights outside; the neon sign has long since lost its juice. From the street, you can't see inside at all. The Granada could be closed for all you know. It was only a recent addition of icicle lights in a few windows that caught Jake's eye.
We walked into the bar, Jake, Monique, and I, and were immediately drawn instead to the dining room. The waitress was in her 70s. The seating was all booths. We took the table next to the one other collection of people in the room.
I sat next to Jake, and was immediately uncomfortable. The booth seat was hollow in the middle, and it was hard for my rear end to find purchase. I wiggled a bit, slid forward, then back, seeking out a hard-enough surface to settle. "Ooooh," I pleaded, "the booty ..."
"You must be talking about the most comfortable seats in the city!" said the lady at the table next to us. We laughed. In the end I wadded up my sweatshirt to create a cushion.
Our female neighbor then started talking to her companion. "Oh, Dooky," she said. "Dooky, be careful! Did you have enough to eat?" I quickly realized that her companion's name must be "Duke," and she must have created a special form of endearment for him. "Come on, Dukie," she continued. I looked over my shoulder. The woman was portly and probably in her late 40s. Dukie, on the other hand, was older than Methuselah. He was slowly inching his way out of the booth. I had my back to him, but I could tell that he was hunched and wearing a baseball cap. After what seemed like an eternity, she helped him into his wheelchair, and I got a good look at him. His hat was honoring some military regiment. He had to be a veteran of some war: perhaps World War I? Jeez.
Dukie's date noticed me taking an interest in him. "Oh, Dukie," she said, "that young lady likes you!"
"I do!" I replied. As for Dukie, well, he was, shall we say, nonplussed. He grumbled and waved his hand as if swatting away a gnat.
"We used to date back in the '30s," I quipped. The lady laughed. She was pretty rad. Ol' Dukie was lucky to have her. She tried to rouse him a little bit by turning his chair toward me. His hands lay crookedly in his lap like a ventriloquist's dummy's. His shoulders looked in danger of folding in on themselves entirely.
"Stop shaking my chair, woman!" he barked.
"Oh, Dukie!" she rebuked lovingly.
"Yep," I said. "That's why I left him." She let out a big guffaw.
When the couple left, we all decided that the restaurant could serve us the worst meal imaginable, because we had already gotten our peak Granada Cafe experience. The place serves food "family-style," which means you get a lot of bang for your buck. First came the bread. Then the complimentary antipasto platter. You also get soup or salad, and the soup bowl feeds six. Then comes the complimentary pasta. Then your meal. By the time my chicken parmigiana arrived I was stuffed. Laughter was spilling out of the bar, and a few lone diners had taken seats along the perimeter.
Jake entertained us with his usual biology talk. He has theories about attraction. Men can spread their seed hither and yon, so they have different hormonal processes working inside them; women have only one egg, so we are choosier. He says we have an innate way of sensing who has the best DNA for our own to fuse with, and unlike men, it doesn't have much to do with the amount of beer we drink on a given night. If we find a man handsome but just can't seem to get that attraction worked up, it is because their DNA doesn't work for us. Or, in my case, it is because they use the word "Sweeeet!" a lot.
Then we talked a bit about our clients. We all have the same favorites. The bill came, and it was like $50 for three people, including drinks. This place ruled. That night ended up being my real Thanksgiving. No wonder Dukie keeps coming back. Christ, maybe it's what keeps him hangin' on. The Granada Cafe is one big, happy family.