I lived in New York City at a time when every intersection had a Greek diner. I don’t mean diners that sold only Greek food but corner joints run by Greeks. Their sticky, multi-paged, plastic-coated menus offered everything from sushi and spaghetti to souvlaki. And, all of it was on tap 24/7.
I was addicted to their toasted blueberry muffins that were the size of coconuts. A cup of coffee with a “toasted blue” was my snack of choice and, in hard times, my one meal of the day. So, I was saddened on a recent trip back home to discover that most of the Greek joints had gone. Some of the owners had made their money and happily returned to Greece but most had been priced out by the big coffee chains. (Another good reason to hate Starbucks though the brown piss they call coffee is reason enough!)
One blah night in the 1980s, I was sitting at the counter of my favorite Greek diner in the Village, reading the NY Post and cursing George Steinbrenner when I became aware that the man on the stool next to me was acting strangely. He was making little grunts and moving in a herky-jerky manner. I figured he was a junkie who’d missed his shot. So, I signaled to Nicos that I’d take my toasted blue further down the counter. Just then my counter colleague jerked into my arms in a way that forced me to hold him. As we fell backwards off our stools, he went into full spasm and I somehow knew I had an epileptic seizure on my hands. Literally!
I laid him out on the floor and looked up for help but the entire restaurant (customer and staff alike) had gone into catatonic shock. Those at the counter stared down at me like I was an annoying cockroach scurrying about their feet. Those in booths slowly leaned out until they were at a 90-degree angle with the floor and there they remained. Silent. Staring. Slightly inquisitive. Imagine the RCA Victor dog.
Meanwhile, the epileptic was flopping around on the floor like a tuna that had been hauled on-board a Sheepshead Bay trawler. I knew less than nothing about the care and feeding of epileptics aside from the fact that you should never get your fingers in an epileptic’s mouth lest your fingers be chomped off. But, silly me, as I looked to my fellow diners for help and began to say something to the effect of, “Hey, does anybody wanna give me a fuckin’ hand here?” My fuckin’ hand got into the epileptic’s mouth.
As you can imagine, this dilemma increased the fervor of my calls for help. But, to no avail. I considered making like a coyote and chewing my hand off to escape the trap. I considered choking the epileptic to death to gain my freedom. I knew what I did next was risky but I was running out of time and about to be running out of fingers. I managed to get my other hand into the poor bastard’s mouth and pry his jaws apart before they snapped shut fracturing several bicuspids.
Then, out of nowhere, a typically obese ambulance crew waddled in. I’m not sure if they’d been alerted and were waddling in to answer the call of “diner down” or if they were coincidentally waddling in for their moussaka with fries. I returned to the counter and Nicos gave me some ice for my fingers but the prick still charged me for my toasted blue!
Fast forward maybe two years.
I’m watching an off-Broadway play in which one character delivers a show-stopping speech about the time he was in a Greek diner and a schmuck got his fingers stuck in an epileptic’s mouth. The actor brought the house down with his mime of the booth-sitters leaning out at a 90-degree angle and staring at the schmuck. That would be me. You guessed it. This playwright had been one of the selfish, frozen assholes who made not a move to help the epileptic or, more importantly, your reporter. Worse. This creep who had plagiarized my pain hadn’t given me an audition for his play.
As the quintessential Brooklyn boy, Ralph Kramden would say, “Bang! Zoom!”