Friday, April 3, 2009

The Repository of American Grief

There are a lot of pizza joints in Boston. For some reason, most of them are run by Greeks. Italian restaurants are run by Italians, and Lebanese own all of the gas stations. The cops are Irish, but so are the politicians and the bosses of organized crime.

Whenever I went out for pizza or to any other small family restaurant owned by Greeks or Italians, there was always one element of consistent d├ęcor: Somewhere on a wall I would spot a faded picture of President John F. Kennedy. It had been 10 years since his assassination, and most Bostonians had moved on emotionally. But the immigrants and their children remembered.

Now that I have a new commute, I’ve been noticing the restaurants along the way. In these neighborhoods, you don’t find Outback Steakhouse and Starbucks. All of the restaurants are small family operations, some with hand-lettered signs. One intrigues me. It has a large white sign out front, with two words in bold red print: “WINGS FISH.”

My wife and I had recently been disappointed by a restaurant that specialized in Buffalo chicken wings, so I decided to pick some up on the way home tonight for a trial run.

The place was tiny and cluttered, with stacks of old magazines, broken vending machines and a cracked linoleum floor. The owner was sign-happy. A large “TRASH” sign was taped to the trash can, in case you were confused or impaired by drug abuse. A small counter holding giant pump tanks of ketchup and mustard bore a huge “CONDIMENTS” sign.

The place was unexpectedly run by a Chinese man and his wife. He stood proudly at attention behind the dingy counter, neatly dressed and bearing a welcoming smile. I placed my order, which he wrote on a small piece of paper. Then he reached over to the cash register, where he had small half-inch pieces of cellophane tape stuck to the edge in a tidy row. He removed a piece of tape, stuck the order slip on it, and reached around the doorway into the kitchen, where he stuck the tape onto the prep counter for his wife.

I wandered around admiring the trashy ambiance, when I noticed one wall that was plastered with large color photographs of the World Trade Center towers back in their heyday. President Kennedy has been replaced by a new, powerful icon of grief and mourning for immigrant restaurateurs.

When my order was ready, the owner’s wife brought the box out to the counter, with my order slip stuck to it with the same piece of tape. The owner gently peeled off the slip, removed the slip from the tape, and then stuck the piece of tape back onto the cash register. It must take him three years to use a roll of tape. I guess the profit margins aren’t so great in the chicken wing business.

      NOTE: Some of you may have noticed the word "restaurateurs" in the second-to-last paragraph. For my entire adult life, I thought that word was spelled "restauranteurs." I was shocked when my spell-checker reprimanded me. This one ranks up there with "knowlegable" for unexpected spelling.


Anonymous said...

Results 1 - 10 of about 2,490,000 for restaurateurs
Results 1 - 10 of about 87,200 for restauranteurs

Results 1 - 10 of about 173,000 for knowlegable
Results 1 - 10 of about 29,800,000 for knowledgeable

Just sayin'.

burton said...

Did you find the place for good wings?

Tim said...

Alas, no. The wings from the WINGS FISH place weren't very good. More investigation is required.

bruce said...

did you write this in 1973?

"...President John F. Kennedy. It had been 10 years since his assassination,..."

Tim said...

No, I was writing about my experiences when I first lived in Boston.