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a customer's cooking advice in a corner diner

Harry tapped the Timex wristwatch his mother had given him with his right index finger; it was a gift for graduating community college and getting his associate degree in accounting. The florescent dial read 8:09 a.m. As he stood staring at the time, Harry was jostled carelessly by passers-by as they made their morning sojourns to work. He straightened his navy blue and maroon striped tie closer against his oxford collar and adjusted the buttons on his blue blazer. On a compulsive whim, he had made a breakfast date with his firm’s receptionist Bunny; she was the office trophy blonde, beehive hairdo, pink cashmere designer sweater and Gucci horn-rimmed glasses, a real “looker” that all the senior CPA’s coveted favor from.

Harry stood outside Sal’s Diner on the corner of 3rd and Cocker at 8:10 wondering when or even if Bunny was going to arrive. Work at the office started at 9 a.m. sharp; he scrunched up his mouth realizing he should have gotten a conformation from Bunny beforehand, it looked like she and her Prada stilettos were going to be a no-show. Never one to miss a meal or be late for work, Harry decided not to wait any longer and entered the landmark eatery, stag; he didn’t want a late stamp on his time-clock punch card to mar his perfect record.

Harry pushed open the diner’s heavy glass door framed in stainless steel. The outside city noise was immediately over taken by the raucous buzz inside the diner. Hot steam rolled from the fry cook station, across the ceiling, around the circular florescent lights and scurried toward the cooler draft from the front windows and open door. The clamor of clattering dishes being served and cleared competed alongside the duel between metallic spoons and spatulas against pots and pans from the kitchen. People were talking, laughing, shouting as menu's exchanged hands, orders got taken and tips were slid off counters.

Sal’s diner wrapped him in a rich compost of aromas as he made his way past the booths for a counter seat. Fresh coffee, sizzling bacon and the sweet overtones of pancakes and maple syrup filled his nostrils and tempted his stomach. A sausage patty was spanked on the broad stainless steel grill-top, releasing a delicious smell of spices that tore through the diner like a scream. Homemade donuts were stacked at either end of the diner's counter like civil war cannon balls under glass. The large, street-side windows were fogged from the hurried efforts of short order cooks, hard-boiled waitresses and hungry patrons.

Eating breakfast at Sal’s wasn’t dining, it was an “Event de Coliseum.” Harry noticed parents with children in the front booths, low budget business meetings were camped out in the side booths and dead ahead, the counter, where all manner of "regulars" sat shoulder to shoulder, hunched over their morning culinary vice-of-choice that always included coffee. If Sal’s diner ever ran out of coffee, the single-wide establishment would be a ghost town in a matter of minutes; nothing in a diner runs without coffee. This morning’s activity in the diner was more a blur than usual, like riding the carousel during fourth of July fireworks at the county fair.

Harry meandered his way through the flurry of patrons and waitresses to take a seat at the counter. Babs, Sal’s senior waitress was already in front of the only empty seat, licking the tip of her pencil, pad flipped open ready and waiting to take his order. Babs, had been waitin' tables and slingin' hash since the dawn of time. She was the poster child for ‘Service with a Snarl’ trade magazine. With Babs, the customer always got the order he deserved. She put on her job application that she formerly worked at the Brown Derby in Los Angeles California where she once served Humphry Bogart’s cigar smoking nephew.

While nervously smoothing his tie, Harry turned his head turret-fashion and marveled at all the sights and smells surrounding him as he slowly sank on to a red vinyl upholstered swivel stool. Babs felt an up-tick in her waitress premonition, an annoyance in her idle speed, as Harry slowly swung his wistful gaze back to face her. Shirl, a skinny brunette waitress, single-mother and student mortician, passed by with a steaming stack of three pancakes, fully as round as the plate they were on, golden and half an inch thick with an amber maple-syrup-butter-fall streaming down their fluffy cream toned sides, puddling in a moat of sugary delight. A seductive finger of steam carried the aroma past Harry’s nose- he involuntarily licked his lips.

"So what'll it be Mac?" Babs impatiently prompted Harry's order. 

"Huh?" Harry returned bringing his eyes back to center. 

"What do you want fer breakfast Mac? Eggs, Cereal-"

"What kind of eggs do you serve here?" Harry interrupted. 

Babs paused because in the forty odd years of waitressing, she never heard that particular question phrased that particular way. Her agitated idle kicked into gear and she came up to speed. 

"We can fix ya fried, scrambled-”

“You know,” Harry obtusely mused spreading his small hands in front of him on the counter, "A fried egg is harder to cook perfectly than you would think. All the cookbook and magazine pictures of fried eggs aren't pictures of real eggs. They're actually either plastic replicas made by obsessively talented Japanese commercial food artists or now-a-days the egg pictures are "photoshopped" in post production to portray stylized egg perfection."

Babs stood frozen, her eyes glazed slightly and she even stopped cracking her gum. The spittle on the tip of her pencil started to evaporate. Harry's attention was momentarily distracted by a hot mug of java being set down in front of the patron next to him; the coffee, black, oily and almost hot enough to melt the mug’s shiny, off-white enamel, was accompanied by a small, single blue-striped diner plate with two old fashioned donuts leaning against each other on top. Their soft brown hues and plump circumference complimented the steaming joe like the words Marco and Polo. Harry brought his eyes back to where Babs stood waiting before he continued.

"A perfect fried egg starts obviously with the egg. The proper size egg to use is large, not medium, extra large or god forbid jumbo. Why anyone would label an egg jumbo is beyond me, it doesn't come from an elephant after all. Simply, what you want is just large, farm fresh eggs taken out of the refrigerator just before frying."

"Uh-huh" Babs absently responded, the curls of hair on each side of her up-do were starting to go limp. A bell rang and a large oval platter with a Denver Omelet the size of Denver appeared on the stainless steel pick-up counter behind her. Harry's nose was flooded with the succulently intertwined aromas of Ham, sweet onion, ripe red pepper and gratuitously oozing swiss cheese. Harry’s eyes then followed another waitress, Cora -a short chubby woman with Iodine orange dyed hair- who also worked a second job rescuing abandoned ferrets, as she swiftly took the order from the pick-up counter and whisked it to the appropriate table. Harry’s eyes once again came to focus on Babs; he continued.

“Next you should use either a cast iron or stainless steel pan. Preheat first and then add a splash of extra virgin olive oil before finally adding a small pat of real butter just before cracking the egg into it. The pan has to be h.o.t. hot, so when the egg white hits it, it crackles and bubbles up on the edges like lace. Make sure the egg doesn't stick or the white will tear and the yolk break, spilling into a curdled failure.”

Bab’s steely grey eyes just stared, her lipstick red lips hung slightly agape. The diner’s front door suddenly swung open at the very same moment air horns atop a city garbage truck blasted, creating an impromptu fanfare as Wilshire, Sal’s dishwasher arrived to work. A thunderous rumble erupted from the bowels of the kitchen comparable to sounds coming from a Grizzly den in early spring. 

“Wilshire, yer LATE. I’m dockin’ yer pay.” Sal roared. 

Wilshire, dressed head to toe in full teal-colored surgical scrubs, didn’t offer a reply, instead he nonchalantly surveyed the room, shrugged his shoulders and leaned backwards as he moved toward the dish washing clavicle and sinks in the diner’s murky, steam shrouded back room.

Harry leaned over the counter closer to Babs and lowered his voice to a whisper.
“Now here's the secret -and this is THE most important part- let the egg’s edges get ever so delicately burnt, just a simple, soft woody brown. Then slide it off while the yolk is still sunny and slightly jiggles. And there you have it, the perfect fried egg.” Harry gave Babs a small smile with his eyes wrinkled half closed as a self satisfied punctuation to his explanation.

Sal, not having seen or heard from Babs in over ten minutes, came to the order window, leaning his burly arms across it and looked at his motionless head waitress with a perplexed expression. Babs’ attention slowly thawed and she kick-started her customer service routine back into high gear.

"Uh-huh, ok Mac, I haven't got all day, so I take it you want yer eggs fried then, right?"

Harry paused for a moment in blissful contemplation. 

“Um, I think this morning I'll have them ever so lightly poached, thank you."

"Uh-huh, the customer is always right.“ Babs said sticking her tongue firmly in her cheek and throwing her chin over her shoulder yelled, “HEY SAL, ORDER OF EGGS, WRECK 'EM!"

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

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