After, due to a rookie mistake involving the misapplication of carbon paper resulting in my typing an entire page of the “Campers’ Master List” backwards on the other side of a page where I had impeccably typed it frontwards, I decided to cool off by stepping out of the office (in which I was alone), and taking a rejuvenating lunch break in the diner in the building.
The place was called Stubby’s, a standard eatery and collegial meeting place for the, often prosperous, lawyers and real estate developers who leased offices on the premises. Loud. Raucous. Echoing with laughter, invariably at a fellow diner’s expense. It was a fun place to eat.
If you didn’t cross Stubby.
Stubby did not suffer fools gladly. And by fools, he included people who asked him “What’s the soup today?” – “It’s soup! You don’t want it, you don’t have to eat it!” and “Can I have my eggs ‘sunny-side up’? – “You’ll have them the way I make them!”
Big-shouldered Stubby, who was “funny-mean”, handled the fryer and the griddle; the non-speaking Jack, the obligatory skinny member of the duo, did the soups and the salads (which you selected at your peril, certain Stubby would eviscerate you for ordering “rabbit food.”) The only “wild card” in this Penn and Teller tableau is that each of them displayed tattooed concentration camp numbers on their forearms. It is hot around the griddle. You rolled up your sleeves.
I come into the restaurant, hungry for a grilled cheese and some balming anonymity.
It was, regrettably, not to be.
The moment I step through the door, as if on cue, the entire dining room starts singing. And not just any song. They are singing what I’d been singing in the office, the musical accompaniment to my carbon paper disaster.
Unbeknownst to me, my dulcet mellifluicity – I have always been and remain today my own personal iTunes – had sailed up to the air vent, and, courtesy of the building’s ventilation system, my heartfelt rendition of “I’m the Greatest Star” had wafted throughout the edifice, floating down, to their riotous amusement, on the unsuspecting patrons at Stubby’s Restaurant.
The day was wall-to-wall humiliation, strangely echoing my option selections at Ledbury Park Junior High School – first, it was typing; then, it was singing. Slinking to a seat at the end of the counter, I was immediately accosted by the proprietor, thrusting a menu at me, and growling, “What will it be, Mr. Streisand?”
Bizarrely, a repetition of this public shaming would play out in a diametrically different arena only a couple of years later. I was working at Harrod’s in England, and because my two-pounds-a-week apartment had no bathtub and no shower, I took advantage of the facilities in the “Employee’s Lounge”, which, fortuitously, included a shower. (Before working there, I cleaned up at the Oasis Public Baths.)
When I shower, I sing. When I do anything, I sing. This time, however, the ventilation system carried my crooning, not to a suburban Toronto luncheonette, but throughout the length and breadth of London’s most prestigious Department Store.
Both times, it was embarrassing. But – and this was the good part – though my singing was, some might say, inappropriate, nobody ever said
I sang badly.