October 2nd, 2016.
Tomorrow is Dr. M’s birthday, and since “tomorrow”, Monday is a work day – for some people – we are celebrating her birthday, in part at least, today. Sunday. (The detectives amongst you could have easily figured that out. Writers, however, need to consider that not everyone is a detective.)
Dr. M wanted to visit a museum where they were exhibiting “yarn” paintings. Did I mention tomorrow was her birthday? So we went to a museum where they were exhibiting “yarn” paintings.
They were imaginatively executed “yarn” paintings but there were no more than a dozen of them, and with twelve dollars for parking it worked out to about a dollar a painting. But, you know, I got it. Tomorrow was her birthday.
It was now time for lunch. But, since, tomorrow was her birthday, that lunch needed some distinguishing pizazz. Not by demand, but by desire. My desire. I wanted her pre-birthday lunch destination to be memorable.
Which, as you will shortly discover, in her case is not synonymous with fancy and expensive. Which is good, because “fancy and expensive” generally precludes a restaurant “Dress Code” allowing shorts, which, due to the temperature and my mood, I had put on to go see the “yarn” paintings. Topped by a t-shirt from an Indiana distillery.
You have a hit movie or TV show, you can wear anything you want. My status requires a tuxedo at a hotdog stand. * (* Possibly an exaggeration. *) (* Possibly unworthy of the attempt. *) (* Though a sincere effort was made to do better and I couldn’t. *) (* I told you I wasn’t a joke writer. *) (* Leave me alone.)
My friend Paul had recently listed Langer’s as the best restaurant of its genre in Los Angeles, the pastrami sandwiches their delicatessenal specialty. Dr. M lit up at the suggestion. No Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel for her birthday honoration. (Though I have a daughter who’d go there just to celebrate “Tuesday.”)
No complaints that Langer’s is in downtown Los Angeles and would take forty-five minutes to get to. Tomorrow’s her birthday. Today, there would be pre-birthday pastrami, and that’s it!
A momentary digression.
Some of us – not mentioning names or pointing any fingers – get grumpy if we don’t eat reasonably close to “on time.” We had left the museum around one. When we parked and headed to Langer’s, it was near a quarter to two. Our lunches are traditionally around twelve, so you should factor that in. (Not intended to be a play-on-words on another L.A. delicatessen called Factor’s. It just happened by accident.)
It was our first visit to Langer’s, a truly inspired pre-birthday suggestion. (SFX: The idea’s “suggester” patting himself congratulatorily on the back.)
We step up to Langer’s front door. Dr. M turns the handle; the door does not open. We are suddenly confused. Then, I see a sign in the window:
The problem with visiting a place for the first time is you are unaware that they are not open on Sundays. The idea had never crossed my mind. What deli is not open on Sundays?
A quarter to two and we haven’t had lunch. “Tick, tick, tick…”
Or is it “Rumble, rumble, rumble…”?
Our minds scramble for nearby possibilities. There’s The Pantry. We love the pantry – home-style cuisine, with the comforting advantage of… their posted sign says it succinctly:
“We Never Close.”
Back in the car, I get a better idea. Baco Mercat. “Destination Dining”, but with casual attire. We decide to go there. Although not pastrami, it is more than pre-birthday-lunch-treat celebrational.
We check the “phone app” for directions to Baco Mercat, when I get an even better idea:
Clifton’s (founded in 1931) is the polar opposite of “Destination Dining.” It’s an old-fashioned cafeteria. Dr. M introduced me to Clifton’s when we were first dating. We had not been there since its recent remodeling, we had wanted to try it. It was two minutes away.
And we were extremely hungry.
We quickly find Clifton’s. But there is no available parking. The nearest parking lot we drive into is cavernously dimly lit and so scary there is not even a parking attendant. (“You want me to work in there? No way, man.”)
We were afraid to get out of the car. It was like, “Murderers Welcome! – And Don’t Worry About Paying For Parking.”)
We immediately drive out. (And nobody stops us. What kind of parking lot is that?)
We find another (elevated parking) lot about four blocks from Clifton’s, similarly dim, but at least there’s a parking attendant. We pay our eight dollars (the sign outside said “Parking $3, but the additional lettering saying “For the First 15 Minutes” was smaller than the bottom line on an ophthalmological Eye Chart.)
We find an available parking space on the “Fourth Level.” Since the creaky elevator had likely not been inspected since the Silent Movie Era, I determine to take the stairs, arranging to meet Dr. M down in the lobby.
I descend the four flights of stairs, overlooking the urine smells and the “Is that blood?” Reaching the Bottom Level, I push open the door, which clanks noisily behind me, but instead of the lobby…
… I am standing in an alley.
With no visible access to the street.
There is a shot in the film High Noon where the camera mounted on a huge crane pulls up and back, revealing a now miniscule figure, standing in the street, isolated from the world, facing the perilous “unknown.”
That cinematic image flashed worryingly to mind
As I stood anxiously alone
Outside in that alley.
To be continued…