Chekov’s Gun. . .

October 1, 2009

Anton Chekhov famously instructed writers, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

Granted, this is just a blog post and the stories I’m about to share are self-edited for significance, but even so, I am occasionally mystified by the intricate little tropes my sub-conscious hides from me. I spent a good portion of the afternoon amused by my own random actions and only put the connections together on the way home.

Enjoy my own personal Chekhov’s Armory, and I’ve added a link to Chekhov’s Depot at the end.

–My boss, D, is in sales, which means that 93% of his productive work hours are spent taking clients to upscale restaurants for lunch. D has friends in every restaurant in the city, but has a special place in his heart for the Brooklyn Diner. The Diner doesn’t take reservations, but D’s assistants learn early to invoke The Holy Name (I’m not sure if it’s the owner, the chef, the maitre’d, or The Godfather, but simply mention it and suddenly tables are held safe and the person you’re talking to becomes *extremely* deferential), and D eats there fairly often. I tend to forget most of the other places, but drop The Holy Name once or twice, and the memory will linger.

–Whenever a New Yorker hosts out of town guests, a certain pressure exists to have “a place you know about”–be it a LES dive bar, a Midtown bistro, or the greatest underground rave the five boroughs have ever hosted. It’s harder than one might imagine to explain to visitors that you really only know *your* subway line (and, honestly, only to your stop) and that the highlight of your most recent society shenanigans was the night you got a *pepperoni* slice (not just cheese!) from the walk-up window at that place down the block.

You may remember earlier this summer when my mother came to visit me (her first time!)–the same weekend as a very good friend and colleague from the ATL theater scene was in town. I had NO IDEA what to do with two tourists in tow, so when I turned the corner and saw Brooklyn Diner, the choice was easy.

“Shall we dine with the town’s film executives?” I asked suavely, positively *dripping* with coolness (and rapidly calculating the chances of getting a table without invoking my boss’s buddy’s name–luckily, we were a good hour and a half ahead of the dinner crowd).

I know why D likes it–even at the less-popular Times Square location, the decor was interesting, the menu was eclectic, and the drinks were *strong*. Still assured of my coolness, I ordered their award-winning “15 Bite Hot Dog”, expecting, naively, a hot dog.

I didn’t know that coolness could bottom out so quickly. . .

What arrived at the table was a foot long phallic symbol of legendary girth that by virtue of its very existence trumps any and all iterations of “that’s what she said.” The meal was placed and my *mother* and my *friend* (a distinguished gentleman of my mother’s generation) laughed until they cried. I let them laugh–I was overwhelmingly preoccupied with figuring out a way to EAT the damn thing without reaching uncharted levels of awkwardness!

–There are some foods that people just aren’t supposed to like, mostly because the general concept of them sounds more like a grocer’s back alley during a trash strike than actual comestibles. Really, who can get excited about liverwurst? What twisted soul decided tripe was meant for dinner? I’m with the general population on those two, but I actually *like* some other offenders (like licorice, and mushrooms, and coconut), and that night at The Diner, The Hot Dog From Hell was served with another Food That Shouldn’t Be: juniper-berry sauerkraut. It was, to be honest, absolutely delicious.

–Wednesday was a long day for me.

I had a doctor’s appointment early that morning (Fun With X-Rays, or, Did I Break My Toe or My Foot?), and was slightly terrified when I realized his office was actually In A Hospital. I don’t like doctors. I HATE hospitals. And I was completely unprepared to find myself lost and in a nurses’ station where beepy things were going off. YIKES! I don’t think I’ve been in a hospital since. . . um. . . Nic gave birth?. . . so five years ago?? Not enough time has passed, in my opinion. It is perhaps not my fault that being in the hospital unexpectedly hit me hard–after all, my mother was having three surgeries that morning, and I’d been up and on the phone since 5am. Conditions were not conducive to maximizing Ali efficiency. Also, yay–it’s just toe!/Boo! You’ll be limping for a month!

I wasn’t on my game later, either, as I juggled updates from the relatives with scheduling a lunch with D and TWO clients. Double the clients, double the schedules, double the location arguments, quadruple the fun! Their assistant is a buddy of mine, though, and she suggested Brooklyn Diner, since “D always likes it.” Let me state for the record: Ariana is a GODDESS! I made the call, and was immediately hit with a new sensation–a craving for sauerkraut.

Correction: it was the mother of all cravings,and it was specifically for a reuben (pastrami, sauerkraut, and swiss on rye, and not one of my favorites).

Mom’s surgery went well, and aside from a pretty grim headache she had a peaceful night. I was finally able to talk to her today, since the medication had been scaled back and she was lucid. She has my dad, my grandmother, my aunt, my uncle, and both of my brothers on call, she’s well taken care of, and we agreed when the surgeries were scheduled that she doesn’t *need* me there, but it’s very, very hard for me to know that she’s going through this and I’m not with her, even if it’s only to wrangle the boys and keep my dad from going nuts. Very hard. So mostly I’m ignoring that part of it, and focusing on being upbeat and cheerful and supporting my brothers via phone. (Being protective runs in our family, and neither of them is comfortable with Mom hurting and they’re not able to stop it.)

And I still had that craving for the reuben.

It was so strong I had to order it for lunch, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that stupid sandwich made me feel like I actually had a chance of getting on my game for the first time all week.

–When I was a little girl, I spent every summer in Michigan with my mother’s parents. I love my Grandma, but I was really PaBuck’s baby. I adored my grandfather, who wore seven-league-boots, was only scared of big water, and could make anything better with a joke and a ride on the motorcycle. He had his own unidentifiable brand of magic. . . he understood me, had complete faith in me, and never made me question myself–a rare gift for anyone who had to deal with Little Ali.

My great-grandmother (Grandma’s mom, who was deaf, wicked cool, and another one of my heroes) would occasionally need medical stuff–which meant a trip to her retirement home and then on to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Gram would take Great-Grandma up for whatever had to be done, and PaBuck would suddenly claim to be starving. Did I mind going with him to get something to eat? Grandma could find us later. . .

We would leave those green, cold, plastic-smelling hallways and go down to a blessedly grimy little deli decorated in horrible 60’s mafia chic; all that brown blurry glass, orange lights, and cracked leather bench seats. PaBuck always ordered the same thing–Hot Pastrami on Rye, with mustard. And because it was bad for his sugar balance (he had diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis, and his diet had to be carefully maintained), we would agree to split the sandwich. Problem solved.

Later we would retrieve “the girls,” and probably have a proper lunch, but I never had to sit in the hospital waiting room. . . and suddenly those little coping mechanisms make an awful lot of sense.

That’s the story, folks.

As promised–Chekhov’s Depot–all the ways we’ve taken it too far. . .


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