Before the cheeseburgers and shakes flooded our lives, the diner life started as the deli life. The daughter of Palestinian Americans, it was inevitable for me to have been born into a family business, my birth right even. As an Arab, one’s family usually owned one of the following establishments: a dry cleaners, a restaurant, or a grocery store. My mother’s father owned the last two at separate points in his life, and from that legacy, my mother tutored my father in the culinary art of owning a restaurant.
I was born into a small deli with a cash register dividing both the dessert case from the meat case that ran the expanse of the front of the store. Being the early 1980s, orange and black chairs littered the dining room, and the walls were covered in a newspaper print that looked like a very early likeness of Michael Jackson. In fact, until I was around 10 years old, I thought it was Michael Jackson, and I wondered how my father got him on our walls.
As a relatively small child, I was allowed the run of the place. See, when I assert that I was born into a restaurant, I am very serious. So serious in fact, that my mother likes to inappropriately point out at astronomically inopportune times that I was not only raised in the family business, I was conceived in it, as well. So, from the day I was brought home from the hospital until I went to school, I spent my days in a restaurant. My mother set up a playpen behind the counter, and when we were not as busy, she would allow me to wander the kitchen in my walker. Once I had surpassed needing help to walk, all hell broke loose. At this point, I was no more than 3 years old wandering behind the counter with my brother in the playpen sleeping. Joey had just been born as we are two years apart. I was always jealous of how much he got to sleep. To keep myself occupied and out of the way during the lunch rush, I became very adept at entertaining myself. I had rules that I never followed, and as a result, I was in absolutely everything.
When my mother wasn’t looking, I would crack the door on the dessert case, and sneak my little hand in. I would pick the dried frosting off the side of the brownie pan, and the pecans off of the top of the pecan squares. If I was feeling especially bold, I would grab whole cookies and large pieces of baklava. It was the sweet life. When my father was tied up cooking on the grill or making sandwiches, I would climb the over 6 foot refrigerator and steal cans of Coke and bottles of Perrier. For a two-year old, I had refined tastes. It must be noted that not all of my escapades were so adorable. I am ashamed to admit that I, too, was once a disgusting child. After the lunch rush, I would often take naps on the chairs at the tables. Yes, please have a seat, and don’t mind the two-year old napping. It was during such naps that I found my favorite table.
The reason for my picking this delightful little area to hide was due to a very large, very pink half chewed piece of bubblegum stuck to the bottom corner of my favorite table. I remember when I first found it. It looked so sweet and so pink. I felt compelled to taste it, and so I licked the half chewed morsel. It was just as I had suspected. It still had flavor! From then on, I would taste a little bit here and there from the glorious sweetness…until my father found out that I was trying to eat the gum off of the bottom of the tables and had them cleaned. I had lost the whole reason for choosing my favorite table in the first place. I was crushed. However, on the bright side, I had strengthened my immune system two-fold.