Wednesday, May 14, 2014

My favorite lunch guest

Today for lunch - which was much more crowded than usual - I had the Chicken Club on wheat with french fries.  But the food, and I don't say it lightly, pales in comparison to my favorite dining companion.  Henry Tits McGee, aka Kim, and I lunch and giggle more than two people should really be allowed to do when we can find the time.  She always has one pancake and a mushroom omelet.  If I have cornbread, she usually eats more than her fair share.  She always thinks she can out gun me in picking up the bill.  Today I won.

We've shared everything at our shared table.  And usually, if we were sharing a table, we made friends or over shared with them.  We really didn't care what they might overhear.  And we could just as easily interject into their conversation.  There's not really much we wouldn't share to make someone else enjoy their lunch all that much better.  I found out she was pregnant at one of our lunches.  I cried.  We've talked moms (before she was a mom), dads, family, loves, drinking, work, politics, construction, scatological humor, the love and loss of dogs, and, well, everything.  Fontaine calls her my girlfriend and rolls her eyes.  I think she might just be a little jealous.  Now, where else but a table at Charlie's can we find the time, space, and company - all company included - to find time for ourselves?

Say it aint so!

I believe my first visit to Charlie's was in 1992 with my Grandmother.  I had just moved to Boston and found myself living in a great apartment on Warren Avenue.  Grandma was visiting from Idaho and we were doing some exploring of the city together.  The neighborhood was a bit sketchy and Grandma hung out at the house while I was at work one day.  She went to a hardware store and was told that a lady such as herself shouldn't be wandering around the neighborhood like she was.  All she wanted was a garbage can for my kitchen, and she didn't return to the house without a garbage can.  She was a tough lady and was so named the Little General.

On that trip to Charlie's, I remember thinking that if we did anything wrong, we might be asked to leave.  I was a bit on edge, and would not be lying if I said the waitresses were a bit intimidating.  There was one particular lady, an African American woman, who seemed quite stern but smiley.  This of course was long before I knew everyone by name.   My recollection of that first shared table experience was most colored, if I may, by my Grandmother telling the African American women that she seemed a very nice black girl.  Michelle, as I later found her name to be, rose up straight and I thought she was going to body roll my sweet, little Grandma.  I let Grandma do the talking and she explained, with only one or two more poorly used generalities, that she was from Idaho and that seemed reason enough in the whole scheme for my Grandma's words.  My Grandma was the one who rose up and gave Michelle a hug.  We left with big smiles.

And 22 years later almost to the day, I'm back at Charlie's eating my favorite Raspberry Scramble.  Actually, they are pancakes.  Three of them.  I call it a Raspberry Scramble, but a scramble is actually eggs, and a raspberry omelet doesn't sound all that tasty.  So raspberry pancakes it is.  They are thick and moist almost like cake and I eat them with just butter.  Pancakes are probably my second favorite breakfast after hash of course.

They were so plentiful, or I was just full, but I wrapped them in foil and had them for breakfast the next morning.

The Charlie Chronicles

I suppose we all should have had some idea that it could happen, but certainly none of us wanted to believe in the reality that it would happen.  Boston's Charlie's Sandwich Shop, in its generations old familiar linoleum and vinyl fashion, is to be no more.  Ugh.

A front page - above the fold - story in The Boston Globe titled "Authentic to its Final Morsel" let the world know that after nearly nine decades the exhaust fans whipping away the smell of turkey hash from the griddle will be able to take a breather.  Yes, Arthur, Chris, Marie, and Fontaine are ready, or I should say, they are done.  Next.

For 22 years, I have been enjoying the personalities, the counter, the friends, the mystique, and, yes, the food, as a local insider.  I get my water poured for me in a big glass and don't need to go to the back and fill a small glass myself.  I get my order remembered wrong, then corrected, every time.  I've had a place mat and "Miss Sunshine" set out for me because I called ahead and was in a hurry.  Yes, I love the place.  Every bit of it. 

In my quest to remember Charlies, and perhaps to be remembered, I have committed to eating at the counter every day, except Saturdays, until they close.  And write about it.  It will be my version of "Super Size Me", and I might just be the one getting Supersized.

And so begins my slow and fattening goodbye to my friends.  And yes, the hash dropped wheat is on the menu.