My friend M.Z. and I (both of us jazz pianists) often made pilgrimages from Toronto to the Mecca of Jazz, New York. M.Z. and I (both of us Jews, him from Ottawa, me originally from New York) also considered the Carnegie Deli another kind of Mecca. If not a Mecca of Deli, then a Mecca of Attitude.
So determined to get our Deli/Attitude fix were we, that after the bus brought us from Newark to the Bus terminal, our 1st stop was the Carnegie Deli, as always, before we even knew where were staying.
The Carnegie’s seating makes for wonderful opportunities for interaction with total strangers. The deli is always jammed, often with visitors from all over the world and native New Yorkers, who aren’t shy.
We were second from the end of a long series of tables that extended from the wall to the aisle, about 10 people shoulder to shoulder, on each side facing each other. Like a cafeteria. At the end of the table next to us in the aisle seat was one man by himself, next to me, reading his menu.
The waiter arrived, order pad and attitude in hand.
“What’ll it be?”, he said (like he’s going to do us big favour if we’d only get on with it!) Because we’d done this before, we had our order down to a science.
“We’ll have one pastrami sandwich to share, extra bread and 2 cokes.”(This order meant we’d have left-overs for 2 days, …. IF, we could find a fridge.)
Our solitary Lunch Mate was still reading his menu, so the waiter left.
The waiter returned with our huge meal, and waited for our Lunch Mate’s order. L.M (says to us, while eyeing the pastrami) : “That’s, a nice looking sandwich”.(to the waiter) : “I’ll have a matzoh ball soup.”
M.Z. and I are eating, loving every succulent morsel, not a word
passes between L.M. and us. His soup arrives.
He brings his spoon to his lips, stops, and with a sigh, says to no one in particular,”I HATE L.A.”
We stop eating and ask, “Why?”, even though we know why.
L.M.: “They don’t know about deli in L.A.. They think they know,but they don’t know. I’ve told all my friends about New York Deli and what they’ve been missing, but they don’t know. So I promised myself I’d show them. Every six months I come to New York on business and come to the Carnegie, and this one time I thought, I know! I’ll BRING em some sandwiches! On my way to the airport for my return flight I asked the waiter to wrap a few corned beef sandwiches to go. Well wrapped, I put them in my luggage.
When I got to L.A. my luggage didn’t show. There was a stop over in Chigago, and my bags were lost there, for 4 days. Oh, did I mention that there was a heat wave in the midwest? So, finally my luggage arrives in L.A., I open my bag. It was like somebody died, I had to have the bag fumigated! A total disaster, and what’s worse, my friends never got those sandwiches. They still don’t know.
Anyway, six months later I’m here at the Carnegie, I get the same waiter and tell him the story of the Corned Beef sandwiches and how they spoiled in the heat, and without missing a beat, with his New York Yiddish accent says, (like I’m such a schmuck for not knowing this….)
‘Ya shuda had da Pastrami, it keeps beddah!’ ”