It’s been a trying time: The Scamp has started nursery school in central Fort Greene, and despite the warm and friendly environment, sweet classmates, and excellent teachers, he’s not going easy. If you don’t know firsthand, believe me when I tell you that there is nothing more gut-wrenching than walking out on your kid when he’s screeching in apparent terror and scratching at the air in your wake. And though my nerves would probably drive me straight to Frank’s, they’re not open at 9am, so my feet take me to Academy Restaurant instead.
I’ve been camping out in this diner all week, waiting for a “come get your kid” phone call; forcing myself to eat — even though I have no appetite — in order to justify my butt in the booth; amping up with coffee and finally putting my wrung-out emotions aside, digging into my work, currently a rewrite/update of a travel guidebook. When I first ducked into Academy on Monday, I had no needs other than a warm place to collect myself and pass an hour; now, I can’t imagine a better diner in the city and I don’t know why I didn’t start coming more often a long time ago.
In this gilded New York City of $2,000 one-bedroom apartments, $20 one-course brunches, and $2 one-way fares, it has been easy to undervalue the charms of the diner. After this week, I won’t again. I walk into Academy and I can seat myself immediately, whether in a booth by the window or at the counter. The no-nonsense, nicotine-stained waitresses bring a menu, take my order, bring my food, and drop my check easily and efficiently, without leaving me to wait for anything. I’m left in peace to sit staring out of the window, reading a New Yorker article on Michelle Obama, writing new restaurant reviews from my collected notes, checking my phone anxiously to make sure I haven’t missed the nursery school’s call. And the banter all around, words falling like confetti, every fragment of conversation an inspiration: Tommy Konstantakis with a wry word for everybody coming in and out; a young gringo who lays out his plan to move to Central America and live on the cheap with a full staff of hired help; a drummer on a break who pounds absently on a barstool with his sticks while waiting for his order; the middle-aged guys who point to Madonna as the beginning of the end of the age of sartorial grace (”The pants are falling off their butts now — of course they’re violent!”), but insist they’d vote for a woman politician (”Just not Hillary! And I told her, ‘You only like Obama because he’s black!’”).
And at a time when I feel almost paralyzed by multiple pathways that lead to I-don’t-know-where, and I second- and triple-guess nearly every choice I make from the time The Scamp jolts me awake (”Muh-MAH!”) in the morning till the time my mind finally wears its battery out and lets my eyes close too late at night, it’s comforting to know that “scrambled hard” means the egg will come scrambled hard; that asking for a decaf will get me a cup of instant Sanka, so I’d better buck up and drink up the real deal; and that I am alone together with a steady stream of working stiffs, artists, and those without a trust fund who just want a fill-up kind of meal and a smile for under $10 (or even $5) ‘cos that’s all they got to spare and they just want to make it through the day like anybody else. Some things are too good to change.