The creative writing assignment here was to write a one-page scene, including a bit of dialogue, that describes a time and place and introduces a couple of people. Here it is.
Eat Here Now
For our last night in Manhattan, we planned on enjoying a no-plan night. Over the three days behind us, we had enjoyed catered fair. We’d dined bayside on Long Island’s moneyed end. We’d brunched and supped wearing dry-cleaned clothes, with familiar family friends side-glancing at new New York friends to see which fork was the right fork right now.
Charlene and I, enjoying don’t-think-about-it weather, began walking up the still-sunny side of 2nd Ave. around 5 pm. With complete confidence or perhaps simple indifference, she strolled the clamorous Upper East Side with the same self-reliance that carried her through peaceful Winona, Minn. I’d not seen this side of my mother-in-law before, or maybe I just hadn’t been alone with her to notice. Impressive and surprising, Charlene was uniquely able to tune out the smothering city around her. Now in her 70s, she’d honed this skill to perfection as the mother of 11 kids – including the one I was married to.
Charlene might have preferred to be alone, honestly, and maybe the same for me. But the rest of our family flew home earlier, and I wasn’t going to leave mom-in-law alone in the big city. An unlikely pair, on strange streets, we searched for the perfect dinner spot. But her perfect and my perfect were as different as the Winona Daily News and the New York Daily News. Still, we were determined to find a dinner story we could both enjoy. “The Star Diner looks nice and quiet.” With a hungry grin, Charlene pointed into a nearly empty cafeteria that had far too much jello on display. “Let’s keep looking,” I said when I really meant “Oh hell no.”
I noticed her eyeing the Gotham Café and its cracking vinyl booths. She hoped the advertised Turkey Dinner special might entice me; we were still three weeks away from Thanksgiving. “It’s such a nice night,” I said hoping to distract her from the mashed potatoes and gravy. “Let’s walk another block or two.” I had NY pizza on my mind. Or maybe a street cart hotdog. I wanted food to remember, whether for good or bad. But I knew I had to let Charlene have her New York too. We’d stick together.
We passed 58th St., then 59th. The Kebab House around the corner at 61st St. sent grilled lamb aromas my way. As my own personal sacrifice, I ignored those scents. Charlene’s pace was slowing, my hunger was growing. Quite a crowd was surfacing from the 63rd St. Subway Station, but the Empire State Building and I carved our way through. As the foot traffic cleared, we both spotted our solution. At 64th & Lexington, I settled Charlene into a white formica booth at the Eat Here Now Diner, her slim shoulders pressed lightly into the red padding. She smiled at the familiar menu - roast turkey sandwich, mashed potatoes, hot coffee. And I ran next door to Little Vincent’s Pizza. I folded over a couple slices of pepperoni and returned to the Eat Here Now. An unlikely pair united.