It wasn’t like he was drunk or anything, just young and a little nervous, which is probably why he ordered “an Absolut and vodka”.

“And did you want those in separate glasses?” I asked, with a tinge of tease in the tone, “or would you rather have them one on top of the other?”

His eyes widened. “What do you mean?”

“What I mean is… you ordered vodka twice. You said Absolut and vodka, shouldn’t there be a soda or tonic in there somewhere?”

“Oh, right,” he said, chuckling as his cheeks gained a blush, “better make that an Absolut and soda.”

“You got it, that one I’ve heard of… Absolut and soda coming up.”

“With a lime!” he shouted, trying to recoup his poise.

“A lime indeed,” I shouted back, and I even called him, “Sir”, for your friendly bartender has worn those shoes… he’s shouted an order that has failed to make sense… and he wanted the kid to know it was no big deal.

So I placed the young man’s drink on the bar, we exchanged knowing smiles, then I walked back over to the cash register… (Big Bertha) to those who haven’t heard of her… and I folded my arms and leaned against her in reverie. For my thoughts quickly ran to my gaffe of all gaffes and it didn’t even happen in a bar but a goddam deli. Here’s that story…

See, to my way of thinking, dear reader, there are few things more quintessentially New York than the Jewish delicatessen, and when I first arrived in this great big city (save for the subway at four in the morning) there were few things more intimidating than the Jewish delicatessen. And I mean that. For there’s something about the hum and buzz of those places with everyone savvy and quick…  everyone knowing exactly what they’re doing requesting all this inside stuff… that makes the likes of me feel like an alien. Like a big fucking jar of mayonnaise rolling through the door. Oh sure, I know hot pastrami and I know corned beef, even brisket, potato or tuna salad and bagel, but everything else holds the arcane reverence of the Torah.

So lo those many years ago as a brand new Apple-tonian, and a rookie of the first order in all things deli, when I first walked into the bustling confines of Shapiro’s on West Seventy Second Street, I was even less the gastronome than that just described. I was a raw egg! But my mission on this day was simple enough… a half a pound of tuna salad and two poppy-seed bagels… so I figured I’d get “on line” and give it a whirl. I mean I didn’t need Alan Dershowitz to walk me through this one, right? Wrong! Check out this internal monologue that played in my head…

Christ, everyone really is in a hurry, better not hold things up when it comes my turn. Get your shit together and know what to say, man. Got it, Goyim? You want a half a pound of tuna salad and two poppy-seed bagels… a half a pound of tuna salad and two poppy-seed bagels. Spit that out when it’s time and keep on moving.

Whoa… hold on here… relax, man, you’re getting all tense for no reason. You’re acting like this is a spelling bee and “antidisestablishmentarianism” is still out there. This is tuna and fucking bagels, not rocket science. I mean it ain’t like you’re going deep here, you’re not getting into Gefilte fish or something that requires a prayer shawl and a yamulke. Chill out, Dude!

N-e-e-e-x-t-!” shouted the guy handling the line movement. Just three more people then me. But at this point, dear reader, (which often happens to your friendly bartender), a song began to play in my head to score the action at hand, and the song that backed up this action was the theme song from “Rocky”. But rather than the words, “Getting stronger…” coming through, the lyrics instead were switched to, “Getting closer…”

Yeah, getting closer, tuna-poppy, three more orders and you’re gonna have the floor.

Then, a few minutes later, after the woman at bat stowed her culinary secrets deep into a big canvas tote, and inquired about an upcoming affair to be catered by Shapiro’s, she trundled off and the man again shouted, “N-e-e-x-t!” “Getting closer… Getting closer…”

Listen, white bread, if everyone’s in such a big hurry around here and you’re worried about holding things up, why don’t you just shorten your god damn order?

“Ne-e-e-x-t!” Jesus Christ! “Getting closer… Getting closer…”

Getting real close!

Yeah, why don’t you just shorten the thing to a half a pound of tuna and leave off the salad part? He knows you’re not gonna buy the actual fish. Plus you can point to it. And then why not just say poppy instead of poppy-seed?  Doesn’t that sound like you’ve been here be-fucking-fore? Yeah, I like that… a half a pound of tuna and two poppy’s… a half a pound of tuna and two poppy’s. Damn that sounds good, someone toss me a yamulke. A half a pound of tuna and two poppy’s. A half…


(In full-blown falsetto) “Gimme a half a pound of tuna and a poppy deli!” What the fuck? Even Freud might have to sleep on that one! A poppy deli!!!

And the guy who was taking my (order?)… the guy staring back through glasses that could stop a bullet… exposed enough teeth to to grille an old Buick, spread out both of his arms and said, “What… you wanna buy the whole store?” And the line behind me like dominoes fell into titters.

“Er-ah.. no, Sir,” I said. My cheeks felt hot enough to fry a whole plate of latkes. “That was A half A pound of tu-na sal-ad… and… two pop-py seed bay-gols.”

“Ahhh, now this I can do,” said the man to much louder titters. And when my order was carefully assembled, bagged and paid for, your friendly bartender then turned and slouched toward Bethlehem.

But there’s a post script to this event which I’d like to share with you. And it goes like this. Remember that episode on “Cheers” when Frazier followed Diane to Europe in an attempt to win her back, hung around with some soccer players, and ultimately failed miserably in his mission? And remember when he got back to Cheers and said something along the lines of, “It was humiliating, Sam, just humiliating! I became a laughingstock. In fact ya’ know know in soccer when a guy misses a kick and lands on his back? That’s now called a Frazier!”

Well guess what, dear reader, (and I swear this is true)… to this glorious day, when friends of mine with whom I’ve shared this tale hear a sportscaster screwing up royally during a telecast, they’ll shout for all to hear, “Did you catch that? That stupid fuck just pulled a poppy deli!” Ahhh immortality!!!.

So I walked back over to “Absolut and vodka”… the young man who started this trip down memory lane… and I asked him if he’d like to have another.

“Sure,” he said, eagerly.

“Another what?” I said with a smile.

“Another Absolut and soda with a lime,” he said with a smile much bigger and sunnier than mine.

Over and out from Shapiro’s… see ya’ next week-end!

27 Responses to “Ordering!!!”

  1. 1 Anonymoustache October 17, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Great stuff, Scrib. I’m glad to know that I wasn’t the only one who used to get ‘ordering anxiety’!
    Also, your superb of the deli also, for some reason, evoked in my mind one of my favorite Seinfeld lines— “The sea was angry that day, my friends, like an old man trying to send back soup at the deli….”

  2. 2 brenda October 17, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    the guy staring back through glasses that could stop a bullet… exposed enough teeth to to grille an old Buick..

    only brilliant, Scrib. Total poetry. And this makes a very nice segway from calamari.(Or however the hell you pronounce it.) Oh. And I have a friend who when she orders red wine says: “I’ll have a glass of your best boojalais, please.” Which works on Halloween, anyway.

  3. 3 scribbler50 October 17, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Thanks, Stache, that’s also one of the best Seinfeld episodes ever. Ending of course with Kramer’s golf ball being dislodged by George (the marine biologist) from the blow hole of “the great beast”.
    Thanks for checking in.

  4. 4 scribbler50 October 17, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    Brenda: Thank you, friend, love it when you stop by. And I really love your take on “Boo-jalais”, that’s funny… the perfect Halloween quaff with red meat! But if you ever decide to bring that friend to my bar we’ll have to sit her down and have a wine chat. Boo-jalais sounds way too affected, unless of course she’s French.

  5. 5 physiobabe October 18, 2009 at 6:54 am

    As we say in Eye-talian: bella scrittura!

    Another masterpiece (which we’ve come to expect from you – no pressure!). Keep it up (the writing,the writing!).

  6. 6 blue girl October 18, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Great post, scribbler! And I *still* suffer from order anxiety. We’ve got Slyman’s Deli, a great old place here in Cleveland. I deal with a photographer close by and I’ll run out and grab lunch for everyone at Slyman’s. I am always freaked out when I go in there! But, I love it at the same time. The place is full of cops and firemen and the guys who run the place are all big and burly with shaved heads. They look like they’d beat you up in one second flat! I always just keep it simple, I don’t order any fancy shenanigans in that place so I’m not laughed out of the joint! I do the same thing you did. Running my order through my mind every time I’m in there. It’s like they’re gonna give me a pop quiz on algebra or something! But, they’re always very nice.

    And look at this page from their site! They even have their own lingo. See? They just want us customers to have fun. But, I’d be breaking out into a cold sweat thinking I was trying to be cool ordering a Corned Beef Wack.

  7. 7 scribbler50 October 18, 2009 at 9:54 am

    Physiobabe: Why of course I knew you meant “the writing, the writing”, you naughty little eye-talian you. Meanwhile, my friend, and not just because you paid me a compliment in it, I love the Italian language. It’s music to my ears. I swear to God one of these days I’m going to send away for that Rosetta Stone program. I heard it’s the best. When I hear my co-worker Tony slip into his native tongue (he’s from Torino), I just stop and smile like I’m listening to a piece of opera.
    Thanks, Physiobabe.

    blue girl: Hah! Glad to know my “order anxiety” is alive and well and thriving in Cleveland, Ohio! And in one of my favorite bloggers, no less. Love “fancy shenanigans”. And thank you for that menu translation… terrific stuff. But like you, I’d also be too self-conscious to use that lingo. Too much like saying “cali-m-a-a-h-h-h-r”!
    Thanks, as always, for stopping by.

  8. 8 d-a-p October 18, 2009 at 11:31 am

    ….so from upstairs my wife calls down..”are you alright

    …….so from upstairs my wife calls down…”are you all right??? i’ve never heard you laugh so hard in my life”
    well yfb…when you “ordered”… i collapsed in laughter…
    from one “goyem” to another…
    i can identify…what a great start to a sunday..
    thanks again…
    p.s. i once ordered lox and mayo at a very well known deli…
    oh the shame…..


  9. 9 d-a-p October 18, 2009 at 11:34 am

    sorry about the extra line…and of course its “Goyim”

  10. 10 Jennifer October 18, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Lahve it! As usual!

    However… I don’t think invoking the name of Christ is going to help you in a deli… 🙂

  11. 11 scribbler50 October 18, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    d-a-p: Oh the shame indeed… lox and mayo makes me look like Larry David. Glad you had a laugh, friend, and one that carried two full floors!

    Jennifer: You always find SOME-thing! But I’ll take the “Lahve”, pal o’ mine, thanks.

  12. 12 Toaster October 18, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    I had to go look up what lox is…

    Now I realize that I have indeed had it, although not on a bagel at all…

    And as for “Absolut and vodka”, I will admit that I didn’t know the difference between “up”, “with a twist”, or “on the rocks” until I was taught better after replying to whether or not I wanted my Manhattan on the rocks with “Sure!”. Come to think of it, I still don’t know what “up” means.

  13. 13 scribbler50 October 19, 2009 at 12:23 am

    Toaster: You gotta get out more, man, but until such time let me inform you. “UP” means you want the drink strained into a martini glass. No ice. And hey, speaking of getting out (and away from the lab), I’m sure many advances in science were initially conceived on a bev nap, so stop into a bar and change the world!

  14. 14 siobhan October 19, 2009 at 8:19 am

    “Pulling a poppy deli” is entering my lexicon. Reminds me of a time in college when a bunch of us were (*ahem*) stoned out of our minds, and gossiping about various friends. One friend was “dumb as a post,” and another was “mean as a junkyard dog,” one was “big as a house,” and one was “gay as a…. gay as a…. gay as a house!” Given our collective state of mind, this struck as as the funniest thing EVER, and it’s still part of my lingo.

    great post, scribbler, as usual!

  15. 15 scribbler50 October 19, 2009 at 8:32 am

    Siobhan: Hah! Very funny. I only wish I could’ve claimed “stoned” but when I walked into Shapiro’s I was as sober as a… as sober as a… well, as sober as a house!
    Glad to have made your lexicon, friend.

  16. 16 Donna B. October 19, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    Order anxiety I can understand, yes. But I’m really jealous there are NO Jewish delicatessens where I live. The closest is at least 200 miles away and hidden away on some street I’m not familiar with.

    To clarify how truly bad it is, the best “deli” food available where I live is found at Wal-Mart.

  17. 17 scribbler50 October 19, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Donna B: You have my sympathies. If I were running for governor of your state… despite my O.A. disorder… my slogan would be, “A chicken in every pot, a deli in every town!”

  18. 18 Katherine October 20, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    At least you were prepared, even if it came out all wrong. Gotta hate the people that get to the front of the queue and then start to decide what they want. Luckily, not hugely prevalent in my country, but I hear stories.

  19. 19 Isis the Scientist October 21, 2009 at 7:56 am

    I loved that Seinfeld episode with the soup! No soup for you, Scribbly!

  20. 20 scribbler50 October 21, 2009 at 8:41 am

    Katherine: Don’t know what country you live in but lucky you. We not only have the “counter deciders” but often they’ll whip out a credit card making things worse. For a pastrami sandwich!!!

    Isis: No soup for YOU, sweet Isis, you’re late!!!

  21. 21 JSaw October 21, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Ahahahah…RIght on Scribbler. (FWIW –I’ve found a little Yiddish helps… )
    And, I’d love to see Siobhan’s gay house

  22. 22 Tx Expat October 21, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Oh, the ordering anxiety. At my old bar digs in Seattle (busy, somewhat famous in an indie rock kinda way), the customers used to call me the “drink Nazi” a la Seinfield .

    At any rate, on one occasion I was confronted with 2 patrons from Scotland. The brogues were so thick that after asking them 4 times what they wanted and consulting with colleagues I finally said, “Listen, y’all need to come with subtitles. Can you write out your order on this bev nap?” They were very accommodating and even though I couldn’t understand a damn thing they were saying they got $1 off for the rest of the night and I got $3 tips – nice trade-off!

    The most humiliating experience, though, was when I yelled at two women who weren’t being quick enough in the line “Hey, y’all are next.” “Yes, you, what can I get ‘ya?” What’s up, are you deaf?” at which point they started signing to each other and God struck me with a command to buy their round.

    Nice blog. Remind me sometime to tell you how to know when you have a made a huge mistake in serving a patron. Here’s a hint: I’m in law school now and taking a class on capital punishment. We saw a video of a competency hearing the other day and afterwards I said to my instructor, “Yeah, I made the mistake of serving a drink to a guy like that (who for the record wasn’t acting that crazy in our 30 second interaction) once when I first started tending bar.”

  23. 23 Tx Expat October 21, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    BTW, my comments about being a total jerk from the age of about 23 to 34 in the bar arena were eaten by the html gods. We were just high volume and I was just high stress. 😉

  24. 24 scribbler50 October 22, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    JSaw: You’re lucky. God that I knew Yiddish, I’d have me a house account at Shapiro’s Deli!
    Thanks for your visit as always, pal, glad you were able to get your weekly chuckle!

    Tx Expat: Or “Drink Nazi” whichever you prefer. Love the Scottish accent but I share your frustration, I had a similar problem literally a week ago. I didn’t have to “read” their orders though, somehow we got through it.
    And as far as the legal thing you mentioned, I think I know where you’re going and I’d rather not know. Fortunately here in New York (not that we’re not liable), everyone usually pops into a cab to get home.
    Thanks for stopping by and adding to the mix.

  25. 25 Tx Expat October 22, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    Scribbler, it’s not that horrifying. It’s just that our bar was located in a part of town that hadn’t been gentrified yet (this was in the early ’90’s) and there was a half-way house across the street for mentally ill folks. I had to learn real quick how to figure out if someone was ok, drunk, or legitimately crazy. It’s no fun having to repossess a drink with no back-up at 4 in the afternoon.

    My joke to the professor was that I couldn’t understand what took the judge so long. I, or any of my peers, could’ve made that determination in 5 minutes or less because that’s usually the maximum amount of time we had to make a decision. You can only delay with chitchat for so long. 😉

    In honor of your earlier post about the obnoxious scotch drinkers, I’m swilling a nice 15 year old MacAllan that I got for $20 on sale at a Rite-Aid (gotta love LA!). My comment to the checker, “OMG! Do you have ANY IDEA what a deal this is??!!?” And then I threw money at her and ran away before she could change the price. Cheers!

  26. 26 scribbler50 October 22, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    Tx Expat: Gotcha’! I thought it was going to be one of those ubiquitous stories about someone who left your bar, apparently sober enough, got in a car and… you get the picture. That’s why I mentioned the late night cab ride.
    Enjoy you Mac!

  27. 27 Tx Expat October 22, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    Oh, god no. I have just realized that “competency hearing” might be a term of art for the legal profession. It means you are trying to determine if someone is sane enough to stand trial and be executed. If you’re insane it’s impermissible to execute.

    Now in the bar context, the competency hearing is, as you know, more like “can I safely serve you a drink without having to engage in an unpleasant encounter?”

    The Mac is excellent and is reminding of my last boyfriend who was Scottish. When he got tipsy he would revert to speaking in that thick brogue which I can’t understand. On the flip side I was usually tipsy, too, and speaking TX redneck. Fortunately we didn’t have to resort to communicating with bev naps at that point, though. (grin)

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