I’m staying at my brother’s in Manhattan for a day or two. Michael’s apartment is one of the few constants in life – he has lived in the same place since 1980. The cases of guitars, closet of vintage gabardine arranged meticulously by color, the thrift store paintings on the walls, his ancient wooden drafting table, the coffee table from our dad’s bachelor apartment; I have only to lie down under one of his collection of flame-stitch afghans or Pendleton blankets on the burgundy “leather” sofa and rather than feel the gaps and bumps that I would if it was just any sofa, I’m home.
But things change – earlier this summer the landlord replaced the classic pull-chain toilet dating back to the early tenement days with a sleek low-flow model – traumatic for his visitors and the source of much outrage for Michael, but you can’t hold back time.
I’m thinking that, as I hustle through the East Village for breakfast at Veselka. Cafes I’ve never seen before beckon from every corner and gleam behind mountains of trash yet to be removed after the hurricane. Sophisticated coffee places where the coffee is no doubt excellent, but I’m on a mission – Veselka breakfast special. Veselka Ukrainian restaurant open 24 hours a day has outlasted most of the Ukrainian diners that used to populate this neighborhood, and the two eggs with kasha or potatoes, toast, fresh orange juice and coffee or tea is the first breakfast I must eat when I come to the city.
I cross ninth street just west of First Avenue and dodge a truck, a bike going in the wrong direction. I nearly collide with a texting guy in a tweed hacking jacket, Tyrolean hat and leather jodphurs, but I keep moving – gotta get to that breakfast special.
The place looks like it always does, counter at the front, square tables in the middle, little two-tops agains the wall. I sit against the wall and open the menu…
Panic. I scan: Eggs, pancakes, Challah French toast. I turn the page: blintzes, pierogis, dinner food. Where’s the breakfast special?
This is not right. Why would they do away with the breakfast special? True, the prices keep going up…
I regroup. Yes, I could order eggs. And toast. And coffee, o.j. Kasha’s still there – but it’s not the breakfast special.
I turn the menu upside down and sideways. Maybe breakfast special has been demoted, sidelined to a separate slip of paper. I shake the menu.
Oh no – the waitress is crossing the room, smiling, ready to take my order. I summon a quizzical expression, mildly perturbed – philosophical even. It’s only been five months or so since I last had breakfast special, so the topic is fresh. I’m sure I’m not the only one she’s had to do some explaining to.
I mean, I could order something else. I like blintzes, pierogi. But no other combination will work. I may have to leave. A shrug, a smile – there are other places, a half dozen in the next block alone.
She’s coming – I open the brunch menu again and I see it, on it’s own page – “Our Famous Breakfast Special”. It hasn’t been phased out at all! It’s been enshrined! Given it’s own page on the menu even.
The waitress arrives, I order: two eggs over easy with kasha. Rye toast and coffee please (you don’t have to say orange juice – that part comes automatically). I sit back and wait. Breakfast special is not going anywhere.
I still know what I’m doing.
I still belong.