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for June 4, 2003

Small things.
by Your Diva, Robin Pastorio-Newman

It always starts with something breathtakingly small you might not even notice if you were thinking about where you left your umbrella or whether red pants go with a lime green sweater.
In this case, it started with the words, "I feel like a burger, a really good one, a big thick rare burger on a crusty bun. With cheese. How about you?" Then Your Darling, Your Diva, Your One True Love and her trusty companion were in the shower making shampoo bunny ears and climbing into the car in a blinding rainstorm before you could snap your fingers.
After a brief but bracing drive across submarine New Brunswick, we found the parking lot of Arthur's Steak House teeming with prospective diners, and a line out the door. Though our coifs were still wet our clothes were dry and we didn't see any reason to compromise there so we drove over to Sir John's where the sign still reads "A good place to get a burger" but the restaurant's exterior has undergone a certain change. The tipoff should have been the dignified whitehaired lady in the doorway, obviously out for a bit of fresh air, wearing a formal black velvet gown tailored for a Liliputian matriarch, but this was okay because she was probably all of four feet tall. Yes, Sir John's has become a small, flat wedding palace and there is not a burger of any variety on the menu.
Customers at the next table drank Bud bottles, rendering our decision to drink Sam Adams on tap slightly refined, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. As we were escorted into the smoking section, a gentleman caught Your Chocolate Martini's eye. It was her accountant, whom she's known since he graduated from college and went to work in his father's business. She smiled, he smiled, greetings were exchanged. Instantly, his blonde dinner companion stiffened. Though we were dressed casually and soaked from the downpour, the other woman took one look at Your Strawberry Daiquiri and read the word HOMEWRECKER across her forehead. As we were seated, from the other side of the room, we heard, "Who was that, a CLIENT?" in the most suspicious of voices, so we sat with our backs to the drama and scanned the encyclopedic menu.
Eventually we settled on seafood entrees, Sam Adams and oysters Rockefeller, though the sauce was a trifle eggier than it should have been. The dining room was packed with chatty families and celebrants of all kinds and the bar's TV was tuned to Cops; it took awhile to notice something small but unusual: no music was playing in the dining room, the noise was all people-noise, and people were making a lot of it.
Maybe this isn't where starts. Maybe it starts with an enchanted and awful place like Franklin High School, where students were tortured in roughly the same manner over a dozen years and went their separate ways, still huffing and puffing and muttering, "Where's the National Guard when you need it?"
Some years later, and you will never be able to say how, you find yourself in a studio at Rutgers University's WRSU radio with the cacophonous cast members of the nationally syndicated college radio show Hub City Spoke Repair, sitting under a console while auditions proceed for parts in a brand new bit called "International House of Pain". Half of these people went to the same high school. One wants the part of the waiter, and when he reads the specials, he's maniacally shouting, "VEAL CHOPS! VEAL STEAKS! VEAL SLURRRRRRRRRPIES!" and you have no choice. You reach in your pocket, take out $3 for dues and plunk it on the counter under which you're still cowering, but now you can't breathe because you're laughing so hard.
That's it. Franklin High School damaged psyches in such a way as to forge comedians, accept it. Some years after that show fades into broadcast history and Museum of Television and Radio archives, you find yourself writing for Altrok with the same people. They're very funny, but independent proof of the high school's place in comedy history arrives in the form of Daniel Drennan, mastermind of Inquisitor Mediarama and author of The New York Diaries: Too-True Tales of Urban Trauma (Ballantine, 1998). Drennan's humility and unflinching self-examination is gut-wrenching and hilarious, his dramas could be your dramas. His prose is so elegant, you don't so much laugh as realize laughing has cut off your oxygen supply. Your Fruity Margarita would recommend this book even if the author hadn't taken one of her statuesque sisters to the prom.
Okay, so maybe where it starts matters a little but follow-through is more important, and sometimes you see the "funny" thing roll your way like a giant wave barreling toward shore and if you just let the funny wash over you, you're soaking in it. Like the time a friend taught English to hotel and restaurant management students in an Indonesian town outside Jakarta while living with locals. One day she was picking out fresh vegetables in a grocery store when the music on the overhead speakers went decidedly American in a place where no one else spoke English. Our dear friend stood there sputtering and staring at the ceiling while overhead 2 Live Crew shouted, "HEEEEEEYYYY! WE WANT SOME PUUUUSSSY!" and nobody batted an eye.
Or like when your sexy, sexy man decides Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul mentioned in a previous column, is lonely and needs a pet, so you find yourself standing in PetSmart, picking out supplies so Larry can have his own goldfish he can stare at and menace, and you name the fish Abe Vigoda. Now households have battle cries. Some household battle cries might be nationalistic - "Vive La France!" - and some more ominous - "Where's The Plunger?" - but ours has become "Protect the Fish!" which often accompanies flying leaps across the living room to thwart the cat in mid-pounce.
But we're out to dinner, and there's not a burger in sight, and there's no music, and we can't figure out why when a door opens and a wedding springs out. In the adjacent room, a helpful and slightly smarmy announcer offers suggestions and hints: "Now everybody throw your hands up in the air and run into the middle of the circle!" while Hava Nagila plays at ear-splitting volume. "Now scream!" he says. Our waitress, who's somehow managed to ignore us and dote, runs by. "Is everything okay with you folks?" she asks breathlessly. We express interest in paying our check ten minutes ago, and it arrives quickly with smiley faces in all the places you'd expect.
So we didn't get our burgers, but we who generally avoid pastries and disdain sweets left with an inexplicable craving for warm, fresh, fragrant cake, baking in the kitchen right now.

©2003 Robin Pastorio-Newman

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.


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