Mendel Letters 19: 6 AM Saturday Morning
Starting when I was fourteen you put me to work in your Astoria, Queens luncheonette, first as a helper and eventually as the counterman and short-order cook. You took over the luncheonette with your friend Joe after your candy store/coffee shop in the Bronx went bankrupt when they opened the Cross Bronx Expressway, traffic was rerouted, and you were left high and dry. We used to hop on the Lexington Ave 4 line subway at 170th Street in the Bronx at 5:15 AM, switched to the RR at 59th Street, and walked from the 36th Avenue stop to 21st Street to open the store at 6 AM.
You were legally blind from childhood and could only read with a large magnifying lens, kind of like Sherlock Holmes examining evidence. At the luncheonette, you worked by touch and location and when I manned the counter I had to adapt to the way you did things. Coffee mugs, plates, glasses, and silverware were all laid out just so. Everything had a specific place on the sandwich board and had to be positioned correctly, especially the knives. Each variety of cold cuts and cheeses had its own compartment. The most crucial placement was the shrimp, tuna, and chicken salad containers. I could see the difference in shade and texture, but you couldn’t, so the containers were spaced out. The other dangerous spot behind the counter was the grill and its utensils.
Working with you I learned to be very precise with every action and that has stayed with me. I am a bit OCD about placing things and I go a little nuts when I can’t find them. I realize I also inherited your habit of shaking the front door three times after I lock it to make sure it is really locked. You couldn’t drive, but I do the three shakes routine when I leave the car also.
Hard copies of these typed letters were discovered in an old camp trunk in the basement storage facility of one of the few buildings that remain standing in this Brooklyn neighborhood. The building is quite decrepit and is scheduled for demolition. The letters were found in November 2048 by a teenager who believes they were written by his great-grandfather. The letters are addressed to Mendel, the letter writer’s father, who appears to have been dead for at least six years when his son, whose name we are unsure of, started to write him. The son appears very agitated in some of the letters. With permission from the family, we are publishing them on the date they were written, only 28 years later.