I got hungry while running errands in Studio City and stopped at Art’s Delicatessen for lunch. I was fairly certain I’d been there before, but when I went inside it didn’t look at all like the place I was remembering, so maybe I hadn’t.
-Large, airy room, with a large deli counter in the front and, beyond, a classic coffee shop; rows of maroon and brown booths with beige tables, black and white tile floor, an acoustic-panel ceiling, hanging lamps with green shades, wood-paneled walls, a long row of giant pictures of sandwiches across the back wall, plus one picture of matzoh ball soup. Except for that one, every picture in the place seems to be of a sandwich, or sometimes a cartoon character with a sandwich.
-A little startled to see that the sandwiches were in the $16-dollar range, I got a cup of beef vegetable soup and a fruit bowl. Both were great; the soup in particular is clearly what Campbells was thinking of when they made their soup, and yet it is the exact polar opposite of Cambells soup. The soup came with rye bread. It was exactly right.
-Told to sit anywhere, I started to sit down in a two-person booth but the waiter suggested that since it wasn’t crowded, I might prefer a larger booth. It was very thoughtful of him.
-One of the guys sitting in the booth behind mine was like the stereotype of the established Hollywood screenwriter, but not really in a bad way. A little loud, kept using different silly voices when telling stories, but also seemed genuinely happy for a younger friend who recently got a call from the Farrelly Brothers. He kept apologizing for interrupting, and it was clear that a) he really was kind of sorry, and b) he was definitely not going to stop.
-In a nearby booth, a man and woman were talking about end-of-life plans. He said “extended living is not fun.” That seemed like a basic statement of somewhat sad fact to me, but she laughed as if he’d made a hilarious joke. A little later, another line that caused raucous laughter from both of them: “My will is so old, it still mentions my ex-husband!”
-A guy talking loudly into his phone described a car as having an “alligator roof.” I had no idea that was a thing, and it made me think of the Lady with the Alligator Purse. Anyway I’m not going to google “alligator roof” because it almost certainly won’t be as good as what I’m imagining.
-They have free wifi! I always find that tremendously exciting.
-The waitress caught me taking pictures, and for some reason I got nervous and blurted out a weird lie about how it was for a friend who had moved away. No idea why I did that. It wasn’t like she asked, I just volunteered the information when I realized she’d seen me.
-The guy in the booth directly behind me had his arm draped across the booth back, inches from my head. It made me a little anxious; he seemed the sort to gesture expansively without warning, and I kept expecting to get whacked. I didn’t though.
-Some men near me were talking about “Pistol” and his excellent basketball moves. I was delighted with myself for knowing they were talking about Pistol Pete Maravich, it’s incredibly unusual for me to recognize a sports reference. I only knew this one because my friend Wayne Federman wrote a book about Pistol Pete once, and I got it for my dad, who very much enjoyed it.
-There’s a large sign in the window that says “Delivery” with a phone #. It makes me imagine writers’ rooms full of people arguing and eating pastrami sandwiches.
-I like bananas a lot, but it always throws me off-kilter to find banana in a fruit cup. The texture and flavor just don’t match the other kinds of fruit.I always eat the banana first, to sort of get it out of the way. Also strawberries, but less so.
-Two elderly women came in and, upon hearing that they could sit anywhere, tried five separate booths before selecting one. Then, in the sixty seconds between when they chose a booth and when the waitress brought them menus, one of the ladies hopped back up and went from booth to booth, down the row, picking up the small “wine and desserts” menu off each table, and exclaiming in dismay, every time, upon discovering that it, too, was just for wine and desserts. It was surprising how frantic she was able to get in what was really probably less than a minute.
-The restaurant’s slogan is “Every Sandwich is a Work of Art.” I’m not proud of how long it took me to get that it was referring to the name of the restaurant.
-The people planning their deaths moved on to other cheerful topics, and the woman explained to the man that the reason she wasn’t getting her mom a hearing aid was because her mom wasn’t hard of hearing–she just doesn’t listen.
-The ladies room is entirely, completely free of decoration. The only things on the white plaster walls are the “wash your hands” sign and a plastic “no smoking” sign that hardly seems necessary these days. There were also three straight-backed chairs against the wall, making me wonder how crowded the place gets.
-There is a row of tall windows facing the street. When I first came in the shades were drawn, and it was a tiny bit dim inside. Then a guy came and lifted all the shades, and it suddenly went from dim to extremely unpleasantly bright.
-The elderly ladies agree that people on TV talk way too fast.
-Someone burned toast. I’ve always liked the smell of burnt toast; it reminds me of my years as a latchkey child.
-There are pictures by the cash register showing different cartoon characters with sandwiches–Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, and the Flintstones, proclaiming their love for Art’s Deli. So they all have that in common.
-By the door there is a bowl of free lollipops. I didn’t take one, but I liked knowing they were there.
What I Ate: Beef vegetable soup, fruit cup, rye bread.
What I Read While I Ate: Dear Enemy by Jean Webster. The sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs, in which Judy’s friend Sally takes over and runs the orphanage that Judy came from. One of my favorites. I’ve read it many times; now I keep it in my Kindle app to dip into.
What Sort of Ghost I’d Expect to Find if I Believed in Ghosts Which I do Not: A group of men in skinny ties and jackets, their hats hanging on hooks nearby, arguing urgently about what makes good TV.
12224 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604