Suzy Hall wants to get some chow but she ain’t quite sure if it’s still open this late. It used to be open this late. It used to be open every time Suzy wanted to get something late.
They call it Roberto’s now. It used to be a Silverman’s Deli. It’s right by Orchard Lake and I-696. Heading west, past the state parks. Past the Lego buildings of Southfield. It’s Farmington Hills, but to me, it’s somewhere way far away. Strangers and people with weird looks in their eyes and crimes on “America’s Most Wanted” just waitin’ to be hatched. It could be Wisconsin.
But it’s Roberto’s, sweet soft home of the malted waffle.
Suzy points down on the menu, just past a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger, just past a profile of Doris Day. She’s pointing and laughing. Her hand is shaking so violently from the laughter that I cannot pinpoint exactly what she’s pointing out.
“Look! It’s the Porky Skillet! You got to get that, dude! Got to get that Porky Skillet!” she snorts.
I will. I will get the Porky Skillet. It’s three kinds of meat, all cut up, mixed up with taters and cheese and a couple fried eggs thrown on top. It sits in a small skillet pan. I like it when I get special kinds of pans and plates and glasses and hardware for my meal.
The waitress does not know why ordering the Porky Skillet is so damn funny to Hall. She looks at her, cocks her head, and asks me how I want my meat.
“Can ya burn it?” I ask, knowing full well there ain’t a joint that will truly burn your meat. They’re afraid. They don’t think ya mean it. They think if they really burn it, you’ll be pissed. But I ask anyway. She says she’ll make sure the cook burns it.
The waitress turns out to be the wife of the owner, who is cooking. Their kids are sweeping the floor, washing glasses and trying to sneak peeks at the TV in the corner, which is blaring Tex Avery cartoons. There is no Roberto anymore, sadly. Roberto died only a month after opening the restaurant. Roberto and the husband of the waitress were brothers, you see. The brother carried on. The whole family carried on.
Suzy Hall has worked more jobs than any human being I know. She’s been working since she was 15, and now she’s 34, and the jobs keep coming. One right after another. Stapling a bunch of papers jobs. Checking out tax delinquents for mortgage companies jobs. Finding out what brand-new-car customers thought of their brand-new-cars jobs. She worked at a company called Billy Bob’s.
“This huge-ass white-trash chick trained me. Every day, the white-trash chick would call her boyfriend to find out what lottery numbers he wanted her to play that night. Every night. That happened every night. I had to listen to that shit every night.”
They called her an office manager. Her only duties were to report that night’s receipts to Billy Bob when Billy Bob would happen to call.
“I would actually be sitting there making paper clip monsters all night long. And then he would call. It was ridiculous. I’d say ‘Hey Bob, yeah, we did $24 so far tonight. Yep. Not a real good night.’ I did that for six months.”
The sister-in-law of the late Roberto puts down our plates with an audible sigh. She looks likes she’s been working all damn day. The whole family looks spent. She tells us there’s a bed in back for the kids. The day starts real early for the survivors of the aforementioned Roberto. This is their big shot at the big time, and they are in it for the extra innings, my friends.
The Porky Skillet is looking me in the eye. It’s a work of art.
The meat is burnt. The eggs aren’t. It’s a work of art.
I want to shower Roberto’s brother and sister-in-law with praise, with a hip-hip-hooray, a glass of champagne and 30 minutes in a sauna. But I don’t. When she asks “How everybody’s doin’,” I just say, “Perfect.”
Hall’s not working now. She’s not even thinking about work. She’s enjoying herself. She’s glad someone is still here, burning the meat, keeping the tabletop juke boxes in working order. It’s somewhere for her to go on her motorcycle after work some night.
“Wouldn’t this be a great place to ride your bike to at 3 in the morning? Wouldn’t it be great to ride here on a warm summer night?”
Yes. I suppose it would, Suzy.
But they don’t make a helmet that’ll fit my head.Dan Demaggio dines with interesting people for Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org