Requiem for a diner

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The Mirage Diner in New Rochelle, N.Y. was torn down a few days ago.

To be clear, the joint was gross. Like, r-e-a-l-l-y gross. It had carpet, which just doesn’t make sense for a place where food and liquids regularly fall to the ground. The carpet smelled. Funky, a bit moldy. Not good. Once, while in the diner for one of my many late-night writing sessions, I took a piss at the urinal. A busboy entered the bathroom. He was wearing no gloves. He held a paper towel in one hand. He bent down toward the toilet, lifted the seat and used the towel—no gloves—to wipe the rim. Then he exited, never stopping to wash his hands. Which probably worked out well, considering the sink almost always housed a couple of stray hairs, or a crusted wad of green snot.

That said, I loved the Mirage the way a kid loves his backyard clubhouse. We moved to New Rochelle in 2003, shortly before our daughter was born. During that span, I wrote five of my six books. Parts of all of them were completed in a corner booth at the Mirage. Before long, the manager knew me, and would simply nod as I entered at, oh, 10 … 11 pm. Sometimes midnight (it was open seven days a week, 24 hours per day). I’d walk to my booth (one of the two spots with outlet access) and plop down my stuff, often using a high chair to balance my files. First, the busboy would approach, offer me water, exchange some words in Spanish. Then the waitress arrived. I’d always order the same thing—grossness be damned. Turkey burger, side of onion rings, large Coke (refills free). It’d be accompanied by a small dish of slaw, which always nastied me out as much as the bare-handed toilet rim swipe). I would sit there for hours, writing, reading, listening to the oddball conversations at surrounding tables. There’d be the drunk Iona College kids, the wanna-be mobsters talking smack, the regular seniors. It was a rainbow of nationalities and languages. I came to love some of the waitresses. Others were quite odd. A handful were thanked in  my books. When I showed one her name in the back of Love Me, Hate Me, she looked as if she were about to cry.

Now, the Mirage is gone—to be replaced by Iona dorms. Times change, businesses change, life goes on.

But even with its rank carpet and soggy buns and ungloved busboys, I’ll always have a soft spot for the Mirage.

For better or worse, it felt like home.

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