October 22, 2018
By Arthur H. Gunther III
(also on Facebook)
Some seasons ago, quite a few really, the no. 6 red naugahyde-covered twirling stool at Tiny’s Spring Valley, N.Y., diner offered a fine view of the glass donut and sliced-cake case, which, of course, was a most tempting time, even for a 19 year old usually seated for a grilled cheese right off the facing flat-top grill with fries cooked then and there, not an hour before and kept under a heat lamp.
Tiny was a big man, and as they say, with a large heart to match. He was jovial, and his diner was of the standard expected at highway stops before fast food sped up the gearing to assembly line quick-a-motion and little home-cooked flavor. My grandfather moseyed on east to Tiny’s for java on a Saturday morning, nursing it for a longish time with a sinker from the glass case.
What was in the case was not “impressive” by today’s expectations. There were no layer cakes piled high with two inches of genetically modified whip cream nor no “N.Y. cheese cakes” made in Sheboygan. No, just a few plain donuts, some chocolate, vanilla and butterscotch puddings and those wonderful slices of top-iced lemon pound cake.
I usually sat on red naugahyde stool no. 3, right opposite the grill cook, but one day Tiny’s was too busy for the regulars — a tourist bus had actually stopped in little Spring Valley — and I ended up at no. 6. (I always avoided no. 4, which perhaps was Tiny’s favorite, for extra weight or something heavy had loosened it.)
Planted at no. 6, I was about to order the usual, but before the overly busy counter waitress got to me, the cake case’s magnetism kicked in, the fluorescent light behind the gleaming chrome and tempered sliding-glass doors shining just right on a piece of iced lemon pound cake, freshly cut from a true, 16-ounce loaf, unlike today’s 12.5-ounce fakers. Like a stricken young pup in a school days’ crush, I mumbled in shyness that I just had to have that slice.
Tiny’s coffee, in a green cup on a green saucer. came along for the ride, and my date with that wonderful iced-top lemon cake was rather long and as sensuous as could be. I used a fork to parcel out 1-inch by 1-inch squares, starting at the bottom and moving ever so slowly toward the icing, which was the kiss that ended the night, and that date, you see.
The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier piece. firstname.lastname@example.org