We met at the Family Forever Noodle House in Riverhead in 1983. Does the name ring a bell? Despite the suburban setting, in those days it was not actually a place for families, nor was it family-owned or owned by someone who had a family. A series of divorces and emancipations convinced the original owners to sell, and all communal feelings went with them. By our time it was the good-for-nothing sort of eatery, a shrug of a building, kept up without a semblance of pride, with walls once white turned gray-green from monthly fumigation. More ambitious and expanding establishments shouldered us from either side, and sometimes so aggressively I thought I could hear a voice behind the walls ordering others to push. I might have preferred to work in one of those places, with their handshakes and napkins and general rule of respect, but then who knows what that would have meant for me.
I worked behind the counter, U-shaped, if you remember, with a cold metallic surface in which one could find their reflection, at least where it was clean and not dented from customers reminding us of their absent meals. There were twelve stools around the counter, and most were put together so poorly by Mr. Davies—the cross-eyed owner who knew nothing about noodles, knew nothing about any cuisine, as far as I could tell, and who never had a family and bought the place so he could ruin it for everybody that did—that they consistently tipped one way or another when someone sat down. One was drilled into the floor a foot and a half from the counter, and whoever sat there had to count on themselves to balance their meals. It also happened to be in the direct path of the restroom. Of course, this was all to Mr. Davies’ liking, and not only did he refuse the simple work of unscrewing the stool from the floor and bringing it in, he even laughed at those who sat there and threatened not to serve them. But enough about Mr. Davies, the cross-eyed owner who never had a family and still has none.