(Names and nationalities have been changed to protect the guilty)
by Arian Knops
I lived in an area of Minneapolis call Northeast for over thirty years. If you want to call it a white or mixed-race ghetto, you would not be far off. Lower to lower-middle income people of all nationalities inhabited the place during my tenure there.
Along 13th Avenue Northeast, between University Avenue and 4th Street, was a one-block long commercial area. It was remarkably similar to the main street of Mayberry, North Carolina of Andy Griffith fame. A Polish bakery, a hardware store, a small grocery, the Ritz Theatre, a shoemaker, a bar and Chort’s Restaurant lined the street. Chort’s was an Armenian name that translates to ‘serf’ in English. Chort’s was the most unique place in the city to have breakfast. Why? It was the only restaurant that I have ever been to where, if you ordered eggs, you would get them prepared the way Mama Chort wanted to make them that day. If she was having a bad day, which seemed to happen often, you would get them scrambled. Saturday morning was a good day for scrambled. I think the old gal liked to party on Friday nights, thus scrambled eggs on Saturday. On Sunday’s, her deep Catholic faith intervened, and the eggs would be over-easy. Scrambled, hard fried and burnt were other customary styles on the Sabbath. She would not, not ever, make sunny side up eggs. Maybe she did not like half a dozen yellow eyes staring at her while she cooked.
On most weekdays Papa Chort was the waiter. Any woman from Northeast who ever had wanted to be a waitress had her dream dashed at Chort’s. The restaurant could not get any help that would stay. It was a nightmare at times for non-Armenians when the cook and the chief waiter would yell at each other in Armenian. On one of my Saturday morning visits one of the Chort sons, subbing for Papa, was the waiter. A man demanded sunny side up eggs. Mama Chort, a stubby, but stout woman, emerged from the kitchen with her spatula in her hand and, to me, was displaying signs of being upset. The floor beneath her stopped shaking when she stopped in front of the man demanding eggs his way. She screamed something at him in her native language that no one else in the place other than her son understood and then stomped back to her kitchen. The man, visibly shaken, asked the son to translate what had just been spitten into his face. “Look a..hole this is my house, you eat what I make or you can get your dumb a.. out, understood? Go home and make your own damn eggs,” was the translation. “Fair enough,” the man said, “I guess I’ll have them however she makes them.”
That era is all history now, so I will get to my abbreviated story. In these days of a pandemic many people are ordering things they need via the internet or, if it is something a person can get locally, by phone. I hope what follows does not portend the future. A woman I know orders her groceries by phone and for the most part that has worked well. There have been a few glitches. She once ordered a dozen ‘cake’ doughnuts and received everything but. There were glazed doughnuts and ones with sprinkles and even a couple of cinnamon rolls, but no ‘cake’ doughnuts. At least something similar to the desired pastry arrived at her house. There is a liquor store attached to this particular grocery emporium. One of the items she ordered was a six-pack of Spotted Cow. Anyone, in Wisconsin of something near the legal age to imbibe in alcoholic beverages knows full well that Spotted Cow is beer. Not so the young person who filled the order, because in the delivery to the woman’s home, the Spotted Cow was missing.
Fortunately, she had not been charged for it, but she still wanted her Spotted Cow. A quick phone call to the store unveiled the problem. When the young person who had filled the order was questioned on the matter the reply was rather succinct, “I searched the entire dairy section and I couldn’t find any Spotted Cow.” Kids.
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