Last night after work I walked down to Penn Station to wait for the Amtrak "Palmetto" to arrive and discharge my Uncle Slappy and his wife of 57 years Aunt Sylvie. The Palmetto, like most of big American infrastructure is worse than it was 57 years ago--certainly slower and it took Slappy and Sylvie over 28 hours to make it up North from the Sunshine State. Needless to say, Sylvie looked worse for wear. For whatever reason, Uncle Slappy looked as brown and healthy as a newly-minted Pumpernickle.
"Aunt Sylvie, Uncle Slappy, you're here." I said somewhat fatuously when I met them on the grimy platform.
"Where else would we be, genius," said Uncle Slappy, starting in already. "Your aunt is ferklempt, Mr. Big Schott, she could use a Nedick's."
Uncle Slappy has called me Mr. Big Schott--a term of both endearment and derision since I can remember.
"Look, Uncle Slappy, there are no more Nedick's. There's no more Horn & Hardart's. No more Orange Julius."
Uncle Slappy unfolded an oversized Amtrak schedule which had been in his vest pocket. He was dressed as if it were 30 degrees out. "No, Nedick's," he said "when's the next train back home."
"Listen, they just opened up a Second Avenue Deli on First and 75th. We'll take a taxi there and get something to eat."
"Second Avenue Deli on First Avenue. A fachadick world we live in." He segued, as only he can from Shetl Yiddish to Shakespeare. "Fair is foul, and foul is fair:/Hover through the fog and filthy air."
"Uncle Slappy," I tried to calm him as we got into a cab, "It's a good deli regardless of where it is. It's walking distance to my apartment and you can get a nice bowl of soup."
I realized that the conversation almost always turns to soup within half an hour of seeing Uncle Slappy.
"Hungry I'm not," said Slappy. "Just a bit fahtutzed. Let's go right to your Mr. Big Schott castle in the sky. Soup I can have tomorrow. Mushroom Barley."
We arrived at my apartment and I brought their bags into our guest room. Uncle Slappy turned on the television set.
"A new TV you have, Mr. wide-screen Big Schott. The shows are better on a bigger screen?"
"No Uncle Slappy," I replied sheepishly, "it's the same old drivel."
"I'd switch back to my tiny black and white RCA in the oak cabinet," he grumbled, "if it played Sid Caesar."
Uncle Slappy sat in his favorite chair and turned on the PBS News Hour, or as he called it "the news with the fancy Puerto Rican anchorman." Aunt Sylvie was in the kitchen chatting with my wife.
For a brief moment the old man was silent. Then he spoke.
"Mr. Big Schott," he said, "a stickle of cake you have?"
By the time I returned with a cup of coffee, black, and three rugelach, chocolate, Slappy had pulled a blanket over himself and had fallen asleep.