Last weekend, I had a day when I wished I were a guy named Larry.
Let me explain.
Years ago, when I had a job working for people with intellectual disabilities, I had two clients named Larry and Ronald.
Those aren’t really their names, of course, because that sort of thing is confidential, but, what you need to know is that Larry and Ronald were brothers, who lived together in a two-bedroom apartment. Their elderly mother had passed away recently and they lived among her many, many possessions, as well as their own and seemed to be managing their bachelor life just fine (other than eating nothing but hamburger patties for 3 meals a day, 7 days a week).
Larry, the younger brother, loved gadgets and machines. He (and his late mother) had collected record players (6) and cameras (they had everything from a Brownie to a Polaroid to a Disc camera to a Nikon SLR) and fans (29), among other things.
Larry liked to take things apart to see the insides of the gubbins and how they worked, so all of his many, many gadgets and machines were in bits and pieces. Larry was better at taking things apart than putting things back together, it seemed.
Anyhoo, to get to my point: one day, their landlord called and said that their apartment was a fire hazard because of all Larry’s and his mother’s junk, not to mention the 29 fans and the evolution of cameras and that we needed to get rid of some stuff pronto, or he would serve an eviction notice.
I hightailed it over to Larry and Ronald’s and began the process of trying to respectfully negotiate the removal of some of their treasures–some to storage, some to charity, some to garbage. These were adult men, after all. They had a right to live among their junk.
Heaven knows, I do.
But, only until the roof over your head is in jeopardy, I figure.
The conversations went something like this:
“Larry, do you think you need 5 vacuums?”
(Larry looked at me with sadness in his eyes.)
“Maybe you don’t need five, Larry. What do you think?”
“Well,” Larry stammered, “I need one.”
(Pause and puppy-dog eyes.)
“And, Ronald needs one.”
(Pause and puppy-dog eyes.)
(Pause and puppy-dog eyes.)
“What if one breaks?”
So, I managed to give away 2 vacuums, leaving Larry and Ronald with 3 vacuums, which is apparently the perfect number for a 2-bedroom apartment and no one who vacuums.
Last weekend, I was wishing I had the foresight of Larry.
I killed the vacuum.
Dead, dead, dead.
And, there were no spares, no sirree.
But, I do live with Practical Man so after explaining how the vacuum had inexplicably, mysteriously perished on my watch after a mere 15 years or so (maybe I shouldn’t vacuum, whot, whot?), he set to work.
In the meantime, I gnashed my teeth about having to spend hundreds of dollars on something as boring as a new vacuum.
While I was grinding off my teeth, Practical Man went about breaking into the vacuum.
There were no screws to remove anything to get at the gubbins inside on account of it’s very vintage to want to re-use and fix things you already own.
Maybe you have wondered at times why I called this blog, “A Vintage Life?”
These are some of the times and the reasons, why.
I mean, seriously, have you ever seen the inside of a vacuum when it wasn’t in Larry’s apartment?
But, in our modern “green” society, practically no one fixes stuff anymore so why would you need to get inside something to look at what might be broken?
Y’know, unless you are Larry or Practical Man?
Practical Man somehow figured out how to break into the vacuum, without…um…breaking it.
I’m not even sure how that happened since it’s 98% plastic.
Crazy, mad, skills, that man has.
He came back from the workshop and announced that the motor was fine, it wasn’t the relay (I nodded and tried to pretend I vaguely recalled something about relays from O-level Physics) and that he figured it was the switch.
I could barely hear him over my gnashing of teeth.
Vacuum shopping – blah, blah, I thought again.
Maybe I could console myself over having to spend hard-earned moulah on a boring vacuum by buying a nice yellow one, I reasoned.
Have I mentioned that I’m the yin to Practical Man’s yang?
Meanwhile, he was looking online for switches but they were expensive and likely imported, meaning more expense and duty and exchange, etc etc.
So, he found an electronics vacuum shop (someone spent hours working on that name, I bet!) And, when we got there, he did something oh-so-vintage and awesome:
He pulled out the wiring schematic he had made for the vacuum:
Isn’t it adorable?
I love science-y people.
So do guys in vacuum repair shops who almost never, ever meet a bona-fide Practical Man.
The guy’s eyes practically fell out of his head when he saw the hand-drawn schematic.
And voila! New switch for $15.
Today, he installed the new switch, fixed something else that also turned out to be broken and the vacuum is now put back together and very much ALIVE.
Also: Not. Thrown. Away.
Also: Not a Boring, Blah Blah Blah Expense.
But, we still only have one.
Not one for Ronald, too.
Not one, in case one breaks.
Thank you, Practical Man.
This is a post about a retro food joint. But, it is not a post for foodies.
There are no whole foods or cheffy types here. Can you smell the frying onions? Can you hear the creaky floors? You’re almost there, then:
The Harmony Lunch in Waterloo, Ontario.
Sounds like an old-school country song, doesn’t it? I’d like to write one.
Never you mind the peeling paint because Harmony Lunch is proudly old-school and tatty around the edges.
This is not a place that LOOKS vintage.
This is a place that actually IS vintage.
Show some respect.
Harmony Lunch started in 1930 and is still running, not to mention something of an institution on my dad’s side of the family. My Great-Uncle Fred (Grandpa Lou’s brother) was the die-hard regular: he used to go there for lunch every Saturday. When he and my Grandpa Lou opened the door, this is what they saw. This is also what I saw last November, when I had lunch there with my aunt H:
I bet you’re wishing you’d worn your cufflinks aren’t you?
I don’t blame you.
The very first thing you must do, upon entering, is line up some tunes on the jukebox in the corner.
A-wimoweh, A-wimoweh, A-wimoweh, A-wimoweh, The Lion Sleeps Tonight.
Love Me Tender, what a jukebox, it is!
Then, you absolutely have to head quietly into the retro phone booth.
Sure, you have a cell phone but that won’t help you slip into your superhero costume, now, will it?
Then, have a little wander into the vintage washrooms (it’s a cultural experience):
They’re located right next to the jukebox.
(There might have been a little dancing in the toilet stalls.)
Then, finally, finally, settle yourself on one of these authentic vintage diner stools. Just ignore the modern-day ATM machine over there and focus on the way your feet come gently to rest on the bar at the base of the counter.
Aaaaaaah. Now you’re feeling it.
Since we’re sitting comfortably, let me ask:
When was the last time you had a real-for-true, made-with-full-fat-actual-ice-cream, milkshake? Not one of those edible oil products you get at the fast food joints.
Behold the chest of ice-cream-lovers’ dreams (complete with handy bottle cap opener on the front):
And, when was the last time you had a real-for-true, made-on-an-old-fashioned-milkshake-machine milkshake?
The kind where they scoop the ice cream from the–I say it again–chest of ice-cream-lovers’ dreams into a metal milkshake container thingy (I’m pretty sure that’s its official name), add milk and real chocolate sauce and then whip it into a chocolatey, bubbly, ice-creamy frenzy of joy?
P.S. I also love, love, love the colour of the machine.
Feel free to swoon over it, as you should. I’ll just be over here reminiscing about my lovely milkshake and super fun day with my aunt H.
Now, seated on the vintage lunch counter stool, sipping your milkshake from heaven, you survey the menu, in all its plastic-y glory and humble words:
The hamburgers, dear readers, are not made from grass-fed beef, nor do they come with chevre, foie gras or any other kind of french-ified condiment. These are made with plain old pork. They are also flat, flat, flat, having been squished on the flattop that stands out in the open where those at the lunch counter can watch everything being made.
THE HARMONY LUNCH LEGEND
When I was a child and my father and grandfather took us to Harmony Lunch when we were in Waterloo visiting our grandparents, there was an old, old man who staffed the grill and kept the fried onions cooking on Saturdays. My dad told us, in a hushed voice, that the same man had been staffing the grill since he was a boy. My grandfather then told us, in a gravelly, hushed voice, that the same man had been staffing the grill since HE was a boy. The old man at the grill and the fried onions were the stuff of Harmony Lunch legend.
I think they were also what made our mom usually wrinkle up her nose and decline our lunch invitation.
And, even though there was an old man my aunt H and I could see “in the back” but not at the grill this time, I’m pretty sure that the same old man is still responsible for the quintessential Harmony Lunch experience. Because, after all, it was Saturday, our family Harmony Lunch day, the day of memories and legends! And, you haven’t really been to the Harmony Lunch until you and your clothes and hair and coat and earlobes SMELL like the Harmony Lunch; that is, like the old man’s frying onions.
And no, we’re not talking fancy, modern, caramelized onions with a touch of balsamic. These are plain old fried onions.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can sneak over to the Harmony Lunch for some plain old fried onions on a burger and come home to your resident foodie, all innocent-like.
That smell lasts for days, trust me.
For the true Harmony Lunch experience, aunt H had the flat, flat hamburger (with fried onions, of course!) and a side of french fries with gravy (for sharing).
It’s also important when you’re eating at the Harmony Lunch to sample and share the onion rings.
Well, okay then.
And, check out that shiny Arborite counter!
For dessert, you could choose a slice of classic diner pie (probably coconut cream) and/or opt for one of the vintage candy treasures to be found by the cash register.
Popeye’s (candy) cigarettes!
And, of course, that not retro but quite necessary after-lunch-at-the-Harmony-Lunch favourite: TUMS.
Let’s face it. Not everyone is brave enough or will deign to eat at the classic landmark that is the Harmony Lunch.
But, those of us who do, get the pleasure of visiting a by-gone era, not to mention by-gone and current loved ones like:
Uncle Fred and Grandpa Lou
Aunt H and my dad,
and of course,
that old man who has been there since I was a kid, frying the onions.