By Greg Clark, November 28, 1931
“Where do we eat?” demanded the mighty Griffin, shoving back his typewriter.
“What’s it matter?” I asked. “Let’s eat.”
“It does matter,” declared Frederick. “I am tired unto death of eating in any old restaurant. We go to the same old places day after day, eat the same old food. Look at the same old hash slingers. See the same stupid people around us, gobbling, guzzling, snorting, slurping their food.”
“You are a little off color to-day, Frederick,” said I.
“I never felt better in my life. This rebellion has slowly been coming to the boil in me for years. I’m going to find a place to eat where I will enjoy not only the eating but the surroundings.”
“I can take you,” I said, “to the quaintest little place …”
“Arrrh!” roared the Griffin. “I know what you mean. Ye Olde Boote! Ye Little Greene Puppe! Ye Trype and Yunions! Not for me. With their wall paper peeling, their funny china and Chinese brass hung around the walls and teetering on frail furniture. I may be an Anglican, but not the tea-room breed of Anglican, thank you.”
By this time we had our coats on.
“How about a hotel?” I asked.
“Arrrr!” roared Griff. “Business men’s luncheon, one dollar! And get what’s left of the stuff they prepared for the Rotary Club, or something.”
“Let’s go up to the Athenian Room, then, at the big store.”
“Nnnnn!” moaned Griffin, in intense agony. “And have to sit in bright daylight surrounded by thousands and thousands of young executives talking big.”
“Well, where the heck do we eat, then?” I inquired.
“And some of them have their wives with them!” cried the Griffin, passionately. “The wives of promising young executives! The alert way they sit, looking around! They make their husbands, those wives. Il it weren’t for them …”
“It isn’t the restaurants, then,” said I, as we reached the pavement on King St. “It’s the people.”
“I saw a man,” said Griffin, “just yesterday, in one of the finest restaurants in Toronto, two tables from me, deliberately take his fork, like this, see, and lift the top lid of his pie and peek underneath at the filling. It was apple pie. I don’t know for sure, but I think I saw him lean down and sniff at it. Just two tables from me,” shouted Griffin, so that people on King St. paused and turned to look at us.
“But you shouldn’t look around when you are eating,” I admonished him. “Just keep your eyes cast down and devote yourself to your food.”
A Sort of Progressive Lunch
Griffin stopped me and seized me by the arm.
“Listen!” he cried harshly. “I can’t! I can’t keep my eyes down! I’ve GOT to look around. And it’s terrible. Every day it is getting worse. Even out of the corner of my eye, I can see somebody doing something unspeakable. Do you know what I saw the day before yesterday?”
“I saw a woman pick up her knife, fork and spoon and wipe them with her serviette.”
“Well?” said I. “Do you expect etiquette in a quick lunch?”
“It isn’t etiquette,” said Griffin. “Here was this woman suggesting that the spoons needed wiping, and I was half through my meal and it was too late to wipe mine.”
We proceeded along King street.
“Let’s make a game of it,” I suggested. “We will make a round of the restaurants. And whenever we see anything that offends us either in the manners of the customers, the food, the decorations or the help, we will get up and leave.”
“How much will it cost us?” asked Griffin.
“We won’t pay,” said I. “We’ll speak to the manager in each place and tell him we are couple of high-strung newspaper men and if his place offends us in any way, we are going to leave. We’ll pay for what we have eaten.”
“A sort of progressive lunch.”
“Exactly,” said I.
“And is a restaurant manager responsible for the manners of his guests?” asked Griffin.
“Well, anyway, we can play on the manager’s pride,” said I. “He likes to think the best people in town eat in his place.”
Griffin’s face lighted up.
“The search for the perfect eating place!” he cried, lengthening out his stride.
“Here,” said I. “This is the first place.”
And we turned into a fine big restaurant filled with the sounds and smells of noon.
“Sir,” said I to the manager, standing beside the cash girl. “We are a couple of high-strung, high-pressure newspaper men, and we are seeking the perfect place to eat.”
“You’re here,” said the manager, smiling proudly.
“Yes,” said I, while Griffin lowered at him, suspiciously. “But we wanted it understood, before we eat, that if anything offends us, either in the food, the waitresses, the decorations or the customers, we are not going to finish. We are going to get right up and walk out.”
The manager was unimpressed.
“You will find everything o.k. here,” said he. “Just find a table.”
As we hung up our coats, Griff said: “To begin with, I don’t like that manager.”
“What’s the matter with him?”
“He thinks this place is perfect.”
We sat down. Opposite us sat a dark, bald-headed gentleman with serious ingrown countenance and downcast eyes.
The waitress, just as we sat down, placed before this gentleman a large plate filled with a mass of dark brown meat, about a pint of gravy and pale vegetables glowing dimly within its depths,
Seeing a Man Swallow Himself
Griffin nudged me sharply.
The dark, bald-headed man reached to the middle of the table. He took a firm grasp of the catsup bottle. With a far-away look in his eyes, he slowly removed the stopper of the bottle, up-ended it and splattered about a cupful of red catsup all over the goulash on his plate.
“Come on!” rasped Griffin, seizing me by the collar. “Git!”
We stalked past the manager.
“What’s the trouble, gents?” he cried in consternation.
“I’ll tell you,” said Griffin. “You cater to the catsup soppers! That’s what you do!”
And we strode out into the ungravied atmosphere of Yonge street.
“All right,” said Frederick, grimly. “Number one. Go ahead. Where’s number two?”
I led him into a cafeteria.
We took our trays and edged along.
Griff had a piece of pie and his bread and butter selected when suddenly he froze.
“Turn around!” he hissed. “Back out. Drop your tray!”
And before I knew it, he had bundled me out to the street.
“What did you see!” I gasped.
“I saw,” said Griffin, “an old guy with a long moustache. And on his plate was one of those great big mixed-up salads of stringy cabbage and floppy tomatoes and boughs of watercress.”
“What of it?” I demanded.
“Did you ever see a man with a droopy moustache eating one of these droopy salads?” asked Griff. “Half the time he is chewing his moustache and doesn’t know it. And even if he isn’t, I imagine he is. I have a horror of seeing a man swallow himself and turn inside out.”
“Yes, but maybe he wouldn’t sit where we could see him,” I pointed out.
“Life isn’t like that,” said Frederick calmly. “He would sit at the same table with us.”
So we went on our quest.
“Try one of these stool and counter affairs?” I inquired.
“Scientific investigators like us,” said Griff, “never neglect anything.”
So we went into one of those.
We had to stand for a minute or two behind the long row of stools waiting for a vacancy. Griffin surveyed the rank of bobbing and ducking heads. But any sounds of speedy feeding were drowned by a cheery clatter of dishes interspersed with loud shouts by the cowboys acting as waiters.
We got a stool each.
The cowboy on our part of the ranch reached forward with a large loose wet rag and made a grand flourish as he wiped the marble counter.
“Hawdie, boys!” said the cowboy to us.
“Hawdie, yourself!” said Frederick fiercely, and sprang from his stool. “Come on, Greg, and let us get the heck out of this wild west show!”
Up Yonge street we walked in silence. The silence was all mine.
We were passing restaurant after restaurant, tea room after tea room, until I felt Toronto had nothing but eating places in it. But Griffin had his head up and nostrils distended in that wild horse way, so I waited until we got to Queen street.
“What do you say,” I began – because Griffin was glaring at the policeman on traffic duty and I knew he had another red rag to distract his attention. “What do you say if we try one of these Chinese restaurants. They say they’re good.”
“No,” said Griffin.
Eggs a la Haileybury Fire
We got to Shuter street.
“Did you ever try one of these lovely white restaurants where it makes you feel clean even to go inside it?”
“And the bird next to you talks in loud voice for the benefit of everybody four tables around.”
“Not always …”
“Or,” stated Frederick in an emphatic Irish voice, “you get into one of those clubby groups, where they holler to each other, and come and stand talking to one another about business.”
“I know, but …”
“I’m getting hungry,” declared Frederick.
We passed Dundas street. We passed Eaton’s new store. We got up into the motor sales region and the antique furniture belt. We passed Bloor street.
“Gosh, Griff, I’m hungry. What time is it?”
“One-thirty,” said Griff, darkly.
Past gorgeous, glowing fruit stores, past a brewery warehouse, up Yonge street we strode, and came to St. Clair.
“A lot of swell eating places right around here,” said I, slowing down.
“School teachers,” said Griffin. “Musicians, people with long hair, childless housewives saving themselves the trouble of getting lunch, maybe some radio artists from CFCA. Artists wave their hands and upset things. They paw each other and talk with their faces right in the other fellow’s face.”
“Frederick, I’m starving.”
“All right, where do we eat, then?” roared Griffin.
“Any place,” said I, weakly.
“It’s four blocks to my house,” said Griffin. “Let’s go home.”
But the family were all out except the dog.
“I’ll cook you something,” said Griffin. “I know about eggs and things.”
We put on aprons. We started the stove. Griff broke three of the four eggs he dropped in the pan.
“Omelette,” said Frederick, stirring the eggs up.”
“Scrambled eggs,” said I.
But something was wrong. The eggs got brown instead of yellow.
We sat down in the kitchen.
“They taste funny,” said Griffin. “Just a minute.”
He produced a bottle of catsup. “Slather some of that over them,” said he.
We had bread and butter, scrambled eggs a la Haileybury fire, coffee that would make your toes open and shut, Griff upset the sugar bowl, I upset the milk bottle, we forgot to turn the stove off and the pan burned and made a terrible smell, and it was a quarter to three when we got back to the office.
Frederick threw off his coat and sat down to his typewriter with a tremendous bang.
All the editors looked up.
“Gentlemen,” said Griffin grandly, “I am about to write some sort of a masterpiece. For I have just been cured of a point of view. For one whole year, I will be able, now, to eat my lunch anywhere, with pleasure.”
So, while he writing his story, I have written this.
Editor’s Notes: This is a sort of proto Greg-Jim story from the early 1930s illustrated by Jim, but with fellow reporter Fred Griffin accompanying Greg.
The Haileybury fire was a huge news story in Toronto from 1922, which Greg was sent to cover.