The place was as narrow as a hallway. Grill on the left, large cardboard boxes in the back, tables for two on the right. There were pictures on the wall that reminded us of the notebooks little girls took to school. Pictures of unicorns.
Mia Katz hated this place.
“Why do you come here? Why do you force me to come here? There’s 20 different places we could go around here and you pick this.”
She was right.
The Unicorn was not the only restaurant in downtown Royal Oak. And it was ugly. It was also two blocks from my house and had a coney island special that I could afford. It was two coneys, fries, and a Coke for $2.50.
Or was it $3.50?
The joint was run by an old married couple. The old man with his stained apron stood behind the grill and waved and grunted to everyone who came in. The old woman shuffled down the narrow corridor and dropped cheap plastic plates onto five tables pushed against the wall. She told me once that she was from Greece.
Or was it Macedonia?
Mia was a hairdresser. I was a bartender. She was sitting in a booth in the bar on a slow Monday night with some customers from the salon when I first met her. She was looking over at me. There was something wrong with her face. Her lips appeared to be stretched across the lower part of her face to the point where they looked as if they would explode. Her friends were laughing. I found out later she was doing her “Steven Tyler” for me.
Or was it her “Mick Jagger”?
Mia would go into places like the Unicorn and order things that she knew would not be prepared well. She’d order the chicken cacciatore or the Swiss steak or the Caesar salad and hilariously dissect how utterly terrible it was. She would flash a grotesquely distorted face at the cook. She would ask the waitress how long the anchovies in her salad had been in the refrigerator. Eating was a performance for her.
“I finally made my tape. Hurry up and eat and we can listen to my tape! I think I’m done with my turkey chop suey over here. If you don’t find turkey after 10 minutes of digging there’s something terribly wrong going on. What did they do, wave a turkey over the pot?” she asked me.
The question was accompanied by a pantomime of an imaginary turkey waved over an imaginary pot. This went on for five minutes.
Or was it 10?
The tape was a sampling of voice work she had been compiling over a couple years. She wanted to be an actress or a comedian, anything but a hair stylist. She was starting small with companies that provided those voices you hear announcing specials over supermarket loudspeakers. She narrated a TV real estate show on Sunday mornings. She did improv work with a local comedy troupe called the Blind Spots.
Or was it the High Falutins?
“When are you gonna get off your ass and do something?”
Here we go. This was considered dessert for Mia, the proverbial boot up the ass. Most meals ended this way.
“You like the way you live? You sleep in your friend’s living room! You’ve got bathroom towels strung up for privacy! You don’t even have a place to put your clothes! No Jew would ever live like that!” It was hard to be offended when you’re laughing so hard that the cook comes out to see what the ruckus is all about.
Mia finished dessert by teaching me the Yiddish word for “testicle.”
Or was it Yiddish for “whore?”
There are little routines she did that occasionally come into focus. Laughing in Richard Golden’s face in a line outside a nightclub.
“Sexy specs! Sexy specs! It’s the D.O.C guy! God, are you a dick!” She then busted into Golden’s trademark “dance.” Some people in his “entourage” couldn’t help laughing as well.
Mia was hoping that something would happen. The hair-styling gig was killing her. It bored her; the chemicals were aggravating her asthma. It seemed every three months she was going to the emergency room to get a shot so she could breathe.
During our Unicorn mornings, she would often pull out a metallic white tube and suck on the end of it. This was accompanied by some reference to her affinity for sucking on small white things — or a dramatic rolling of the eyes as if she had just taken a hit off a nitrous tank. Even wheezing, she would correct my mispronunciations of Yiddish vulgarities:
“It’s batesem! Hard “a”! Not beetsam! Oy, vey are you a goy!”
Part of the two-hour Unicorn performance was the paying of the bill: “No way am I going to pay this! Where do they get off? Dinner for two for six bucks? Hey lady, not all the Jews have money, OK? Always trying to stick it to me ... disgusting.”
The old lady didn’t really understand what Mia was saying.
“Is there something wrong with bill?” she would ask.
We would assure her there was not and leave a $5 tip. Big spenders.
Yeah, the Unicorn wasn’t very pretty. The food wasn’t very good, and the bathrooms were freezing cold. But Mia was there.
And then she wasn’t.
She passed away about eight years ago.
Or was it seven?Dan DeMaggio dines with interesting people for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]