For no big reason other than that my wife was in the mood for Middle Eastern food last night, we actually left the neighborhood to go to a certain Turkish restaurant in the Murray Hill area, not far from our kids’ school. The Mrs. & I had gone to this place several times in the mid-2000’s, but hadn’t been back in quite some time, despite the fact that the restaurant scrupulously sends special birthday coupons to us every year. In any case, we’d had quite a few memorable meals there back in those days, so we figured we’d give it a go again, and introduce the kids to it.
For a Sunday night, though, something seemed not quite right. We got there about 5:30 pm, and there was a steady influx of patrons as the evening went on, but the staff seemed strangely harried in a manner not unlike the more stressful episodes of “Fawlty Towers.” It took forever to get menus, one drink order went hilariously awry, and, when the bill came, we were duly informed that if we intended to pay by credit card (we did), we’d probably have to wait “around twenty minutes” for the transaction to go through, as they were evidently having some variety of wifi trouble. This all said, when we did get our food, it was refreshingly excellent, so I overlooked all that, popped out to an ATM, and settled up in cash.
There was another peculiar thing about the dining experience, however, that added an extra layer of surreal tragicomedy. I’d noticed, when we sat down, that the sound system was playing a sort of piano-loungey rendition of “Laura,” an old jazz standard by Johnny Mercer & David Raskin, later popularized by Frank Sinatra and a few others. You might know it if you heard it. It’s a reasonably innocuous entry in the great American Songbook, dating back to the mid-40’s, originally tethered to a movie of the same name. The lyrics are about the charms of an elusive dream girl. This particular version featured what sounded like a somewhat incongruous children’s choir on the chorus, warbling certain notes that struck my ear rather distinctively.
As the evening went on, though, I noticed that it was either a very lengthy version of the song, or that –- more likely -– it was being played again. And again. And again. And again. As we waited for our first round of drinks, it played. ”Oh Laura is a face in the misty light….” As we got our first round of hummus, bread and a dish called the Shepherd’s Salad, it continued. ”Footsteps, that you hear down the hall….” As I was admonishing my 11-year-old for dropping his fork a second time, “Laura” continued trilling.”She gave the very first kiss to you….” It scored the arrival of our entrees –- some chicken dish I can't recall the name of and a family-style donner kebab. ”That was Laura, ….but she’s only a dream….” It continued its tireless siren song as the kids tried baklava for the first time, and I burned my tongue on the coffee. ”Oh Laura is a face in the misty light…” It chimed ceaselessly in the background as we conferred about the restaurant’s WiFi problems, and how that was going to affect our preferred method of payment. ”She gave the very first kiss to you….”. It never stopped. It’s probably still playing right now.
More than any other quirk in a dining experience rife with quirks, it really puzzled the Hell out of me. Surely, I can’t be the only person that was noticing, right? I looked around at the other tables and at other patrons. No one seemed struck by it. I looked at the wait staff –- surely they must be aware of it, no? After all, we were only going to be there for about an hour and a half, but they were stuck there all night. They’ve got to notice it. They certainly looked tense, but that might have had something to do with the payment issue that was creating a little bit of drama at each table.
But the idea of listening to only a single song again and again and again and again and again…. even at a relatively unobtrusive volume felt like the slow boat to madness. What at first seemed curious turned amusing and then became laborious. Then it became funny again. Reassured that, despite the hurdle of not being able to pay by credit card, I was going to be able to leave after I plonked down some cash –- thus freeing myself and my family from yet another lulling airing of “Laura,” my hope and humor was restored. But had we had to wait those twenty (or so) minutes for the credit card machine to maybe work, I might have thrown a spoke and plunged headlong into insanity. ”Oh Laura is a face in the misty light….footsteps that you hear down the hall…”
On our way out, after I’d earned the good cheer of our waitress for paying in cash, thus sparing her from further self-flagellation, I leaned over to her to inform her about the evident glitch on their music playlist. “Oh,you are enjoying it, yes?” She didn’t seem to understand my point. “It’s fine, but it’s playing the same song over and over again,” I tried to point out. “Oh, no, sir,” she chuckled, “I promise you it’s not.” I decided to let her find out for herself. Or not. Either way, I had to get out of there.
As I was dropping off the kids at school around the corner from this restaurant this morning, I was fleetingly tempted to stop in and see if it was still going, but thought better of it. They probably weren’t open, anyway.
Incidentally, the only reason I know this particular song is because of Spike Jones’ irreverent version, which is still pretty damn funny. Stick with it, it really gets going after 1:24.