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Doesn't She Have Bigger Fish to Fry?

April 26, 1998|ANNE BEATTS | Anne Beatts is a writer who lives in Hollywood

We all have our dreams. For instance, I've been dreaming that I wake up someday to find this column has been nominated for a Pulitzer. I don't need to win, because as everyone knows, just getting nominated is honor enough. Hey, it could happen--around the same time as pigs fly and James Cameron learns humility.

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem has her dream, too, as I learned from perusing the 30th anniversary issue of New York magazine. In her old age, she wants to open a diner. That's right, a diner. What would it be called? Why, Gloria's, I guess. Unless she went for more of a statement, like Janie Rocket's. Or something traditional, like the Four Sisters Acropolis Luncheonette.

Steinem is very specific about the decorating scheme, however: "a little diner by the side of the road, with blue gingham curtains." Wow. Not since Hillary Clinton was forced to apologize to the late, great Tammy Wynette for her slur on cookie-baking has there been such a powerful synthesis of feminist politics and traditional female nest-building.

The heartwarming picture of her dream diner, painted by Steinem, is worthy of the old kitschmeister Norman Rockwell himself: "Everyone goes--truck drivers go, people from the neighborhood, people in their tuxes after parties go. And they're cheerful and cozy and you get just the kind of reward food you want."

And to think for years everyone has been worried that poor Gloria isn't eating enough! Could she be getting ready to bulk up on hot turkey sandwiches and meatloaf with gravy and mashed potatoes? "This is what 60 looks like--fat?" Personally, I hope so. She's always been a role model, and there's a trend I could happily embrace.


Steinem may need an education in the restaurant business, however. "Diners are the most democratic places," she says. Tell that to the fry cook. Clearly, despite her early stint undercover as a Playboy bunny, Steinem has never actually ventured behind the scenes in a working restaurant, or even watched an episode of "Alice."

As any actor in Hollywood could tell her, most restaurants, including diners, are run with a disregard for democracy that makes Stalinist Russia look like a "Mommy and Me" play group. At the very bottom of the food chain is the dishwasher, a job that might well be investigated by Amnesty International.

But no doubt in her fantasy diner, Steinem would be out in front, just as she always was in the movement. No question but that she'd be excellent at seating and greeting. Though if the kitchen was short-handed, she'd have to take orders from time to time and that might not sit well with her.

Tipping her might just subject you to a lecture on how tipping should be abolished as demeaning and the minimum wage increased instead. And the first time a truck driver hailed her with "Hey, Gloria, honey, how 'bout a smile with that coffee?" he might end up with a hot-beverage lawsuit that would have McDonald's lawyers thanking their lucky stars they hadn't sold Steinem a franchise.

Of course, Gloria's Diner would have a day-care center attached. And no sexist jokes on the napkins. Instead, the place mats would double as do-it-yourself petitions that you could sign and send off to Congress to revive the Equal Rights Amendment. There'd always be plenty of artificial sweeteners (to counteract all that reward food). The refillable catsup bottles would be squat, plump tomatoes instead of the stand-up variety. The jukebox would be all-Ani-DiFranco.


What about the eats? Count on it, there'd be plenty of eggs. But the only sausages would be sausage patties. Gloria's Diner wouldn't serve spring chickens--and anyone who complained about the milk being old would be asked to leave. The menu would be a consciousness-raising exercise in itself, featuring "Dad's Apple Pie" and "Fried Chicken Like My African-American Caregiver Used to Make." Instead of "Greek Salad," there'd be "Lettuce from the Isle of Lesbos."

And of course, as in more traditional establishments, the sandwich section would provide a means of memorializing celebs. Corned beef on rye with a sour pickle would naturally be called the "Bella Abzug," a toasted English muffin would be the "Germaine Greer," and sliced steak would be the "Lorena Bobbitt." Now that NOW may be taking up her case, loose meat on a bun could be the "Paula Jones." If the chef decided to get fancy, "Croque Monsieur" could be handily translated as "Croque Ms."

Steinem herself might run into more trouble with the restaurant shorthand employed by short-order cooks. For instance, slang for scrambled eggs on toast--"Adam and Eve on a raft, wreck 'em"--could have an overly Creationist ring to it, and Steinem might well demand to know why Adam is always mentioned first. But no doubt these little rough spots could be ironed out over time.

There's no reason why Gloria's shouldn't be open for business by the millennium. Maybe Steinem could get her former boyfriend, megabucks real-estate mogul Mort Zuckerman, interested in investing. Perhaps even open a chain. Little Gloria, happy at last. After all, a woman without a diner is like a fish without a bicycle.

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