Saturday, December 25, 2010

Knapsack 12-30

Notes From My Knapsack 12-30-10

Jeff Gill

Putting the Genie Back In the Bottle


Where should I begin?

The usual place is at the beginning, I know, but even that starting
point has a number of candidates.

Symbolically, they all loop through a little Christmas tree ornament
that for twenty years has been the one ornament that never gets put
away, and is sitting right now in our kitchen window.

It's from a series of "matchbox" ornaments that reveal a miniature
scene when you slide them open. The scene is of a couple sitting in a
booth at a diner, holding hands.

My wife and I had driven through Granville a time or two before the
Christmas walking tour in 1989, but that was about it. We came over
from where we'd just moved into apartments on the west end of Newark
a couple months before, walked around the four corners' churches,
watched the snow fall on the luminaries, and ended the evening with
yum yums at Aladdin's Diner, holding hands about like that little
ornament I saw the following week.

By a long and winding road, as Mr. Lennon & Mr. McCartney would say,
we live here now. I walked along these last two years with our son,
setting out and lighting and then taking in the luminaries that give
the candlelight walking tour its name, in between eating home cut
fries with grilled cheese at Aladdin's, pickles on the side.

When we sat there first, we hoped, we dreamed, we prayed that we
might yet have a child; we spoke of many things. Some of them have
come about, a few have had to be set aside, and others turned out
differently but in the very best possible way.

Dreams, hopes, prayers, wishes – in today's world, a genie,
especially a genie cutout in plywood with peeling paint, has little
enough to do with such plans and intentions. Health inspections and
nutritional recommendations and food pyramids (or dodecahedrons or
whatever they are now) have not been kind to diners in general.

I know that there are those who have had their magical family moments
at inns and pubs and other hostelries in the area – and we have our
list for those spots, as well – but for this family, at least,
there's a special alchemy, a particular vibe that only goes with a
diner. And that we got from Don and the crew in this particular
diner, the one we're about to lose tomorrow, with the end of 2010.

Perhaps the genie will do a phoenix, and rise from the ashes, or the
grease trap. There's more than just this couple, now with a charming
child, who want the kind of atmosphere that only a diner can provide,
and I hope we number enough to make up a market niche.

However the last few years have wearily worn down on the old
Aladdin's, there's a brightness to the memories my wife and I have
focused there. We may have to abstractly polish them just as
memories, and store them in a matchbox on the kitchen windowsill, and
wait for the Fourth of July to get our fresh cut French fries. I know
that I could do with a break from country omelets, at least for a
little while.

Whatever establishment takes up the spot on the north side of
Broadway where, for a little while longer, the genie still hovers
benignly, I just want to say thank you for every server and cook, for
Don and his mom, for the days and nights and in-between seasonal
moments when Aladdin's was the only place to go.

Last winter my son and a couple friends spent a frigid afternoon
sledding off the front of Bryn Du. When it was time to thaw them out
and take them home, the road there had to go the long way, through
Aladdin's for hot chocolate and grilled cheese and fries.

I will never forget those fries, and those booths, and the
conversations that ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime within
them, and had an import far beyond ringing up the tab and leaving our

We probably never quite left enough of a tip, but I hope this helps.
Good night, Aladdin's.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around
central Ohio; he ate far too often and not often enough at Aladdin's
Diner. Send him restaurant recommendations at

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