At the corner of Howe not far down New Haven’s Chapel Street from the Yale Repertory Theater and the university’s art galleries is a gleaming 1950s style steel diner with big plate glass windows. If you’re hungry after hours devouring culture or just walking by at mealtime your mouth may water for
Yankee pot roast, meat loaf, a grilled cheese sandwich or some other traditional diner comfort food. But though the classic eatery looks almost pristine and is open for business, you’ll not find such roadside delicacies. Instead of stepping inside to the smell of home fries and the sound of rockers like Bill Haley and the Comets, you’ll be greeted by the smell of curry and saffron and the sound of sitar music. Looks can be deceiving, and beneath the old timey diner exterior Tandoor is a fine Indian restaurant.
Half its panels missing, the giant screen framed in rusting skeletal steel faces an audience of autumn olive thickets, tangled bittersweet and grape vines. Posts once uttering laughter, gunshots and music have long lost their voice, and the block concession stand that scented dank summer evenings with popcorn and French fries is a crater of concrete chunks, wires and pipes.
Fords and Chevys hungering for dusk and flickering larger- than-life magic once crowded this gravel lot head to tail light. Backseat-cozy in footed pajamas with my sisters, we watched Disney’s Dalmatians and Bond battling Goldfinger as Dad shushed our giggles. Wrapped around a leggy girl years later, I parked by the far fencerow of pines, barely noticing Yousarian’s wheedling.
In this arena of illusion I rode Dr. Zhivago’s train, landed on a planet of apes where Liberty lay ruined on a beach, eavesdropped on the Godfather’s irrefusable offers, bopped to the happy world of Grease, fell prey to apocalypse in Nam. Soundtrack and Technicolor merged with moonlight, clicking crickets, and the tang of damp from a nearby swamp.
Gazing dizzily at the battered, blank expanse of white, I see Brando with puffed cheeks and dark suit, dreams replaying like previews in this ruined Serengeti of imagination where hawks stare from broken light posts and sparrows and warblers flit through brush. The screen’s a great occluded eye staring vacantly, looking at me as I once looked at it. And still showing tonight are the only stars worth a wish.
Rooftop television antennas are becoming increasingly uncommon. A generation ago, tightly packed
neighborhoods featured forests of them, perched on ridgelines or clinging to chimneys. A kind of household radar, they picked up sounds and images from distant and invisible places and brought them to life in living rooms, kitchens, dens and bedrooms. With cables now snaking into our houses or small satellite dishes bolted to clapboards or roofs, the dominant age of the TV aerial has largely gone by.