Thursday, September 4, 2008

Unhappy memories of Happy Herman's

Posted By on Thu, Sep 4, 2008 at 2:15 PM

After 50 years of business, Happy Herman's has closed. The Cheshire Bridge delicatessen, originally opened by Herman Mitchell, probably provided my first taste of almost-NY-style deli food.

As soon as I got my driver's license at 16, I began exploring our city in the flashy MG my uncle had given me. During one expedition from our home in Sandy Springs, I discovered Happy Herman's, to which I ended up returning often for pastrami and corned beef sandwiches.

I also discovered an even better deli owned by Russian immigrants in the old Henry Grady Hotel on Peachtree Street near the Carnegie Library downtown. (I believe it was called the Nosh O' Rye, but I'm not 100-percent sure.) And I liked Leb's and Katz' too. Still, I frequently ended up at Happy Herman's.

Happy Herman's was unfortunately also the site of my first experience of being cheated by an adult. One day, I went to the register to pay for my sandwich and handed the cashier $20, which was a hell of a lot of money in the dark ages of my youth.

The man gave me back the wrong change, thinking I'd given him $10. I was adamant that I'd given him $20. So, with a line behind me, he counted every penny in his register plus the coins in an automatic change dispenser. The look on the jerk's face made it obvious that I'd been right.

But, instead of admitting his error, he blurted some bullshit, claiming that the way coins were stacked in the change dispenser created an optical illusion that coincidentally accounted for the very same amount I claimed he owed me. Or something. The adults in line behind me told him to do the right thing, but he wouldn't budge. In fact, it was clear he enjoyed cheating me.

I gave up and left. In the ensuing decades, I probably visited the deli five more times with a friend who always insisted we go there. I felt pissed as soon as I walked through the door. Even driving by the place just a few weeks ago still evoked the memory. I earned the money at my part-time job shelving books at the Sandy Springs library for minimum wage. What kind of an adult cheats a 16-year-old?

I don't take any pleasure in Happy Herman's closing, but the store has been a lifelong reminder of the way unkind acts, particularly those directed at the trusting, can affect us for years, just as acts of kindness can have longterm salutary effects.

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