so, having been hit like a brick by a bit of food poisoning last night (jl and i had a bad experience with a new-ish indian take-out place), i'm going to cheat and give you something i wrote awhile ago. to everyone who voted for the recipe-less article or the name article, i'm sorry that'll have to wait a day or so for inspiration and a healthy state of stomach. thinking about greasy food that does us wrong, below is an excerpt from the book (spirit fall) i've very slowly been writing and rewriting over the years. hopefully there aren't too many errors and you don't find it too torturous to read. anyways, it's the greasy diner experience i hope none of us ever has, although i suspect we've all experienced at some point or another.
“It’s a greasy spoon,” Geoffrey said as he turned off the engine and pulled the parking brake up. “I hope you don’t mind, but it’s twenty-four hours; I stop in here every now and then when it’s too early or too late to go anywhere else. And their coffee doesn’t crunch,” he added as an afterthought.
“Point taken,” Evan snapped his seatbelt and leaned back trying to gauge by the rose hues of the sun-broadening sky if it was the sunrise or the sunset. He couldn’t bring up the courage to admit to Geoffrey he had no sense of direction and couldn’t tell the difference. Evan had been hoping he’d be able to guess the time when they got into the car, but either Geoffrey had set the car’s clock to Norwegian time or he had never set it in the first place. “You’re sure you’re okay with this?” he asked. “I mean, I think I have some cash somewhere.”
“It’s fine,” Geoffrey said. He unlocked all the car doors with one loud switch and got out and stretched. “You coming?” he asked and slammed his door shut. Evan nodded and got out.
The air around the restaurant smelled greasy. It felt heavy in his lungs, as if just by breathing he had inhaled a plate of onion rings and fries into his chest. Looking at the building, Evan realized it wasn’t so much a restaurant as much as a stop. The fluorescent sign on the roof flickered in and out, illuminating different letters at different times and threatening to explode. Evan couldn’t tell if the second word in the title was supposed to be ‘diner’ or ‘dinner’. They walked up the concrete ramp and entered through streaked glass doors. He hoped the door was streaked by window cleaner, but he wouldn’t be surprised if lard came as a side on the menu. A sign on the back wall proclaimed that they served: “Breakfast, Dinner, Lunch and Cheesecake.”
“How many?” the hostess popped her gum at them.
“Two,” Geoffrey replied. Evan wondered if counting was considered an unnecessary skill in her line of work.
The hostess popped her gum again, grabbed two menus, and made her way off at top speed, trying to lose them in the maze of empty tables and chairs. “Booth or table?” she asked over her shoulder. She blew a bubble with her gum; it was neon green.
“Booth,” Evan answered before Geoffrey could reply.
She sat them in the farthest corner she could from the front door, at a window where they could look out at the dumpsters behind the building and the extra, empty parking spaces beyond. “Your waiter will be here in a minute to take your order,” she muttered and spun off mid-sentence back to her station.
The jelly stained laminated pages of the menu stuck together. Half of the items on it had been cut and pasted in; others had been scribbled out and new items had been handwritten in on top. Evan scrolled the through the lists of breakfast foods, lunch, and dinner and stared at the unappetizing pictures of soggy cheesecake. One of the pictures had originally been titled “Death by Chocolate,” but someone had crossed out the ‘chocolate’ and written in ‘cheesecake’.
“What are you getting?” Evan asked, hinting around for the time. He turned the menu back to the chef’s specials; they all looked like a culinary lawsuit waiting to happen.
“Breakfast,” Geoffrey said. “I love breakfast food. I could eat it every meal of the day. I can’t decide between pancakes or waffles though. The syrup’s good here. It’s the kind that comes prepackaged. You know, in the little containers. I usually grab a couple extra on my way out.”
“What do you do with them?” Evan asked.
Geoffrey frowned. “What do you mean? I keep them in my fridge.”
“Do you use them in anything special? Cooking at home?”
“I save them in case I’m going to go out for breakfast,” Geoffrey said and went back to his menu. “If I get toast on the side, I can probably get a few extra jams, too. What are you going to get?”
“I think I’ll get breakfast, too,” Evan sighed. “You can have my extra syrups.” He closed his menu and glanced around the room. It was almost empty except for a couple of elderly early-birds gumming away, some pocket teenagers laughing in another corner, and a man in a suit sitting lonely at a booth flipping through important looking papers as he slowly spooned soup or cereal to his mouth. “I think I know him,” Evan said.
“Who?” Geoffrey asked.
“Over there. In the pinstripe suit. I’ve seen him before,” Evan frowned and leaned over to try to get a closer look. “I know I’ve seen him somewhere before.”
Geoffrey shrugged. “He might just look like someone you met once.”
Evan shrugged. “It was on the bus,” he mused. “After I got out of the hospital. I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone wearing a suit like that before.”
“What? Double breasted?”
“So how do you know it’s the same guy?”
“You can always remember the original,” Evan leaned back. “It’s like cereal. Or medicine. You can take the generic kind, it’ll work just as well, cost less, but deep down you’ll always know it’s not quite the real thing.”
“So what’re you going to do?” Geoffrey asked. “Walk over there and ask if he always rides the thirty-one? Ask for his autograph? It’s not that big a deal. This happens when you go out into the world more than twice a year; you run the risk of seeing the same face more than once.”
“I know,” Evan sighed. “I think that’s our waiter.” He nodded toward a young man with enough body piercings to give an airport security guard a heart attack. Their waiter’s apron was stained with a multitude of condiments and mystery sauces. He looked like an artist’s palate.
“Took him long enough,” Geoffrey grumbled.
Their server stopped short at the table, uncomfortably rocking back and forth on his heels. “Hi, my name is Spike,” he said. Spike spoke at a running speed, cramming words together to create new ones. It took Evan a minute to decode what he had just heard and another to catch up. Spike’s nametag read ‘Andrew.’ “I’m gonna be your waiter today; our specials are the grilled tuna grilled to perfection, soft crabs cooked to perfection, or your choice of two or three crab cakes broiled or fried to perfection and our soups today are cream of broccoli and minestrone which is an Italian vegetable soup but we can put your choice of chicken or steak in it for an added cost of three dollars; what do you want to drink?”
“Coffee,” Geoffrey said. Evan nodded. “Make that two. And we’re ready to order now, too.”
“Okay,” Spike/Andrew said. He pulled out a small notebook. Most of the pages had been torn out and the ones that had survived were just as decorated as his apron. “Shoot–– I mean, wha’do’ya want?”
Geoffrey frowned into his menu. “I’ll have your number four pancake special with an extra side of toast. And can I get extra syrup and jam with those?” Spike/Andrew nodded. “And I’ll have a glass of orange juice, too, with that. Evan?”
Evan reopened his menu, glanced down at the list, then closed it again. “Can I just get toast and a side of hashed browns?” He looked back up at Geoffrey, who was struggling once more with his coat sleeves. “Oh yeah, and can I also have extra jam and syrup?”
“’Kay,” Spike/Andrew snapped closed his book. It disappeared into one of the pockets of his apron. “That’s two coffees, one number four, three orders of toast, one O.J. –which is a drink–, one order of hash browns and extra jelly and pancake sauce.” He started back the way he had come, but turned back midway and grabbed their menus. “Sorry,” he mumbled, and disappeared to the kitchen.
“So,” Geoffrey settled back. “The real issue is what we’re going to do about you. How we can spin this. I can revise your contract to give you a couple extra months allowance.“
“Money?” Evan asked. “I thought you said I’d have to pay back what I was fronted if I didn’t have anything.”
“Not money. Time.” Geoffrey unrolled his silverware and prematurely stuck his napkin on his lap. Evan knew that if he did the same thing, he would spend the rest of the conversation bending down under the table to pick his napkin up off the floor. He could wait for food. Geoffrey continued: “So Small Wonders is no more. That’s a shame; I really liked the title. So the trick is coming up with something new.”
“I don’t know what,” Evan said. “I haven’t exactly been working on anything else. I don’t think I’d know what to write.”
“Well, what about this?” Geoffrey suggested.
“What you told me. How you woke up in the street. Going back to your apartment and realizing you were fucked up. Going to the hospital. Getting the stitches. Everything. There’s got to be a story in there you can write. It probably wouldn’t even be that difficult.”
“But I don’t know what it is!” Evan protested. “I don’t know why or how any of this happened. I can’t explain it.”
“So you make it up,” Geoffrey argued. “Look, it doesn’t matter really. The point is, it’s material. It’s something you can work with. It’s not the non-fiction we were hoping for, but if you angle it right, I can see what I can do.”
“I don’t think I can write it,” Evan admitted. “I don’t have it in me.”
“Honestly, I think we’re past that point,” Geoffrey sighed. “I don’t think either one of us really has a choice. You don’t have the money to pay back what we fronted you, and my hands are bound. If you had something else to give me, I wouldn’t push on this piece. But you don’t. I can fit in a few weeks for the medical and maybe a month to put together the rough material for me.”
“Essentially I’m stuck and screwed,” Evan confirmed.
“Pretty much,” Geoffrey agreed. “Here comes our coffee. It sure as hell better not be cold.”