Saturday, March 20, 2010


I was at an all night diner last Tuesday. Legally, and I say this because of the insisted accuracy of the report, it was actually Wednesday. Barely. Wednesday started, for me, when I woke up around eleven in the morning.

            I was sitting a table away from the door. I always sit there. I come to this diner probably twice a week and I always get the same thing. I sit there and I drink some bad coffee and eat some delicious food, which is worse for me than the coffee tastes. I had a song in my head:

I was at an all night diner
The sign said “Triple X”
But they were talking about root beer
I’m just sitting down
Thinking about nothing
Looking at the thin air
Breathing up the oxygen

And that really was me. Sometimes I hear songs and I feel like I want to personify them. I want to be the guy they’re singing about. I think that to an extent, at least once, everyone has that. I had a girlfriend who wanted to be the personification of every Bright Eyes song she listened to. Things ended badly with us. Bravo.
            A waitress walked up and said Hi, how are you tonight? and I said Good, and you? She said Is there anything I can get you to drink tonight? with her pen ready on her little pad. Typical. Not dogging on her, but everyone here is so cordial, yet I’m not sure they actually care. I guess I’d rather have it that way than someone not caring and showing it.
            I’ll have the usual, I say, which is what I always say. I made the mistake of wanting to be a regular to a new waitress. She looked at me and cocked her hand back away from the paper. A short stack, coffee, a side of bacon and that should be it. The usual, I said. She wrote it down and said The usual.

I was eating my pancakes, singing along to songs in my head, sipping on my orange juice and enjoying my night to myself when I heard some guy across the room from me, maybe a few tables back, talking loudly about these oranges he had out on his table. They’re from Arizona, he said. Brought them all the way back with me. I picked them with my own hands, he said. Freshest oranges in the state. Can’t get em’ this fresh at the store, he said, no sir. He was very proud of these oranges. I was wondering if he was going to eat them or not. Show and tell at an all night diner, eh? This world is home to the strangest people. He was going on about the oranges right up until the point where I was almost ready for my check and then he took out this tiny mason jar. It was full of sand. Straight from Sawyer, Michigan, he said. The waitress that was helping him had lost interest in his escapades after about two minutes. He had been going on about his oranges for about ten minutes before he broke out this jar of sand. I felt bad for her.
This sand sings when you walk on it, he said. You can’t get that here, no sir. Excuse me, he said, no ma’am. No offense, I know you’re a lady, ma’am, I just say ‘no sir’ a lot. It’s an expression. This sand… here, touch some, he said and he opened the jar, it’s very fine. That’s why it sings, he said. She touched the sand and said it was real nice and maybe she’d take a vacation there sometime. He said she should and tried sealing up the jar. I was watching him. He started threading it wrong and then dropped the lid on accident. He bent over to get it and then he spilled some sand on the table. S---, he said. The waitress left to get him something to sweep up the sand with. He sealed up the jar and put it down on the table and looked at the little pile of sand that came all the way from Sawyer, Michigan.
I sat back against the booth and that’s when a woman in the rear of the diner started screaming. She screamed loud and everyone jumped. I looked back and there was a man standing over her as she cowered in the booth. He had a gun. It was pointing right at her. He was using it to get a purse from her.

I work at a place that has a cash till. Sometimes, I think about what I would do if someone ever tried to rob me. I know what I’m supposed to do. Hand the money over and call the cops. But I always think that I would stand up for my boss. He works hard for that money in the till. Sometimes I think I would take the till out for the robber and then throw it hard at his face and jump over the counter or something. And then what? I don’t know. Step on his neck and hope the cops come quick. I only think about how I’d disable him, not how I’d keep him until the cops could show up. Either way, I would never just hand it over. I would be brave.

The orange guy, the one who wouldn’t stop talking looked at me and I looked at him. I slid out of my booth and started running towards the door. Lucky I was sitting close to it. I was moving too fast, though and I tripped on my own scrambling feet. I slid to a halt just a foot in front of the door. I rolled over on my back and I saw that orange guy had the same idea. Don’t save the day, just save yourself. He stepped over me and I watched him run away. I propped myself up on my hands and then I got knocked over again- someone else had run right into me. I heard glass breaking and then a gun firing. I blacked out.

When I came to I was propped up in my booth. There in front of me was a fresh pancake, two strips of bacon and some more coffee. Across from me was a cop. I looked at him and he could tell I was scared and confused. I asked him what happened. Don’t worry, he said, we got him. When I propped myself up the thief, the guy with the gun, ran right into me. Apparently he didn’t see me. He fell headlong into the door, shattering the glass and discharging his weapon. The cop asked me some questions and I ate my food even though I felt a little like throwing up. I answered everything that I could and then he stood up and said, thanks for the help, bud, you sure know how to catch a baddie, winked at me and walked over to one of his cop friends. I looked back over to where the orange guy was sitting and I saw his waitress sweeping that little pile of sand into a cup. She looked over at me when she turned around with the cup of sand. Just in case he comes back.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Last Time

Do you remember the last time you cried? Someone asked me this the other day and I thought about it for a little while but quite honestly came up with a blank. I’m not a tough guy. That’s not it. I just could not remember the last time I cried. That time I dislocated my knee doesn’t count. That singular tear was the equivalent of drooling at the dentist while your flaccid mouth is all anesthetized up. The liquid expulsion is involuntary. Well alright, that and it really hurt. But I’m talking about crying emotionally. I’m not a broken man of stone, either; I have emotions. I just don’t cry. And you know what? I’d like to. I want to cry.

            If she asked me that again I could answer with much more accuracy. I do remember, I do! It was this morning. I was lying in my bed and I didn’t know it at the time, but I was dreaming.

            There was a powder blue envelope and it said From Dad on it. I opened it and I knew it was for my mom. It contained a magazine and it had something to do with a romantic getaway. I thumbed through it and there were some handwritten notes in it and I got really excited to hand this off to my mom. I love my mom. I really do. She’s a single woman right now and I want to see her get married almost more than I want to see myself get married. She loves me so much and she deserves a good man to love her. She just deserves it. You see, my parents aren’t together. That’s fine. I don’t disagree with this. It happened when I was very young and I think my mom was behind most of the decision making there.
            I took the envelope to my mom and waited around for her to read it, so I could see her reaction. She opened it up and started talking to me about the stuff inside. I had this feeling she thought that it was from me. Perhaps she hadn’t seen the handwritten signature on front- From Dad. No, no, she said. We can’t go on vacation together. I wanted to tell her that it was from Dad, that it was him wanting to go on vacation with her! But just like the dreams where you need to run far and fast and you find yourself unable to take a mere step, I simply couldn’t tell her. I was muted, dumbfounded.

            I walked into the front door of our house. My brother was there. He didn’t look very good. He was looking old, weathered. You could tell he was still young but he looked aged. His face seemed to be becoming leathery. It looked like he had a healed and shallow scar on his face. I asked him how he was doing. Honestly, he said, not too good right now. Kaden, our nephew, had been dropped and hit his head. I knew this in the dream. He suffered brain damage from the fall and now, Ryan explained, he was very lethargic yet very happy all the time. Kaden was never like that before. He was loud, and overall a disobedient child of sorts, but we all loved him anyway. He was just a kid. Now he would never be loud again and he would never disobey. Ryan really did look broken up over this.
I started to explain what happened with the letter from Dad and how Mom didn’t get it- that it was from him. He didn’t seem to know what I was talking about as I was telling him about it but I got cut off from finishing everything I was saying when I noticed my mom walking up to the house with my dad. He looked older than the last time I saw him. He was wearing khakis. I’ve only ever seen him in jeans. He had that on and a button up shirt, which is his style, but in lighter colors. His hair was becoming littered with grays and seemed to fray out. It was still long. He had that facial hair still, but more than his usual mustache. It was more of a handlebar mustache with some extra on his chin. I looked at the two of them walking together and suddenly became overjoyed and I started laughing. My brother tried asking what I was laughing at. I couldn’t explain, I could only laugh, and what was so funny was that I was trying to convince my mom that dad had sent her this letter, but once I saw him I remembered that he’s been dead since I was twelve. I was standing there in front of my brother laughing so hard at my folly and it turned right into crying. I was crying because I saw my dad again, finally. I was hugging my brother, caught in-between sobbing and laughing. I just couldn’t pick one.
            It looked just like him, but years older. It’s been over ten years now. When he died, I thought maybe, just maybe someone that dressed just like him and looked similar came into our slightly remote home in Black River Falls and walked into my dad and stepmoms room and shot himself right there on the bed, through the right temple. I thought that maybe it had been a big mistake and I’d see my dad again, someday. I cried back then. I remember that. Seeing him in that dream was that reunion I had been waiting for- laughter and tears. Joy and sadness. Then I woke up right before my alarm was set to go off. My face was dry. I wasn’t crying at all. Not even close.
            They say that if you die in a dream you’ll die in real life. I never believed that. I know there’s a connection between the physical body and the dream state. You can injure yourself in a dream and wake up sore. But I didn’t wake up crying. If I had my say in the matter, though, I would have.