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.