In they come, in pairs or on their own. An occasional group will bustle in, requiring chairs and the two tables that aren’t permanently fixed to the floor to be rearranged to accommodate their party. Hungry customers are shown to this or that empty booth, brown plastic cubbies that look like hand-me-downs from a Waffle House but somehow that adds to the charm of the place. The diner has many a loyal patron, all good, easy goin’ folk who come for the chit chat as much as the down home cookin. They wander in, happy for their booth-sized sanctuary from the worries of the world, they sip their coffee and allow themselves to be coerced into ordering the coconut crème cake that seems to always be on special.
I watch these familiar faces but know I won’t be included in their warm banter or be invited to join their lazy search for 32 down, a five lettered word for bench. They have learned from experience to keep their distance, not that I blame them. It only takes that one time to learn that lesson. I may look like all the rest, save for the slightly faded ‘No Smoking’ symbol peeling off my side, but they know better… to be in my company is the surest way to make the day go sour.
It’s when a new face peeks in and then timidly steps through that glass door that my hope for company is ignited. Then, on that rare occasion where every other booth is occupied, they are brought to me. I feel the eyes of the regulars follow the newcomers as they are shown their seats. I can almost hear their thoughts as they peer over their coffee, “poor saps… like lambs to the slaughter” but I don’t care, I’m about to have company.
Things start off benign enough. Menus are distributed, waters are brought to the table, orders are placed. Pretty uneventful. Then, while making small talk to fill the void until their food arrives, in those few minutes I set to work. I don’t mean to do it. It’s just who I am, I don’t know the ‘why’ of it. Slowly, as they slouch further down into me, the conversation turns to darker things. Secrets are divulged, misfortunes and injustices are made known. By the time the food arrives, the conversation is a gurgling pit of despair and depression.
“He has to have more tests run… they aren’t sure if it’s Alzheimer’s or dementia” goes one conversation.
“I’ve been to the hospital every day for the past two weeks. Sometimes he has his good days and others, like today are not so good. I told him it might be time to talk about final preparations… I mean I don’t even know if him and mom want to be buried or cremated” goes another.
“She’s pregnant again. No, I don’t know what she’s going to do. She can’t leave him, she’s got nothing…” still another.
Usually, by the time the newcomer’s meal arrives, the regulars who were seated within hearing distance have all managed to finish their meal, pay their bill and slip out of the diner without so much as a rattle of a discarded spoon or a flutter of a fallen napkin. Again, I don’t blame them. They come here to escape the troubles of their lives, the last thing they wish to hear are the troubles of someone else’s.
So, if you’re in the area and you fancy a plate full of comfort food that only your moma and a diner can do justice, then stop in for a spell. Just be sure to steer clear of me. I’m the second booth down with the little “No Smoking” symbol drooping off my side. One meal spent with me and you’ll be crying over more than just spilled milk. Pleased to meet you, I’m the Depressing Booth, fancy a slice of coconut creme cake?
The Not So Fantastic Reality:
The above story was inspired by the following tidbits I encountered today:
ONE: After working around the house (ok, that was mostly Andy but hey, I made homemade limeade) we were too pooped to cook and decided to head down to our usual go-to haunt, our diner up the road for dinner. This place is right out of small-town America, Stella the waitress is greeted by name by just about everyone who comes in, including us, and the grub there is cheap, good and filling. However, on our last two visits, there has been one major bummer to our experience. During the last visit, only a few days ago (I’m telling you, this place is awesome) we were seated in a booth besides two middle-aged women. Unable to ignore their conversation completely, Andy and I both started listening. Mistake. Their entire conversation consisted of the one women going into detail of how her father was dying slowly of cancer. Oh, and that her uncle had also just died. So depressing. Then today, as we were served our dinner by the ever-gracious Stella, a couple, seated in that very same booth, began to discuss the different ailments they believed plagued the husband’s father. They were rooting for dementia, since the alternative was Alzheimer’s. Uh, can I have a side of please-lighten-up-this-convo-if-you-insist-on-talking-loud-enough-for-the-entire-diner-to-hear? Thanks. Sheesh. It was like whoever sat in that particular booth automatically engaged in the most depressing conversation ever. What was it with that booth? Was it pissed about the ‘No Smoking’ label it bore when all of its brethren were ink-free? Who knows. I do know I won’t be sitting there any time soon, that’s for sure.
Love & Squirrels.