Saturday, July 31, 2021

Don't Fix Me

 Hank met Gregg for coffee at a quiet coffee shop not far from Gregg’s work. They ordered the usual. They sat near the window to stare at the falling snow.

I like the snow,” Hank said. “It reminds me of my childhood.”

It reminds me of shoveling our driveway all day long,” Gregg said. “Hard work, that’s what it reminds me of.”

Hank sipped his coffee and thought for a moment.

But there was always a pleasure in accomplishing it,” Gregg said. “One must take pleasure in his accomplishment, don’t you agree?”

Certainly,” Hank said. “Otherwise everything is drudgery. The coffee is really good this morning.”

Gregg pulled the cup from his lips. “That’s why we go here. The coffee is always good.”

Hank smiled. “The baristas take pride in what they do.”

I read your blog this morning,” Gregg said. “It seemed depressing to me.”

Yes,” Hank said. “I wrote it last night. I wasn’t feeling all that well.”

You should have given me a call,” Gregg said. “My wife and I would have delighted to have you over for company.”

That’s kind of you to say that,” Hank said. “But I would have been best by myself.”

You seem to put a lot of time into your blog,” Gregg said. “Who reads it?”

Well for one,” Hank said, “you do. But I think it’s more important that it is written rather than read.”

Blogging seems so impersonal,” Greg said. “You sometimes spill your emotions to those who don’t care.”

Like I said,” Hank said. “It’s good just to say things without bothering those who you know. You don’t always want or need help. Sometimes friends want to jump in and fix something and they end up breaking something. So I just write.”

Don’t you want to be fixed if you're broken?” Gregg said.

All of my friends and most importantly me loves the broken me,” Hank said. “Who knows what the fixed me would be like. I may not like snow or coffee.”

Friday, July 30, 2021

Duck Hunting And Poetry

 Witherspoon and Dudley sat quietly in their duck blind on Bagley Pond five miles from town. Witherspoon cared little to be with what he considered his half-witted cousin, but did so out of a sense of family obligation and tradition; they hunted together at least once a year.

Witherspoon wanted the morning to end quickly. So with sunrise and the first sight of ducks overhead he took a steady aim.

Witherspoon missed his first two shots at a duck.

Go ahead. try it one more time,” Dudley said to Witherspoon. “Third time’s a charm.”

Witherspoon dropped his rifle to his side and glared at Dudley. “That is the stupidest thing that has ever been said. The third time has just as much of a chance as the fourth time and so on, as it does the first and second time. You did nothing but distract my next shot.”

Now ya got to start over,” Dudley said. “You’ll shoot left, then right, and the third time right in the middle. That’s why the third time’s a charm is scientific. It’s a fact. Besides, it‘s poetic.”

What if I get it on the second try?” Witherspoon said.

Hit it the second try, you got a good eye,” Dudley affirmed.

I can’t believe I’m hunting with you,” Witherspoon said. “But I got to ask, what about the first try.”

You’re flat out lucky,” “Dudley said. “You get it on the first try, you’re lucky as pie.”

I thought it was easy as pie,” Witherspoon said.

That doesn’t even begin to make sense,” Dudley said. “It takes skill to make and bake a pie, but if ya get a pie without workin‘ for it you‘re lucky; lucky as pie.”

As the sound of ducks came from just over the trees, Witherspoon lifted the rifle to his shoulder. He slid the rifle back down to his side. “What if I miss on the third…”

Dudley interrupted. “That makes you a turd.”

Witherspoon gathered all his contempt for Dudley into one stare. “What about five?”

Who do you think I am Robert Frost?” Dudley said. “It’s not for me to continually feed your literary and intellectual needs. Next time go hunting with a poet.”

Thursday, July 29, 2021

God And Fish

 Diego and Manuel had just laid down their nets in the calm waters of the Sea of Cortez.

Now we rest. In the old days fish jump in boat. They glad to get out of water. It was too crowded.” Manuel said. “Now, we wait for the fish. Do you know a fish song, Diego?”

No songs from me today,” Diego said. “Don’t want to scare fish away. Maybe we should talk about things that make us happy; like our net full of fish.”

Fish hear that and that not make them happy,” Manuel said. “That scare them away. This is not your day to come up with good things to catch fish.”

What do you have?” Diego said.

I tell secret,” Manuel said, “and fish come near to listen.”

What is secret?” Diego said leaning close to Manuel.

Here is a secret,” Manuel said. “It is a proud day when you become a father. It is a beginning.” Manuel stopped. His face tightened and finally relaxed and tear rolled from his eye.

But why do you cry now?” Diego said. “Your son is all grown.”

I work hard to make him a good man,” Manuel said. “I pray too. I think, I worry. I pray more and more again. I not good example. He really need God’s help. Can’t do it on my own.”

So what is the secret,” Diego said. “Everybody know it is a proud day when you become a father.”

The secret is when he becomes a man,” Manuel said, “when he succeed.”

Your son make you that proud?” Diego said.

And I cry because God help,” Manuel said. “I can no do it on own. And God give you a good son you don‘t deserve.”

Diego laughed. “We did many foolish things when young. God must have forgiven you.”

Yes,” Manuel said. “It was foolishness… that gave me a son. But you grow up or give up.”

But you grow up real quick,” Diego said.

I just pretend,” Manuel said. “I still foolish at heart, but my son, he is a good man. He is more of a man than me.”

You cry again, Manuel,” Diego said.

Yes,” Manuel said. “Because a good son means God has forgiven you.”

Look! Manuel,” Diego said. “The fish are many. They like to hear good stories about good sons.”

Yes,” Manuel said. “And God was listening too.”

Yes!” Diego said. “God and fish like good stories. He tell the fish where the good stories are told. They come to listen.”

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

For Love And Seashells

 As a youth, Leo called his home “The Rock” as in San Quinton. His father was a lighthouse keeper on a small island off the coast. Except for a few summer residences, there was isolation. It was just his father, mother, and him.

He was either at his mother’s side or his father’s. Difficult for them to have intimate moments so they sent young Leo hunting for seashells. By the time he left the island, there were several piles along the pathway from the beach to the lighthouse.

As much as he disdained his youth and living there, over the years he began to romanticize about the place.

Leo,” Abe said. “I see you scheduled vacation for next week. Where ya goin’?”

My childhood home,” Leo said. “A little island off the coast. I think it's abandoned now.”

Island!” Abe said. “Like Coney Island or Long Island?”

No,” Leo smiled. “A real live island, surrounded by water.”

I don’t think you ever told me about it,” Abe said. “What’s it look like?”

My home was a cozy cottage on an island manicured by nature as perfect as any landscaper could only imagine or accomplish. The cottage was white, pristine, and full of charm and life. Waves gently lapped the beaches on the south side of the island as waves crashed the north side. Day after day is spent in undisturbed beauty observing nature and the sea in all its splendor. Every day is unlike the other, full of enchantment, wonder, and solemnity. A place to renew your purpose and explore new vistas.”

I was raised in Queens,” Abe said. “I can’t top that. If you explored, you got worked over.”

The next week Leo motored in a rented boat two hours to the island now abandoned. The lighthouse was now automated and had been that way for decades.

He ran the boat up near the beach, cut the engine, and tossed the anchor. Overgrowth had consumed the island. The entrance to the pathway leading to the house and lighthouse had grown shut. He climbed a rock to spy on his old home and the lighthouse.

Growth surrounded the house. A portion of the roof had caved in. The porch’s pillars had all collapsed. It was weather-beaten beyond recognition like a bruised, battered, and bleeding boxer sitting defeated in his corner.

He found a way to the house and poked around a while, recalled some fond memories, and found what remained of the pathway back to the beach. Walking along the path resurrected and invigorated long-lost memories.

He was satisfied as he approached the end of the pathway. He could now put everything to rest and come to grips with the fantasy he lived regarding this place. It truly was a rock, yet he did not want to allow himself to be bitter.

As a final gesture and note of finality to the place he would never return he must have honest and good words to leave it with.

He turned to gaze upon the house. “Rustic,” he said. “That’s the best I can do.“

His eyes followed the pathway from the house to his feet. He walked a few steps back the pathway. He parted the tall grass. There was a pile of seashells. He walked further and uncovered three more. He smiled thinking about his parents. “Rustic and a place for lovers.”

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Three Ways To Win A Bar Fight

 Doug and Woody were far from home burr-headed recruits sitting at a table in a noisy smoke-filled beer hall that was saturated with the stench of cheap booze.

"There are three ways I can win this fight," Doug said just above a whisper to his barracks buddy, Woody.

"I don't think so." Woody sized up the brawny Marine decked in dress khakis at the bar. "I don't think we could take him together." His eyes searched for the nearest exit and nodded toward one. "Let's sneak out," Woody whispered.

"He's got his eyes on every exit," Doug said. "If we make a move for one of them he'll nail me."

"Go over and say something to the MP," Woody suggested.

"What am I going to say,” Doug said and feigned wiping tears from his cheek. “’That big bad Marine is going to whip my butt?' To which he’ll reply, 'Ya mind if I watch sweetie pie?' No thanks. I'll take the beatin'."

"What did you say to him?" Woody asked nervously looking around.

"When you went to take a leak he told me to get up,” Doug said. “He had thee buddies that were coming and they wanted a table. I told him to get lost."

"Why didn't you just let him have it?" Woody said

"Didn't think he would take it so personal," Doug said.

The Marine held a bottle of beer in his hand as he pushed his way through the crowded beer hall full of recruits back to where Dough and Woody sat.

Woody whispered, "What are the three ways?"

What three ways?” Doug said.

You said there were three ways to win this fight,” Woody said.

There was no time to answer. The Marine sat across the table from Doug. "Well let's finish our beers and take it outside. My buddies will be here before long and I want a table for them," he said coldly.

"Look man can't we just forget this," Woody said smiling anxiously trying to be reasonable. "Are you sure we just can't all sit together?"

The Marine motioned with his head toward Woody, smiled, and said to Doug, "Do ya powder his behind before ya lay him down for beddy-bye?" He said it as if reciting a line of poetry. He tilted the bottle to his lips and drank without taking his eyes off Doug.

He looked over at Woody and ordered, "Hold the table for me and my buddies while me and this soldier step outside."

While Woody affirmed the command, the final gulp of beer from Doug’s mug passed his throat. He squeezed the handle of the mug as if trying to choke the life out of a snake. With a swing, he drove the bottom of the mug squarely against the jutted jaw of the Marine. There was a loud crack like a bat hitting a baseball. The Marine fell to the floor and his chair squirted across the room. Everyone expectantly rose to their feet.

"He passed out," Doug said helplessly to the audience of recruits.

Doug looked at Woody whose eyes were bulging. "That's the first way."

Now what?” Woody said.

We better go,” Doug said. “I lied—that’s the only way I know.”

Monday, July 26, 2021

Real Love

 Tabby knocked at Harry’s door.

Tabby carried a small Schnauzer pup in the fold of her arm. She was a girl in her mid-twenties and a bit on the idealistic side; not overbearing so but more concerned than anything. For some time she worried about Harry. His wife passed six months earlier and to her, he seemed lonely.

Unknown to Tabby, Harry’s days were full. In the quiet of his garage with the door down, he repaired bicycles found on curbsides and junk piles. Some customized into small motorized bicycles. Harry sold them by word of mouth or online. Money never being the object just passing time doing something he loved.

Harry answered the door and smiled broadly. “Tabby, it’s good to see you.” He reached out to the small dog and with his finger brushed it under the chin. “What do you have here, a dog for your protection?”

“No,” Tabby said, “he was a gift from my boss. His dog had a litter and he didn’t want to go through all the aggravation of selling them so he started giving them away.”

“Well, he’s a cute little thing,” Harry said. “It will make you a good dog.”

“I didn’t get it for me,” Tabby said. “It’s for you. You need a pet,” Tabby said. “He’ll be a great companion.”

“I need a companion ss much as I need a pile of poop in the backyard,” Harry said.

“Pets give you unconditional love,” Tabby said. “when humans won’t.”

“Humans crap and flush,” Harry said. “At least the ones I know. To me, that’s real love.”

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Freedom To Think

Chad was about the finish his first year as an account advisor at Westminster Farthington Bank.

It was a good place to work. Within a year he was near the top of his division in production. There was little doubt that during his second year he might be at the very top. And soon beyond, likely a division supervisor. Normally a position not open for advisors until five years of employment, but Chad worked and studied hard, he put in extra hours, and took advantage of all the extra training offered by Westminster Farthington.

He was near the time of his yearly review. He looked forward to it because he expected to be considered for the supervisory training program.

Roxanne stopped by Chad’s cubicle and rapped on the panel.

Chad looked up and smiled. “Roxanne,” he said. “Come in have a seat.”

She sat in the chair next to his desk.

Remember the Langston account?” Chad said.

Don’t tell me,” Roxanne said. “Did it close.”

Yes,” Chad said excitedly. “And they said their satellite offices will come on board.”

You’re kidding me,” Roxanne said. “That will put me over projection for the year. Thanks, Chad. You really worked hard on that. I hope I can repay you someday.”

Roxanne started to stand. “Oh, I almost forgot,” she said settling back down in the chair. “I’m inviting you to my wedding. My partner and I are getting married this weekend. I’m inviting just a few friends and family; those who are open-minded and not living in the dark ages.”

That’s kind of you to think of me,” Chad said. “But I’m afraid you will think of me as being close-minded.”

I thought you had no problem with it,” Roxanne said.

Maybe I should clarify something,“ Chad said. “I have said what people do in their private lives is not my concern. Do I think gay marriage is okay? No. Will I protest against it or hate gay couples? No. My view is private. I don’t force it on anyone else.”

Roxanne immediately stood. She dug her fists into her hips. “If you’re not for us then you’re against us.”

I’m sorry, Roxanne,” Chad said. “It is something I cannot conscientiously participate in.”

I never thought of you as being so closed-minded,” Roxanne said.

Recall at our diversity seminar a few months ago,” Chad said. “You were very vocal and articulate about defending the conscience of others. You used an example of conscientious objectors being exempt from military duty so why should Westminster Farthington ever demand a person to do something that would not be illegal, yet a person might find conscientiously objectionable. You used an example of extending loans to cigarette companies. In fact, Roxanne, I was inspired by your passion.”

This comes down to a basic human right,” Roxanne said. “It’s different.”

I’m not objecting or protesting your marriage,” Chad said. “I’m just not coming.”

This will not look good on your yearly review,” Roxanne said. “I will out you as a bigot and hater.”

Roxanne,” Chad said. “Do you think I really hate you?”

That’s not the point,” Roxanne said.

Than what is the point?” Chad said. “Please, tell me.”

You are just a hater,” Roxanne said.

Roxanne,” Chad said. “Do you hate me?”

Yes!” Roxanne said. “I got the right to hate you.”

Your acceptance and open-mindedness extend only as far as your own cause,” Chad said.

And what about your cause?” Roxanne said.

I don’t have one, other than please let me have freedom of thought,” Chad said.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

No Questions

 Evan was back in town. He happened to see one of his old high school English teachers at a local restaurant. After separate meals, they chatted in the parking lot afterward.

I have followed you over the years,” Mr. Carter said.

Followed me?” Evan said.

Brandon Phelps,” Mr. Carter said, “you remember him, don’t you? He was in your class.”

Sure,” Evan said. “Tall kid with enough hair to tuck in his pants.”

Now he’s the overweight and bald bus supervisor,” Mr. Carter said. “He’s amazing, keeps up on everybody from your class. He keeps me informed. I’m very proud of your accomplishments.”

Evan smiled uncomfortably and moved the conversation from himself. “So you still teach English?”

Mr. Carter recognized Evan wished not to talk about himself. “They call it Language Arts now,” Mr. Carter and added sardonically, “they thought the label was the problem.”

As much as I hated English,” Evan said, “I think I would have hated Language Arts more.”

Maybe it was the teacher,” Mr. Carter said.

No,” Evan said, “it was me. You know that.”

There are times I wonder if I’m really doing anything other than teaching sentence structure, nouns, and verbs,” Mr. Carter said. “You kind of want to reach the kids with more.”

Believe it on not, hardly a day goes by without me thinking about your class,” Evan said.

Really?” Mr. Carter said, “or are you just trying to make me feel good?”

You were pretty tough on me,” Evan said. “Made me work. Threatened to expel me.”

Oh, yes,” Mr. Carter said, “I do remember that. To be honest, I was blowing smoke. I didn’t have the authority.”

Yeah,” Evan said, “but it got my attention.”

So what happened right after you graduated?” Mr. Carter asked.

Trouble,” Evan said.

And then what?” Mr. Carter said.

I remembered something you said,” Evan said.

Here it comes,” Mr. Carter said, “what stupid thing did I say.”

Every action and word must be preceded by a thought and every question must wait or search for an answer,” Evan said.

I remember saying that a few times,” Mr. Carter said. “I always thought of it as filling in time between thoughts.”

It meant a lot,” Evan said.

I have a third-period class,” Mr. Carter said. “If you are in town tomorrow could you drop by toward the end of that class and share with them what that meant to you?”

Evan paused and rubbed the back of his neck. “I owe it to you.”

Maybe take a moment to explain how you got to where you are now,” Mr. Carter said.

My profession is full of ego and bloviating talk,” Evan said. “I’m really uncomfortable talking about myself. I’ll come across worse than the most braggadocios of my brood.”

I certain you won’t,” Mr. Carter said. “If I recall you had the most unique way of communicating. I recall you’re book report given to the class.”

You mean The Old Man and The Sea?” Evan smiled.

Precisely,” Mr. Carter said.

Short book, short report,” Evan said.

I think you would have reported War and Peace with the same brevity,” Mr. Carter said.

Let’s see,” Evan said, “War is hell when you live in Russia and so is peace. It’s just a tough place to live no matter. The climate is miserable and so are the people.”

Can you come by?” Mr. Carter said.

You can count on it,” Evan said.

Mr. Carter smiled and shook Evan’s hand. “I’m glad we bumped into each other today. Frankly, I was thinking about retiring at the end of this year. I thought perhaps I missed my calling long ago. My dad ran a hardware; I wondered if I should have taken up that.”

Not a bad occupation,” Evan said. “I can’t tell you how many questions I’ve asked my hardware guy. He always has an answer; got me out of a lot of jams. Those guys are geniuses.”

Still trying to make me feel good?” Mr. Carter said.

Well,” Evan chuckled, “I am in the feel-good business.”

See you tomorrow,” Mr. Carter said.

For certain,” Evan said.

I’ll let it be a surprise to the class,” Mr. Carter said.

What do you want me to talk about?” Evan said.

Something they’ll remember,” Mr. Carter said.

That’s a tall order,” Evan said.

Well I remember you,” Mr. Carter said. “And that’s been 25 years ago.”

Yeah,” Evan said. “But it was not for academic achievements.”

I’ve never have had a student with the ability quite like yours,” Mr. Carter said. “You made a Tootsie Roll look exactly like dog poop.”

What Tootsie Roll,” Evan said.

Mr. Evan shook his head. “See you tomorrow.”

The next day Evan waited in the hallway outside Mr. Carter’s room until he waved him into the classroom.

The last five minutes of our class I thought I’d like to surprise all of you with one of my former students, Evan Reading.” Mr. Carter gestured for Evan to step to the lectern that sat on the top of the desk.

Do you have any questions?” Evan said.

The class was silent. Eyes wandered around the room for something to amuse. After a minute the class began to squirm; looked around to see who else squirmed but remained mum.

Evan looked at his watch and smiled politely. He glanced at Mr. Carter sitting at a chair to the side. Mr. Carter raised his eyebrows and smiled.

Evan tapped the lectern and waited. He looked at his watch and the clock on the wall.

Well,” Evan said. “Our time is just about up and no one had a question. Nobody even asked who I am. No one was curious as to who Evan Reddin is or more importantly who Evan Redding was. It was 25 years ago I sat in Mr. Carter’s class. I didn’t have any questions. I had no curiosity. You know why? Because I thought I had all the answers. Just remember this day; it was the day you had no questions. By the way, I’m an ex-convict—five-year sentence, served two, got out for good behavior. My first week in prison, another inmate came after me. I stabbed him. It was then I decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life cutting people. I got out, went to med school, and became a surgeon. I had a lot of questions.”

The bell rang and the students filed from the room.

Mr. Carter stood and walked over to Evan and shook his hand. “Very nice, Evan,” Mr. Carter said. “After your name is Googled, it is likely a spirited discussion will ensue tomorrow.”

Friday, July 23, 2021

Pete’s Diner; Part 3

 This is a short story written nearly twenty-five year ago. It will be posted in three parts. This is part three.

"The first year was good. I had a few customers a day in the diner, pumped some gas, and spent a lot of time sittin' and drinkin' coffee. Then all of sudden Wesley Weimer comes in here one night."

Justin leaned forward and interrupted, "The guy who killed his twin brother and ate his remains to get rid of the evidence?"

"One and the same." Pete said and continued, "Hogs down about four hamburgers, and holds a gun on me, tellin' me to rid out my cash drawer. Well, I did just like he said and he took out of here like a bat outa hell. I didn't even have time ta call the law. Seems they were after him and they came in here just as he pulled away. I told 'em what happened and they took off after him. They found him five miles down the road heavin' his guts out. They put it all in the newspaper. The world is so full of curious and sadistic people. They all wanted ta have a hamburger from the place that made a cannibal barf."

Justin was at first enthralled with Pete's story but now a skeptical smirk lit his face like gasoline being dashed on a dull fire and suddenly brought to a furious blaze. "Does the story come along with the coffee or did you just throw it in for free."

"You work for the newspaper. Check it out for yerself ya little wise-ass, April fifteenth, nineteen seventy-three. If you's any type of reporter at all you'd have known that already," Pete said contemptuously and taking a gulp of coffee.

Justin nudged the cup towards Pete for a refill. When the cup was returned Justin tried some cream and sugar.

"Ya don't believe it does ya?" Pete said.

"Sure I believe ya. It's kinda funny." Justin said. "I mean it's really funny." He labored to restrain his laughter.

Pete turned on the fryer and the grill with the two inches of grease on it.

"Inside a few months, I had so much business I had ta stop pumpin' gas and it ain't been the same sense," Pete said. "Ever eatin' here yet?"

"No, heard about it, but never ate here," Justin said.

"Stick around for about ten minutes and see what I mean," Pete said.

While Justin experimented with different combinations of sugar and cream to make the coffee somehow more palatable, Pete was busy preparing for the lunchtime crowd. He removed a tray with raw hamburger rolled into balls about the size of plums. They were divided into several layers with wax paper separating them. Onions were sliced and diced with the knife he used to clean his fingernails. Ketchup, mustard, and pickles were taken from the refrigerator and placed on the back counter. He stacked packages of buns next to them and tore them open for quick access.

Pete turned to see two cars speed into the gravel parking lot with a rooster tail of dust behind them. He reacted quickly by dropping the hamburger balls into the lake of gurgling grease. They sunk to the bottom and bobbed to the surface like apples in water. He took a spatula and smashed them against the bottom of the grill to make them flat. From the freezer, he took frozen French fries and loaded them into the fryer. They sizzled,

steamed and crackled like some mysterious evil caldron.

The two men entered the diner. With his back to them, he called out, "How many?"

"Six everything, two fries," the one man said.

"Next," Pete said.

"Eight, two mustard pickle onion, two ketchup onion, four mustard and onion, and three fries," the other man said.

Pete quickly laid out fourteen buns and applied the ordered items. His hands moved delicately and nimbly like a harpist as he dressed the buns. With a serving spoon, he poured grease over the hamburgers. When the hamburgers were done he placed them in the prepared buns and tucked them in a sack without wrapping them individually. In a moment the two men were gone.

"In five minutes this place will be crammed with people," Pete said.

"Why do they come here?" Justin asked.

"It sure ain't for the food," Pete said. "I ain't never said "'Thanks for eating at Pete's."' A person won't get that crap here. Those other places with pimple-faced, gum chewin', straggly-haired, empty-headed freaks say they are glad ta take yer order but they got an attitude for everyone who walks in. I don't hide it. I got a bad attitude. They still come. How do ya figure that? I guess I'm charismatic." He waited to see Justin's expression and laughed.

The diner filled. It was loud and busy. Pete was rude and brusque.

Justin pulled a quarter from his pocket and called to Pete,

"Call it!"

Pete said, "Heads!"

Justin tossed the quarter, caught it, and trapped it on the countertop. He lifted just one side of his hand as if it were going to fly away. He peeked at it. It was a tail. "Heads, you win. I don't write the story."

Pete's mouth curled up - just the left side. It was almost a smile. "Thanks," he said. "How 'bout a couple of burgers on the house?"

Justin looked at the floating burgers on the grill saturated in grease. His upper lip flexed as when one sees a dead and mutilated animal. He raised his hands slightly from the counter and said, "No, no maybe some other time."

Justin left the diner.

When Pete watched his car leave the parking lot, turned to the picture of Harry Truman, winked, and said, "We sure gave 'em hell didn't we Harry."


Thursday, July 22, 2021

Pete’s Diner; Part 2

 This is a short story written nearly twenty-five years ago. It will be posted in three parts. This is part two.

"This is an institution! Everybody eats here some time or other and I think it would make for some interesting reading," Justin said. "Things like this give people a sense of community and tradition."

"I don't like it. Not one bit." Pete said barely opening his lips trying to hold his indignation. "That tradition and community crap is just that - crap. Ya just want a story ta keep yer tail outuv a sling."

"Why are you so dead set against it?" Justin asked.

"I got all the business I want right now, in fact too much," Pete said.

Justin braved another sampling of coffee. Knowing what to expect, it didn't seem so objectionable this time, but not the quality he was accustomed. To write the story well, he must have Pete's cooperation. Pete's diner was too fascinating to abandon.

Pete examined Justin like a cat, cautiously pawing and probing at a creature they have no fear, but yet fearful of something it might do unexpectedly. "What is it you want anyway?" demanded Pete.

"Just want a story," Justin said. "What do you want?"

"I wanna be left alone," Pete said as if the words themselves would be enough to convince Justin to leave. "Go find someone else to pester."

"My editor said to do this place and I'm going to do it," Justin said. He looked around the room while Pete was searching for words or an action that might change the mind of the young reporter.

There was a sign against the wall opposite the counter, "Harry Truman Ate Here", with a picture of the former president below it. Below the picture was the added words, "and he thought the food sucked too."

"Did Truman really eat here?" Justin asked.

"I don't know. I suppose he did. The ole man who owned this place before me had that up there and I added what's on the bottom." Pete said.

"How'd you come to own this place?" Justin asked.

Pete puckered his lips. He perceived Justin was trying to get him to talk. "Ya print anything I say and ya don't have to worry about a suit. Ya gonna hafta worry about me, okay."

Justin flicked his hand slowly and said, "Talk."

Pete walked to the urn and drew more coffee for himself. He talked as the cup was filling. "I got outa the army twenty-two years ago this November twenty-first. I spent ten years in the army."

With the cup filled he returned to Justin and hoisted his foot on a garbage can and leaned forward. "They failed to recognize my genius," he said sarcastically. " so I quit."

"You were halfway to retirement," Justin said.

"Well as a soldier, I wasn't much good, didn't like takin' orders. When I left I just made E-5." Pete said.

"That's not good?" Justin asked.

"No, not good at all. When I first went in I had this hillbilly buddy and he was always a sayin' when he got out, all he wanted was a one-pump gas station, with a pop machine, a pot-bellied stove, on a deserted stretch of highway. I used ta laugh at that sucker for his lack of ambition."

Justin looked around the room and then stretched to look out the window at the two solitary gas pumps.

Pete lifted his foot from the garbage can and leaned against the back counter. He grabbed a boning knife and began to clean underneath his fingernails. Pensive facial gestures rose; raised eyebrows, furled forehead, and curled down lips. He resumed, "When I got out, I looked up that buddy of mine. He'd been out for eight years. He took over his Daddy's Chevy dealership and was livin' off aspirin, cigarettes, and antiacids. All he had time for was a cup of coffee and a job offer. I just shook my head and left. He caught up with me before I gotta my car. All of a sudden he got real settled like he used ta be. He shook my hand and wished me luck and then he said something’ ta me I'll never forget. He said, "'Take my advise and get yerself a one-pump gas station, with a pop machine, a pot-bellied stove on a deserted stretch of highway."'

"So how'd you come to find this place?" Justin said looking at Pete cleaning his fingernails knowing that in a short time it would be used without being washed to slice onions. Justin also entertained the notion, 'what if he should use it on me?'

Pete took the knife and stabbed it into the countertop. Justin jerked, straightened in his seat, and then relaxed, seeing the folly in such a notion.

"I started driving ta Colorado," Pete said, "Always thought I'd like ta live there, but I was a comin' down this highway, wanted somethin' ta eat and I was needin' gas. I saw this place and the sign above the building said ‘Pete's Diner‘. When I came in here I could see the old man was about to retire or die. His name was Pete Gaston. I don't believe in fate, but I do believe in coincidence and convenience. I stuck around a few days made him an offer with the money I saved from the army and bought the place, but disaster struck."

"How's that?" Justin asked occupied with trying to decide whether to finish the coffee. He could no longer deceive himself, it really was very bad coffee. He adjusted his glasses and continued to listen. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Pete’s Diner; Part 1

 This is a short story written nearly twenty-five years ago. It will be posted in three parts. This is part one.

Pete's diner was a small building with chipped and peeling yellow paint. A tattered green awning shaded the front window, but the grime and grease kept out the sun. It was surrounded by a gravel parking lot with two abandoned gas pumps.

Pete was approaching his mid-fifties. He was thin with a sunken chest and only shaved on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. He wore grease-soaked basketball shoes, faded jeans, a white undershirt, a paper cooks cap with a jagged sweat stain, and an apron pulled tight around his waist. The apron was saturated with grease splatters, coffee stains, and dried blood. A tattoo of a dagger dripping blood was on his left forearm and a lightning bolt on the right. He had a cynical slant on life and his disposition was bitter and irreverent.

The door opened and the little bell above it jingled.

"You'll have ta wait for a while, we're kinda between breakfast and lunch right now," Pete said without looking up from a Louis Lamour paperback. Pete never served anybody between ten and eleven.

A young man, reeking of men's cologne, shut the door, straddled a stool, and sat down. The young man was dressed in jeans, a brown corduroy jacket, and a red plaid shirt. He had a clean shave and groomed brown hair parted in the middle and swept back on the sides. His cheeks were robust, red, and smooth like ripening plums. His black-rimmed glasses slid low on his nose and he habitually pushed them back even when they remained in place. He wrangled with his gum.

"I'm not here as a customer." he said, "I'm Justin Weeks of the 'Evening Ledger' and I came to do a story on you and the diner." He adjusted his glasses and sat proudly like a dog with a bone expecting some sort of adulation.

Pete sipped his coffee and said, "Take a flyin' leap."

Justin wobbled on his stool surprised at Pete's indifference. "Have you ever read my column?"

"No," Pet said.

"Those whom I featured have noticed a substantial increase in business," Justin said.

"Already got enough business. I don't want no more," Pete said.

"What!" Justin said. The concept was completely foreign to him. He thought Pete was being modest and some persuasion might dislodge his stubbornness. "Nothing big just a little about the place - the history, your specialties, and maybe a few words from some customers."

From a smirk dangled a cigarette and from the cigarette dangled the ashes. His arms were folded with a cup of black coffee in his right hand. "There ain't nothin' ta write about here," Pete said. "The place is a grease pit."

Inside it was narrow and cramped. A green Formica counter ran the length of the room and the top was cluttered with etchings and initials. The counter had eight oak swivel stools, worn smooth and shiny like the butt of a rifle. The gaps in the hardwood floor were impacted with soil and grease and worn smooth like marble. Pete had two grills: one for breakfast items and the other for his specialty -hamburgers. The grill for hamburgers had two inches of liquid grease. The burgers were virtually deep-fried. Next to them was a deep fryer for French fries and a toaster. When the "burger crowd" arrived a jar of pickles, a bowl of onions, a jar of mustard, and ketchup were next. A ten-gallon stainless steel coffee urn stood at the end of the back counter.

Justin looked around the diner. ‘Indeed,’ he thought, ‘it is a grease pit.’ Above him were two ceiling fans that were gummy with grease, sometimes a glob flung across the room and splattered against the wall. The room was shaded in amber like a sunset casting its final ray into a musty forsaken room.

"Look how about just a small piece on the place and that will be it," Justin said.

Pete tossed the cigarette angrily to the floor and crushed it with his foot. He turned to face Justin. His head swayed back and forth like a willow tree in a wind storm. "Ya write one word about me or this place and I'll sue you, yer paper, and the horse ya rode in on."

Justin reached into his pocket and slammed a quarter on the counter. "Coffee, black," he demanded.

"I said we're between breakfast and lunch," Pete said emphatically and punctuated with a fist to the counter.

"The sign on the door says 'open' and I want served," Justin said stiff-chinned.

Pete studied Justin's eyes, looking for the slightest movement or evidence of retraction.

Justin's eyes were dry and unrelenting.

Pete went to the urn and drew the coffee and sat it before Justin splattering some over the sides of the cup.

"Thanks," Justin said. He moved the cup to his lips blowing the steam from the surface. He squinted as he sipped. His face screwed up. "Geez, that's the worst damn coffee I've ever had. When was it fresh yesterday?"

"That's pretty good," Pete said. "Now kin ya tell me what time?"

Justin displayed a shrinking smile, turned serious, and said "I can do a story on this place with or without you," Justin said, " and there is no way you can stop me." Justin rejected the cup sliding it away with the back of his hand. He rejected the attempted intimidation from Pete.

"Why this place?" Pete said.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Mr. Cotton and Me Feeding Squirrels


There he was, sitting on a park bench feeding squirrels. That’s where they said he would be. He’s half the man I remember him to be, Mr. Cotton; old and a little crumpled. The mustache was still neatly trimmed. I remember the day it was first noticed. I teased him. He stood me in the corner.

Mr. Cotton,” I said.

From a small paper bag, he tossed a peanut to a squirrel and looked up slowly. He grinned. “You must have been one of my students. And from the looks of things one of my early students from long ago.”

Your first class,” I said.

Really,” he said. “I thought none of you were around anymore. Do you remember Mike Burks?” He handed me and a handful of peanuts and motioned to toss them to the squirrels who had now gathered. “Have a seat too.”

I sat next to him. “Yeah,” I said. “I remember Mike.”

He writes me now and then,” Mr. Cotton said.

I feel ashamed for not keeping in touch,” I said.

Oh that’s okay,” Mr. Cotton said. “Mike has a lot of time on his hands; he’s doing a life stretch. Always had a temper. Knew he’d end up devoting his life to something. Never knew exactly what. Not one of my more accomplished students, but writes a good letter. So what brings you by?”

I’m back in town for just a few days,” I said.

And you just happened to be in the park empty-handed?” Mr. Cotton said.

Huh,” I said.

The squirrels,” Mr. Cotton said. “You should have brought something for them.”

Well,” I said. “I heard you were here nearly every day. I just wanted to tell you how much you meant to me.”

It’s nice of you to stop by,” Mr. Cotton said. “I miss my students. I wonder how they are doing.”

I was in your first class,” I said again as a reminder to an old and feeble man.

Mr. Cotton chuckled. “Yes, that's the second time you've said that. Those were the days. I had little idea what a teacher was.”

You were more than a teacher,” I said. “At least to me.”

That’s what I mean,” Mr. Cotton said. “I had no idea it would take so much. I was raised in a normal family; father, mother, sisters, brothers. Dad worked, was home every night, and mom always was there. I had no idea some kids had none of that. As time went on kids needed more than a teacher.”

I was one of those kids, Mr. Cotton,” I said.

He smiled kindly. “I remember you well, James.”

I didn’t think you would,” I said.

Some kids get in trouble because they do nothing,” Mr. Cotton said. “You got in trouble because you were doing something. That was good. I knew I had something to work with; somebody who likes to do something.”

Is that why you made me shovel your car out of the snow?” I said.

No,” Mr. Cotton said. “If you remember, you were the one who packed the snow around it. You thought it was funny. Look at the smile on your face now; you still think it’s funny.” Mr. Cotton chuckled. “I can smile about that one now.”

I seemed to have forgotten that one,” I said.

Well, what have you done for yourself?” Mr. Cotton said. “Where has life’s journey taken you?”

I sort of feel like I’m coming back here empty-handed,” I said. “No great accomplishments. I had sort of a quiet life. When I planned on seeing you there was some thought of telling you I’ve had a very successful life in some sort of endeavor. I’ve got nothing to tell you except I’ve had a good life with no real accomplishments.”

Yeah,” Mr. Cotton said, “me too.”

We sat for a while and mused about feeding the squirrels.

I stood and Mr. Cotton kindly shook my hand.

I’ll be back soon,” I said.

Don’t come back unless you have something the next time,” Mr. Cotton said.

Like I said, Mr. Cotton, I live a quiet uneventful life,” I said. “No accomplishments.”

No,” Mr. Cotton said. “I mean, bring some peanuts.”

Sure,” I smiled. “I’ll bring peanuts.”

I turned and began to walk away.

James,” Mr. Cotton said.

I turned. “Yes, Mr. Cotton.”

You was one of my successes,” Mr. Cotton said. “… but bring peanuts next time.”