The Next Night at the Diner

The next night, the rain gave way to “a northerly,” as it’s called around here, pushing in below-freezing temperatures and high winds. Pablo’s first task when he arrived for his shift was to shovel snow off the sidewalk.

Adele, Spooky and Angel were huddled together in a back-corner booth. Business for them would be slow tonight. Their regulars would know to find them here, anyway. As long as they paid for a decent hotel room and let the girls run the room heater on high, the girls would happily comp their regulars a full night for the price of an hour. Pablo hoped one of Spooky’s guys would show up. She deserved a night in a clean hotel.

“Hey, Pablo, yo!” Becker called from the kitchen. “ ‘Bout time, dude. Maureen’s called in sick.”

Pablo cursed. “You stayin’?” he asked, hopefully.

“Nnnnnope.”

Pablo looked around the diner again, taking another appraisal of the place, now that he had to both cook and serve. Mrs. Gregor was in the front booth with her book, a cup of coffee and a half-finished slice of pie. Dwyane and James Jr., identical twin brothers who managed the shipping warehouse outside of town, were in another booth finishing up their meal. A group of teenagers made their way out the door, oblivious to the freezing cold. It made Pablo shiver just to watch them go. He grabbed a bussing tray and cleared their table. Little shits only left a couple dollars’ tip.

Becker was pulling on his coat and hat as Pablo walked into the kitchen. “I called Alejandro and Bixby, see if either of them could come in and help,” Becker said.

Pablo held out the dollar bills from the teen’s table to Becker.

“Nah. Keep it. Or put it in the relief drive. Fuckin’ brats. Ordered up half the damn menu .”

“Either a’them said they come in?”

“Hmm? Oh, yeah. Bixby. But, it’ll be a bit ‘fore he makes it.”

“Better’n nothing. Refill the coffees before you go, ya?”

Becker nodded. “Do you one better. I’ll set the machines on the counter. Tell folks to get their own refills.”

Officers Obie and Pat, and Officer Cheryl walked in.

As Pablo pulled the bill of his cap down low, he called out, “Shorthanded tonight. Help yourselves to the coffee. Cup’s under the counter. Creamer’s in the case.” The officers nodded. “Same as last night for you guys? And for you, ma’am? What’ll you have?”

Officer Cheryl smiled and shrugged. “Ahh….cheeseburger and fries?”

Officers Pat and Cheryl made their way with their coffees to the other front booth, while Obie sauntered over to the girls table with a carafe of coffee. “Ya’ll stayin’ warm inside?” he asked hopefully, as he filled their cups. They smiled, a bit sarcastically, except Adele, who kept her focus on her phone.

“Just stay safe, OK?”

“Aww, he cares,” Angel jeered. “See that?” she nudged Adele who stubbornly kept her face down and focused on her phone. “Tell you what, why don’t you get me a hot cup of cocoa, instead, make me feel all better, huh?”

“You didn’t do nothing to my coffee, right?” Spooky joked.

“No, no. Not me.” Obie replied. The girls laughed, including Adele, making Obie blush.

The twins bussed their own plates and came around the counter to pay Pablo in cash over the pass through. “Keep the change,” James Jr. said.

Obie quietly asked the twins to offer to see Mrs. Gregor home.

The old woman scoffed. “Been driving in snow deeper ‘n this since you two were still in your Buster Browns!”

The twins left and the diner fell quiet. Only the sound of the officers’ food sizzling on the fryer and the occasional electronic crackle and pop communication from their radios filled the empty space.

Mrs. Gregor left with a dismissive wave to Pablo. He smiled. Old bat taking advantage of no Maureen around to collect her tab.

A semi rolled up the middle of the boulevard and stopped at the intersection. Everyone in the diner watched as the driver got out, leaving his engine running, and walked in. Immediately seeing the officers, he stopped. “Don’t mind if I leave it there while a grab a bite?”

Conditioned to first assess a situation, the three officers looked out the window again at the truck and then up and down the boulevard before giving their consent.

“Best if you stay in town tonight,” Officer Cheryl said. “Motel Six is just a few blocks up. I’ll tell them you’re coming. Park in that side road on the westside. It goes all around the property, so you can drive straight out in the morning”

“If doesn’t keep snowing,” the driver quipped as he gave the girls a knowing chin-up nod. Angel and Snooky smiled back, gave the officers a quick glance and then stared each other down.

“Orders up!” Pablo called from the kitchen. The officers looked at one another and then got out of their booths and made their way around the counter to the pass through.

“Sorry ‘bout all this,” Pablo said. “ ‘Til one of the kids gets in, I’m a little shorthanded”

Officer Pat smiled. “So you said, Pablo.”

Pablo looked at Pat, a bit startled.

“I never forget a face,” Pat said. “ ‘Til my dyin’ day, I’ll never forget a face.”

Pablo pushed back the bill of his hat. “I did my time, sir.”

Pat nodded, “Yes, you did. Glad to see you landed on your feet. Always glad to see folks land on their feet.”


Inspired by the preamble and this week’s Un-OLWG prompts :

  1. What happened to my coffee?
  2. Buster Browns
  3. till my dying day

PNW CC #3: Home, Sweet Home…needs a decorator!

Another unforeseen critical situation in all of this is the mass hysteria of interior decorators. Have you seen the TV reporters broadcasting from their living rooms, kitchens and basements? I hope we aren’t actually getting a glimpse into their private lives, because, if so, many of these people are in critical need of some taste. However glad I am to see that IKEA has done as well as they have, I am at the same time mortified at the extreme state of unoriginality and lack of imagination. There might be a scourge worse than a virus for which there is not yet a vaccination: It’s called being color blind. I wrote my congress representative and insisted that a course in art appreciation be added to the $1200 we are to receive.


When I started this post, I was on a directive to work from home “as much as possible.” Shortly thereafter, while I was out running “essential” errands, I got a text that a co-worker and his wife tested positive. New directive: Quarantine for 2 weeks (btw…neither required hospitalization, and both are well on their way back to health, recovering at home).

The news waxes on about people battling isolation, cabin fever, and chaos, as people try to figure out how to work from home while learning the hard way how to be a homeschool educator. But there are people like me who are loving the new world order. You won’t see us on TV, though. We’re not about to solicit any sympathies. We are, firstly, healthy, still employed and not on the front lines in the hospitals, M.A.S.H. units or care centers. Next, we are single, no children, no one else who needs us, and under orders from our employer, our city and our state to shelter in place. Coronavirus is awful. Truly. I do not mean to be glib. But, my life at the moment? Not that bad.

The epitome of a lonely walk on a sunny day:

Until We Meet Again

Miriam was accustomed to being alone, but until the awful day her brother and parents drowned in the ferry accident, she never knew what it was like to be all alone. She chose the meadow about which her parents often spoke, and the long walk they took those many years ago; the one that concluded with a deciding kiss. Miriam made her way to a large oak, and as she began to slowly pour her brother and parents’ ashes among its roots, a breeze caught a bit and gently carried it toward the bright yellow, orange, purple and pink of the morning’s sunrise.


Prompts from The New, Unofficial, On-line Writers’ Guild are:
I’ve never been alone before/ Dipping my toe into the bright colours of the sunrise/ Miriam Ortiz Uribe 

PNW Coronavirus Chronicle #2: Hey, look! I have a can of clam chowder!

It’s pantry rummaging time. Not because I’m low on food and too scared to go out in public. I’m rummaging around my pantry because there is something that happens when an over anxious person is stricken with the onset of cabin fever. I don’t know why, but at lunch yesterday, the hunting and foraging instinct kicked in. I have a profound urge to nest within the safe confines of my home.

A moment of curious calm

Later, as I stood staring out a window, chatting with my manager on the phone as we tried to map out how this, however temporary, new normal will have to work, I saw two small birds in a tree, unperturbed, seemingly staring off into the same distance. They were every bit the picture of a comfortable couple gazing at the view from their back deck. All that was missing were a couple of tiny Adirondacks and itty-bitty glasses of wine.

I found the sight of those two birds very calming in the midst of all the hysteria. Small birds are always flitting about; easily startled, but these two sat on that branch staring off into the distance for almost 10 minutes. It was stormy, so the branches were pitching and swaying, but that didn’t bother either of them. Not a single flutter. It is a scene I think I will remember the rest of my life.


The clam chowder was fine, but truthfully, I needed more provisions, so I ventured out for groceries. I’ve been out and about every day this week, but only for short trips that did not involve being in the proximity of more than a couple of people at a time. A trip to the grocery seemed daunting.

Five o’clock is not the time to go to the grocery store on any day, but I knew that before I headed out, so, given the panic, I packed up a full ration of patience (along with homemade hand sanitizer and latex gloves). Not surprisingly, I had to circle the parking lot several times before landing a spot. The cluster-f**k that ensued when 5 cars vied for 2 spots opening up would usually result in a lot of parking-lot road rage. Not so today. As a community, we are well aware we are in crisis-mode. Every driver assessed their part in the do-si-do and maneuvered accordingly and expediently. It was the most neighborly thing I have ever witnessed.

The store was busy, but “normal” busy. The only difference were the empty shelves. It’s funny what people think is necessary to hord: Flour, eggs, butter, but not so much baking soda, yeast or salt. Frozen meals, of course, but only certain frozen meals. There’d been a run on plastic food storage bags, which seemed odd, and sale items, which seemed logical. And, I just have to say, all that broccoli is going to go bad in just a few days, so folks better eat up.

But Collard Greens? Holy crap! I had my pick! Mushrooms, too. Asparagus. Artichoke. Lettuce. Carrots. Radish. All that was left of the white onions were a few paper skins, but yellow, red onion and shallot were plenty to be had. Berries were picked over, but plenty of apples and oranges. Fish, meat, nuts, tomatoes, juice, cheese, baked desserts…you had your pick. What fascinated me was coffee. There was a lot of coffee.

As I considered buying the 1/2 turkey breast from the rotisserie service (as all the chicken was sold, like, all the chicken. They were completely out of fresh chicken to roast more), I heard a shopper curse under his breath that the salami slices were sold out. The neighborly demonstration in the parking lot inspired me to pay it forward. I suggested he get a 1/4 lb. at the deli counter. Poor guy had to take a moment to process. He’d never considered the deli counter before. He smiled and thanked me. As I moved along to the check out, I heard him ask, “How much is a pound?” A pound?! Wow.

PNW Coronavirus Chronicle #1: Letters from a shut-in

Yesterday at noon, the WA State Governor announced that all groups over 250 in our tri-county area are forbidden from gathering. He then hinted that schools will soon been closed (they did today, in the same tri-county area). A later email from a local school district further hinted an inevitable closure won’t be for weeks, but may be for months. Then, the cherry on top, our President blamed Europe.

For me, it all started last Friday, when the mayor of the small town where I work announced that several city-owned buildings would close. As our office is in one of those buildings (and we are a city agency), we received a subsequent notice to work from home, “as much as possible,” but it was not required. As much as everyone wanted to cry, “hell, yes!”, we abstained. When things get serious, it seems untoward to feel like you are taking advantage. So, most of us showed up the next day. Then we were sent home in the middle of that next day with the admonishment to only come into work if absolutely necessary. Before leaving the office, we were also given an agreement to sign. Basically, a scouts’ honor to work all 8 hours a day and always be available during working hours for phone calls, emails and the like, along with a reminder that city business is city business and no one else’s.

The “work from home” edict is one thing, but an example of how urgent folks are getting about the recommendations to curtail spread of this virus is this: I was talking to one of my co-workers when we were interrupted by a senior manager to be conscious of the fact that we were standing “way” too close. We looked at each other and then assessed our distance. Probably 4 feet. Another co-worker brought out a measuring tape, sort of as a joke, and measured the distance. It was five feet 1 inch. Turns out, “social distance” is six feet apart. Six feet is a really weird distance to have to stand when one is having a comfortable conversation with another. I’m telling ya. Just try it.

The one thing I’ve learned about working from home thus far is this: There is a lot that is accomplished in the consortium of co-workers that cannot possibly be accomplished when everyone is sent to sit in their respective corners with their backs to the room (so to speak). And then there is the weirdness of working from home. Home is where I hang out. Where I kick back. It is where—except for paying bills and all the other homeowner headaches—I only do the things I enjoy doing. There’s no flopping on the couch for an hour’s nap after lunch, just because I can; as I do on weekends. Were my cat still around, I’d being having a heck of a time keeping her off the desk, or circling me, constantly meowing. And, I’ve discovered to my great frustration, my home desk and office chair are not designed for a full day’s toil at the laptop. OUCH! My back!!

I’ve also learned my neighbor above me has a treadmill. I know she works from home on a regular basis, but all this time we’ve been neighbors, I never knew she had a treadmill. On her breaks during the work week, she jumps on that thing. And, that damn thing is loud! It’s like living under an earthquake. Funny, the things you learn when your circumstances change. I called her to ask about the treadmill, and she was surprised I was home. Turns out she always knows when I’m home sick because she hears my TV, or hears me cough. I’m home working, so, no TV, and I’m not sick, so no coughing. I told her to go on with her treadmill. It’ll give me an excuse to go out on a walk to escape the noise!

Which brings me to this: Walking around your neighborhood is the healthiest/safest thing you can do ’round these parts these days. You don’t encounter a single nasty germ-infested surface; the world around you (unless it’s raining) is lovely; and it is more than A-OK to keep a 6-foot-distance from others you pass by. However, it makes meeting the ebullient puppy-dog very awkward. I mean, leave it to the one canine in Hong Kong that (reputedly) contracted COVID19 to ruin such a sublime and neighborly encounter.

Because losing my mind with cabin fever (nevermind viral fever) is something I cannot abide, I will post Letters From a Coronavirus Shut-in regularly. Writing is my salvation as well as my sanity touchstone.


Op-Ed:
Yes, COVID19 is proclaimed a pandemic, and W.H.O. has not minced words in condemning governments for their slow and largely ineffective initial response. And historians will pontificate for decades to come whether this presidential electoral cycle had anything, or everything, to do with why elected officials, from park district commissioners all the way up to POTUS, were quick to make broad, sweeping directives…that is, once it became generally accepted that we had a dire situation at hand. Whatever. I’m left to wonder where the definition of “proportional response” lies in this case?

One one hand, there’s a virus for which there is no remedy, or immunity, that is fatal to the medically vulnerable. On the other hand, within a matter of just one week, businesses, like restaurants, are announcing permanent closure due to a massive drop in revenue. A friend of mine was laid off a gift store clerk job yesterday for lack of revenue from just one week of sales and forecast the many weeks to come of the same. The markets are crashing and it seems another recession is pretty much a given. Recessions have not ever been kind to me and my employment status, so, yeah. I’m worried. I could die (because I’m close enough to the stated ‘vulnerable’ age) or I could be unemployed. Again. Real and exceptionally daunting prospects against a very thin margin for hope against all hope.

So, I ask once more, where does the proportional, or appropriate response lie? W.H.O. and C.D.C. cite China, Singapore and Hong Kong’s response as they only way to manage this particular outbreak. Italy, too, I suppose, but the pundits say it was not enough and way too late in the game. We’re hearing the same criticism of US response. Too little, too late.

Holy crap. Really?

I owe ya one

She watched him, silently, curled up on the couch at the back of the studio under her coat and his. He scrolled paint across the canvas with a kind of abandon. Colors, clashing. Brush strokes, crossing. A form taking shape that was pure emotion. She felt the innocent voyeur. His concentration was intense. His whole being seemed enthralled. Had he forgotten she was there? How long had she slept? She looked around for a clock, afraid if she reached for her purse and her phone, she would somehow disrupt something sacred.

Their date earlier that night had been a bust. He tried too hard to be gracious; too hard to seem like what they were doing was fun. She tried too hard to seem all sunlight and happiness. The place they finally settled on for dinner, after nearly 30 minutes of awkward negotiation, had a 45-minute wait for a table and a bar with standing room only. The place down the block was no better. Since they were (sort of) in the neighborhood, they agreed, I-mean-what-the-hell, to walk the 6 or 7 blocks to the jazz club, painfully insipid small talk for conversation along the way, only to find when they arrived that it was a reserve-in-advance venue with an act that had been sold out for months. He walked over to a scalper pacing in the shadows. She stopped him.

“Look,” she said, as reassuringly as she could with out sounding disappointed, “The evening’s shot. Right?”

He laughed with a look of defeat and embarrassment. Her heart sank.

“No, no! Seriously! OK. You said you have a studio? Nearby? Right?”

He hesitated. “No. I mean, yes, but not around here…I mean …”

“Let’s grab something at the bodega over there,” she said pointing across the street, “head over to your studio.”

He laughed the same embarrassed laugh.

“C’mon! How many girls actually ask you to show them ‘some of my paintings,’ or however that old line goes?”

“Really?”

“Really.”


Prompts are: sacred ground; talk deep into the night; the evening’s shot
I owe ya one, so…

Tit for Tat

I have 25 followers, but… TNKerr, this is aimed at YOU, in particular!

It’s writing prompt time! Never mind my long dry spells. You, TNKerr, write up! This week! V.E.R.B.A.T.I.M!…. (snicker-giggle-snickerhorkhorkspitspat… ). Scroll to the end. Therein lies your challenge fate.

The rest of you? YOU write up, too! Ping/Link your story back to this post. I want to know who you are, as writer, that is. Enjoy!

(For those of you who are wondering…the image? I used to have a writing-prompt blog called The Blog Propellant. Therefore, the following writing prompts…)

  1. stale Cheetos
  2. re-arranging house plants from “needs a lot of sun” to, wait, wha…what the hell…?
  3. She is something I …
  4. …and then…

Breakdown

After all was said and done—as all the broken dishes, broken Christmas decorations, and all the broken hearts lay in shards in the middle of the kitchen floor—it seemed Johanna herself was finally broken. Her outburst of ruthless accusations and hysterical excuses were at an end. She sat exhausted in the corner of the living room staring out the picture window.

The shock of what had transpired was unmistakable. Johanna’s mother, brother and sister-in-law silently cleaned up, avoiding making eye contact. Johanna’s father made his way out into the backyard where Johanna’s eldest brother had escaped at the onset of her explosion, ostensibly to supervise the children. The children, by contrast, happily romped, chasing after each other and laughing, still wound up with the excitement of Christmas, completely unaware of most of the histrionics that transpired inside.

Johanna watched her brother finish setting up the circus play set the Baby Jesus and Reindeer Vixen gave all the grandchildren; “For when you visit Grammy and Grumpy,” the card read in a contrived child’s hand. All children in Johanna’s family, young or old, received Christmas gifts from either the Baby Jesus or Santa’s Reindeer Vixen. Big gifts came from both. Baby Jesus’ handwriting hasn’t improved in all these years, a grown son kidded his mother. Well, honey, he’s just a baby. Wonder he can write at all, she kidded back. Johanna loathed the absurdity of it all.

One of the younger children ran into the house holding a small, brightly colored box with a handle on one side. Look! the child screeched, shattering the charged silence. He hugged the box to his chest and turned the handle with all the brute force of a four year-old. A nursery rhyme haltingly played on an out-of-tune metal harp until the lid of the box popped open and a large plush bird with bugged-out eyes sprung up. The child laughed, shoving the toy back into the box. I’ll do it again! The child’s mother stepped out from the kitchen to escort the child back outside.

Johanna abruptly stood. Her family froze, bracing themselves for whatever might come next. She gathered up her purse and coat, walked over to her mother and gave her a rough kiss on her cheek. Then she walked out the door.

As she reached her car, her father called after her. She turned to shoot him a look of warning.

“Dad, just leave me…”

“Shut up,” her father snapped. Usually the diplomat, her father’s harsh scold caught Johanna by surprise. He walked up to her and leaned into her face.

“What you did today really cut deep,” he said in an angry whisper, “and I am not going to put up with your bullshit anymore, little girl. That’s it. I mean it. I really have had it with you.”

“Whatever.” Johanna opened her car door, but her father yanked her aside and slammed it shut.

“Get this and get it loud and clear: You’re done.” His face was flushed. His eyes were as furious as Johanna had ever seen them. “You drive away, and you don’t come back, ever,” he said pointing down the driveway. “You don’t call with one of your hysterical pleas to bail you out of whatever goddamned mess you’re in. That goes for your brothers as well. I do not want you dumping your shit on them, ever again. I’m telling them to cut you out. From here on out, you wallow in your own stinking shit, and when you need help, because you always need help, always complaining, always making a mess of your life, then get it together and fucking figure it out, baby girl. Just like everyone else in the world who ever had to get themselves out of a jam. This is really it.”

He yanked open her car door and shoved her toward it. “Get in and get gone!”

Shaking, Johanna watched as her father walked back to the house. Her eldest brother stood at the front door also watching his father. He did not acknowledge her. He gave his father a pat on the shoulder and followed him into the house.

Tears fell down Johanna’s cheeks as she turned over the engine. She put the car in reverse and backed out the driveway. As she returned her focus forward, she saw one of her nieces standing in the driveway, waving goodbye, a large smile across her face.


Going back several weeks, the prompts (however loosely associated to the actual prompts) are highlighted in bold. https://aooga.wordpress.com/2020/01/12/olwg-137-fields/

Not the most cheerful piece, but dedicated nevertheless to my constant companion of 18 years, Iona Cat Named Skipper. But I just called her Kitty. Hope your heaven is full of tall ficus trees you can climb to your heart’s content and strip bare of every leaf. May giant buckets of rotisserie chicken just be sitting there, waiting for you, whenever you please. Hope you have yourself many a happy, thoroughly destructive, clawings on the biggest couches you ever saw, and long naps on a plush window sill lounge under a hot summer sun. I hope you find a friend with whom you can snuggle. Miss you forever, kiddo.