Nighthawks

I was going through some of my old writing today and found this piece.
It was dated 1.2.2000
Six years ago today I wrote this character sketch about a person from my past that I've yet to meet. I realize that makes no sense. I'll just say that there's more truth here than I care to admit and leave it at that.
If you've ever been to a late night diner like the local jewel above, you've undoubtedly had the good fortune and pleasure of meeting my "Shirley".

The blinking flamingo pink and slush puppy blue neon lights from the diner beckoned me while waiting at the all too long traffic light on Salisbury. “Good Eats” it intermittently proclaimed to the restless shadows that passed in the heart of the night.

I’d just finished work at a blues joint down the street called Gilrein’s (The Home of the Blues). The lights of the Chadwick Square Diner awakened my less than filled stomach as I made the turn into the gravel parking lot.

It looked a bit empty for a Saturday night but then again, it was only 2:30 in the morning; the start of the day for many. Eggs sounded good to me tonight, maybe some home fries and bacon on the side. Basically, the kind of breakfast a person with my lipid profile shouldn’t even consider without a call to the cardiologist first. I never ate breakfast this late anymore—used to, but I’m healthier for not. What a crock of brownies that was after years of abusing every living cell in my body and here I am worrying about the cholesterol amount in two eggs. What a wuss.

 

I opened the door and went in grabbing a round revolving seat at the counter. Whenever I eat alone I never sit in a booth by myself. I figure that #1, I look like a slime ball outcast that only wants to be left alone and #2, booths are for parties of more than one and waitresses need to make a living too.

 

The waitress called to me from behind the counter.

 

“What can I getcha, guy? Hey, you look kinda like that Billy Joel fella that sings that Piano Man song…”

 

“Yeah? You think so?” I mused.

 

“Absolutely, honey. Spittin’ image. So, what can I getcha?”

 

She had a pin on her grease spattered white lapel that read “Shirley” and God, if she didn’t look like one; a blonde beehive that would make the people at Dippity-Doo proud. I could almost imagine hearing a church bell ring if I tapped it with my teaspoon, it was so perfect. She had horn-rimmed glasses, narcotic red lipstick and looked to be about 105 pounds soaking wet. This was all set inside of a lemon yellow polyester waitress uniform. Her last name should be “Chiffon”, I thought.

Shirley’s snapping fingers somehow politely brought me back into the land of the living.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry. I was, uh…I’m really beat. Umm…how about two eggs, over easy, bacon, homefries and toast…and coffee. I think that should do it.”

 

“Sounds good, hon. I’ll be right back with your coffee. How do you like it?” (the last query came out: how do you laak it?)

 

“Cream and sugar, please. Thanks.”

 

Shirley ripped a page off her notepad as she’d probably done thousands of times before. She then stuck it on this tiny metal “coat rack” which rotated so the order could be seen by some invisible chef in the back kitchen of the diner.

 

“Let’s get it on…Let’s get it on…” Shirley sang as she whizzed up and down the length of the counter like a psycho duck caught up in some bizarre David Lynch arcade game.

As I listened to the sounds of Marvin Gaye, I watched Shirley put on her nightly show saved especially for nighthawks like myself. I was positive that were Dr. Suess here he would glean some fresh material for a new children’s book.

 

Shirley yelled to the chef in the back.

 

“Hey, Ralph! Let’s go! I need some food! Today! We got some hungry people here!”

 

The oddest part was that she didn’t sound like she was ordering anyone around. She sounded almost playful. A young couple wandered in and sat in a booth at the far end of the diner. Shirley didn’t miss a trick.

 

“Hey, cupcake…how’s about saving my puppies a walk? Come on down here. Your legs are a lot younger than mine, honey.”

 

She turned to me and cracked a smile, “Honey, I’m so old I don’t even buy green bananas anymore.”

 

I noticed something so sad in her voice and yet she still made me smile. Part of her charm, I guess. I silently ate my breakfast and watched Shirley spend another night marking time at the Chadwick Square Diner, a place where I prayed she could somehow live forever.

 

~m

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Nighthawks

  1. Oh I’ve met Shirley several times. Once at the Holland Diner just outside the Holland Tunnel, a couple of times in the joints round my house. She always brings a smile to my face! I’ve kinda always wanted to be her in some strange way. Cept, I would crack my gum non-stop!

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  2. I didn’t have Shirley cracking her gum but that would have been a nice touch…
    The pic is an actual place here in the city. They sell funky T-shirts that say “Eat at Ralph’s and live forever”

    ~m

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