“Can I take you order?”
“Yeah, can I just have a coffee, please?”
“Sure thing, hon. One sec.”
Wonder if her voice has always been that husky. Probably not. It was probably always deep, but I doubt she had that rasp when she was younger. Gotta be in her late fourties, early fifties; could have started any time. Maybe she smokes. Wonder when she started. I can see it now. Smoked when she was a teenager because her daddy used to. Daddy’s dead now, though, that’s for sure. Probably never quit. Daddy lived to be sixty-eight, smoked since he was twelve, no reason to quit now.
I came here to read. I should probably do that. I will.
How long have I been reading Ulysses now? Two, three years? Still haven’t finished it. Probably never will. I’ve read the end though. A couple of times actually. I love Molly. I love the way she thinks in long, run on sentences. I think like that sometimes. She remembers such long stretches of time all at once, as though everything that happens happens all at once. I guess that’s just how it works. Every moment just sort of builds up on top of all the other moments until you have a life. I wonder when I’ll have a life.
I wonder if that guy has a life. Better yet, I wonder if he thinks he has a life. I’ll bet he does. Looks like a worker. Got the shirt for it. Plain, white, sweat stains deep. Probably a mechanic. No, doesn’t have the motor oil hands. Mechanics have motor oil hands. It’s what sets them apart. That and the self-determination to set their own prices for their work. One has to believe one’s time is worthwhile and charge accordingly; otherwise you’re just wasting it.
I’ll bet he works in a mill or maybe a warehouse. Definitely lifts things for a living. He has the bearing of a man who would move you out of the way if you got into his. I’m glad I’m out of his way. Wouldn’t want to impede his progress.
Probably a church goer. Has the hair for it. Not too long, but short. Not wearing a hat, but I can see him clutching one over his chest as he sings hymns. Nah, he’s not that old school. Not a Catholic; probably a Lutheran or maybe Presbyterian. Holy rollers, rolling down the sixty-year-old new wave.
What am I doing here? I came to read.
“Here’s your coffee, hon. Sugar and cream are on the table.”
Definitely a smoker. I would be too if I was a fifty-year-old waitress. I’m a smoker even though I’m not a fifty-year-old waitress. Wonder if she ever smoked anything other than tobacco. Bet not. I can see her turning down a joint in her late twenties. Thought it was a slippery slope. Didn’t want to get mixed up in something she wasn’t ready for. But that was always her problem; thought she needed to be ready for the next step, but she never knew what that was. Should have run away with Billy Bob when he begged her to. Could have made a life together, somewhere. But no, that would have been crazy. She’s happy now. Isn’t she?
Of course she isn’t. But then, who is? I guess there are some people who are. Have to be. How would we know what happiness is if there weren’t any happy people anywhere. It can’t just be some kind of urban legend. Can it?
I bet that girl is happy. She hasn’t lived long enough not to be. Can’t be older than eighteen. Somewhere in the ball park: sixteen, seventeen, twenty. Who can tell anymore? We grow up so fast when the whole world is right in front of us all the time. I bet she knows her way around the internet. Almost has to these days. More likely to be a Mormon sister wife than have no knowledge of the internet these days. But which one’s whackier?
I think I might be.
Yeah, she knows the internet, but it’s not her fault. She just got acquainted with it when she was searching song lyrics on the googles. Wanted to be a guitar singer. Worldwide sensation, instant star. Bet she’s got some good stuff. Pure poetry, set to a progression in G. Been learning since she was nine. Hasn’t really gotten better, but that’s fine with her. She still thinks she’s different.
Goddamn, coffee is so necessary. Diner coffee is always better than homemade. It’s probably just the atmosphere though. It’s like the hunger and thirst just build up in the corners and fall down on you when walk inside. Comes out of nowhere. Think I might need to call the waitress, and get something to eat. Nah, but I don’t want to bother her. She has enough on her mind.
Been working here for fifteen years if she’s been here a day. Almost sad, but not really. A body’s got to work. Keep food on the tables. And tips. Tips especially. I bet she hates getting paid in tips. She was strong once. Not that she isn’t now, but she used to be going somewhere, and she knew it. She saw the next step, wanted to take it. Now she just ambles back and forth all day waiting for other people to tell her where to go. She resents it; I can see it in the corners of her tired eyes. Been here too long. Not long enough. At least not yet. Someday she will have been here exactly as long as she needed to be, but then they’ll be remembering her in the obits. Bet she reads them. Secretly wonders if she might see her own name someday, so she won’t have to show up for work. One last holiday. Just pack up and leave; go see the world or at least somewhere other than this goddamn diner.
I love this diner. Such a good place to read. I remember back in the undergrad days when a diner was the best place to hang out. Diners and bars: more home than home. I remember trying to read in Diners and winding up talking for three hours with Matt, Bill, and Carter instead. So much more worth it. Matt was in a musical, in the pit. Played the saxophone. He loved it. Bill, Carter, and I never had half the talent but we loved talking about it with him. He was so enthusiastic even though it made no sense. Kid listened to speed metal in his off time, but put on The Music Man and he knew every line.
And I brought a book a long, but I never read it. I think I can almost remember which one. Probably Homer; I was into the classics back then, but I only read every other Book. Books, chapters, stanzas, lines. All blurs together.
I remember my favorite character in the Iliad was Diomedes. Probably because nobody ever remembers Diomedes. Nobody who hasn’t read the Iliad, that is. Always liked being in exclusives groups. I guess we all sort of do. Diomedes killed Ares in battle. Spear to the gut. Worst way to go. I thought it was badass.
I can’t really stand violence, but I’m a sucker for it in a good book. In a bad book it always seems so unnecessary. Just like in real life. I think that might be the difference between a good book and a bad book. The less believable it is the closer it is to being enjoyable. No, that can’t be right. Ulysses is about the most believable thing I’ve ever read, and I enjoy the shit out of it. Then again, I still haven’t finished it. I guess that does say something.
I would bet my life’s savings that I’ve read more of it than anyone else in this building has, though. Not that I would. For one, I don’t gamble, unless the bet is hilarious, and also that would most likely be the most pretentious bet ever. Nobody’d take it.
Although, who knows. Maybe the waitress studied literature for a while. She looks like she’s read something before. I wonder what. I hope it wasn’t just Cosmo or People. But then again, what makes my literature better than hers. She makes her own decisions; she raised two kids ten years apart in different states without any help from either of the fathers… maybe. Seems possible.
I wonder what she would think if she read Ulysses. I bet she would like Molly too. She’d definitely be her favorite character. Just trying to fall asleep while a whole lifetime of love and disappointment slips through her head and over the pillow. Sounds like her life. Sounds like life.
“Everything alright, hon?”
“Fine… thanks. Could I get the check, please?”
“Sure thing, hon.”
That’s life. One check after another.