Friday, October 28, 2011

Mourning and Memories

While still mourning the loss of the only true holy ground I’ve known in this life—a very special local diner—I couldn’t help but hark back to days past…and to diner clientele who have left the neighborhood and, in some cases, this mortal coil as well.

In this culinary cathedral, my regular dinner companions and I had nicknames for certain regulars—men and women whom we didn’t know by name but nonetheless needed to identify on occasion—and I suppose some of them had nicknames for us. And, if they did, more power to them! There was, for instance, the “Mean Old Man,” whom I saw collapse on a sidewalk not too far from the diner during a winter snowstorm. I don’t know what happened to him after that night, but I never saw him again in the diner, or walking the streets of the neighborhood. And whatever happened to those two old sisters who always dined together? At least I think they were sisters. A funny thing about them…they never seemed to appreciate that fellow Homo sapiens existed on the same terra firma as they did. Thus, their richly earned “Glower Champions” moniker. So, when they suddenly fell off the face of the earth, I surmised they had moved to Florida and warmer climes to live out their remaining years. Are they in heaven now? Actuarial tables would suggest the answer is very likely yes.

And then there was this fellow named Lenny. Here was an example of actually knowing the man’s real first name, but running with a nickname instead. What always struck us about Lenny was that he never—ever—paid for his lunch or his dinner. A little diner detective work on our parts concluded he had, perhaps, won a bet of some sort from the owner, who was not averse to gambling. This could at least explain the free meals. But, apparently, there was nothing in the terms of this bet that compelled the diner owner to treat him civilly while he was collecting his winnings. And so, this middle-aged, hangdog bachelor named Lenny had to endure more than a little teasing from time to time. Asked about his love life at one point, Lenny pathetically said something to the effect that he was dating “several people,” which set himself up for a major slap down from the individual indebted to him, who roared, “You jerk-off!” And from that moment forward, Lenny was no longer Lenny to us, but “Jerk-off” forevermore. Eventually, Jerk-off, too, disappeared from the diner scene—perhaps when the terms of the bet were fulfilled—and was last seen on the neighborhood streets looking pretty bad. Jerk-off was obviously very ill and, it seemed, not long for this earth.

I remember, too, very old and very loud Mark, who had a most interesting indentation on his skull, which I christened a “skin-dentation." He very abruptly vanished from sight and sound. Heaven? Probably. And then, of course, there was the ubiquitous Seymour, a taxi service guy. He was diagnosed with lung cancer while at the top of his game on the diner stage. Trooper that he was, he continued to appear during his chemo treatments, looking—sadly—increasingly worse for wear with each passing day.

Call it seen through the lens of a favorite diner.

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