I checked at the prices on the menu and then peered through the diner window. It looked kind of friendly – I mean, immediately in front of me there was a guy in a booth with his head on the table and nobody seemed to be bothering him so… I hadn’t been in a restaurant of any kind for at least three years now…not since the Republicans got back into the white house in 2013. About five months after that my job was outsourced. But that was water over the dam and now was now.
I was glad that I had taken fifteen of the thirty-six dollars I’d managed to get over the last five days to launder my change of clothes, and buy a disposable razor at the $4.99 store. I had taken the fresh clothes over to the Grand Central Station men’s room, washed off real good, shaved, and changed into the clean clothes…so I was pretty presentable. I entered the diner, eased myself onto an open stool at the counter, put my sign down and leaned it against my legs. The counterman was at the other end taking an order from another customer – I scanned the menu above the coffee machine as I waited – the prices were the same. Good – I had twenty-one dollars left – just enough money for a burger, a drink, and a small tip. Finally, he came over.
“Hello, would you like a glass of water? It’s only a buck all week.” Somewhat in shock, I mumbled a no thanks. “So what can I get you today?” he said pleasantly. “Mmmm…I think I’ll have the cheeseburger medium rare and a side of fries – please.” He yelled back to the kitchen “one Mister cheeseburger with,” then he said, “and to drink?” I scanned the board “ummm…a Pepsi?” I said. “Awesome” he said…and then; “that’ll be ready tomorrow about…” he looked at his watch…” four-thirty – would you like to sleep overnight in a booth or on the floor? The floor’s cheaper.” I looked at him for a sign of a smile because I knew he was kidding me, right? Nothing…not even the faintest sign of a smile. “Well?” he said, “Booth or floor?” He stared at me. “The booths are pretty comfortable, and the floor tends to get a bit cold at night…but it is cheaper- only fifteen bucks.” I looked at him, again hoping to see a smile, a grin, a whatever. “Excuse me? I don’t exactly understand what you’re talking about…why would I want to sleep here overnight…and why are you telling me that my cheeseburger isn’t going to be ready ‘til four-thirty?”
Now it was his turn to look at me as if I were the one who was kidding. “Funny” he said to me with a smile, and walked away. I watched him get some plastic utensils out of a drawer, “Napkin” he looked back and asked…”Is it free?” I said. He laughed “yeah sure, it’s only fifty cents though.” I shook my head “no”. When he returned and placed the plastic utensils down in front of me I smiled – so as to keep it light – and I said. “I’m funny?” (Big smile.) “Okay – but I really have no idea what you’re talking about. Look, can I just get a cheeseburger medium rare and a Pepsi…I gotta get back to my corner – I got a real good spot today, okay?” “Sure,” he said, as soon as we can get you outta here we will.” He gestured over to the booths and then I noticed that besides the man I had initially seen when I looked through the window, there was a couple sleeping in another booth, and then I noticed the guy at the end of the counter nodded out.
Suddenly, an alarm clock sound went off from yet another booth, and a lady lying on the booth seat jerked awake, looked at her watch, yawned, then sat up and stretched. A bell sounded, “One ham and cheese sammy, pick up” came a voice from the kitchen window. “Is that mine” the lady said still half asleep. The counterman picked up the sandwich and brought it over to her. “Is my coffee in? She asked. “I’ll check” he said, and came back behind the counter, peeked into the kitchen window and mumbled something, got an answer, and went back to the lady. “In about an hour, sorry…there’s been a little delay.”
By this time I had no idea what was going on. Like I said this was the first time in years I’d been into a restaurant of any kind and I’d been on the bum panhandling and living off of what I could scrounge out of other people’s garbage. Today had been a good 18 hour day, I had taken in four more dollars, cleaned up, and still had enough to just this once sit down like a person and get an actual fresh cheeseburger, and damn I was gonna enjoy it, even if it did cost me the whole twenty-one bucks. I motioned to the counterman who came over, “Excuse me, can I ask you what’s going on? Why did you say my burger will be ready tomorrow afternoon?” He looked at me as if I had just come from another planet. After a somewhat long pause while we just looked at each other, and after he finally saw I was dead serious, he said; “You don’t know do you? It’s being made in China isn’t it…what do you expect?”
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