By Jan-Erik Asplund '14
The door is locked when we try to enter, Jean admonishes us for being fifteen minutes early for opening but lets us in anyways, tells us she’s just put on a pot of coffee, asks us if we mind that she’s smoking a cigarette (she just woke up), we don’t mind. It is 4:45 a.m.
She brings us some coffee and asks what we want, then laughs when we answer and says she knew exactly what we were going to order as soon as we walked in (Eggs Benedict and a Reuben). The balding cook is standing in the doorway to the kitchen, the grill is hot, he looks resigned. It is dark in the diner and though most of the décor is red and white, everything looks black and white.
Do we want chips? Pickles? Hash browns? We do. Do we?
We are so hungry.
We sit a while and drink coffee. An older man walks in, is greeted by name by Jean, was it Walter? Walter is clearly beginning his day instead of ending his night, I think. A woman walks in wearing an apron and switches on the lights – “Welcome to Jean’s Place!” she laughs to us.
Jean tells Walter a story about Joe Wilson’s dog, who apparently was sitting in the driver’s seat of Joe’s car and then started just laying on the horn, giving her a considerable surprise. Walter laughs and reads his newspaper, the waitress leaves out the front door.
Our food comes quickly, two heaping plates that we split. The food defies description. Have heard a story about a man who lives in Texas but makes a trip to Hoosick Falls once a year, eats a Reuben here. It is not as ridiculous as it sounds.
The waitress comes back in, excited. Oh my god, she says, there’s two cats going at it outside, scared the living daylights out of me. News from the outside world. Walter chuckles, “They’ll have kittens by the morning.”
Is it not morning now? Maybe Walter is on our schedule. Maybe just a turn of phrase, maybe referring strictly to the period of time after the sun makes its reappearance. Hard to think of an objective criteria for the marking of the threshold between day and night I suppose, hard to tell without consulting specific subjective judgments, these things seem to mean less at particular times anyways, like this one.
N. begrudgingly passes the second half of the Reuben and I hand over the Benedict.
Another man comes in and sits at the counter a few seats down from Walter. A threshold has been reached here too, it seems, and conversation gradually gives way to actual work, to silence, we eat and ponder the Americana on the walls, the vivid red checkerboard all around the diner.
The silence reminds me of Beckett, mostly, we are tired now and full but the diner is an excellent place to sit and be, but so silent, so early, we know that there is nothing left after we leave here so we stay a while. We barely touch the potatoes and regret insisting on them, I half-heartedly try to eat some chips but it’s too early for chips.
Jean has disappeared into the back of the restaurant; the waitress comes over and refills our coffee. The two men at the counter sit in silence and seem to become stranger as the night goes on (morning?); it's Beckett but with more silence.
Eventually it is over, we know it, I fish out a twenty and N. promises me a pack of smokes (in the morning). When we leave it is still dark.
(Cover Photo: Google Images)