Smothered and Covered is about the time I went to a Waffle House at 3:00 a.m. in Oklahoma and it was one of the most disgusting and enlightening experiences of my life. The story is embellished much less than one would think.
Murmuring through the steam of their coffee, late night clientele took advantage of the atmosphere. The sound of sausage patties and bacon strips sizzling danced with cigarette smoke against pale, yellow walls. Straws lay still in vacant glasses, remembering the last sip of orange juice, ready and willing to taste again. I sat alone in a booth in a diner somewhere along the border of Oklahoma and Missouri; I didn’t care to know any more.
“Ya know, I was plannin’ on gettin’ my daughter’s name tattooed across my back, but it looks like its gonna cost me bout eight hundred bucks”
“Well I stopped at Flesh Image and they said eight hundred. Designer Ink said they’d do it for five or six though. I might go with them. I just never got anything done there before. I think I’m gonna go back to get all my piercin’s redone too. Awhile back I had one on my tongue, two in each ear, one on my eyebrow, and one…you know.”
“No I don’t, what do you mean?”
“Why would you get that?”
“I don’ know man, it tickled. I got it done once and it tickled and I liked it, so I got another one there like a cross. After a while I took ‘em both out. But now I think I want ‘em back again.”
A young waitress next to the counter let out a small sigh paired with a slight laugh. I glanced up and caught her eye as we silently reveled in the moment. I thought she looked like my best friend’s mother in her junior prom photograph standing next to my best friend’s father. I wondered if the waitress would also someday make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for her child’s best friend after school. The waitress stayed quiet as the two men continued talking in their booth.
“That’s ruining your manhood.”
“No it ain’t, it just tickles and I like it. Who knows though, it’s gonna cost me ‘bout three hundred dollars to get it all done again. Hey Rachel, could ya get me another cup?”
“Sure Clancy, no problem.”
I watched Rachel walk around behind the counter to grab a pot of coffee. She chose the pot most overflowing. As she walked back around, she smiled and poured out a nice clean cup to one of the men in a booth.
Rachel’s hair was in a messy, coffee-coloured bun, keeping a secret from all of the patrons she served. A porcelain doll’s face was easy to overlook when one saw her in her uniform, her lips only becoming visible when she smiled. The apron she wore, stained from years of cultural abuse in a truck-stop that rivaled any other along the nearby highway, seemed to breathe by itself as she spoke.
“You need anything else? I’m gonna be heading out soon.”
“I’ll fuckin’ be seein’ you later. Wake me up if you find me passed out on my lawn with a bottle in my hand.”
Clancy laughed to himself in his booth for a long while, adjusting the miniature confederate flag tied around his head. Then, realizing he was still at a table with someone else, he resumed talking.
“Hell man, last night I passed out in my backyard sittin’ in a chair with the bottle lyin’ right next to me. And that reminds me, I gotta take a piss.”
As he got up and walked past me on the way to the bathroom, leaving his overflowing ashtray, I saw the font side of a man that I had only seen from behind until now. It was unremarkable. I recognized him much easier by the southern pride bandana knotted tight around his shaggy blonde hair. It wasn’t difficult to forget that I’d ever seen his face. Once the squeaky backdoors to the bathroom swung shut behind him, I heard a loud yell to my right,
“He don’ ever be quiet, do he?”
“Well, he’s not that bad, he just talks too much,” said the man who had been sitting with Clancy.
“He not workin’ now ishhe? Boy got no pride.”
“You didn’ hear me?”
“Naw I didn’t Chuck, what’d you say about Clancy?”
“He got no job”
“Naw he has a job now, workin’ for some sorta repo business.”
“Prolly makin’ less than me. I got a big government check”
The diner quieted down now with the absence of its loudest customer. I continued to eat the two eggs and hashbrowns off of the floral patterned dishware quickly, for fear of being somehow caught up in the southern windstorm. The smell of smoke in the stale air began to dwindle.
“Hey Chuck, you got here too late to see Mr. Moneybags come in. He offered to pay for anything I wanted on the menu, it’s just too bad that I had already finished eatin’.”
“Oh yea? Who iddat?”
“Well I dunno his name, I just call him Mr. Moneybags because he always comes in here and leaves a nice fat tip for the waitresses and drives off in his Cadillac. I think his gate swings the wrong way, if you know what I mean, but that ain’t too big a deal if he’s payin’ for my food.”
“Yep, I seen him in dat Cadillac. Hey Rachel, gimme a orn juice.”
“You got it Chuck.”
She smiled at him and walked over to the juice machines. They stood out next to the bare bones kitchen that was the diner. The machines held gallons of stagnant, surplus orange colored juice, and the working machine part was a small rotating blade that kept the orange juice from sitting still for too long. She filled a large glass full of the bland liquid. Smiling a toothless grin, he gladly accepted the glass.
I had stopped at the diner with fresh squeezed orange juice in mind, my taste buds anticipating something tart and sweet. As I sat down and saw the machines, I chose water instead and left it on the table, untouched. The condensation formed a small puddle circling the bottom of the glass.
The doors behind me screamed again.
“You fuckers weren’t talkin’ bout me were ya?”
“We was just talkin’ about Mr. Moneybags comin’ in here all the time and spendin’ lotsa cash. Always leavin’ a big fat tip for Rachel.”
“That queer-ass? Always showin’ off his fancy car and fancy clothes. I hope he comes back here so I can beat his ass.”
“He ain’t all that awful. Offered to pay for my meal.”
“Yea? Well fuck him anyway, I don’t want that guy coming here and trying to ride bareback all over this town.”
“Guess that’s true.”
I stared at my plate, trying to remember the names of the faded flowers painted on it. I was bad with names, especially names of flowers. I knew what tulips looked like, and roses, but none of the flowers on my plate were tulips or roses. Nothing but nameless shapes of dull greens, pinks and purples. I looked up to watch Clancy gulp down the rest of his orange juice and give a sigh. He sounded satisfied.
“Can I get ya anything else?”
I looked up at Rachel, “No thanks, I’m fine.”
“Alright, well my shift’s about over, so I’ll be leaving soon. The other waitresses can take care of ya if ya need anything.”
I watched as she walked back behind the counter, and through the back door. The juice machines hummed and the lights on our side of the counter reflected the swirl of smoke that had crept its way through the entire building. A flickering fluorescent bulb accentuated the haze. I wondered where Rachel would go at this time of night.
The squeal of the backdoors announced themselves again, and Rachel emerged in a long, black overcoat. It was a few years out of style, but it didn’t seem as if she followed fashion trends. She put on her gloves and smile and started heading for the front.
“Rachel you leavin’?”
“Yea I am Clancy, I got off about 10 minutes ago.”
His lighter flashed as he lit a fresh cigarette.
“Well I know something that could get you off even faster.”
He laughed and choked on smoke simultaneously. Rachel’s eyes opened wide.
“Yea, I’m alright.” Clancy took a moment to breathe, “You walkin’ around with that Matrix jacket on all night? Tryin’ to save the world?”
“I’ll see you boys later.”
The diner was silent for a moment as she walked through the big glass front door. Her jacket blended in with the night, and I soon lost sight of her.
“Damn that girl’s fine. Someday I’m gonna get me some from her.”
My plate was empty. I hadn’t even noticed it until now. I was still looking at the painted flowers in the middle, covered in grease and runny eggs. My mouth felt dry as I paid for the meal. Without a word, I walked towards the same big glass door. The smoke hit my throat before I made it, and I began to cough as I walked out.