He didn't go to that particular diner very often, but just often enough to know all the waitresses by name. David tried not to be too habitual, and wanted to keep routine to a minimum. He figured life would start to get real boring as soon as he started doing the same things every day. But today he was much too tired to care otherwise, so he went to that very diner on the corner of 6th and 28th.
6th Street Diner had been around a while, a mom and pop kind of restaurant. It was a little run down, but had character, charisma. But like many old and charismatic things, it had been pushed to the side by convenience and technology. Its wasn't nearly the local hangout, but it had its share of loyal customers, one of which was David.
The food certainly wasn't spectacular, but there was something to be said for their grilled Reuben's and banana splits. But tonight, David settled for some unpronounceable Greek dish that had everything from peppers to sauerkraut. They didn't have liquor, so he'd have to wait until he got home to get his daily fix.
That night it was fairly crowded. Busboys and waitresses were briskly walking back and forth from the kitchen to tables carrying plates of wonderful smelling, steaming food. He sat alone, and after a moment, marveled at how until then he had never realized just how loud it was.
Everyone was chatting about everything with everyone else. Single men to young waitresses about their pretty smiles. One old woman to another about the most popular soap opera. Teenagers to their parents about how they should be less patronizing. Lovers to each other about "the future." Everything to everyone. The Beatles played loudly on the jukebox. Pans clattered in the kitchen. David liked the hum, the white noise. It kept him from his own thoughts.
Amy was his waitress tonight, and she usually was. She always wore a smile, but anyone could see it was forced. Her apron was drawn tight, stained with the day's mishaps-a spilled drink, melted cheese, some kind of sauce. Her hair was pulled back to reveal a face that had seen hard times but still had wisp of youthfulness. She never faltered in her tasks, but you could see in her eyes that her mind was someplace else. It was nearing closing time, and as the night wore on, her shoulders drooped lower and her steps became slower. David was willing to bet she cleaned up nicely. He was always trying to make conversation with her, but she was usually so busy that she was only able to get in a few sentences. He couldn't think of a way to approach her. But he would definitely to it. Someday.
The Greek dish was good. David made a mental note to order it again sometime. Finished eating, he found the bathroom and stood in front of a urinal. The bathroom was spotless and empty, except for the fall wall. It was covered with writing, like some note passed around a classroom that had accrued everyone's random thoughts. Over the months, David had read most of them. The majority of them were one-liners like, "don't eat the meatloaf" or, "for a good time, call…" he guessed it had become a tradition of sorts after the person who cleaned the bathroom gave up. His mind was blank as he stared at the white wall before him, until, an idea struck him.
Once he was done, he fished a sharpie out of his pocket and made a little note himself. "Anyone got a story to tell?" He smiled, walked out the door, and forgot about it for nearly a week.
David was glad to find that Jeff, his roommate, wasn't home. Loud football games got old after a while, and so did half empty cans of beer left everywhere. The house was dark, cold, and reeked like a pair of sweaty week-old gym shorts. He shook his head, threw his stuff on his bed, and went into the kitchen. He took the whiskey out of the fridge and downed a shot. The liquor was fire sliding down his throat.
Standing in the darkness of the kitchen, he decided to watch television. David didn't have a preference. For all he cared it could be one of those get rich quick info-mercials or a beauty makeover show. Just something. Anything.
He collapsed on the couch and turned the TV on. It was on some sports channel, and he was perfectly satisfied to leave it there.
He watched it, but saw nothing. He heard the sounds, but didn't understand a word. His brain was too tired to process the images his eyes were so insistent upon sending. Weariness fell on him like a warm blanket. Weights pulled at his eyelids. He was hardly able to resist them for more than a dozen seconds.
Two hours later, Jeff came home and slammed the door so hard it jolted David upright.
"Sorry. Didn't see you sleeping." Jeff said with sarcasm and a pronounced slur.
"That's alright. Where you been?" David asked, knowing that chances are, he had been at a bar. Jeff had walked in with a sway in his step, and smelled like he had gone swimming in a keg. For all David knew, he probably had.
Jeff gave him a look that said "You know damn well where I was."
David left it at that. Jeff sauntered to his room and slammed the door. David sighed and took another swig. He fell back asleep almost, but not quite content.
It was well past closing time, and all was silent except for the quiet hum of the air conditioner. Amy desperately wanted to go home, but there was still one more thing to do.
"Those stupid bathrooms," Amy said to herself, "Why am I always the one who has to do them? Why cant Carrie do them for once?"
She started in the women's and took her anger out on the floor with a mop and ended up accidentally splashing the cleaning solution all over the walls.
As she cleaned, the day's event played in her mind. In a fit of rage, a woman had thrown her glass of wine on Amy and demanded to see the manager. A small child had had a seizure. Amy decided the best one of the day had been when half a dozen policemen stormed the diner, took a man out in cuffs, and left without saying a word.
And then there was that young guy that came in occasionally. Amy thought his name was Dave, but couldn't be too sure." I like him," she thought. "He's always nice, and he tips well." She could imagine him sitting in a booth, smiling and politely asking for another cup of coffee.
Amy quickly finished cleaning and was glad to call it a night. She liked working at the diner. Kind of. She liked the fact that it was only a ten minute drive from her apartment. But that was the only thing she could think of that was even remotely appealing about the job. Truth be told, she was pretty indifferent towards the whole thing. It paid the bills, and that was it. She didn't feel the need to look for a new one. The pay was decent, and that was enough.
She opened the door to her apartment, and it was completely silent. The silence drove her crazy. She always needed something to get rid of it, to fill the void that was deafening, engulfing. Something. Anything. A T.V. A microwave. Music. Anything.
She was too tired to do anything except fall asleep to the Strokes.
For almost a week David was completely absentminded of what he had written on the wall of the diner bathroom. He had gotten caught up in normal (but equally frustrating) things, stupid things, and his "hell hole" of a job as a manager at a car dealership.
He was especially mad at Jeff, who had gotten wasted, jumped up on a fast food restaurant counter, and whizzed on the cash register. David got a call at two in the morning from Jeff, who was in jail and wanted to be bailed out. David did nothing but hang up the phone.
He and Jeff had been buddies all through college, but Jeff had always done more partying than anything else. He had gotten in trouble with the law so many times, David had lost count. Jeff's latest stunt didn't surprise him much. But it was the last straw.
David didn't know why he put up with it. He figured it was because it was lonely living alone, and he really didn't want it to come down to that. But it had.
And to top it all off, his job made him want to pull his hair out. His employees found it amusing to play practical jokes and do other stupid things. They thought it was okay because he was young. He had reached his position at such a young age because he was mature and responsible. Punishing them didn't work. Neither did firing them. They made him look bad and undermined his authority. He didn't know if he could stand it anymore, or if he could find a better job. Forty-three thousand a year was nice, but was it worth the constant frustration and humiliation? He just didn't know anymore.
His father was sick too. It was some kind of cancer, but it didn't matter because either way, David hated it for slowly eating his father's body. He didn't have to be told that before long, his father would be no more than a name and a memory.
It was all too much. David was beginning to believe it was possible to have a midlife crisis at the age of twenty-four. Jack Daniels was slowly becoming his best friend. He desperately wanted to crawl into some corner until it all faded into nothing like late morning fog.
Six days later, David went back to the diner, but not because of his note on the bathroom wall. He didn't remember it until he had walked in the door.
He was disappointed to find that Amy wasn't his waitress that night, but that didn't keep her from smiling and taking a few long glances. David couldn't tell if they were friendly, or something more.
He didn't order the Greek dish again. This time it was a cheeseburger smothered with onions.
He took his time eating, but he couldn't help being a little curious about the bathroom wall. He thought it was childish and immature, but he didn't especially care.
David paid his bill, smiled at Amy, and walked to the bathroom. The moment he walked in, he laughed.
Above the urinal on the right, the wall was covered with writing. He was surprised that that many people had responded. David couldn't help but laugh again as he began to read them.
The first one was anonymous and written in sloppy, slanted handwriting.
"One of them pretty waitresses suggested the calamari. It only took a few minutes to eat, but I've spent the last half hour in that far stall. Lord, how I regret that." David smirked and looked at the next one. It was also anonymous, and he soon found out why.
"I've got a feelin I'll be standin here pissin for the next year, so I might as well tell ya what happened last night. I was at this bar, right. And I met this really good lookin twenty-somethin. So I bought her a drink. One thing led to another, and we went back to my place. We were getting all…well, you know. That's when I realized there was a little something more between her legs than I was anticipatin. He/she left, and I tried to drown the rest of the night in whiskey. It didn't work…"
David found himself laughing so hard his stomach hurt. Before he could regain his composure, a man, about fifty years old, walked in and stopped dead. David stood there with his hand at his crotch, laughing his head off. Neither of then did anything but stare at the other for a few long moments. He couldn't remember the last time he had had such an awkward moment. The old man just looked at him like he was some kind of sick pervert.
Wary, the old man slowly walked to the urinal adjacent to David. He could see, out of the corner of his eye that the old man would occasionally glance at him, as if to make sure David wasn't trying to get a glimpse of anything.
Soon after, the old man walked out with not so much as a backward glance. David was grateful.
He dismissed it, and continued reading. The next one was signed "D.B.E"
" So I'm kinda supposed to be at school right now. But I didn't feel like going. Came here instead. Heard they had a good breakfast. I'll probably go to the store next and but a ton of junk food and eat it all before mom gets home. She'll never know the difference. Parents these days…don't know a thing. I think I'll hit up the mall too. So many possibilities! Why am I writing on this wall when I could be at the movies?David could only shake his head. It was so indicative of the teenage mentality. David read the next one. It too, was anonymous.
"So I thought I'd be the ultimate multi-tasker. I tried to type on the blackberry and piss at the same time. I wasn't very successful. I dropped the stupid thing in the urinal. I wasn't about to fish it out either. Dammit. That's what I get, I guess. "
David frowned. He felt a little sorry for the guy, but he also thought it was sort of funny. What kind of person types on their phone while taking a whiz? David really didn't know.
There was one last paragraph on the wall. It was written in neat but overly spaced words, and was signed simply "the chef."
"So Tuesday was pretty much a normal day in the kitchen. It's pretty much the same routine every day, but with a little deviation every now and then. I generally don't get special requests, but once in a while I do. Tuesday, some woman ordered a pizza to go, and she asked to have ranch dressing on it! Makes no sense really. People these days! Ranch dressing, of all things….its like…chocolate milk and vodka…like grape jelly on a pastrami sandwich…..like mustard and peanut butter on cereal. Ranch dressing on pizza!
David figured the chef was kind of overreacting, although it did sound a tad gross, and maybe even slightly interesting.
He glanced at his watch and swore. Twenty-five minutes had already passed. His little idea had turned out to be pretty interesting. David decided to make it even more so. Above the other urinal he wrote:
"So here's this woman I really like a lot. I don't see her often and she's always busy, so I never get a chance to really talk to her. What should I do?"
With that, he walked out and went home.
She sighed: it was once again time to clean the bathrooms. Amy certainly disliked it, but she wasn't about to complain. She was getting the cleaning supplies out of the closet when she remembered the writing on the men's bathroom wall. She decided to start in there. A few minutes later, she walked in and laughed the moment she saw the wall.
Amy read the entire thing top to bottom, and couldn't help but laugh again. She wondered what kind of people wrote in the wall of a diner bathroom. And the man who started it all. Was he really that lonely, or was he just trying to make her life hard by writing on a tile wall with a permanent marker?
Some part of her wanted to leave it there, as if it were a piece of art. But she knew she couldn't. if the manager happened to walk in and see it all, he would no doubt get on her case.
So she scrubbed them off. She almost scrubbed off the sentence above the other urinal. She saw it wasn't part of the other, but more like a continuation. Amy wondered if the guy who had written it has the same who had started the first one. She doubted it. She was curious to know whether or not it would turn out as interesting as the first one had. So she left it. But instead of just leaving it as it was, she decided to put her two cents in.
But she didn't write just anything. She would give him some real advice. Something told her he was being serious.
"Set a time to have a cup of coffee. Be friendly. Make her laugh. Make her forget about the world for a moment. Be creative."
In the passing week, David decided to move out. He was done dealing with Jeff's crap. He called his landlord and told him everything that had happened. He found a small house for rent on the other side of town and moved in. Jeff was still in jail. David didn't feel like calling and telling him what was going on.
He also, surprisingly, got promoted to supervisor. His promotion came with the option for a significant rebate on a new car. He eagerly accepted it; the car he was driving at the time was from the Stone Age and had smelly, velvet-like seats. He missed having air conditioning.
Towards the end of the week, while cruising around town in his new car, David had a spur of the moment urge to go to 6th Street Diner. But this time, he had the wall in mind. He made his way there with silent anticipation.
Half an hour later, David parked outside the diner and walked in. he was glad to find that Amy was his waitress. In his mind he high fived himself. She smiled at him and slightly blushed. It was all he could do to just smile back.
She asked him what he wanted. Without looking at the menu, he said, "pastrami on rye, please." As Amy went to put in his order, David speed walked to the bathroom.
He didn't bother to pretend. He just stood there, staring at the wall of the bathroom. David didn't know if it was funny or depressing that he had resorted to this. So he just read.
They were all anonymous. David didn't care either way. He read the first one.
"Tell her she's hot. Compliment her figure. (If she has one)They always like that.
David was skeptical. He doubted that would work. "If anything," he thought, "It'll make her dump a pot of steaming coffee on me." He read on.
"Secretly send her some flowers. My third wife always liked that kind of stuff. She said I was too patronizing. That's a compliment, isn't it? It makes me wonder why she left me….."
Davis laughed and kept reading. The next one stood out, but he couldn't pinpoint why. He read it anyways.
"Set a time to have a cup of coffee. Be friendly. Make her laugh. Make her forget about the world for a moment. Be creative."
David had the suspicion either a gay man or a woman had written it. It sounded too feminine. But he had no idea why a woman would be in the men's bathroom. Either way, he thought it was pretty good advice. There was still one more on the wall. David read it only half-heartedly; his mind was still thinking about the last one.
"Don't bother. She'll just shoot you down like a duck during hunting season. They're all just a bunch of self centered, supremacist jerks. They'll crush your feelings like an ant. Trust me, don't bother."
Before he even finished reading it, he was laughing. Never in his life had he met someone who so vehemently hated women. It made him wonder what had happened that made him so angry.
David didn't know why it was so funny, but he kept laughing anyways. He walked out of the bathroom thoroughly amused and found his food waiting for him. David was about to start eating when he saw Amy out of the corner of his eye.
She was standing there, doing nothing, taking a rare break. Now was his moment. A tiny voice in his head told him, "If you don't do it now, you never will." His thoughts flashed back to the wall; a tape recorder played in his mind. "Set a time to have a cup of coffee…be friendly…..make her laugh….make her forget about the world for a moment." He beckoned her over to his booth.
Amy made her way to his booth. She suddenly became jittery and sweaty palmed. She tried not to let her voice betray her.
His confidence was growing. He seized to opportunity before it slipped through his fingers.
"I noticed you looked quite tired. I was wondering if you'd like to get a cup of coffee after you get off."
She gave a genuine laugh.
David smile politely, and said, "Actually, I was being serious."
Amy's laughing came to a stop. She fixed her gaze on him.
David nodded. "Yes."
Amy appreciated his honesty and etiquette. She looked into his eyes, and saw only a man who had all his cards on the table.
She smiled in corner of her mouth. "Alright."
"When do you get off?"
"In forty-five minutes."
David grinned. "Perfect."