Skip is talking about jury duty and how, in his retirement, he gets summoned more than ever before. “I’m so tired of getting picked for jury duty. The next time a lawyer asks me what do I think of black people I’m going to tell ’em ‘There’re great. I think everyone should own one.’ Maybe then they’ll leave me alone.” Skip is a crusty old white man about 75 in a faded plaid shirt and wearing a beat-up, greasy San Francisco Giants cap with the bill bent in multiple angles almost looking like a half octagon. He is sitting two seats to my right. He’s talking to Jesse, another white septuagenarian (I’m also estimating) who is also wearing a plaid shirt albeit newer. Jesse is sitting between Skip and me at a counter of a Denny’s near my doctor’s office. It’s Tuesday, a scheduled day off for me. I have planned some errands to run after my doctor checks under the hood.
Lyn, a plump 40ish waitress, carries a coffee pot around and freshens all our coffees including the young woman on my left swiping through her iPhone. She missed the racial slur Skip made because she has had earbuds in since I arrived, only popping one bud out to hear whenever Lyn has to say to her whenever she stops at her spot across the counter. The waitress slides an All-American Slam in front of me: three scrambled eggs, hold the Cheddar cheese, two strips of bacon, two sausage links, hash browns and two slices of white toast. A better writer would keep his ears open, but my food is here and I don’t multitask well when food is in front of me.
What am I doing at a counter of a Denny’s? If I get a day off for appointments and errands, I almost always go to a neighborhood restaurant that serves a good breakfast, but today, thinking about writing a post on diners, I decided to throw caution to the wind and eat at this place. The original idea was to eat at the counters of a half-dozen diners to take the pulse of “Real Americans,” but felt the triteness of the subject wasn’t worth the extra lining of arterial plaque, so this post is mostly about my personal history of diners.
Lyn speaks to Skip, Jesse, and the young woman (who I’m guessing is in her 20s) as if they are regulars–cracking wise with Skip and Jesse and talking to the young lady with the earbuds in an empathetic tone. At one point the young woman apologizes to us for tuning us our–she says she is a healthcare professional who works a night shift in a skilled nursing facility and is really tired. All of us tell her it is okay. She smiles and pugs her earbuds back in. “When are you going to put cod back on the menu,” Skips ask Lyn. Before she answers, I feel some java coming up thinking about eating fish in a Denny’s. Skip presses the issue. Lyn tells Skip she doesn’t make the rules. Jesse, in a disgusted tone that I relate to, wants to know if Skip eats fish for breakfast. “No. You know I eat dinner here most nights!,” Skip snaps back. I look over at my neighbor to the left. She is oblivious to the fish banter.
I used to go to diners like Denny’s quite often. First, there were the times in the 1960s. I was somewhere around seven years old. My Grandfather used to take me to the Sambo’s only a block away from my his hardware store on the corner of 65th Street and Folsom Blvd. here in Sacramento. I vaguely recall enjoying the murals above the lunch counter that told the tale of “Little Black Sambo.” Of course, I was oblivious to the racist content at the time–it just seemed like a story to me. The NAACP, among other offended entities, saw it differently.
Because of that early exposure to the diner-style eatery, I have always had a fond memory of that kind of restaurant but had little interest in eating in places like that in the mid-’70s when I got wheels and a disposable income or at least that’s how I felt initially. In the ’80s I occasionally had late night snacks at diners when my friends and I would finish our night clubbing at local places like Club Can’t Tell and Danseparc or after attending local punk/New Wave concerts, usually at Galactica 2000/The 2nd Level. If we went to the now-defunct Carrows, we were often waiting on by a woman who was dating a friend. (She would later become my wife!) But in between the nightclubbing phase and before my marriage, there were my late-night coffee and homework visits to the Peppermill on Arden Way with my co-dependent girlfriend, Judi, one of those visits ending in a parking lot meltdown. (Intriguing? You’ll have to read about that incident in my post The Ballad of the Codependent Rat, but beware, it is not for the faint of heart.)
This would be a good time to mention an experience I had not too long ago. I have been living or working in the area of Broadway since 1980 and from that time the diner Pancake Circus has been a fixture in my mind. It has always looked creepy from the outside: worn down, dull, with the feeling that if you touched the building you would have to scrub that finger with acetone to get the ick off. And then there’s the whole circus motif with balloons and clowns. Surprisingly Pancake Circus has a presence on the web–well, sort of. It’s more like a placeholder, but includes a handy OpenTable reservation tool–I shit you not! It also has a photo gallery that doubles down on the whole creepy feel including an Easter Bunny that is so evil looking it would make poor little Johnny wet himself!
Until recently, I knew of only one person who has been in the place. In fact, if I remember correctly, Geoff Wong ate there every weekday morning. A local attorney, novelist, and host of “Geoff Wong Adventure Theater” that ran in the 70s, Wong was once my old Peppermill-patronizing, co-dependent girlfriend, Judi’s boss! The one time I visited his office to pick Judi up, she introduced me to him. He was eating his lunch standing up. I didn’t think much of him standing while eating, but when Judi and I were leaving she told me that he always eats his lunch standing up. “He says it better for his digestion, but…” I phased her words out at this point, as I often did with Judi, and envisioned the local celebrity barrister in Pancake Circus eating his breakfast standing up, ready to bolt when he saw one of those clowns coming for him!
That was the only person I ever met who had eaten at Pancake Circus and lived to tell the tale. That is until a year ago when I received a text from my East Bay buddy Paul informing me he was in town to visit family and they had decided the whole family would go to Pancake Circus after attending Mass. I reminded him how creepy that place always looked when we worked at the Tower Theatre down the street and to advise him to eat his pancakes standing up. I later received the adjacent image on my phone. Then, from his sister’s house, he texted me that the place was actually alright.
This led me to challenge myself one day to have breakfast there, just as I did this morning at Denny’s. It was about as creepy on the inside as it is on the outside. And the wait staff acted as if they stepped out of a wormhole from the 60s–all “Honey” and “Hun” and “Sweety.” As it turned out despite expecting Pennywise to appear in the service window with my omelette au Rohypnol saying, “Tasty, tasty, beautiful fear–uh–I mean eggs,” the food was good–even standing up. (Okay, I’ll stop.) The breakfast was on par with most diners, I doubt I will ever return, though. I don’t remember seeing any cod on the menu, but as I was leaving the place with a full belly I saw something on the sign I never noticed before: “Steaks Seafood Salads.” Ordering seafood there would be a challenge I would never take.
As I left the Denny’s this morning to ride to my doctor’s office, I found fresh vomit in the car lane next to my scooter. (“Fresh” meaning it wasn’t there when I parked my ride forty minutes ago.) A foreboding sign, to be sure, but my stomach felt fine. It dawned on me as I was riding to my doctor’s that I was scheduled to do some labs which required fasting. Oops. It’s incredible how my stomach lords over my brain!
Since my previous doctor retired, I now have a pretty blonde D.O. for a primary care physician. D.O. standing for doctor of osteopathic medicine. (Should be a DOM, but that was a previous post.) What is that, you ask. Here is how the website with the pithy name http://www.doctorsthatdo.org describes it:
Listening to you and partnering in your care are at the heart of our holistic, empathic approach to medicine. We are trained to promote the body’s natural tendency toward health and self-healing. We practice according to the latest science and use the latest technology. But we also consider options to complement pharmaceuticals and surgery.
Some may think that sounds like a bunch of New Age baloney. Not me! The books I have been reading on yoga, meditation, the chakra system, and Ayurveda have given me the impression that the first time I would see my new D.O. she would be wearing a sari, sitting lotus in the corner, chanting “Om mani padme hum” while incense burned. Nope, she walked in five minutes after me wearing white slacks, a lab coat and only smiled and said, “good for you,” in a near-patronizing tone when I tried to impress her by saying I practiced yoga. (Thank God I didn’t bow my head and say Namaste when she entered the examination room!)
Twenty minutes after leaving Denny’s parking lot I’m sitting on the examination table and whining about my sleeping problems and my weight. The irony is not lost on me here. Also, in the middle of my bitch session, I suppressed an All-American Slam burp into my fist. Was that bacon or sausage? Whatever. I excuse myself and go back to bitching about my weight.
This was my third appointment with my lady doctor and I’m not sure if she has figured out the walking contradiction that is me. If she got a whiff of the dead-meat burp that might explain her doling out some home-spun wisdom, “Don’t love food that doesn’t love you back” and the suggestion I see a nutritionist. I agree to the nutritionist referral knowing that person will not be prescribing All-American Slams for breakfast. I think about the vomit in the parking lot. Someone’s breakfast didn’t love him back, I guess. I ask myself the wrong question–why didn’t I order pancakes.