I can’t believe I’m back in this greasy spoon dive again. 27th Street and Fountain Boulevard. It was barely twenty-four hours ago I was sitting in this same vinyl clad corner booth fighting the glare off that bright red neon sign spelling out Davis Cafe; both of the a’s ironically burnt out. I slid into this spot aided by the layer of ice making the vinyl slick like freshly waxed blades of a sled making their first run over a freshly packed slope of snow. The dried and splitting caulk surrounding this window is doing a better job heating the sidewalk on 27th Street than its occupants inside. The cold, slick vinyl stands in direct contrast to the thin layer of grease that seems to coat everything else in this place. The table, tacky to the touch; the menu fighting it’s resistance as you peel it loose from the table’s grip. The ceiling fan, spinning slow enough you can keep time with each turn of the blade, bears witness to the fact that nothing can escape this filmy covering. Each blade casts evidence of the wind currents it once generated in a day when it had the strength to whirl at full speed. It’s blades, now weighed down by the years of greasy accumulations, is layered and streaked with mounds of dust. Defying gravity from the bottom side of the blades. The tink-tink-tink of the glass bobble dangling from the chain keeps the pulse of what life still remains in that small motor. I know a day soon comes when the binding habits of that grease wins this battle.
It’s a blessing this waitress, Karen the name tag says, is carrying an extra 20 pounds on those thighs, providing the locomotion necessary to keep her from becoming permanently stuck in the same place she currently stands taking my order of black coffee. The smile on her face quickly evaporates as she realizes she’s spending the next three hours here with me and this pack of Winston’s I’ve cast out on the table, refilling my bottomless cup of coffee for, what in the end will amount to about a ten cent tip. She pivots to her left and walks off followed in perfect unison by the sound of her rubber soles breaking free from the grease coating the black and, what used to be white, colored vinyl tiles laid out in a checkerboard pattern across the floor. There’s no sneaking up on anybody in this joint. That sound is a dead give-away.
Hmmm. Now there is irony. Sitting here yesterday morning, minding my own business, after a long night of dodging the landlord and chasing my last employer for a paycheck he’ll never deliver on, that red-head dame snuck up on me out of nowhere. Like a cat perched outside the mouse-hole she was there without a sound…staring. “I’m fresh out of smokes Honey, you’re gonna need to hit someone else up for a free-be.” I was lying of course but with only 3 left in this pack I wasn’t giving one of them up to a complete stranger no matter how attractive she was. She turned her head slowly to the left drawing her curly red hair over her shoulder. It quickly caught up to her chin which had stopped moving as she glanced across the cafe. My gaze, now moving from those spring-like bobbing locks of hair, was drawn down the only aisle of the narrow dining room revealing a row of empty booths against the windows to the right and a row of stools standing guard at the counter like a column of soldiers waiting for orders. She turned back to face me. Her hair following the same path in reverse this time. “Shit” I muttered to myself, “dimples.” With a weak hand I gestured to the red vinyl booth seat opposite me at the table while continuing to cradle my cup of warm coffee in the other. She wasted no time accepting the offer and slid into place opposite of me placing her folded hands on the table in front of her. We sat motionless, eyes locked long enough for me to realize this was not going to pan out well for me. With a slight tilt of her head I reached in past my wool coat to the breast pocket of my dress shirt and produced the crumpled cellophane package containing what remained of my supply of smokes for the forseeable future and tossed it across the table. The pack stopping just short of her hands. She didn’t flinch.
“I didn’t think so.” was her reply as she reached for the pack never losing eye contact with me as she fished out one of my few remaining smokes. The retching screech of the swinging kitchen door finally broke that gaze. The vision of this brown-eyed angel with the perfect complexion replaced by the heavy-set cook sporting a shirt more brown than white, a set of teeth less than full, and a five o’clock shadow cast far in advance of the late morning time frame we set in. It takes him a full scanning of the empty dining room to realize we are here, in the last booth in the corner. I raise the mug in my left hand to his gaze and he acknowledges the gesture by grabbing the half empty pot off the warmer as he lumbers down the passage behind the counter scooping up a fresh mug along the way. After filling the one he takes the cup I’ve slid across the counter and fills it almost half full. “I’ll leave the pot here on the counter if you need more.” he barks in a baritone voice rough with an unmistakable mid-town accent. Obviously a product of P.S. 12 or 18. “But it’s gonna be cold before…” I start, my voice quickly tailing off in recognition of the fact that I was lucky to get as much out of him as I did. He limps back down the aisle throwing the kitchen door open with a backhand slap of his left hand.
Filling my own cup the rest of the way I turn back to the booth to find my company turned sideways in the booth, arm cast over the back, watching my return. Her black dress stretched tight across her chest reveals a cascading display of twists and turns, rises and falls, that would leave any rollercoaster fanatic dizzy with the delight offered by this ride. There’s no time to admire the view as I can feel her eyes cast firmly on me. Like magnets my eyes are drawn back to meet hers as I settle back into the booth. That dark red hair has settled back down over both shoulders now and frames that perfect complexion like a picture frame. I want to steal a glance at those tempting dimples generated by that slight smile that reveals a few of the glistening white teeth hidden inside those lips. I’m a sucker for a dame with dimples. Innocence. Sincerity. I’m not sure what it is but it gets me in the heart every time. But it’s all in the eyes with this one. I can’t get away from the eyes.
“I can’t afford what you’re selling.” I offer, portraying as much confidence as a man already cut off at the knees can produce. A quick laugh escapes from her lips causing those dimples to grow deeper and she shakes her head setting those big looping curls in motion about her face once again. “That’s ok,” she states matter-of-factly. “I have a way for you to work it off.”