The Rosebud Diner, circa 1994
Jessie was a waitress who would flirt with your ugly grandpa and make you refill the coffees. She’d say, “You know where it is!”in a dolly-with-cancer teeny voice.
She caught the flat top of Lucky Sevens with a quarter during the lull between lunch and dinner, racking up just enough dollar winners to go on playing daily, plus it was a new type of scratch-off. The new ones hit more often.
The Diner is still with me, but no longer on the Commons.
Jessie preached and I learned how to smile-talk to strangers, make friends, judge assholes, and acquaint myself with a job, choose between beer and nicotine or getting myself, with optimism and diligence, to the next truth–truth as simple and repetitive as the coffee steady perking in the pot—weekdays falling forward, building up who I saw in the mirror, and in the warm eyes of whoever it was I was falling in love with at the time, depending on whether I took or ignored the dull steps towards dreams—the diner was where to rest and talk about any other kind of bull, but this.
Louise had a clippy British accent; she was an actress yet neat as a pin and unlovely. Michael, her husband, made me a bookcase, embellishing the edges with florettes which mirrored each other. He was a Paul Revere. It was too small for most of my books, but oak, as promised.
Danny the owner ran the place from the kitchen, ladling batter from a stainless steel bowl, frying three-dollar all-you-can-eat French toast all day which people completely abused, passing one plate around to three or even four sullen (then capering then angst-ridden then saucy) punk rock twenty-year-old Commons rats, leaving a one-dollar tip folded into a triangle or a crane.
I had to ask three months in a row to work there. Something about The Rosebud matched my idea of myself, cramped, smoky, with its yellowing seats and speckled tile; it was the shabby gathering place where Danny’s daughters each managed to find enough issues (a new word then) and enough of a motherless run of the place to keep Danny muttering indefinitely. They kept the grind from being one. Danny respected and liked me even years later for calling in a favor at Darien Lake Theme Park and getting him free tickets for his family– which he had to trust me about, the comp’d tickets waiting at the gate three hours west of Ithaca. Even though I was often late and sat as often as I stood, he never let me go.
Mister Kool (his nickname was Spades) was the dish and mop man, Billy was the prep cook. Both had a keen sense of how to work smooth and sure with their hands and both considered it not-their-real-life. They had a band called Wejah Stone. Get it? I was often comforted by Spade’s methodical sweep of the restaurant each evening, he knew what the fuck he was doing, or I was such a slob a solid sweep was impressive. Also, he only smoked two cigarettes a day, after sweeping. Baffling. Billy made me rare bacon, each day a little more rare as I liked it, until it was more or less just warm and raw.
You all showed up. Jewl and Czech, vixens with skin tight black and red like anarchy was suddenly sexpot glorious, stopping in for coffee they dolloped with whiskey and a Camel Filter chainsmoke (I never saw them eat food). . .Kieren and Smog nearby, balancing six packs on their spiked leather shoulders and shoving the plates of gravy fries around the table like a ceramic Nascar race.
Moody DT playing Magik with the cards he and Sidhartha stole from 3DLight.
Marcus and his grrl, Jet, actually came to eat the food; Marcus may have had cheetah spots on his skull, and Jet a short spiked stopsign red haircut, but they had prince and princess manners wherever they went.
Kraven with his commentary that made everybody wince and grin, in that order. I never met someone so sure of his perceptions yet so uneasily resigned to the tough, muscular frame he inhabited. He never ate the food either, but he was often there.
Jake who I would conversationally betray as easily as the sun comes up and nearly as often, cheerfully as if nothing could ever hurt him and besides, he was impossible to age correctly but young! I called him the Tao of Ithaca to make up for it. He refused to let me buy him food when he was poor. We were all poor.
My dear friends Melany, Trix, and Briana would stay for hours to keep me company, bringing in wonders from their travels to delight the world with: cameo jewelry unearthed from a Goodwill, bowling shoes rediscovered as fuck-as-punk awesomeness, remnant tiles purchased from the hardware store to make a quilt on the floor of a trailer.
Johnny Rotten’s doppelganger, I met later.
You were my dearest fiends on the Commons: you smiled and listened carefully, and glared and scorned the collegenitalia…you snarled and wept and drank and spat and caught the spit from below (too romantic) and screamed and sang and boozed and shot up and ran away and hurt the normals and busted down doors and wrote songs and had eviction parties, bring your own hammer.
I loved the end of my shift, I loved my cigarette breaks, and if you’d asked, I was on the edge of the life I knew belonged to me: I was the living at the plastic hem at the top of the carton of milk, dry-flecked, dusty and blue. It’s true I made melancholy into a condition I’d rouse from only with angst and lucky whining about my fate. Fast years… best . . . spattering against me only when I’m walking, though I mostly (truth, now) drive.