One From the Diner

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By JOHN HAROLD
Academy of American Poets Prize Co-Winner

The diner is only open when it rains. You need holes in your jacket and at least a three day beard to be seated at the counter. You sit down next to a man with glitter in his hat and no laces on his shoes and he tells you he owns the place.

The air conditioner is blasting way too high, so you leave your coat on but take off your gloves and your flea market hat. Over clanking silverware and low rumbling conversation you hear the jukebox playing something by the Ramones.

“Danny says we gotta go, gotta go to Idaho
but we can’t go surfing cause it’s twenty below…

The waiter comes by and you ask for a menu, so he turns around and lifts up his shirt and he’s got it all tattooed across his back. The specials are written on with a magic marker and he’s just a kid.

You ask for a cup of coffee but all they have left if decaf, so you get a glass of water. There’s a lipstick stain on the glass that was probably left there by a young girl pretending to be an orphan yesterday and the Ramones song plays again.

…sound checks at 5:02, record stores and interviews
oh, but I can’t wait to be with you tomorrow…

You order the hamburger and it’s dry. Your tongue accidently touches the orphan’s lipstick on the glass but you’d never have to meet her parents, at least.

The man with no laces stands up on his stool and yells out that there’s a price to pay for dreaming, god dammit! He walks out without paying and the Ramones song plays again.

…hangin’ out in L.A .and there’s nowhere to go, it ain’t Christmas if there ain’t no snow
listening to Sheena on the radio, oh-ho oh-ho…

So you finish your meal and it’s finally stopped raining. They’re closing so you don’t linger. You pay at the counter and step out onto the street, into the steam. And you forgot your hat.

For a second you think about the orphan and you wonder if you should join the circus and you finger one of the holes in your jacket.

…oho-ho-ho, we got nowhere to go
and it may sound funny, but it’s true…”

And you’re whistling all the way home.