little bell over the diner entrance tolls before the wind catches
the door and slams it hard against its frame. "Sorry,"
I offer quickly, fearing some patron will think I did it on purpose.
I glance around but nobody appears disturbed by my noisy arrival.
I guess the oncoming storm has made me jumpy. I just don't like
driving at night, not even in good weather, much less in these
am greeted upon my entry by the lingering aroma of something deep
fried and mouth-watering. I'm starving, I think to myself, and
glance about to check out the place.
decor is the first thing I notice: circa 1960-something, maybe.
The calendar tacked to the wall shows a can of Pennzoil beside
a cloudy, framed portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower. "I Miss
Ike" is scrawled underneath the photograph.
spy a pack of Pall Malls on the counter. I've got a package of
nicotine gum in my pocket but those cigarettes are calling out
my name. They look orphaned, but I hesitate. I don't want to get
my face smashed before I get my sausage and eggs. I'm suddenly
craving grits and gravy, too. I pause and look around, noting
the filth on the unwashed windows. Even if it wasn't dark already,
the filmy residue of lard lacing the panes would make it nearly
impossible to see outside where my car is parked beneath a fuzzy
neon green and red flashing sign, the same sign that drew me in:
Welcome to Windsong's.
jukebox in the corner is playing an old Donovan tune from the
Sixties. I am not inclined to listen to those oldies stations.
Yet, I oddly know all the words before Donovan sings them. I must
have heard it as a kid because the lyrics flow in my head right
along with the melody. "In the chilly hours and minutes
I long to be
in the warm hold of your
the booth nearest the jukebox, a swarthy, Dennis Hopper look-alike
sits alone. His head is covered with a confederate flag bandanna
and he is singing along with Donovan in a raspy voice, loud and
off-key. Maybe he's drunk, I figure. Or crazy. Or both.
take a seat at the counter. The smell of sizzling pork fat makes
my mouth water. I motion to the waitress, who seems entranced
with the serenade from the faux-Hopper. She shoots me a look,
but doesn't move in my direction. "Coffee, please,"
I say a bit louder than necessary, thinking it might motivate
her to do her job. She picks up the pot from the warmer and grabs
a thick, white mug from a dusty shelf.
she asks impatiently. I shake my head, no. She sits the mug down
but doesn't wait for my order. She has to get back to the jukebox
man. I start to blurt out my request, anyway, but her perfume
strikes me, a pungent waft from some distant place: a funeral
service, an open coffin, a small child shuffled among elderly
mourners, bumping up against their black leather bags and stiff
crinoline. I have no real memory of such an event and yet I sense
I murmur aloud, recalling my grandmother's favorite fragrance
and the waitress turns. "Bingo," she says and takes
out her order pad. I see her mark something on it like it was
a score card.
I get a couple of eggs over easy?" I begin. I want more,
but I don't want to bombard her with requests. It's obvious I
am not a priority. I wonder if I start singing, could I lure her
away from the singer's booth? I don't see any cook through the
galley window, but I still smell the fryer, so I guess he must
be back there
sundown pales the sky
I want to hide awhile
" Hopper's doppelganger belts out the
verse with his head tilted toward the ceiling. It is a strange
image. He seems totally unaware of the inappropriateness of singing
in a diner. Normally, I would be annoyed. However, perhaps because
of the lateness of the hour and the hunger in my stomach, along
with the brewing storm outside, the singing Hopper bothers me
a brief moment, I have the urge to sing along: "When rain
has hung the leaves with tears
I want you near
kill my fears
" I shake my head as though to clear
my mind of the impulse. I holler out to the waitress, "Ma'am.
Could I get some service here, please?"
waitress glances in my direction, but I can't hold her attention.
I note the bubble gum in her mouth as she tilts her head and blows
a tiny bubble which pops during Donovan's refrain.
don't want to anger her, but my hunger is growing. And though
I feel I have a right to get angry at the worthless waitress,
I just can't muster the indignation. "I'm famished,"
I say to no one in particular, hoping the cook might hear me and
poke his head through the galley window. A roar of thunder resounds
outside the diner, and I know I don't yet want to go back out
are some crackers in a plastic basket and some ketchup packets
beside them, and I think, what the hell, and reach across the
counter. Something edible is all I need. I make a cracker and
ketchup sandwich and wash it down with black coffee while the
jukebox replays Donovan's "Catch the Wind" for a second
or third time.
repetition doesn't seem to bother anyone. For myself, I am too
preoccupied with satisfying my appetite. The gusting winds grow
stronger. The rain beats up against the filthy windows, but I
am content, despite the weather. Venturing out in this storm was
just plain foolhardy. I don't know what I was thinking.
I finish eating all the crackers in the basket, I decide to check
out the kitchen for myself. The waitress sees me come behind the
counter, but she says nothing. Her love is too strong for Hopper
or Donovan; I can't tell which. I swing open the kitchen door
and start to holler for the cook, but I can see immediately that
he's been gone awhile. There's an open Life Magazine, March
12, 1965. The article reads: "Haunting Search for a Brother."
I close the magazine and note the cover with a young, smiling
Julie Andrews promoting her latest movie, The Sound of Music.
large drain in the middle of the kitchen floor gurgles, but I
ignored it while cracking eggs on the hot griddle. There's sausage,
too. It looks a little gray. Hopefully, frying it will kill the
bacteria. Maybe not, but I'm too hungry to worry. The sizzling
fat from the pork will probably add to the sooty grime on the
windows, but if so, it can't make the glass appear any dingier.
realize I am humming along with Hopper and Donovan as I slide
two eggs onto a waiting plate. Despite my own hunger, I impulsively
stick my head through the galley window and holler: "Order
up!" The waitress comes over and now, finally, she smiles
at me. I wink as I hand her the plate, which she carries to Hopper.
I crack two more eggs and sing out, "To help me leave
all my blues behind
" and I feel suddenly jolly,
like I was born to crack eggs.
glad you're back," the waitress says softly to me. She's
wearing green eye shadow, which looks really nice. And I realize
that Shalimar has always been her favorite fragrance.
was the weather," I say as I flip the sausage patties. "It
kept me away too long. I forgot where I was supposed to be. I
guess I got lost."
don't do it again," she whispers as she leans in close before
gliding back toward the jukebox. Hopper nods in my direction and
I raise my hand like an old friend.
want to cry out, "What the hell is going on?" But Donovan's
voice sedates me. I hear the bell over the door cling-clang and
another soaking wet customer shakes off the rain and looks about.
I watch as his cell phone fades away. His beeper, too. The startled
look on his face softens as he turns toward the waitress and Hopper.
he asks as he slides into a booth. The waitress ignores him at
first. I signal to her, motioning toward the coffee pot.
sighs, but she grabs a mug off the shelf and the pot from the
warmer and heads toward the fading dark suit at the table. I watch
as the newcomer's expression grows familiar to me and his apparel
all but disappears. I know this guy from
now wearing a Texaco uniform, and he's younger, barely more than
a boy, a gas station attendant coming in for a quick meal. I wipe
my hands on the stained apron that has replaced my Burberry jacket.
I marvel at my now thick, hairy arms jutting out below the short
sleeves of a soiled Fruit-of-the-Loom t-shirt.
jukebox queues up Donovan again, and I see Hopper's face, his
eyes bloodshot and searching mine. There's anguish in his voice,
which sounds more raspy with each repeating refrain of, "I
might as well try and catch the wind
" I realize
he's tired. He's been singing for a while, but he can't stop.
Not yet. Not until everybody's here.
a catchy tune," Texaco says. "Who sings that?"
a British guy. Don Somebody," the waitress answers.
pull a milk carton from the cooler and though the stuff has curdled
into gray muck, I pour it in a hot skillet with scalded flour.
The gravy will be good for Hopper's raw throat. I'll mix up some
biscuits. Grits, too. Maybe the newcomer will give Hopper a break
and take over the song for awhile. If not, Hopper will have to
continue singing in pain because that's what the Windsong is best
known for. Nobody comes here for the food, regardless how hungry
drain gurgles again, but that happens a lot when it rains. Or
somewhere, I recall. My mind feels crowded with too
many thoughts, and I suddenly know Bubba and Lorene are due any
minute and the memory of what is about to happen strikes a terrifying
chord within me. I swipe my arm across the drain board knocking
Julie Andrews' smiling face to the floor. Life, the magazine,
did it ever really exist? The drain gurgles again.
think about trying to bolt for the front door. Then, I hear the
exhausted Hopper faltering, and I know he needs my help to carry
the tune. While I stir the gravy, wary of the rattling diner door
about to swing wide open, I render Donovan's wistful refrain in
a falsetto range just as an unwitting, rain-drenched couple rushes