Tiny's Diner

A short story with a long introduction

Click here to read or hide the long, boring intro...

I hate to use the old zine cliché, but I'm sorry this issue is so late. Only few months ago I was keeping up (as it were) with the backlog and now things are getting farther and farther away. I try to answer my mail reasonably quickly, usually around 4 weeks after I get it. I don't know where this time frame came from, but I've been using it since 1997 or so, and it's worked pretty well. Unfortunately, circumstances have started to change, and where I used to have the time to devote to answering mail, it's become a struggle to even find time to open the mail I'm getting, and I feel miserable about it.

The main reason for the lack of time is that I've started taking freelance graphic design work to make extra money. The hope is that someday I'll be able to quit my day job and work at home. Unfortunately, to get to the point where I can quit, I'll need to build up my freelance business enough to make up for losing the paycheck. So, I'm doing extra work along with my regular job, and now the few extra hours I used to devote to mail art are gone. And the mail keeps coming in, and the pile keeps getting bigger. So, as a consequence, this might be my last issue for a little while.

Just thinking about answering the mail makes my chest clench up and fills me with dread, because I know how far behind I am, and how I have no time to get back to my usual schedule. I know these deadlines are completely arbitrary, but I still get stressed out if I don't stick to them, because that's the way I am. I suppose it's helped me maintain my regular 2-month publication schedule.

Still, I was struggling to answer mail when I could, but when I run out of people to send the newest zine to, I know it's time to publish the next issue. That happened sometime in May, so I've been working on this issue for over a month, in between freelance jobs. The first stage, which I had been planning for quite a while, was to make an issue devoted to the environment. Mary and I are both extremely concerned with the environment, and I thought that it would be an interesting issue.

the more I wrote and researched, the more depressed I got... also, I was ending up with a hell of a preachy, boring issue, which I absolutely didn't want

When I sat down to write the environmental issue, though, I needed statistics about CO2 emissions and the amount of waste Americans produce on a yearly basis (1,600 pounds for every man, woman and child in this country annually, in case you were wondering), and the more I wrote and researched, the more depressed I got... also, I was ending up with a hell of a preachy, boring issue, which I absolutely didn't want. Then I read about what China will be producing in the way of CO2 in the near future (they're set to surpass US emissions in the next ten years) and I got really depressed.

I realized that the zine and mail art worlds are made up of people who already know most of this stuff anyway, so it probably wouldn't make a difference to the millions of Americans who drive bigass sport utility vehicles and buy their kids Lunchables and drink boxes every day. I mean, to them we seem like bizarre people, doing inexplicable things like saving the water we use to wash vegetables (to water our garden) and bringing our own bags to the grocery store. Anyway, here's a sample of what I wrote...

Plastic Bottles & Containers

Plastic is forever, so it's extremely important to recycle. Plastics manufacturers put recycle symbols and numbers on everything they produce, which indicate what kind of plastic they're using. Check out the number before you buy things, because not all kinds of plastic are being recycled. Most places in the United States only recycle type 1 and 2 plastics (beverage bottles, plastic milk containers, some food containers) and even if they do take other kinds of plastic, it will likely end up in the landfill anyway. Check with your recycling program to see what kind of plastics they accept.

After two pages, I put it aside and tried to think up something better, or at least less pamphlet-like. In the meantime the mail kept coming, and every day that I can't answer anything makes me feel terrible. So, I finally wrote this short story, based on a character Mary and I met one night a few months ago... and here it is!

Tiny's Diner

The phone rang, and everyone seemed to stop and stare at it. The man in the hair net answered it, "Tiny's. uh huh... uh huh... hold on a second."

"Is it for me?" I asked, but he ignored me and grabbed a pad and started writing. "How many of those? Two? Three? O.K... do you want sauce on the side?"

I kept hoping he would hand me the phone but he didn't, he just kept taking notes and asking questions.

"More coffee, honey?" the waitress asked with her pot of regular poised over my cup.

"No. Thanks."

"They got good coffee here," said the guy next to me, picking at his eggs. "Good eggs too, they make them the illegal way."

"What do you mean, the 'illegal way'?"

"It's a law now that restaurants aren't allowed to serve eggs sunny side up any more, you know, what with that salmon-ella and all."

"I didn't know that," I said as I suddenly regarded my over easy eggs with some degree of fear. I tried to look like I was reading my newspaper again, hoping that this guy would stop talking to me, but he kept on going.

Obviously I was dealing with a man of formidable taste.

"I tell you what, I know good food, and I'm talkin' real good food. I don't just go out to dinner, I go out to eat!" It was hard to know how to react to this statement, coming from a man who was wearing a baseball hat with white drips all over it that said "Damn Birds!" Obviously I was dealing with a man of formidable taste.

"Of course, I'll tell you where the real food is at," he said, pausing for dramatic effect, "it's in Vegas." God, you give these guys a single small opening and they pry it until they can walk right in. "You ever been there?"

"No," I said, trying to look interested in the Classifieds.

"Well, when you go there, let me tell you where to get some good eats. You gotta get down to that new hotel with the Arab theme, it's called 'Slotty Arabia' or 'Ali Baba's Den of Slots' or something like that. They got all kind of crazy shit in there, if you'll pardon my French, like sand on the floor and tents and these belly dancers. Now, I know what you're thinking about the food, but don't worry because even though they got them fancy Arab restaurants there, the all-you-can-eat buffet is all-American. You got your foot-long hot dogs, your chicken pot pie, pot roast, and some damn good potatoes. Man, I stuff myself until I can't walk!"

"Boy, that must be some good food," I said. It really wouldn't matter if I replied or not, because he was already opening his mouth to tell me more. He was like every other lonely person I ever met, full to the top with things to say but nobody to say them to, and the moment the opportunity presents itself, the words spill out to whoever is there.

"I get out there sometimes because of my job. I'm a welder, and they get me working on those highrise jobs out there. It's tough work, but it pays great. I tell you, I take home $900 a week doing that shit."

"Wow, that's pretty good," I said, looking at the phone, to try to see through it to the other end where the person was about to dial this number and make it ring.

"Oh yeah, I got lots of money saved up from working. I'm getting set to retire next year. I got about 50 grand in the bank. I think I'm going to get a boat, maybe a little place down by the lake."

"Intriguing," I said, as I continued to eat my eggs, hoping the hidden salmonella would strike quickly.

"Sure, I'm doing pretty good I guess. I also make some scratch with my blackjack system in Vegas," Oh, good, here it comes, the surefire system. Now I'll be able to retire young like this guy. "Now, I'm going to tell you this, but you gotta keep it to yourself, right? If everyone starts doing it, the casinos will get wise and ban the whole thing, understand?"

"Well, maybe I can't be trusted with something like that..."

"Hell no, you're OK by me! Now, here's what you got to do. It takes a lot of patience, right? You can't just walk right in there and expect it to work right away, right? So what you do is you look for a table with the first seat empty."

"The first seat? You mean to the left of the dealer?"

He thought for a moment and held out his hands in a pantomime of dealing cards. "Sure, that's the one! You find a $25 table with that seat free, the first one on that side, not the last one. But you can't sit down yet, you have to wait until the dealer shuffles the cards. That's the key thing."

"Check. Wait for the shuffle."

"Now, once you see that dealer shuffling those cards, what you do is you sit down and bet $25. You get that first card off the top of the deck, and I guarantee you will win every time."

"Every time?"

"Well, sometimes the dealer gets blackjack, but you usually win. After you win that hand, you walk away and look for another first seat where the dealer is shuffling."

"Wow, that sounds like a great system," I said, looking at the clock.

"I discovered that by accident, that system, but it's amazing how well it works. You win almost every time, except when the dealer gets blackjack, or sometimes draws two face cards, but still you will win about 90% of the time."

Suddenly the surefire system wasn't so surefire. All the gamblers you meet have some system or other for the slots or the card table or the lottery, but strangely, none of those gamblers is ever rich. They just like to talk it up as though it's true and they can be some sort of hero instead of someone who loses more than they can afford to lose.

"Yep, I do OK in Vegas," he continued, stretching, "I bring home some good scratch. There's also this book by Jimmy Sharp that I picked up, with another system. I think I paid a grand for this book, and it teaches you the best way to play any hand. You ever heard of Jimmy Sharp? He's a perfessional gambler...anyway, it's a little book, but you gotta memorize this book, because if they see you looking at a book while you're playing cards, they'll kick you out on the spot. Hey, I'll tell you what, since you're a nice feller, I'll send you a copy of that book if you give me your address, buddy."

"Uh, sure... here you go." I said and fished out a business card from my wallet. It was the card for Sal, my dog groomer, but I sure wasn't going to give this guy my address. Besides, maybe the dog groomer would like a surefire system so he could retire young.

"Dog grooming, huh, Sal? That's a pretty good line to be in I guess. Anyway, this here system is great, and when you use it with the first seat system, it never fails... well, except when that dealer gets a blackjack or two face cards like I said. Nothing even Jimmy Sharp can do about that, right? Like he says, you gotta stick to it for the duration, and the law of averages will work in your favor. Say, what time ya got there, Sal?"

"It's 2:00," I said, hoping he would have an appointment to make.

"Oh, good, I got plenty of time. My bus doesn't come until 2:45. Damn cops busted me for DUI, and took my license away, now I'm riding the bus like a jerk. They never even saw me driving while drunk."

"I don't understand."

"I live at my dad's house, and my dad hates it when I drink. Well, I'm no alkie, but I like to tie one on now and then. This one night, since I can't drink at home, I sat in my car down the street and put away a six of beer, not hurting anyone or anything. Well, when I get home, my dad flips and he calls the cops on me. Got my license taken away for DUI and I wasn't anywhere near the car when they came."

"That's terrible," I said, wondering how much of it was actually true. I was pretty sure the part about living with his dad was true, despite his claims about his enormous wealth. The DUI was probably also true, but I guessed that it happened under much different circumstances than he described.

"Yup, put me in the clink for 48 hours. I love my dad, though, so I don't hold it against him, but I hate taking that bus..."

The phone rang again, and everyone looked at it, or at least it seemed like everyone was looking at it... this time the waitress answered it, "Tiny's."

The guy next to me kept talking, but I was staring intently at the waitress, wondering what was taking her so long. She turned to the wall and hissed, "Look, Charlie, you either pay up your goddamned alimony or I'm calling my lawyer! And you can forget about getting your piece of shit car back." She slammed down the phone and muttered a curse under her breath.

"Sure, Jimmy Sharp got it made alright. I mean, he could make a living off of blackjack but instead he decided to help the average guy make some bucks with his system." Sure, I thought, selling it to the average guy for $1000 a pop. He's a regular Albert Schweitzer.

He leaned in really close to me, and I could smell the liquor on his breath. "You wanna know something else? My girlfriend's a goddamn porno star," he said with a wink in a stage whisper that I was sure even Tiny could hear in the kitchen. "She loves it all, man. Can't get enough."

"You don't say..." I was starting to really squirm.

"Sure, I make her bark like a dog sometimes, man. Like a freaking dog! She likes it when I slap her around too. Keeps coming back for more. You gotta find you a girlie like that."

"Yes, sir!" I said, almost too loud.

"Sometimes she makes me so sore I can't work the next day. I made her give up porno movies to be with me, though, so she gotta get it out of her system somehow, you know? Hot damn!"

"OK, well, I'm going to use the bathroom now..." I said, and quickly got up to get away from him for a few minutes.

"Sure, Sal, gotta take care of business. I know all about that."

I sat in the stall and started reading all the graffiti to kill the time. One of the artists claimed that Tiny is a fag, even offering a picture of Tiny's ass as evidence for the patrons of the men's room. I contemplated Tiny's ass for a few minutes before heading back to my seat. Why did they tell me to wait here for the phone call? The slaughterhouse would have been much more pleasant. I considered sneaking out the back door, but decided against it.

I heard the phone ringing as I sat down, and looked at it. Nobody was around it, and the waitress was taking care of some customers. Tiny came out of the kitchen to get it. "Tiny's... no... hold on."

He looked around the restaurant, and I stared straight at him. "Your name Jake?" he asked.

I started to answer, but the guy next to me said, "Ha! Heck no, mister! This here guy is named SAL! Ha ha ha!" he said as he slapped me on the back.

"Well, let me talk anyway. I think I know who that is," I said.

Tiny grimaced and handed me the greasy phone. "Hello?"

"Jake? That you?"

"Yep," I said.

"Sorry to keep you waiting. Listen, your car isn't going to be fixed today. I'm sorry... we have to order a couple of parts, and it's going to take a few days."

"Oh no..."

"We told you to wait in that diner because there's a bus stop outside. I think it takes an hour for you to get home from there."

"Oh no..." I said looking at my new friend, who was keeping himself busy examining his bus ticket.

"Yeah, well, give us a call tomorrow and we'll tell you when you can pick it up."

"Sure, OK." and I gave the phone back to Tiny.

"Listen, Sal, you know what's a damn good sport? Golf! I'm not talking about watching golf, I'm talking about playing golf. Now, you get yourself a good set of irons and there's no stopping you, you know what I mean? Let me tell you about my favorite course in Vegas..."

© 2001, Ken B. Miller & Contributors as Listed. | Reproduced from Shouting at the Postman #46, July, 2001 | 2007

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