A couple of years ago, while working a late night of writing at my neighborhood diner, I spotted a busboy entering the bathroom. I was standing at the sink, washing my hands after a quick piss. I turned, and saw him rimming the toilet with a paper towel. He wasn’t wearing gloves, and when he finished he balled up the towel, chucked it in the trash and exited. His hands were never washed.
Moments later, I saw him distributing glasses of water.
Put differently, my neighborhood diner is nasty. Gross. Disgusting. It smells sort of moldy, the carpet is dirty, the tables are often a tad sticky. The food, at its absolute best, is relatively edible. The turkey burger is rubbery. The fries are overcooked. It’s just not a very good place.
And yet …
A couple of days ago, while sitting in my corner booth at 2 am, finishing up a lengthy story, I was told that the diner would soon be closing. Iona College bought the land, and was planning on using it to build more dorms. I was—no exaggeration—crushed.
I’ve written three of my books inside that diner. I’ve come to know many of the waitresses and busboys. I’ve always been allowed to sit in my spot as long as possible—three hours … five hours … seven hours—without being disrupted. I’ve enjoyed watching the drunk college students stumble in at 4 am; the loud political guys curse at one another; the church goers and the construction dudes and the salesmen. Diners are American meeting places; spots people go not for excellent food, but for familiarity and ease.
I suppose a new dorm will be nice. But it feels like grandma is being sent away to the retirement home against her well.
It breaks my heart.