March 27, 2014
There is a country café above Genehouse, on Route 3. It has just enough kitsch to make it interesting. There are signs on the walls, with jokes about coffee, and a sexy Coke poster from bygone days, depicting a 1940s lass in a bathing suit, sitting on a beach, her legs slightly parted, and a bottle of Coke extended from off poster, and our lass looks at the phallic symbol and says, “Yes.” Yes, indeed.
Most days, the waitresses are three winsome sisters, twenty-something blonds. They wear low cut, skin tight pants. (I mention the costumes as your fashion commentator, not as a concupiscent man.) The siblings share a bond with Chekov’s “Three Sisters,” always looking out the long wall of north-facing windows, past the Baptist church across the highway, perhaps looking for a more exciting life and better days, always talking about cities, the glamour of cities. The oldest sister likes my rocks. Two part-time waitresses—we’ll call them Sally and Sissy—aunts of the three sisters, are friendly women my age. I can’t remember what they wear.
The cook, the three sisters’ mother, makes wonderful whole grain pancakes. On Thursday, her special is ham and beans, all you can eat. And yesterday was Thursday and the waitresses were the women my age, damn it, though they are perfectly nice and way more attentive to one’s coffee and ham and beans needs.
The radio was blaring country and western music, the Twenty-first Century, neo-rock and roll kind that would make Johnny Cash vomit were he alive, and perhaps even the dead can vomit over music that foul. Farmers in overalls and a young mom with a baby girl and two cable TV installers and a table of little old ladies and one nerdy-looking guy in a suit quietly masticated their H&B and gossiped. I sat alone, sipped my Joe and flirted with the baby girl, who was smiling and cooing. Babies love me; babes, not so much.
At the first table, across from the doughnut display and ice cream bar, a man and wife and the man’s ninety year old father sat and ate. The old man, his face layered in thick folds of wrinkles, and white hairs like strands of kelp poking out all over his face, was very hard of hearing; he shouted as opposed to talked. He was very agitated; his daughter-in-law kept hushing him: “Dad, dad, be still now.” “What in hell for?” Dad asked. “Why ain’t them three young perty gals waitin’ on me?”
The gossiping stopped and room went quiet, save for the baby. Thankfully, Sally and Sissy were in the kitchen, out of ear- and old man-shot.
“Dad, Dad, now, we don’t talk like that.” “You don’t—I do. I COME HERE FOR THE GALS.” “Dad, Dad.” “Son,” the old man screeched, why you come here?” What man in the café hasn’t asked hisself that very question? But the son looked at his wife, the source of his bliss, maybe his sex, certainly his cook. “The food, Pop.” The wife nodded.
Sally came out of the kitchen, her eyeglasses steamed up, her gray hair done up in a bun, a smear of beans on her white apron, a new pot of coffee in her hand. She refilled the cups of the son and his wife and shouted to the old man, “Denny, want some more ham and beans, Sugar?”
“No, I do not.” “No? You are skin and bones, darlin’.” Actually, Denny was as rotund as a pup tent; he looked like Jabba the Hut with a shock of snow white hair. “You got to eat somethin’, Dad,” the daughter-in-law said. “What do you want?”
“Oh,” the old man muttered, pushing his bowl of hand and beans away, “Some hash browns and a vanilla bear claw will do me—one them with puddin’ inside.” Then to Sally: “These are the worst ham and beans I ever et! Don’t ever serve me them again. I only like—what’s that kind?—” “Campbell’s,” the daughter-in-law said, shaking her head. “That’s them: Campbell’s Pork and Beans. And WHY A OLD LADY GOTTA WAIT ON ME? And WHERE THEM YOUNG SISTER GALS?”
The fifteen or so other patrons snorted, silently laughed, raised newspapers to cover their reddened faces, or bit lips and cheeks. The daughter-in-law mouthed, Sorry, sorry, sorry, so sorry. Sally pursed her lips, playing the straight man, like Johnny Carson. “Well,” she said dryly, to Jabba the Hut, “my nieces are so blinded by your beauty, Denny, they can’t work when you’re around.” Ba-dum-bum. I swear I saw Sally curtsey. Or maybe I wanted her to curtsey.
The old man nodded. He still had “it.” If he saw the room snickering behind napkins, it didn’t show.
I do a lot of public speaking, mostly to school kids. These days, the younger ones hear me introduced as “Mr. Baldwin” and make a leap of faith to the logical conclusion and call me “Mr. Bald One.” Inevitably, a kind and helpful third grader will ask, “Why are your hands shaking, Mr. Bald One?” Why can’t they see what I see, know what I know, what all old men know, that we still have “it?” What do the three sisters think? Why doesn’t Jennifer Lawrence answer my six hundred, seventy-seven “likes” on her Facebook page? “Dear Genehouse, I’m a big fan, can I come? See you? Love, Jennifer.”
I walked back home. It was raining. In my head, I heard a radio, with that bad country and western band: “Who’ll stop the rain?” Remember Nick Nolte, young and muscular, rifle in hand in that movie, him slow motion striding to that tune? Have you seen him lately? Prunes look better. “And the rain came down.” Tom Petty, he with the long, thin hair and sallow face. Now he looks like a sallow cadaver.
And me? “I am the Bald One; I am arthritic; I am the (old, listing, tuskless) walrus! Coo-coo-kachoo!”
“Rainy Ham and Beans Thursdays always get me down.”