I'm at Guido's Diner—thought I'd try it out, but it looks to me like the place that if you're black and walk in, all conversation stops, not necessarily because they want to intimidate you or scare you away, but because the topic of conversation just happened to be something they would not want a black person to hear. Whether they are afraid of the black person, or the black person walking in is a reminder that there are black people and their conversation assumes there are not, or they are just embarrassed or ashamed, I have no idea. No black people ever come in here anyway, and maybe never have, I assume.
I'm assuming a lot, I realize, and when I go in they are not talking about black people. (When you say “black people” enough times in a short time, you start to see why some people prefer “African-American.” I just have a problem with that term because it would be in turn proper to call myself a “European-American,” and I sure don't want to do that. I'd prefer not to ever call myself an American anything. I guess when pressed, I call myself an Ohioan, because I'm from Ohio, even though that's a political boundary and not very descriptive. There will be a day when this is all just beside the point, unnecessary, and insane, but not in this lifetime.) When I go in they are not talking about black people, but they are talking about women in a degrading way. This is a family owned restaurant, but not a family place. Women barely make their—I'm assuming again—there are no women here except the woman working behind the counter—and two regulars at the counter are talking about how they've been “burned” by women. The woman who's working here and owns the place could kick the ass of anyone here, I'm sure, including her tough guy son, who gives me my coffee and one plastic container of non-dairy creamer. He also gives one of the regulars only one non-dairy creamer, and the regular demands—“One?” To which the son throws another non-dairy creamer at the man's head.
I'm assuming the family who own the place are Greek-Italian-Americans, because they have travel posters on the wall of both Greece and Italy, and you couldn't place them easily as one or the other. They are a mean, humorless, combination of people—I mean those particular restaurant owners. They have signs all over the place—scrawled in magic marker on cardboard—with the rules of the road. “No Credit.” “Coffee includes one refill, you pay for more.” “This is not your living room.” (Whatever that means.) “No checks.” “Cash Only.” “No Loitering.” “No Rest Rooms.” “No Special Orders.” Have it OUR way.” And my favorite—“You don't like your food—you eat it anyway.” Oh, and the craziest of all: “No cigar or pipe smoking.”—because every single person in this place, except for me, is puffing on a foul, stale cigarette, including the father, who has a cigarette expertly hanging from his mouth as he mans the grill and peers out aggressively and wearily down the counter, through the serving window as he cooks.
The two regulars who sit next to me both have their cellular phones sitting on the counter next to their respective packs of filtered cigarettes and colored plastic butane lighters. They are some kind of contractors. They are talking about their respective brands of phone, their good and bad points. The one guy has a new phone, which he likes better than the old one which was identical to his friend's. “I used to have one of those,” he says, “but it made me sound like a 33 1/3 RPM record.” I think he means a 78 RPM record, or a 16 RPM record, or even a record on the wrong speed. A 33 1/3 RPM record? I strongly consider entering the conversation by blurting out, “You mean like Sinatra?” But I don't think they'll get the joke. Sinatra was a pioneer of the 33 1/3 long playing record form, but he recently died, so his death is on everyone's minds. He's always on my mind, anyway, because his songs are the soundtrack to my life. But for this extended media period that's come with his death, I have to share him for awhile with the unimaginative masses. Oh, the unimaginative masses. If I would say “like Sinatra?” to these fellows, they would think I was saying, “Like you're dead?” and not know what the hell I was talking about. People's lines of thought are so dictated by the media, you could pretty much say that it's replaced whatever instinct we once had. If I was going to have to predict one thing that was going to be the demise of the human race (ie., nuclear war, a giant comet hitting the Earth, cockroaches) I'd say it was lack of imagination.