Monday, October 29, 2018

Monday 31 August 1998

I kind of trailed off there two weeks ago—down the long trail, looking back, the trail back, the last two weeks, a lot has happened, and I haven't been able to finish that last sentence. That sentence is a lost cause, but maybe I can finish the thought. I guess what I was getting at is that it's the most amazing thing I've ever experienced, that there could be a perfect (interior-wise) 1940s diner in my home town, hidden from me for 38 years! I mean, it had the dining car manufacturer company plate over the inside door, it had the old Formica-top counter with boomerang designs and smooth white crescents worn in from decades of forearms resting on it. There it was, all along, and I never saw it, simply because I didn't go in the door. So what is so great about this discovery—it's not that I'm going to move back to Sandusky, because that would surely be the cosmic force to make the place close—no, what's great is that now I have reason to have hope, here in Portland, Maine, a place with a real drought of breakfast spots—at least in my experience here this far—I have hope that I might uncover the hidden secret greatest place ever—behind the facade of something I've passed by a million times even.

But it won't be here, at the New Crystal, another downtown, uninspired, overpriced, cafeteria-style, no-personality place—a place that only exists because it can, because so many people work nearby, have few choices, and don't like to walk more than two blocks. There's a guy in a booth next to me who's just chain-smoking at an alarming rate—I guess not that amazing—the cigarette just never goes out. I didn't actually notice if he lights one cigarette off the last one. Which, if you think about it, is an incredible practice, but he's had cigarettes going the entire time I've been here—like a half hour. He's an old 90 pound bald tan grizzled guy who laughs like his lungs are full of water, and his general appearance is really that of a human cigarette. I mean, this guy has actually turned into a cigarette!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Saturday 15 August 1998

(How in the world did it get to be 15 August already! The cruelty of time and August!) At a traditional Saturday AM breakfast at Hollywood Burger Bar—how scary it is when you get a cold Saturday in August, when you're this far north—you see winter waiting down the road, impatiently. I'm still threatening to move closer to the equator—maybe to Florida to work in the burgeoning artificial community industry.

More on my trip to Ohio—now, nearly a month in the past—since I left—scary! Anyway, the big and weird thing that happened to me. I was visiting my parents and brother and his family in Sandusky, Ohio, my hometown. A place I grew up, and lived in for a total of about 20 years, all added together. A place I know pretty much inside and out, except for all the new bullshit. (Of course, no one really knows any place inside and out.) A place with an enormous tourist attraction, Cedar Point, an amusement park, which is open only seasonally—summer. It's a place, Sandusky, because of the seasonal nature, that has the highest number of fast food restaurants per capita of any place in the United States, ad thus the world, I would assume.

I went for my class reunion—the 20th, and also to go to Cedar Point, which I do every 10 years or so to see how much has changed. Of course, by now, it's more like to see what's stayed the same. A remarkable number of things actually stay the same—each one of them being like a little miracle—because for the most part, the old gets moved, torn down, eliminated, to make space for the colorful, hi-tech new rides that seem to be influenced by the extreme sports fads—everything is either the fastest, tallest, steepest, etc., or based on white water rafting, skydiving, and bungee jumping.

Anyway, around back around the time I was in school, about 15 years ago now, I got really interested in diners and was taking a filmmaking class, so I did a documentary portrait of diners in Ohio. Of course I didn't presume to find them all, but in my hometown, Sandusky, I felt like I knew what was there. The old diners that were still operating had at one time or other been remodeled—usually the exterior, usually in the Sixties or Seventies, to keep up with the times. So I know that around the eastern United States especially, there were many old stainless steel train-car style diners hidden in bricked-over, shingled over, contemporary facades. My friend Sean started a diner appreciation magazine and we wrote and talked about this endlessly. Also, my film was partly a defining of what a diner was, which has to do more with what's on the inside than the outside—more with atmosphere, history, function, and especially personality—both in what it's become, as well as the people working and the customers—than architecture.

So I'd be the first one to say that you should look inside a place before you make any judgments about it. So I was completely floored when I went with my dad out to this donut shop where he told me served breakfast and he went occasionally. It's a place called Jolly Donut, and it's been there for as long as I can remember, probably all my life. It's connected to this little motel called The Sands, on the main long shopping strip outside of Sandusky city limits. I've just always assumed it's a donut shop, which it is, and never realized they had a counter and booths and served breakfast and lunch. The place, for as long as I can remember, had a brick facade and a mansard style roof, which matches the motel. So when we went in and it was a classic stainless steel dining car company diner—! These classic dining car restaurants were prefab structures, manufactured by several companies, mostly in New Jersey, mostly post-war—they resembled the train dining cars, and because of their long, thin design, they were easily transported—carried behind trucks to anywhere in the country you wanted. They're mostly in the East, then here and there throughout the Midwest. People returning from war, presumably, wanted to start a new life, work for themselves, found this a good way to start a restaurant. So they're associated with the Fifties, mostly, and have made a comeback in today's nostalgia market but...

Monday, October 1, 2018

Tuesday 4 August 1998

It's morning before work and I'm at “Patty Kakes” restaurant, a place I've walked by many times. It's connected to Patty's Retreat bar, the kind of place where Irish is a euphemism for alcoholic. A lot of old guys here, not necessarily alcoholics, but men. Everything about this place is wrong, from the mismatched chairs, to the seriously stained old brown carpet, to the orange tables placed in dehumanizing rows, to the ugly dropped ceiling painted brown, to the only d├ęcor: travel posters that are so faded and wrinkled that they make every place look as ugly as this place. Japan, Canada, Venice, China, Greece, San Francisco, Yugoslavia, Mexico, France, Germany. (Alt. order: Germany, France, Mexico, China, Greece, Japan, Canada, Venice, Yugoslavia, San Francisco.) Who'd want to go there? Not when you can just stay here, in Little Ireland.

Sitting at each of the tables against a wall is an old man—some really old, some made prematurely old by alcoholism. I'm the youngest one here—the oddball—but no one acts like they notice—we're all sitting with our backs to the wall, facing the middle of the room, the empty tables, each other. A couple of the old guys talk to each other—they probably see each other every day, yet they don't sit together. Some of them live at the residence hotel upstairs, and another up the street—places with nautical names, The Commodore, The Admiral's Nest, etc.

A big, noisy fan is on, everyone is smoking except me, and the men who talk, talk about the heat even though they still haven't got the feeling back in their limbs since last winter. It's just wishful thinking, an actual heatwave here in Portland, Maine, dying like they are in Dallas this summer. I was in a used bookstore yesterday and a young man & woman were in there complaining about the heat—it's 180 degrees everywhere you go, she said bitterly, not realizing, of course, that 180 degrees doesn't mean “really, really hot,” but “turned around in the opposite direction,” or a “complete reversal.” It's this kind of abuse of the common language that I have to endure every day. No, I'm just kidding. I find that kind of thing endearing—it's just a matter of not thinking things through. It doesn't get on my nerves nearly as much as abbreviating, leaving words out, and especially using adjectives as nouns. That's what gets me to being homicidal. All this complaining about the heat, though, it just cracks me up. It's not hot here. Someone said, after about the third straight day it hit the nineties—“I had enough of this, already.” Right! Bring on that 10 month winter!