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My Diner

(a love story)

January 22, 2006|Deborah Netburn | Deborah Netburn last wrote for the magazine about Synaplex.

My diner doesn't have old-school credentials like the original Pantry or Du-par's, and it's not as trendy as Fred 62 or Swingers. There are no jokes on the menu, no retro signs on the walls, no mustachioed waiters and no waitresses with gravelly voices who call me "hon." The walls are painted yellow and orange and a hospital grayish-blue, and the music--heavy on British invasion bands such as the Kinks and the Faces--is familiar without being obvious. There are tables on the sidewalk, and on days when I don't find the rumble of traffic on Sunset offensive, my husband and I sit out there and watch the local characters: the overweight man with a Santa Claus beard and granny glasses who gruffly asks every person he encounters, "Would you like to buy my poetry?"; the compulsive speed walker who roams the neighborhood in short shorts and no shirt while reading the newspaper; the theatrically costumed Latino who carries a boom box and dances ecstatically to salsa music whenever he presses PLAY. I'm not from here and I haven't been here long, but when I'm at my diner, sitting in front of a plate of eggs over medium with hash browns and no toast, sipping coffee that is not especially good, I can't imagine anywhere else feeling more like home.

The staff at my diner is friendly, but not too friendly, which is just the way I like it. Our usual waiter has longish hair that is sometimes red and sometimes black and often tied up in unusual ways. He's brisk and efficient and constantly moving. My husband discovered that his name is Jason because it is printed on the check he silently delivers when we are three-quarters done with our meal. I discovered that he's a vegetarian by eavesdropping when a customer asked him if the turkey burger was any good. I imagine he must recognize us, but he's never said more than "Hey, guys" before taking our order.

One time I saw Jason at the laundromat across the street with the cute cashier who always wears her hair parted down the center in two pigtails, two braids or two buns. Her name is Mona. It made me feel shy; I assume Jason respects the privacy of his customers because he likes privacy himself. I had never imagined his life outside of the diner except to wonder whether he plays in a band. (He does.) A few months later they had a baby and Mona stopped working at my diner. Now she works part-time at the music conservatory down the street, where they let her bring the baby. Sometimes she wheels him over to visit Jason, and all the staff gathers around and coos.

There is a girl named Sarah who is at my diner all the time. She owns the trendy but not too pricey boutique next door. If I'm there in the morning before 10, she usually wanders in in pajamas with messy hair and no makeup and helps herself to coffee. If it's later in the day, maybe 12:30 or 1, she is more put together. She has a dachshund named Bingo that wanders among the tables outside looking for food. The regulars call him by name, pat his head and feed him scraps, making a show that they, like the dog, belong here.

I recently spoke with Sarah for the first time, and even though I already knew things about her--that she owns the dog and the store and used to date a friend of some friends--I learned that she used to work at my diner, lives in the apartment upstairs, and that whenever somebody new starts to work there he or she needs to be told that Sarah is entitled to as much free coffee as she wants.

My diner is not the kind of place where things never change. There's been a lot of staff turnover in the 2 1/2 years since I claimed it. Back when I was unaware that eggs over medium were an option (the eggs over easy were always too runny), there used to be a waitress with short dark hair, smooth skin and a preference for large dangly earrings. Not long after I got married I noticed that she had started to wear an engagement ring, and then I started to keep an eye out for a wedding band. Before it appeared she moved away to Portland, and even though I never talked to her, I miss her.

When Mona left about two years ago, she was replaced by a guy named Travis. He is more talkative than the rest of the staff. Soon after he arrived he complimented me on my shirt. Travis is from New Mexico and is trying to be an actor and is sincere and warm and lovable. He wears thrift-store plaid pants almost all the time, has bangs that sweep over one side of his face, and his favorite actress is Shannyn Sossamon. I know that last detail because she came into my diner once and, hyper, almost panicked, he told her so.

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