Though I’ve both passed and fantasized about the Nighthawk Cafe almost daily for the last three-and-a-half years I have never been inside. It is just past four thirty when I pull open the inner door and hear the tinkle of a bell. A short, lean, fortyish brunette with a pixie cut looks up from the counter where she’s refreshing a man’s coffee and greets me. “Go ahead and sit anywhere,” she says, “we’ll be right with you.”
I nod and head toward the back of the diner. I sit with my back to the wall so that I am looking out the two big plate glass windows. I wonder who else has been tempted to shoot this place up and realize that though I’ve contemplated telling my therapist about this little first person shooter fantasy I never have. Then I remembered that not telling her had been a conscious decision because she had gotten so upset when I told her that I often daydream about smashing my car into someone else. Her unprofessional response to the car smashing fantasy had made me decide to keep this little psychotic urge to myself.
My table is empty; no menus, no silverware, and I wonder how long it will be before Winnie arrives. Ah, Winnie! My first date with someone other than my ex-wife in over thirty-five years. “No pressure,” I tell myself, “that’s why we’re meeting early and at a diner.”
The cafe isn’t very busy and the brunette at the lunch counter seems to have forgotten me. I sit up straight and try to catch her eye but either she doesn’t see me or doesn’t want to walk to the back of the cafe. I try coughing but still can’t catch her attention. Finally, I do a kind of half standing wave and she looks at me funny. “Oh. Did you seat yourself?” she asks from across the room.
Did I seat myself? ‘Yeah, I sat myself, just like you told me to about five minutes ago.’ This is what I think but say, “Yes. You told me to sit anywhere and that someone would be right with me,” I holler back.
She rolls her eyes, and by rolls her eyes I don’t mean a little bit. She treats me to an eyes circling 360 degrees, counter-clockwise traveling, deep exhale, mouth smirking eye roll. I feel a desire to either punch her in the mouth or leave but I do neither. “I’ll send somebody right over,” she says to me, and then turning her head toward the kitchen adds, “Tanya? Can you get the table in the back?”
I don’t know when I’ve felt more special.
Tanya is also brunette but has a squishier build and longer hair than the counter keeper. Had she been chomping gum my picture of her would have been complete but somehow, she, like a magician doing sleight of hand, creates the illusion of gum chomping without actually going the extra step of a bovine impersonation. I try not to judge her but my nerves and unpleasant introduction to The Nighthawk is weighing heavily against gentility. I tell myself to be nice and am told in response by myself to shove it. I am offended but know not where to direct my ire. Tanya introduces herself and asks if I’d like to order.
I look up at innocent young Tanya and smile. “Hi,” I say. “I’m meeting someone here. She should be along in a minute. Could you bring menus and some water please?”
Tanya nods. “Sure. One water or two?”
“Let’s splurge,” I answer. “Bring two please.”
I can’t see Tanya’s eye roll as she nods and then turns away from me but I can feel it. Apparently, the Nighthawk is the place to work if one has loose eye sockets.
She returns quickly with the water and menus. “Anything to drink?” she asks.
“You don’t sell beer by any chance?” I ask.
Tanya purses her lips and shakes her head. “Nope. Pepsi products.”
“Iced tea?” I ask.
“Sure,” she says.
“Okay,” I volley back. “Ice tea. And would you bring some sugar please?”
“Sure,” she repeats, replete with overflowing jocularity.
“Thanks,” I say to her retreating form.
She returns with my tea and leaves. I add two sugars and stir the drink with my straw. I figure the straw is a more couth choice than my finger and as my table is still silverware free using a spoon doesn’t seem a likely option. My anticipatory, pre-date mood has been shattered and I want to blame the Nighthawk but know that my worries about making a dinner date worthy impression on Winnie and fears concerning Eddie’s porn defying progress are the real stumbling blocks here, not a haughty, middle aged, attractive waitress and a young girl who knows she is destined for better things than merely serving table in a Des Moines diner.
I wonder if my dinner date is a terrible choice when the entry doorbell again chimes and Winsome walks in. I smile at the sight of her and my fears recede. “It’s just dinner at a diner,” I tell myself. “Relax!”