Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Love at the Five 'n Diner/Forget White Linens (Diner Poems)

Love at the Five 'n Diner

I asked for no butter the way
any girl would who's watchin'
her figure. I wanted to keep
turning that cute new cook's head,
catch the eye of the banker I needed
a loan from, remind myself
that a lady was coming through
that plate glass revolving door
& she was lookin'

Darlin', what menu you think I
put in your hand? Butter's first, last,
always the main seasonin' here.
And you know Gus don't allow any

Gus and the Five 'n Diner went together
like a chrome fin on a 1956 Cadillac.
It was Gus who put in the first juke box,
turned on pony-tailed blonde dolls
in poodle skirts to Elvis, brought this
god-awful town his own version
of American Bandstand. He traded out fake
wood for Formica & cuddle-booths
& that neon sign that's always shoutin'

Sweetie, you hear me? No substitutions.
You want toast? It don't come plain.

Gus could've had a future. He told me
he read the Beats after the dishwasher'd
showed him Kerouac's On the Road. I
hadn't read it myself but that didn't keep
me from being real impressed. A man like Gus,
he understood, a dame likes guys who read

Hon, what's it gonna be? There's others'
tables waitin'.

I thought Gus might be a ticket to somewheres.
I'll never forget seeing him the first time,
hair like an oil slick, lashes thick as syrup.
When Jackie took up sick, Gus paid her anyways
and kept the place open late. Pocketed
the jar tips, too, then put 'em in an envelope
and gave 'em to her for Christmas. I heard
she had a conversion after that. Showed up
to work on time and all.

Child, I ain't got all day. The menu ain't
changed since yesterday.

Gus wrote the menu hisself. Breakfast
anytime. Corned beef hash. Scrapple.
Pecan waffles. Side of home fries. Omelets
to. die. for. Liver 'n onions weren't such best
sellers but the double bacon cheeseburgers
and chili dogs washed down with frosty glasses
of Classic Coke kept the quarterbacks in
their game. Gus's menu was a kind
of diner poetry. I loved him
recitin' it.

All our food is cooked to order. You got
to give it time for proper preparation.

How many  times did I hear Jackie say
that? Point to those bold Bodoni letters and slap
her thighs? Same as that last line in red eye-tal:
Prices subject to change without notice.
Gus always laughed but I told him it
made the lawyers happy to see it. There's no
guarantees in anything, you know? Like me
and Gus. Who could've imagined? We'd made
a pact. He promised to stop smoking, stop
the carousin' after closin'. We were gonna be
a team forever, together
at the Five 'n Diner.

Whenever you're ready, Babe.

Mornin', Jackie, it'll just be the usual, Hon.
No butter. And coffee. Black for a change. No
sugars. The way Gus always poured it
for me first

© 2012 Maureen E. Doallas

* * * * * * * *

Forget white linens.

You want white linens, you go
eat at the Ritz. At Bob and Edith's

— she was Bob's wife but carried
the burden of that possessive —

the help's happiest when you leave
your ruby red lips on paper, sip

through flex-a-way plastic straws,
keep the salt 'n toothpicks tidy.

Gray's Donut Dinette, it was; changed
hands in '69. Bob needed 13 years

to upgrade the first time. He cut
down the standard 10-stool counter,

halved it, put in 7 booths, cozied
us up with our thick chocolate shakes,

root beer floats, and Waffle Sundae
Couples Delight. Mike and Pinky,

Nancy and Greg took some heat in
the kitchen, then Pinky passed. Greg

and wife Victoria are sole owners now,
running their own certified landmark.

The diner's been modernized, even
has a Website to show off the specials

'round the clock: 8-oz. Delmonico steak
and fries, cooked-to-order tuna melts,

side slings of grits, golden brown hot
cakes, famous onion rings just $2.99.

Whole apple pies, pumpkin (in season),
chocolate peanut butter cake come

24/7. The Zagat's rates the place a 20.
It's a classic, this dive, ambience nothin'

fancier than spit-shined chrome siding,
and the parking can get real tight, like

the regulars debating the good 'ole boys.
There, everybody's pretended to be

from Dallas when the Cowboys are in
town. Come on down the Pike, grab

a window seat and hang like it's home.
Coffee's brewed in a big pot, and free

refills don't end till you can say when.

© 2012 Maureen E. Doallas

Last week, the Poetry Foundation's Harriet blog spotlighted a Food & Wine interview with filmmaker, director, and artist David Lynch, "The Hungry Crowd: David Lynch". Lynch, apparently, has a thing for diners; those in the know say he's a diner dessert connoisseur. In addition to calling them "beautiful. . . brightly lit, with chrome and booths and Naugahyde and great waitresses", Lynch says poets "could write volumes about diners".

That last bit sounded like a challenge to me, and a wonderful prompt, so I threw down the napkin, so to speak, and invited Lyla Lindquist, Matthew Kreider, Seth Haines, Glynn Young, and the rest of the fun folks at TweetSpeakPoetry and around the Internet to cook up their best diner poems for the Diner Poems Challenge.

The first poem above comes from my imagination. The second is about a real place that's been slinging hash for more than 40 years; there's yet another generation working there now. I've made liberal use of its history.

We have several diners of note where I live. One's part of a chain, so I don't count it among the kind of ma-and-pa establishments that really rate. Another, just down the road, features tabletop juke boxes, and carries pies with toppings a mile high and no flavor; but even this always-jammed favorite of locals doesn't stand a chance against Bob and Edith's, a family-owned and -operated concern that doesn't hide its loyalties to the Dallas Cowboys in a town where the Redskins reign. The diner is still open 24 hours a day, which means it's never closed. The county police get their grub there, and I can vouch the clientele gets a bit dicey after midnight (yes, if you ever party late and can't find anyplace else open, you know, no matter where you live, to go to Bob and Edith's on Columbia Pike). The food is more than merely edible, and not a few patrons describe it as "downright excellent"; the service gets extra points, too. T-shirts and hats with the diner's logo cost more than most of the items on the menu. The last time I checked, the place had 365 reviews on one site alone. What else merits the equivalent of a food critic a day? 

Got a diner in your parts? Immortalize it in an original poem (a photograph is great, too, if you've got one), drop your link in the comments section here, and then tweet the poem using the hashtag #dinerpoems. Be sure to put it on FaceBook, too. Who knows, maybe David Lynch will notice.


Louise Gallagher said...

Oh how you inspire me!

This is all fabulous.

Good enough to eat!

Kathleen said...

Oh, you made both these diners come completely to life--you created time and space. Hey, you and your fellow inspired diner poets might want to send unpublished extras to the new magazine, the museum of americana!!

Maureen said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Kathleen, and for your generous comments.

Louise, will we see a diner poem from you? Surely, Calgary has one?

Deborah Batterman said...

Several lines in a Sunday's NY Times by Dan Barry re: a diner in Elyria, Ohio, struck me as poetic. The article itself is pretty terrific, and I couldn't resist seeing if I could weave chosen lines into a 'found poem.' Here it is:


Donna wears her blond hair in a ponytail
and frames her hazel eyes with black-rimmed glasses
smudged with grill grease.

She knows to give turkey bacon to the retired judge with heart problems,
and to cut a slice of lemon meringue pie for the woman
who bangs on the door with her walker,
the cranky woman who wants to know what’s so good
about the morning.

Donna knows what it means to lose sleep,
To wake each day to a new set of worries
– lunch specials and rising bills, forgotten orders and returned meals.

The image of a woman hunting through the park’s garbage
for cans to redeem
mingles with the sunlight painting the treetops of Ely Square.

The fresh aroma of coffee face-slaps the air.
Soon the regulars will saunter in,
pick up where they left off yesterday.
The talk will continue as yolk stains harden and refills turn tepid.

There is no time for Donna to daydream.
Sometimes, though,
She imagines taking a drive to Lake Erie,
Just to sit on a bench,
Gaze into the undulating blue,
Clear her head.
Consider the judge’s advice:
Donna, how about it?
Close up the diner,
come across the street to the new courthouse,
run the cafeteria: five days a week, a steady stream of customers,
no worries about utilities.

There is no time for Donna to wonder.
Ike Maxwell wanders in looking for food or money,
she knows just what to do.
Ike Maxwell beaten on the head with a baseball bat 30 years ago.

Anyone comes in asking for a job
she leads them right to the grill,
To see if they can flip a frying egg.

She will save some perch on Fridays for Gloria and Forrest.

She will put down the mound of mail in the back-room makeshift office,
get back to the kitchen:
You can lose yourself in the stirring of a sauce
You can nourish others and make things seem better,
if only for a little while.

Maureen said...


I've been reading the NYTimes series. It is a great read, and so captures the feeling in the town.

Love your found poem. You picked up many of the wonderful details in the Sunday post. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Maureen said...

My friend Matthew Kreider has a little trouble leaving his link here. No matter. Here's Matt's poem to enjoy:


Thank you so much for 'Tonight's Special', Matt.

Maureen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maureen said...

Seems Blogger liked your post so much it repeated it three times. Will check to make sure at least one with your link stays here, Matt. Thank you again.

Brian Miller said...

smiles. i really like the first...the five n diner...been in places similar...and i like how you get into his character....the structure as well with the waitress commentary in between....fun read maureen....

Claudia said...

see..now you have me all hungry...for food and for poetry...smiles..really cool write maureen

Kim Nelson said...

Oh my goodness! Both of these diner pieces speak to a place and time and feeling all their own. You take us there, where the coffee's strong, the food is hot and the clientell is on a first name basis.

hedgewitch said...

Fascinating, Maureen. A very creative take, and a great theme to explore, as you've done so well here.