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Sunday, September 26, 2010


Cracked Soup

The day is sunny despite a haze of smog. A highly-educated, white, mid-height, average-looking woman walks into a suburban diner. The diner is clean and brightly lit from the many windows. There is a diverse demographic of people filling about three-quarters of the total available tables, booths and stools at the counter.
The second-generation Greek owner, with a bear-like build, stands behind the counter that separates the relatively open floor plan of the diner from the kitchen. The woman is reminded of the men at her office, the ones she usually gets away from during her precious lunch hour. She can’t stand being near the overbearing fake-kindness of the bullies, but somehow the mood in the diner lightens this feeling. The owner wipes some dessert plate dishes clean with a dish towel. While standing there, he chats with two well-dressed, white women who are slouched over their cups of tomato soup.
The highly-educated woman smiles at the owner and grabs a table, almost dead center in the middle of the room. The woman does not know the owner well, but she’s been to this diner more than once. He seems like a genuinely nice man, but she’s glad for the distance, and the small part of the day she spends here, away from her officious coworkers. Among other things, she likes the open floor plan, the brightly lit atmosphere and the tomato soup.
It is lunch time, and the woman wants to order food before going back to work. She goes up to the counter with her medium-sized, vinyl purse that has a metallic clasp in front. The owner sees her and puts down the dish he was drying. “Hello, how can I help you today?”
“Hi there, I’m thinking I would like a cup of that tomato soup. I’ll take a side salad with it, with French dressing.”
“Would you like anything to drink with that?” The owner asks.
“A cup of coffee and some water would be very nice.”
“Any dessert?”
The woman smiles again. “No thank you, I’ve got to watch the sugar intake while at work. Otherwise, your scones do look lovely.” She nods her head over to the small plastic casing filled with assorted fresh-baked pastry on top of the counter to her right, past the two women sitting on the stools. The slouching women smile back.
“Well then, you should come back after work and treat yourself. Too much work and not enough treats makes for a hard week during such rough times. It’s part of why I reduced their price.”
“That’s part of why I came in. You have extremely affordable rates. It’s definitely appreciated.”
“Thank you. It’s good business to keep people coming in with low rates than make only a few people come in for what? Less food and higher prices? Business isn’t just about the money. It’s about what I can do to make someone’s day a little nicer. I often find I get more out of talking to people than I do with the process of making sure I stay solvent.” He sadly chuckles.
The working woman seems warmed by his comment, and gives him an appreciative smile.
The owner goes back to the cash register at his right and totals the order. “All right. The total is $6.22.”
“Like I said, very reasonable.” The woman unclasps her purse and picks through its meager contents to find her pocketbook. She pulls out three bills from it, one five dollar bill and two one dollar bills, and hands them to the owner over the counter. He rings open the cash register with a mixture of automated beeps and the metallic ca-junk of the drawer, which is released into his gut with a soft pffld.
The owner places the bills in each pile in the drawer, and pulls out three quarters and three pennies. With a smile, the owner then hands the change to the woman and says, “Your order will be out soon.”
The woman smiles back and closes her purse. She turns to go to the table she had marked with setting down her coat across the back of a chair. The spring air was chilly enough even with the bright blazing sun to need a coat when going outside.
However, once she gets to the table, she is aware of how much she needs to use the lady’s room. A half hour before coming to the diner, she drank an entire twenty-ounce bottle of Aquafina. So before sitting down, she figures she should have enough time before the food comes to go to the restroom. She sets her purse down on the chair and turns to the direction of the restrooms, which are in the far left corner of the counter with the cash register.

The woman leaves her purse at the table, and she thinks it won’t be snatched? She’s simple, no street smarts. Leave it to a man. I have two women waiting on me, asking me for every little thing, because they know, I know. It’s no problem. I want to help, they need my help. I will help.
So the woman comes from somewhere, maybe the bathroom. Nothing to me, I have two women already waiting on me. They want refills on their drinks, extra napkins, or they ask, how much is the apple pie with ice cream? I show them the apple pie already comes with ice cream, any flavor, no extra charge for the ice cream. I’m a nice guy, they should have something sweet, right? It’s rough times. I want to help, make things good. Keep people happy, keep people coming back. Eh, who wouldn’t when you run a business, right?
That woman doesn’t get it. I offer her sweets, she refuses. She makes me feel like I’m not getting through to her I can be a good guy. Okay, no skin off my nose. She chooses her own food, something simple. Like her. She’s classy, she’s a business woman. Okay. She likes my food, so I say, okay.
I tell her she makes a mistake, leaving her purse. She doesn’t like me reminding her, I think. I tell her, I’m glad she’s here, I thought she left. I tell her that. She tells me no, she was in the bathroom. I then say to her, I look out for her, things like money should not be left laying around, especially when she can’t keep an eye on it. I can’t keep an eye on it, I have other people to serve. There’s an old couple at a table at one corner of the room, and a guy reading his paper at the other. What if I were to get busy all of the sudden? I’d need eyes growing out of the back of my head just to make sure I get everybody’s orders.
She gets uppity, telling me my place is empty, no one would take it. I tell her I’m just telling her because I’m nice. She doesn’t get it. Okay. I’m a nice guy.

I need lunch, but I don’t really know this particular diner that well. There’s a soup special written on the black board out front of it, and the place is close enough that I won’t be completely soaked if it rains. I forgot my umbrella. I didn’t feel like taking anything with me but my leather jacket. I guess it’s my attempt at being a rebel. But really, I just forgot. So many frickin’ things to think about, I needed to get away, away from that job. Too many people making noise, it’s an office for God’s sake! Why the hell are they talking all the time? Customer service doesn’t have to be so frickin’ loud from two corridors away! I just can’t stand this job being so... detached. But why get to know these people? They’d just start yacking my ear off, and then I’d never get them to shut up.
Inside the diner, it’s a sparse but comfy place, two women at the counter, and… the owner is yelling at a customer. It can’t be the owner. No, it looks like it’s got to be the owner, the guy’s wearing a paper hat that covers at least some of that bald spot in the middle of his thick black hair. And a green order pad and pen is sticking out the front right pocket of the guy’s slightly-stained apron. Either he’s the owner or a head cook. In this small edge-of-the-town suburban sprawl neighborhood, often that’s the same thing.
I would usually want to get out of a situation like this, but I’m kind of fascinated by the weirdness of this scene. I deal with diplomacy so much with office politics that I would rather have a little normal human interaction, perhaps wait my turn. Not to be yelled at, but rather to find out what they were yelling about. Could actually be something important, or perhaps she’s trying to haggle a price down. I don’t know, but it’s kind of intriguing. That, and this is the only sit-down place that’s close to work. Those scones do look good in that case. Even one of those with some coffee would be a nice departure from the 7-11 equivalent.
It looks like I’ll have to wait to get served however, I can’t seen anyone else in here besides the short Mexican cooks near the back, and the only waitress is completely across the room talking to some other customers.

A man walked in while the woman conversed with the owner about the purse. The man is white, thin and wearing a slightly-worn leather coat with well fitting jeans. He waits behind the woman, who is starting to get a little more annoyed with the owner. “Part of the economic problems we are dealing with is couched in public trust. If I can’t trust that a place like this is safe not just for my purse but for me, then why should I go out at all?”
The man looks to the table with the woman’s coat and purse. He only caught the word “purse” because he was preoccupied with trying to see if one of the cooks would look his way. The man goes over to the table and picks up the purse, going over to stand right behind the woman and tries to get her attention.
But the woman is listening to the owner. “Of course my place is safe! But it’s only when I know the people who come in here. I don’t know everybody here, and I don’t know you as well. How am I going to know what you’re thinking?”
The man refrains from talking to either the woman or the owner and scratches his head. The one waitress that was out on the floor has disappeared, and other people have entered the diner and have seated themselves. The place is almost at seating capacity by this time.
So the man shrugs and turns around, deciding to leave. The owner sees the man walk away, but instead of seeing the man as someone that wasn’t helped, the owner sees what is in the man’s hand. The woman’s purse. “You see!? There is someone with your purse in hand!” He raises his voice to the man, who is almost out the door, “Stop there! Hold it!”

I saw the woman’s purse, but I did not pick it up like that. I picked it up after the owner decided that I was the random schmuck who would snatch her purse.
He pointed at me after they’ve been arguing over it. I think he did it because I was starting to get nosey, just standing there instead of running away, like I would usually do, like any sane person would do. But I made myself plainly available to be used to make his point. I got that’s what he was trying to do, but he ended up being the schmuck, at least to me.
Just to clarify, not to make the point but clarify, I go over to the purse in question. I’m ready to hurl the thing at the owner, because he’s making me a bit angry and worked up, my blood pressure is getting out of whack from no food. I wanted soup, not a carnival ride. I wasn’t thinking clearly when I picked up the purse, and I just kind of stood there, wondering why I had actually picked up the dang thing. And then, the owner really went ballistic.

The man had the purse! What was I supposed to act like, happy? The woman had gotten me all upset, for no good reason. I had only been trying to help her. What did she want me to do, not react? The man had come in and proved my point. He chose an unfortunate time. It was not my fault, I am usually quite good with my customers.

The owner moves towards the man. But the man doesn’t like the way the owner is talking to him, so smirking to the owner, he leaves more quickly. The owner is taken by surprise. With a disconcerted expression on his face, he looks for the woman to tell her off, but then also to tell her he’ll call the police. But the woman has already snapped up her coat and quickly follows the man out the door.
The man walked quickly, and he is already half-way down the block.

I realize I’ve got the purse still with me when I leave. I didn’t think the owner would come after me, so I panicked. I wasn’t thinking about why he was coming after me.
I realize I have the dang thing with me when I’m about to shove my hands in my pockets. I then feel more panic seeing the thing there, thinking, what the frick. I want to drop the thing and be as far away from it as I can. But I can’t let it go.

The woman comes up yelling for him to stop. But, there is no malice behind her yell, since she sees the man has stopped and is staring at her.
“Is this yours?” He asks shakily.
“Yes.” She puffs out, after running in heels on the rough patches of uneven, split concrete that line the sidewalk. She puts her hand out for the purse, and he quickly gives it to her.
“I really didn’t know what had happened, I heard you talking to the owner, and I tried to get your attention to ask if it was yours. I didn’t realize I had left with it, and that’s why the owner was yelling after me… That makes more sense now…”
The woman smiles and hugs the man.

This is f’ed up. First I think it’s weird in the diner with the woman and the owner arguing, then I don’t like the owner coming after me, but the woman runs after me, takes the purse from me without accusing me, and then hugs me? Uh-uh. Too weird. I need away, I need detached. No more attempts to go to the “real world” like the people in customer service call it. Give me my simple equations in web-languages and fixing crashed pages that need to unload some of their usage into other venues. Perhaps I’ll have to try this whole WOW world after all. I was never much of a gamer, but at least those people let you have your role play without going outside of the lines already drawn.
I can’t believe the woman hugged me. I can’t take it. She’s too plain and assertive to feel like I could talk to her, and I don’t feel like talking to her. I feel like telling her off, but instead I just say, “I didn’t do anything. I don’t know why you people are crazy enough to be acting out like that. Just leave me alone. You have your purse. Go back to your place and just leave me alone.”
She looks a bit stunned from that. Good, she’s a case herself. I turn the other direction and walk down the street the other way, towards the 7-11. I’ll get a Campbell’s cup of Soup-at-Hand instead of going back to that nutty diner. I’m through with people fixing my food for me, maybe a microwave will be less emotionally taxing.

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