I was barreling down the 101 at four o’clock in the morning when I got off the exit for Santa Monica boulevard. I waited at the light at the off-ramp and veered left towards West Hollywood. One advantage of working a ridiculous shift was that I didn’t have to deal with traffic, the trade-off; all the looney toons get brought into the ER at that time. If they are comatose or overdosed, it’s not an issue; I like quiet patients. One guy had a screwdriver stuck in the side of his head and kept asking me who was the better actor Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger? I told him if he wouldn’t shut up and stay still, Barnie was going to be his next favorite actor.
There she was, the Grill, with a tiny sign in front and a cheap vinyl banner that said, “Breakfast All Day.” I banged an illegal U-turn and parked next to the Mister Musichead Gallery, crossed the street and went inside. The waiter at the front waved at me to have a seat anywhere, and I settled into the spot that had a fading Eric Clapton autographed headshot inside the table. They have a full drum set stuck on the ceiling, which I always worried about it falling on my head.
“You want the usual? Or special?” Alice said as she approached the table. She was chewing her gum like a cow. Alice used to be an actress back in the 1960s and had a small role with Steve McQueen in some film I can’t even remember. She then met a string of wrong guys after that and worked at the Grill ever since. I swear if the place closed, her body would shrivel up and dry out like a dead magnolia.
“Meatloaf, “I said.
“Ha! Your funny, burger, and fries it is.” Did I tell ya Sonny stopped by last night after you? Yeah, he got a new hairpiece, he looks like Burt.”
I smiled; Alice called all the celebrities by their first names. I lost that sparkle in my eyes from that a long time ago. Once you pull a you-know-what out of a you-know-who’s you-know-where a few times, you understand they are just as human as you and me, only usually dumber. I humor her, though; she probably had a long night as well.
“What is Sonny doing this time?” I asked I stared out at boulevard, wondering if I was getting decent sleep that morning or was my neighbor using his leaf blower at eight in the morning.
Alice handed my order to the cook and poured me a decaf. “He is doing stunt work for that Star Trek film, and he said he could get me into the crew premiere,”
“That sounds like a good night,”
“Yeah, he does smell like garlic all the time though,”
“Maybe you can give him some mints,”
I like hearing people laugh. It’s better than the crying and sobbing I hear nightly, usually after telling a patient’s relative terrible news. At least I don’t numb my feelings with drinking. My solitary vice is the Grill’s hamburgers and fries. The burger wasn’t that great, very average.
Another customer came in, and it was Steve from the studio nearby. He was going to the Grill as long as Alice worked there. Why didn’t the two of them ever hook up? Maybe they did? I had to erase that image from my mind, and it was like thinking of two Egyptian mummies making out. I worried I was getting into imminent sleep territory. One night after an eighteen-hour mega-shift, I fell asleep inside my grill, keys in the ignition until noon. I would have slept longer except the cop that knocked on my window, worried I was dead.
I waved to Steve, hoping he was going to get a seat by himself.
“Please, get a seat by yourself,” I whispered. My hamburger already started not to taste as good.
“Hey man, how was your night?” Steve sat at the seat opposite my table. The smell of the herb drifting towards me. “Did you save any lives?”
“A few saved a few not so much,” I kept eating my burger.
“Anyone shot?” Steve wasn’t one to give me the softball questions.
“None tonight, it rained earlier, that usually lowers the shootings,” I hurried my hamburger.
Steve looked at me and nodded, “Alice waffle and chicken please,” he reached for one of my French fries as I slapped his hand away and moved my plate.
“Dude, I don’t know where your hands have been,”
“I could tell you-“
“Please do not, what kind of clients did you have tonight?”
“A bunch of punks wanting to cut a demo single, you know the usual crap. They thought they could do a full album in a couple of hours. They didn’t even get past recording the drums and part of the vocals. The vocalist lost his voice after the third take, “
“What were they called?”
“Horse Spit? Or Horse Sprite? I don’t know something stupid. I swear these names of these bands are getting lamer and lamer.”
“Well yeah, all the great names were taken,”
Steve nodded; I think I perplexed him enough to stop talking as I shifted into a faster gear with my meal. I took a swig of my decaf coffee.
“Ok, I gotta run, good talking to you,” I rose from the table. I fished out a twenty and a five and placed it on the table. “Hey, Alice! Tell me how it goes with the premiere, remember breath mints!”
Alice laughed in the back of the kitchen.
The sun was peaking above the horizon, between the haze with colors bands of red, white, and yellow. Soon everyone else was going to get up to go to work as I was going to get home. I got in my car and stared at the Grill, the diner of the banal, and the places where dreams tend to sleep and never wake.
This one is an original Flash Monsters!!! piece Lucien shared with us on a weekly call.