Saturday, September 22, 2007

Always Peppy

* archived from Masterpiece in a Day in Fountain Square, Indianapolis, September 2007 (third place)

There is no pep in the step of this long-haired woman standing before us, pad in hand, black apron a shroud of misery.

"What can I get you?" the waitress asks flatly.

The diner is dingy but clean, like well-worn denim - faded and ripped, but soft and still a favorite that fits just right.

The counter, the tables, the jukebox and servers all wear a layer of light grease on their spit-polished shine. The smell of French fries never quite stops sticking to their skin and sour smocks.

The biscuits and gravy are as gray as the smoke-saturated walls; the coffee stale as the old sailors and sunny, sunglass-wearing hipsters who sit side by side, coming for the familiar faces and food. They take their places at the counter, thighs well-acquainted with the thin, cracked vinyl padding, drink from thick mugs and consume the special of the day, which, it seems, is nothing very special at all.

Our waitress does not smile, holding her lips tightly over receding gums and years of overlooked oral care. Her weary eyes have seen more than her fair share of drunks, deadbeats and despondent divorcees in for brunch or straight from the bars. Long, Camel-colored hair hangs neatly in a nun-like braid. Fading forearm tattoos betray an innocence long lost - an unsaintly past that preceded children, husbands, prison and welfare.

This is a woman who has lived every sad country song in the jukebox. Her heart knows the words of Desperado just a bit too well.

The white thread in the Always Peppy embroidered across her chest has begun to unravel. But she, a pillar of sans-sanctimonious slum survival, does not, will not come undone. The seams of her life, though threadbare and frayed, will long outlast those of the designer divas who stare at her through their stupored gazes, pitying the woman who serves them a slice of life with a side of sorrow at 4 a.m.

$5.95 plus tip.

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