- MODERN WISDOM PRESENTS: THE MODERN WISDOM DYSLEXICON
666: The three circles of the Mickey Mouse Head.
ABBREVIATIONS. I hate ‘em—OK?
ABSOLUTE ZERO. My boiling point.
ALGEBRA. Let X equal your signature. Y are you still illiterate?
ALPS. Treacherous oversized rocks worshipped by rich people.
AMNESIA. Hate it? Why? Uhh….
AMPHETAMINES. I think amphetamines should be legal and I’m going to lobby 168 hours a week until they are.
ANAXIMANDER. His descendant is even now probably feeding a despicable Gyro to a gullible bohunk somewhere west of Philadelphia.
ANCHOVIES. Sardines with a pedigree.
ANTARCTICA. Why do they call it Antarctica when it’s the one place in the world where there’s no ants?
ARABS. They ain’t so hot. They invented zero. That’s Nothing!
- BIG MAMA’S DINOR
The new truck broke down somewhere between Route 51 and Iko Junction. My father warned me not to buy it; not at that price; not at any price. Not from Ron Irons. Irons was a crook. A French-Irish rascal. Not a Pole. A Pole you could trust. Not Irons. Irons didn’t pay his taxes. Well, now, strictly speaking, that’s not entirely fair to Irons. He paid them, all right, but he cheated. Claimed deductions which weren’t his to claim. Operated using an out-of-state address. And like that. My Dad got this information from his accountant, who also did the books for Irons. Who knew if Irons was even really his name? “Ron Irons” sounded like the kind of a easy-to-remember fake name you would sign on the register of a hot-sheet Motel. Not a real name at all. I asked Dad what was a hot-sheet Motel, but he quickly clammed up and changed the subject like he has a habit of doing when he doesn’t want to talk about something.
The upshot: I’m guessing that Mr. Ron Irons was a real shady character. So it was not a good idea to buy a truck from him.
I’m thinking, my father told me, that that truck isn’t really new, like he says.
Aw, hell (he would have said, except that he seldom cussed) you’re buying yourself a lemon.
I’ll bet (he would have said, although he was not a betting man), it has a bent frame.
“Sonny, it looks to me like a deal that is too good to be true.” Whatever that means. (Only he never once ever called me “Sonny.” Usually it was Boy, or Kid, or, occasionally, when he wanted to express deep emotion, he might call me “Son.” Like when I graduated from high school. Practically the first in my family! But only by the skin of my teeth. As I’ll admit to anybody.)
It was all show and no go is what I think Dad was trying to say, only he wasn’t given to expressing himself that way, so the words trailing from his mouth came out sort of bent or crooked.
It’s really a bad bargain, he said, wrapping it up. Don’t do it. Don’t buy that truck from Ron Irons. Even if it does have monster tires. Be sensible. Be responsible.
I never did figure out exactly what he meant when he used the word “responsible.” I looked it up once. In the dictionary. (I think what he was getting at was that he wanted me to make the right decision, but if that’s what he wanted to tell me, why didn’t he just say it that way?)
Dad offered to go with me to look at the trucks at the dealership. The same dealership where he had been buying his cars and trucks for thirty years.
But I did not want to buy a truck from the same dealership, the same dealership where bla bla bla. Because it would be yet another triumph for Dad. And because the dealership didn’t have any trucks with monster tires. I know I could always have them put on, later. But I didn’t want to pay the extra expense. I know it seems dumb, but sometimes a man just wants what he wants, and that’s all there is to it.
Dad also offered other words of similar Dad-like advice and wisdom. All the time. Words which I felt like I had to ignore, not only on general principle but because I have often found that whenever I ignored him it would make him mad. It was about the only way that I could make him mad. He was a real easygoing guy, most of the time. “You always have to learn things the hard way” he said, when he learned that I had decided to buy the expensive sneakers, the fancy juicer advertised on television, the truck with monster tires from a man who may or may not be Ron Irons. “Well, don’t come crying to me,” he’d say. “That’s all.” I don’t know what he meant by that. The last time I had come crying, to him or to anybody, was exactly 18 years ago.
But I’m not going to tell you that story.
“The only thing I got to say is that the world is going to have a long party,” Dad said. “A long party knocking the snot-nose out of you,” Dad must have liked the way that sounded. Because I remember that he’d said it to me more than only once.
So that is how I came to be stranded in an interesting restaurant called Big Mama’s Dinor in Mount Alvaro. Mount Alvaro was a neighborhood. (On all its signs and billboards I noticed, it called itself a “community”, but Dad said they were giving themselves airs and that they were just a neighborhood just like any other.)
Back in 1992 Mount Alvaro was full of sketchy-looking two and three story houses strung along cramped streets in a tight row, like big fancy pastel wedding cakes in a crowded bakery window like the one they still have back on Liberty Avenue for all I know although I haven’t been back there in years so maybe it closed.
It was the kind of place where–even as late as 1992–you could find small grocery stores or beauty parlors or restaurants that operated out of the ground floor of people’s homes.
Big Mama’s Dinor. That was the actual name of the restaurant I was stranded in. That’s how they spelled it. I wanted to ask them why but I didn’t, not right away. It was raining in sheets and buckets and I was waiting for the tow truck to come. It was one of that type of establishment. Home based, I mean. I guess it was a mother-daughter operation–Mom cooked, daughter served. They seemed like they were happy. How do I know? Well, they were all jokey in front of all the customers. Though they only had a few customers. Their biggest trade seemed to come from mill workers who would come in to purchase sandwiches, grilled, or ready-made. You see, I don’t always pay attention to what’s going on around me, according to Paw, so I could never be a policeman, but I notice things. I do!
Anyway, it was almost lunch-time when the truck’s transmission broke down. It was starting to rain and I was on a steep hill trying to start the truck when I heard a grinding of gears which did not sound promising, or auspicious, or whatever big word you might care to use. I knew better than to even start the engine again. Too many things could go wrong with the truck if I actually tried to start it, and then Dad would win. Again.
I knew better than to pick up the telephone and call Dad. Didn’t he say “Don’t come crying to me?” I wasn’t crying, exactly. But I was damn mad. Excuse me. I was furious mad. Mad at Ron Irons, sure, but mostly mad at myself for being slick-talked into buying a rusty old truck just because it had monster tires and it looked sort of cool. Like the kind of truck I would like to be seen driving around in. Only, who would see me? Most of my friends had moved away after we graduated high school. And my relatives weren’t very easy to impress.
As I sat there in from out of the rain waiting for the tow truck to arrive, a few old-timers came shambling in through the front door of the wood-frame building with its crooked wall-mounted black mailbox and its soothing brick porch under a faded blue awning and its worn carpeting which led into the seating area.
The locals were a treat to watch. Of course, they were also watching me. They would look at me sidelong, then glance over at Mama, as if to say “We are all old men who have known each other for years. Who’s this young and mysterious stranger?”
“He’s a customer,” Mama said, “He’s waiting for a tow truck.”
This process repeated itself three or four times. I lost track. Door would open. The bell that rings when you come in would ring. Ting a ling. Wordless question. Who’s this? Tow truck.
The mill workers in our area were of a select breed. Or inbreed. As dad would say. I’m guessing that some of them had been at the mill for 25 or 30 years. How do they do it–day in and day out?
Well, Dad says that when most all of the good jobs went down the crapper about some ten, fifteen years ago–actually, moved down south, most of them–there were certain guys–Dad called them “Lifers”–who managed to hang on. “The Union” wasn’t a dirty word to these fellows.”The Union” had done good by ’em. They had seniority. Whatever that means. Of course, Dad said, giving me the benefit of some of his practical experience, “The Union” was mostly a bunch of crooks, but they still managed to do some good for people.
There were four guys who came to order grilled sandwiches and to hang out and to watch me. as an extra-special added attraction, I guess. I didn’t catch their names but you could tell them apart pretty easy. One had black hair and was lanky and one had gray hair and was really fat like a storekeeper and one had brown hair and was slack-jawed and one had red hair and was short and bulbous. And yet, as different as they were, they all had a similar look–pale, washed out, waxy skin, creased faces–that tired look. That look you get on the most tired day of your life? These guys had all the time. They weren’t just tired, they were tiiired. With three “I”s.
I’m guessing that they were the kind of people who read the daily paper and talked about the editorials. Then they would read the sports section word by word and then their horoscope and then they would skim the comics section and chuckle out loud at the doings of Blondie, Gordo, and Priscilla’s Pop.
I could tell that the mill workers were just dying to hear more details about the stranger in their midst, who was me. It’s not hard to be able to tell such things if you pay close attention. I have always had trouble doing that, just like I had always had trouble warming up to strangers, but I find, as I grow older and I am already in my late twenties, that I could do even those sorts of things–if I really tried.
I’m a pretty tall guy, size thirteen shoes, big boned. The Daughter was a choice little bitty-bit of Fluff. I wouldn’t say she was a midget-woman, exactly. Just short, that’s all. Her head was just about level with my head as I seated myself at the counter that they had rigged up in somebody’s living room to make it look like a real diner instead of somebody’s living room. The Daughter was actually kind of cute, in a dumpy frumpy sort of way. A blond little cream puff who looked like she could make some fella’s life just a little bit sweeter, if only you would let her.
I decided to impress her with my charm. So I said to the Daughter, whose name was Pearl, “Hi. My name’s Mike Czesław. What’s yours? pearl? That’s a pretty name, Pearl. If I had me a daughter I’d name her Pearl. I used to live on Pearl Street. Can you make me an omelette, Pearl? I know it’s not on on the menu, but I’d like me an omelette. With potatoes. And onions. And tomatoes, if you got ’em.”
No substitutions, Mama screamed from the kitchen, which was hardly a kitchen at all, just a couple of stoves set one room back from the living room. There were no wall dividers, so you could see everything in the kitchen just fine. Dad always said, “Never eat in a place where they won’t let you take a look at the kitchen.” That wasn’t a problem here. The kitchen was right up in your face.
Dad wins again!
“Mama don’t like no surprises,” said Blackie.
“Mama don’t ‘low that ’round here,” said Whitey, the gray-haired Fatso.
“They don’t make ’em like Mama any more,” said Red.
Brownie held his tongue.
“OK then, Pearl,” I said. I used her name as often as possible because that was the lesson I had gotten from How to Win Friends and Influence People by a Mr. Dale Carnegie, which my Dad had pressed upon me when I was sixteen years old and I thought I knew everything.
“Read this book” he said, and it wasn’t like he was talking but more like he was grunting the worlds. “It did me a lot of good.”
I never got much past the first chapter, though.
Everybody in Mama’s Dinor was listening for what I was going to say next. Even though they were pretending not to. Brownie was sipping his coffee with a loud slurp out of a square white mug. Whitey was rattling his newspaper. Blackie was coming his thinning hair with a cheap black pocket-comb. The kind you buy for ten cents from a sad vending machine in a bus station with flickering florescent lights. Or maybe fifteen cents. A Trailways Station. Not even a Greyhound.
And Red, he blew his nose. Actually, first he snorted, then he blew. I always hated when people did that. Why can’t they just blow? But some people always have to be different, I guess.
I said to Pearl, “Let me have the Breakfast Special number two.” Well, that right there should have been an end of it, but I felt as though I had to read the whole thing out because Dad says when ordering in a restaurant you got to always make it clear exactly what you want. Or else maybe you wouldn’t be able to send it back.
But maybe I had my own reasons for reading out what was on the menu. Maybe I wanted to let Pearl hear some more of my voice. Because I was already thinking about asking her out. So I added “That’s two eggs any style, toast and home fries. Can I have wheat toast, please. With jam on the side. And when you make the eggs, can you make them in an omelette with an onion and kind of mash the home fries in there and–“
“No substitutions!” Mama shrieked from the kitchen.
So I got the eggs scrambled instead, with plenty of salt and pepper and butter.
Still, I’m glad I tried for the omelette. Because sometimes a man just wants what he wants, and that’s all there is to it.
I asked for ketchup to put on the eggs, and Pearl sort of kidded with me. “Who puts ketchup on scrambled eggs? I never heard of such a thing. Any of you’uns ever hear of that?”
Brownie said it sounded like a foolish idea.
Red said that it didn’t sound like it would be very good.
Whitey the gray-haired Fatso said that he’d heard there were such people, but he never expected to ever meet one. (I think he was kind of pulling my leg.)
And Blackie didn’t say anything, just combed his thinning hair with that bus station comb he was so damn proud of. Excuse me. And then he lit a cigarette.
And after giving myself a moment to think about it I said, really smart-like, though I shouldn’t have said anything, because Dad says you never get in trouble for what you don’t say, “Well, Pearl, lots of folks that I know of put ketchup on their eggs. Some people even put salsa. Out in California, and places like that.”
“Where are you from, anyway?”
So I told her I lived on the Sou’ Side for most of my life, though I didn’t say when or where, because I wanted to seem sort of mysterious, because I was thinking of maybe asking her out. I didn’t bother mentioning that I had also lived on the East End, because it didn’t seem important at the time. Besides, you didn’t want to show your entire hand all at once. (Dad didn’t tell me that. Dad wasn’t much for card-playin’. Kenny Rogers taught me that.)
Pearl said that she had never been to California or places like that; that Mount Alvaro was good enough for her.
Blackie said he wouldn’t mind seeing a movie star up close and personal before he died.
Red called him an “old dog”.
“Can’t go to California nohow,” said Brownie. “They need me at the plant.”
And Whitey the gray-haired Fatso coughed and lit a cigarette.
I felt six sets of eyes bearing down on me. I was going to send back the coffee and order milk instead because I didn’t like coffee–tea was my drink–but I didn’t want them people to think I was a California-loving foreign snob who sneered at American coffee, so I drank the bitter stuff, but only after putting in about five tablespoons of sugar and three packets of cream. The coffee sort of hit me at the pit of my stomach and sent a hot flush to my brain, as I wan’t used to it.
Putting that much sugar in the coffee was another topic of conversation. I thought I heard Brownie whisper “Bet he’s on the drugs.”
It was 12:55 and an invisible factory whistle must have blown or some damn thing. Excuse me. Because all four of the mill workers left at the same time. I finished what was on my plate and paid my bill. Pearl said I was a healthy eater. And that I must be a member of the clean plate club.
I think she was kind of flirting with me.
I didn’t ask her out, though. Somehow, standing up and looking down at her, I saw that she actually was a midget-woman, kind of. And how would I get her into the cab of my pick-up truck, what with the monster tires? I’d have to carry her under my arms, like a large dog. Besides, she made fun of my needing ketchup for my eggs, and I’m not going to let no woman tell me what to eat. I get enough of that from Paw.
I heard a honking noise. More like a squawk than a honk. It was the man with the Tow Truck. I was so relieved that he was driving a flat-bed, liked I asked for, that I practically shouted. Because sometimes you tell them a flat-bed but they send just any old kind of truck.
As the Tow Truck man was outside in the rain hitching my truck onto his flat-bed, I finally asked Pearl why she spelled “Dinor” with an “O” instead of an “E”. She told me that’s the way that her Mama always spelled it.
But I’m guessing that’s not the real reason. I’m guessing that some people always have to be different. In their own small way. Even if they pretend otherwise.
I gave her a nice tip, anyway. A whole dollar, instead of eighty cents.
And I could almost hear my Dad, bellowing, “Sure, go ahead Diamond Jim–go ahead and waste your money on a pint-size floozy!”