Whenever I’m on the stool at the counter, the smell of hash-browns and fried onions hangs like swamp-fog over me, the short order cook and the two working girls who come in for warmth ‘cause it’s cold, cold, cold in the car lot. June, the waitress, keeps movin’; wipin’ tables and pushin’ a broom, whatever it takes to stay awake and out of the fried-food fug. It’s four in the morning by the clock on the wall and I’ve already eaten pancakes and syrup twice just so’s I can keep the coffee coming. I remember when smokin’ was allowed inside the Waffle House. It’s out on I-20 where it meets the Washington Road. Me and the short-order cook, we go outside ‘bout every half-hour to smoke and be silent while we look out at the traffic on the black-top. June smokes, but she prefers to smoke on her own with her arms folded across her chest and her eyes closed.
There’s an old Zenith TV high up in the corner that you can only see well from one corner booth where the naugahyde is as cracked as the dried-out frog you find on the road though you’re miles from the nearest creek or pond. Usually the Zenith’s on some sports channel, but tonight it’s on local news. Where I sit you can get a - whutisit? A par’llax view a’ the screen and tonight that’s enough to see the snow on it, so that’s how you can tell the news is local. Nobody can hear the TV. No-one’s seen the remote since Kowalski the truck driver threw it at the screen and missed when that dumb jerk missed Reagan too. Well, we seen it, but it didn’t look the same when the waitress before the-one- before-June swept it into the trash. Anyways, what it is; you got to climb up on a chair or somethin’ to push the buttons and well… I guess we can’t be bothered. Usually, that is. Tonight was different. I stood up on my stool about four hours ago and I switched to KZTV. June shrugged and the cook said nothing and the two girls were out in the car-park in some trucker’s rig.
It’s going to be a big night. The nomination’ll be decided and we’ll know.
I ain’t worked since the first Bush. The union helped me out and I still got enough for some things. A double-wide over at the park by the treatment plant. I useta do night-shifts on the line, before ev’ry second car on the freeway was Japanese.
June is standin' at my shoulder and I know she’s gonna ask me for a cigarette. She does that at least once a night. One day she might bring enough cigarettes to last her the night through.
‘Say, canya loan me one, Lenny? I’ll pay ya back.’
Tomorrow night she’ll run out again and she’ll be three hunnert and sixty cigarettes in debt ta me.
Back in the day, I useta come here with George. I didn’t know much about him when we worked the line, but, hey, get laid off the same day, it’s like a bond. You work nights for twenny years and you can’t sleep normal again anyhow. George was the same, I guess. He’d get on the bus two stops down and we’d come to the Waffle House, look out the window at the factory where we useta work on the other side of the freeway. The factory hung on for a coupla years, assemblin’ parts made somewhere else. When it closed, George started missin’ a few nights and, maybe you guessed, he stopped altogether after they knocked the factory down. They got a mall and a multiplex out there. I went once. Didn’t even know what some a’ the stuff they sold was. What the hell is a Yankee Candle anyway? I watched a movie, but Arnie looked so damn’ old. I ain’t been back.
I go sit on the cracked naugahyde. The guy with the orange face and dumb hair is up there. His mouth is openin’ and shuttin’ but I ain’t turnin’ up the volume until later. When they tell us. If it’s going to be him. And if it is, I’ll be votin’ for him, sure. I don’t believe he thinks he’s foolin’ all of the people, not even any of the time. But I do believe I’m sick and so dog-tired of the rest of ‘em takin’ me for a damn’ fool.