Melvin Mudlicker sipped his coffee slowly as he worked the numbers on a napkin at his fifth favorite diner.
Circumstances once a week brought him to this part of town and he had grown fond of one of the attractive young waitresses who always asked how he was doing, how his business was doing and if he wanted his coffee refilled or if he wanted his usual, a turkey burger deluxe with fries, hold the pickle and tomato.
They had developed a nice rapport, rhythm and flow together.
She was from Eastern Europe and had coal black eyes, long hair, an angular face and pale countenance. She had the long delicate fingers of an artist or musician with which she served Melvin’s lunch, and on occasion tapped his arm and shoulder pleasantly. In fact, perhaps, this diner was higher than fifth place, Melvin mulled, as he day-dreamed about Anastasia’s eyes and fingers and how pleasant she was and how good he always felt whenever he saw her. Maybe the diner was actually third or even second on his list. The lunch crowd, layout of the restaurant and lack of music, however, all worked against it though.
There was also the problem of the owner’s son who was kind of a dick too.
The other day at the cash register he had asked Melvin how he was doing.
Melvin replied, “ok.”
“Just ok?” “Why not amazing?,” the tall, good-looking, young man of Mediterranean descent hectored Mudlicker. “Why just ok? I’m always amazing.”
“Amazing, huh?,” Melvin replied, “maybe you’re Spiderman,” said Melvin eager to pay the bill and get the fuck out of there. “Amazing, huh? that’s great, good for you,” Melvin said, trying to soften his reply a bit so he didn’t come off as being unduly sarcastic, as he retrieved his credit card, eschewing eye contact, and bee-lining toward the door, thinking to himself give me a fucking break–as he dashed out of there feeling old and loser-like yet wholly justified in his original rating of a five or higher for that diner.
“Are you ready to order sir?”
On this afternoon, Melvin’s luck wasn’t getting any better. Instead of the sublime and comforting Anastasia, the dark-haired beauty from Albania, waking him from his numbers-crunching despair, Melvin was suddenly jostled out of his work-mare by a ruddy-faced older woman with frizzy red hair and a plump, sweaty face eager to get this transaction over with already.
“Can I have a turkey burger please?”
“Do you want that with fries?”
“Yes, please, that’s a great idea.”
“Coming right up.”
She was gone before Melvin could ask for a refill.
I guess that’s the price of efficiency Melvin thought to himself.
Just then his iPhone ran out of juice.
The nearest outlet was up front near the cash register with the owner’s son. Previously, Melvin had asked the son of the owner if he wouldn’t mind charging his phone. When the son politely agreed and Melvin presented him with his iPhone and iPhone charger and power cord, the son became somewhat confused and suspicious. Melvin explained, “I brought the charger with me in case the phone died and there was a place I could plug into an outlet.”
What followed next was a lot of very unnecessary conversation that Melvin found very frustrating and frankly, quite boring –and rather than bore you with those details I’ll just say that rather than having to go through having to ask the owner’s son to ever recharge his phone again, Melvin just stared at the blank, black, smudge-covered screen sadly. The red “low battery bar” had previously warned Melvin of this possibility and now those fears were finally realized. His iPhone was “dead” and now all he had to entertain himself with until his food came was a very evil napkin full of bad numbers or the ingredients on a nearby ketchup bottle.
Who knew that sugar was a major ingredient in ketchup?
Just kidding, Melvin thought to himself- that’s why it tastes so damn good.
“Here you go.”
The turkey burger had finally arrived.
It was all alone.
“No fries?,” Melvin asked.
“You didn’t ask for a Deluxe,” the waitress replied impatiently.
“I know , but when you asked me if I wanted fries–I said yes.”
“I never asked you that.”
Melvin looked into her eyes. He was not sure what he saw there but he knew what he had to do.
“Yes, yes you did,” Melvin persisted.
“Would you like fries with that?” the waitress asked, acting still as if the French fries were a totally new topic of conversation.
“Yes, that’s why I had already ordered them,” Melvin replied resolutely.
“Ok, I will bring some on the side, but they may take a little time.”
“Thank you very much.”
By now, the family seated at the nearby table was looking up from their meal to watch the exchange.
Before Melvin knew it, a busboy had buzzed by his table and brought him a refill on his coffee.
That’s nice, Melvin thought as he took another quick look at his napkin covered in calculations–that is, until a familiar voice unexpectedly yelled in his right ear, “How’s your coffee? Amazing? Right?”
It was the owner’s son–the fucker had sidled up on him like a Bruce Lee-level Ninja–totally stealth.
Melvin spilled half of the coffee on the table and had to laugh.
“Yes, Stavros–this coffee is definitely amazing, my friend.”
Melvin figured that Stavros had spotted his conversation with the waitress over the fries and was the one who had sent the coffee refill as a make-good. Customer service and small business is like a delicate minuet Melvin thought–too delicate. He felt bad about having over-reacted. He didn’t even want the fries anymore. he missed Anastasia–her delicate touches and black eyes and hair the color of licorice.
When the fries did come they were still delicious as always but he had to eat them without the burger.
There would be no combination of divine textures and juices. He would have to make do with his sugary red sauce and crispy yellow treats and lukewarm bean water and no Anastasia and no iPhone and it was all so inexplicably sad and the numbers on the napkin were bad, bad, bad and when she came back with the check she was ashamed. Melvin had caught her in a lie. She knew she had lied. She had, in fact, asked Melvin Mudlicker if he had wanted fries with the burger. She didn’t know why she lied. Maybe she was just afraid. Maybe she really needed this job Melvin realized.
“I’m sorry, so sorry,” her voice trembled.
Melvin got up from his chair and the two hugged briefly and then smiled at each other and laughed, for this world had made them both do and say things that they had regretted.