I have a soft spot in my heart for diners. I’ve spent countless nights at 24-hour restaurants, sipping bad coffee and shoveling down greasy food. At diners, you can sit and write as you study the cast of characters around you, you can escape responsibilities for a while, you can blend in and cease to exist in your sticky booth. The writers in Issue 30 of the pocket-sized Blink-Ink explore the different aspects of diners, all in 50-words or less.
Many of the writers end up conjuring images of the familiar American diner like the ones I’ve visited throughout my life, each establishment a little like the next. Some write from the point of view of waitresses, of cooks, of other patrons, almost as if they’re working together to create a diner inside the pages of the journal.
Jayne Martin writes from the point of view of a waitress in “Nightshift at the Final Stop Café.” In this piece, a nameless man visits the café, orders pie, “Drops a dime into the tabletop juke,” and asks the waitress for a dance. Paired with the title, I couldn’t help wondering if it wasn’t the grim reaper that she’s dancing with on her “swollen, bare feet.” The grim reaper shows up by name in another poem—“Tough” by Alison McBain—and the personification of death is given some lines of dialogue and a bit of a tongue-in-cheek attitude in this piece.
Tony Press discusses death in “Memphis Blues Again,” a piece in quotes, just a snatch of dialogue. The piece feels real and raw with emotion: “We all sat in the back, cursing, crying, hugging each other,” a diner cook says, speaking on the aftermath of a death. We don’t exactly know who passed away or the story behind it—just that they were connected to the owner and the workers of the diner—and that’s just enough information. While I’m curious to hear more from this voice, I’m satisfied with the bit of strong emotion they share with us.
Z. Shuff takes readers in the opposite direction, eliciting a smile from me with “First Date at Ray’s Diner.” A man waits for a date he met online, watching TV to pass the time, angrily mumbling about Trump as the news plays. Then his date shows up—looking even better than the photos—until, like a punchline, we’re delivered the last line: “Shirt read, ‘Make America Great Again.’” I wonder how the rest of that date ended up going.
The speaker in Pam Laughlin’s “Under the Counter” is on a different kind of date: “It was just us, our secret tryst. Two BLTs on rye. Siblings still at school.” As the younger sibling, there was always something special about being able to do something alone—just my mom and me—while my older brother was in school. A “secret tryst” is a great way to put it. Laughlin plugs in to 50-year-old memories for a piece that still remains fresh despite the years gone by.
Chukwuemeka Njoku takes us outside the average, American diner with his two pieces: “The Matron’s Kitchen” and “A Gecko Also Dines.” In the first, boys in loincloths eat hot beans and broth in cold night air, and in the latter, the narrator digs into food not found beside the greasy bacon and eggs of American diners. Instead, the narrator and his girlfriend eat “two plates of Lobsters in mushroom sauce,” in a restaurant the narrator promised was tidy. However, above their heads, “a gecko is munching the remains of a cockroach” while he desperately wishes for it to go away before the girlfriend notices. Njoku serves up something different this issue, writing in a light and playful tone in both pieces.
Njoku isn’t the only one to talk about the diner patrons we like to hope or pretend aren’t there. In “Home Sweet Home,” Erin Bauer brings us down to the floor level of the diner where the subject of the piece makes itself known, “searching for a crumb.” But instead of a crumb, there’s “something new” attracting its attention: something called a “Roach Motel.” I’m not one for creepy crawlers, but something about Bauer’s writing still made me think, “Awww, how cute.”
Susan April had me thinking the same thing with “Cupples Square Diner.” Instead of two or six legs, this patron has four. Our narrator in this piece is a dog pining after the “drool-forcing” smell of bacon. Any piece with a dog gets two thumbs up in my book. April holds back details to surprise us with her ending, a joy to read.
Blink-Ink never fails to provide an entertaining little adventure and I look forward to each new issue. Issue 30 includes an added bonus of the fold-out Kitty-Wang’s American Gazette with extra writing and art. Take your copy on a date to your local diner, a secret tryst just for the two of you—just keep an eye out for cockroaches.