Arthur’s Cheese Tower
Behind the counter at the Paradise,
Arthur’s peeling single slices
from a long block of American white,
building a sticky tower, diamond-wise,
which he places in the fridge.
It’s local wisdom, a trade trick.
For the next grilled cheese-with-tomato,
he’ll life a slice, then another,
picking each by an overhanging edge
to dress bread already griddling.
The blue wash of cruisers at the corner signals some kind of injury. Four postmodern kids, jazzed-up and famished, describe the crash as they walk in with us. In the late-night lunch cart aglow in Formica and bright tile, citizens dine on plastic trays. We order french fries and dogs with house toppings: “The Works” and “All Around.” Black moons the size of bagels and fig squares sealed in plastic wrap flank the cash register. Though off the formal tour routes, there’s a display of snapshots and news clippings with quotes like this: “If you walk in and someone’s lying on a table, then someone is on the table.” We read the scene as we eat, conscious of the outside edge. The more we talk, the more we change, as slow as word-by-word translation.
Milkmen, engineers, cooks, plant workers, truck drivers, union men, special cops, guys in the middle of the work force, real estate agents and accountants, laborers, repairmen, carpenters, supervisors at the local paper, salesmen and store managers, men who serve on town boards and city committees, a cross-section jammed up around tables crowded with dead beers, cheering a Latin middleweight contender on TV. Every Friday night at nine o’clock they line up for ham-and-cheese sandwiches served with jar-pickles on paper plates. Steel bowls of potato chips are placed near the store-bought napkins. Once a month on a Sunday, rookie members make spaghetti-and-meatballs with garlic bread for the group, served at seven o’clock. Later, the quarter pool and monthly drawing numbers get pulled from a tumbling game-show drum. This week the guy at the microphone orders everyone to sign up their kids for the annual Christmas party. He wants donations, too. “The card players out back got up sixty bucks for the scholarship fund, so now let’s see you all match it!”
Pork Pie Hat
Boss of the hospital slouched in black car coat and frumpy pork pie hat, lifts a chipped white coffee mug to his lips in front of George Washington teeth in the lunch cart diner, blue top stool-lined, greasy countered, full of men who could be heads of all the hospitals in the valley. They spread their Boston Heralds over empty egg-smeared plates and toast dust. These corner diners look like cabooses, stay open all hours, pull in customers via amber-and-red neon name tags blinking with the same dull glow as electric stove rings, set to medium heat. Mr. Chrome-Dome, very erudite, slouched in black car coat and dented pork pie hat, sips coffee through his George Washington teeth.