This was written on September 25, 2014. It was about my day and my thoughts four days before 100 Thousand Poets for Change (September 27). I was coordinating two major events in Napa, California: Street Poetry and an Open Mic/Fundraiser.
Day before yesterday I was exhausted. I was tired of eating leftover pinakbet, and I couldn’t get myself to cook another meal. I went to my local diner, and I had my favorite diner meal: open face turkey sandwich –yes, with the mashed potatoes, gravy, and all those slices of white bread. The cranberry sauce and real slices of turkey, not that fake deli meat crap.
Being single and having many busy friends, I have grown accustomed to eating alone. I sat at the counter for the first time. I know it is a place of the bachelors. I was glad there was a table-height counter for those like me with shorter legs whose feet would dangle if sitting at the regular height counter with the tall stool.
I was not having a good day. I cried from exhaustion, disappointment. I was wondering when will this self-inflicted hell be over. I swore to goodness I would never work my azz off for free again.
I wore my hat, hoping to shield my puffy face and eyes. I did wash my face before leaving my house, but my face still looked like a puffer fish.
A blonde server asked me if I ordered my drink. I got a lemonade. I cannot handle corn syrup of soda nor the caffeine of iced tea. I got my dose of sugar and perhaps artificial flavor and coloring.
I ate my sandwich with relish. It was my comfort food. It reminded me of simpler times when I hung out with my best friends at Mel’s diners in San Francisco or Berkeley. I would be looking over my stash of freshly bought books or comic books. Or I could be scribbling in a notebook.
Lately I carry a very heavy backpack. I know my chiropractor would kill me if he saw me hunched like this. I don’t know why. I felt like some modern version of Atlas. I don’t go over my stuff even if I intend to. Sheer mental and emotional weight has made me dense and the fog had not lifted.
The blonde server bent over to talk to me eye to eye. “Can I get you anything else?”
I grinned, “Yes, your number.” She walked away but looking back at me. Another woman server overheard surprised but amused.
When all else fails, flirt. Flirt like you’re drowning and this is your last moment of happiness. The smallest modicum of joy.
The man next to me noticed my sandwich. I told him that I could not get a sandwich like this at home. That “this” is exotic to me, so was “roast.” I was brought up Filipino with a health conscious mother whose idea of healthful eating was based partly on superstitions and partly on her weird theories. She believed if you cook the hell out of the meat it would drain it of cholesterol. I was used to eating shoe leather. It was my father who cooked the roasts and the turkeys. He learned to cook in the galleys. I guess he had to do it well or the men could throw their food at him or make living on a ship miserable. I joked.
Salads and sandwiches, staples in American diet, were lousy fare in my Filipino home. I remember sandwiches soggy from tomato slices. Salads were iceberg and slices of tomato and nothing else. And I never did care for the Italian dressing. I preferred seafood and vegetable stews and soups poured over a bed of steamed rice.
I looked at my check. The server’s name was Cesar. I said, “Cesar as in Cesar Chavez. It is Latino Heritage Month.” He explained he knows but he doesn’t get out much. He works, but good or bad it keeps him happy. He takes it as it comes. “So, if I tipped you a 100% would you accept it?” He smiled. He reiterated his statement, “Good or bad. It’s all good. I take it as it come.”
I lied. I tipped him 99.9%. A tribute to my live in girlfriend Paula. She committed suicide. Probably exhausted from living life with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, anger issues, just life in general. She was a correctional officer and a LVN and proud of her work. She tipped the servers, the hairstylist, and the dry cleaning lady 100% because she believed their jobs were much harder than hers. Yes, she had one of the strongest unions in California, and she got full benefits including vision and dental plans. But in my humble opinion pinning down a full grown man twice my height and weight and handcuffing him as typical work day activity is not easy.
I vowed if I got a chance. I would experience that kind of generosity. I did. I carried my strawberry pie home, and I cried for my girlfriend, and I remembered why I work why my azz for free. So others would not suffer the same fate as her. That my desire to heal communities by building bridges through causes will reach out and inspire those to keep moving on.