PERSP CTIVE S
.... a ,v v s s' v v tr c t rarer
... By Eugene Mandeberg
IWAS SO SURPRISED to see the
place was open that I turned the
car off the road and stopped in a
little cleared spot a few yards away
from it. It was just another roadside
joint with a cracked sign nailed above
the door and one bare bulb hanging in
the window. Most of the places like
that closed years ago. I've seen a lot of
them boarded up shacks with signs tell-
ing you that "Joe's Place Serves Only
the Best," or "Mother's Home Cooking"
is the spot for a sandwich and a cup of
But this place was open. The road
wasn't paved and I hadn't passed a car
since I turned off the highway. I didn't
notice any farms, either; just bare land
and a few thin trees to break the regu-
larity of the telephone poles. I guess
that's why I stopped. I wanted to see
what kind of fellow could make a living
When I got outside the door I looked
up at the sign. There was still enough
paint on the boards so that you could
see it said "Truckers Welcome."
The door was open, so I walked in.
First thing I noticed was that the place
was clean. Not the kind of clean that
shines, but you could see the marks of
a damp cloth where the light reflected
off the tables and there weren't any
cigarette butts or crumpled paper nap-
kins on the floor. Right there I knew
something was missing. For a minute
I couldn't put my finger on it-and then
it hit me. There weren't any smells. I
couldn't smell any bacon grease-or cof-
fee-or hamburgers; no stale tobacco,
no mixture of soup, gravy, melted butter
and boiling water, no smell of catsup,
mustard and relish. It was just like
A girl was sitting behind the counter.
She'd been looking down when I came
in and she still hadn't seen me. I
knocked on the glass pane in the door.
She looked up.
She stood up and dropped a magazine
on the counter. Then she came around
the other side and waved at the tables.
"Take any one of them."
I sat down at the nearest one. "Got
She pointed to the wall. "Everything
I've got is right there."
I looked at the list-sandwiches, short
orders, cakes, pies, coffee, soft drinks--
the usual stuff.
"I'll have a bowl of chili," I said, "and
a piece of apple pie and coffee."
"I'm sorry, but I'm fresh out of chili."
I looked around the empty room.
She turned red and looked down at
her hands. "It don't pay to make any,"
she said. "It only spoils."
"How about the pie?"
In 40 states and 8 anomalous places
Factory whistles call from toast to coast,
And men and and unkissed wives come haste from face
To trains in Maine, on Knob Hill donkey hoists.
When the winds fron the Pacific
Have blown to Idaho,
They remember no shore of a land
Where the great hydrangeas hang
And wild ots bent by no cycle
Stifle the dry sea-slopes.
The day is similar in and west of Boston:
The many work, the idle dawdle tastes,
And though the sun is vulgar to the Brahmin,
Each setting spreads to all its equal waste.
Behold the world in pulp and ink:
Europe in Idaho,
Infinity in six-hour shifts,
And heaven in a potato.
Our Congressmen with poly-bodies ponder
In a caucus how their states can be appeased
If they contract the British itch for plunder
And sent young toughguts to necrologies.
Carry hin back to the Wasatch
And leave him unburied to bleach;
Roots of the sagebrush stretch beyond
The levels guns can reach.
She shook her head. "I threw it out
"Look," I said, "you tell me what
you've got, and then I'll order. It'll be
"Well, there's Swiss cheese, American
cheese, peanut butter, jelly, and ham
"And I made some muffins for myself
this morning. I could give you a couple
"That'll be okay," I said. "How's the
"Oh, I'll fix you some."
She went behind the counter and took
out a loaf of bread. "It's sort of stale,"
she said holding it up. "I better toast it."
I nodded and she put the bread in the
toaster and started making the coffee.
I watched her working. She was too thin
to be pretty, everything was joints and
angles. Her skin was stretched tight,
like she didn't have enough to go around.
"Why do you keep the place open?"
I asked her when she brought the silver-
ware and a glass of water.
"Got nothing better to do."
"How'd you get it in the first place?"
The bread jumped up in the toaster
and she went to fix the sandwich.
"My pop built this place about ten
years ago," she told me over her shoul-
der. "He thought they'd pave this road
for the main trunk line. The land was
pretty cheap, but he didn't have much
money and building the place and fixing
it up took all he had."
"Where is he now?"
"He died about four years ago. Didn't
leave me nothing but this. So, I took
"Yeah, just me."
"Sort of lonely out here, isn't it?"
"How do you manage to make any
"A few trucks cut through here regu-
larly, and I sell some cakes to the
farmers further out. Course, the guy
who delivers my groceries snce a week
always buys something. e's my one
steady customer. I'll get your coffee."
W HEN she put it down on the table
her hand was shaking, a little of
the coffee slopped over into the saucer.
While I was drinking it she vent back
of the counter again, moving things
around and rattling dishes. But every
time I looked up she was staring at me.
After I finished eating 1 pushed the
chair back from the table and lit a
cigarette. She was standing behind the
counter, flipping through the magazine
without reading a word. I'looked at her
and she dropped her eyes. I put the
butt into the cup and walked over to
the counter. She closed the magazine.
"How much?" I said.
I gave her a quarter and she reached
below the counter for a eigar box. She
gave me a nickle. I put the nickle in
my pocket and walked to the door.
She cleared her threat. "Would you
like another cup of coffee-on the
I shook my head. "No, thanks."
"Oh, come on. It's all made. I'll only
have to throw it out if you don't drink
"I've got a lot of drivng to do to-
night," I said.
She leaned across the counter, her
hands pushing down on it. She swal-
lowed hard and I could see her neck:
"Can't you stay for just a few min-
utes?" she said.
"I have to be getting along," I said.
"You can stay longer if you want to."
"I've got to be going,' 1 said.
She looked at me,-and then put her
head in her hands and cried. I've seen
girls cry before, but not lke that. Every
time she sobbed her whole body shook.
"I'm so Goddamn lonely I could kill
myself," she said.
I didn't know exactly -ohpt to do, st,
I dropped a dollar bill on the floor as
I went out.