The season is winding down and we didn’t get to sail, but that doesn’t always preclude an adventure.
There was much conjecture about the last run of the pumpout boat. It is illegal in many inland waterways, including where I sail, to directly discharge waste. In order to encourage proper disposal, New Jersey has several boats that will come to you and pump out your holding tank for free. The rumor around the marina was that the final day that our local boat, the Pollution Solution, was going to be operating would be October 10. When I had gone to the shore the previous weekend (on that date) to replace the bilge pump, I called a couple times on the VHF, but got no answer. It was blowing 30kts and raining, so this wasn’t terribly surprising, but left me wondering what I was going to do. After some desperate web searches, I also found that the pumpout boat has a telephone number, and I left a voicemail. Later that week, I got a text saying that they were going to be running one more weekend, so Jenn and I went to the shore to make a peculiar date out of it.
We called again on the way there to make sure that they knew that their services were needed in our marina, and they said they’d be there in a half hour. We sat on the boat and waited. I stopped everyone who walked by to ask them about pumpout boat protocols. I’ve pumped out before, but it had been a while, and it’s not a process that you want to flub. I mostly wanted to know what the going rate for a tip was (while the service is free, it is appropriate to tip). Apparently, several people in my marina have a personal relationship with the pumpout boat skipper. Some research has indicated that a person can only really be friends with about 150 people, and I wouldn’t have automatically thought that the captain of the poop boat should make the cut, but given this scenario, I may need to re-assess.
There were no hiccups. I was grateful for his service, and tipped twice the standard rate.
It did take a while. I assume we weren’t the only ones who needed to address this issue before getting hauled out for the season, and he probably got flagged down fifteen times on the way back to our marina. But by the time we were done, it was already late, and we decided to skip sailing and just head home.
The forecasts hadn’t predicted any stormy weather, but I could see a small patch of intensely dark clouds on the road ahead, and we wound up driving right into it. I’m not sure that I’d ever seen such a localized storm with that much ferocity. The sky was like night, with driving rain and purple lighting, which is always a good sign. My car started acting oddly. The headlights dimmed and idiot lights blinked on and off randomly on the dashboard. I pulled off the road as soon as I could to let the storm pass, and realized that we were in the parking lot of the world’s worst diner. This seemed like as good a time as any to check it out.
For perhaps the first time all season, the parking lot was nearly empty. Even though I parked in the closest non-handicapped parking spot, we were drenched by the time we got to the entrance.
The man behind the checkout counter had no initial reaction when I opened the door from the vestibule, then jerked his head up and became animated.
“Oh, hello,” he said in a fake-sounding accent, like Tommy Wiseau on barbiturates. It was as I feared: it was Serghei, the night manager from when I used to frequent this diner. He looked exactly the same as I remembered him. I hoped that I looked different enough that he wouldn’t remember me.
Jenn was clearly unprepared for the sight of him. He was impossibly gaunt, with the pallor of someone who had just eaten seven corn dogs and then gone on the sort of carnival ride that requires a medical waiver. I couldn’t tell if he was actually wearing a shirt or if there was just a lot of overlap between his voluminous scarf and the sash that he had tied around the top of his skinny jeans. The rest was obscured by a shiny black sportcoat with the sleeves pushed up. It was as if someone had dared him to dress up like a prostitute at a Mediterranean beach resort using only clothes purchased from the Columbus Farmers Market.
“Velcome to my diner. Enter freely of your own vill,” he said blankly. Such a weird greeting to be issued so perfunctorily. As we stepped over the threshold, he gravitated toward the bin that held the menus, seemingly without moving his feet. He held up two clawed fingers and said “Table for two?”
“Yes, please.” I said. I took off my glasses and started to wipe the rain from them with the bottom of my shirt.
“Oh no, ze lenses. Zay are so…delicate,” Serghei was suddenly directly in front of me, well into my bubble of personal space, trying to press his handkerchief into my hand. His grip was like steel, and I instinctively pulled my hands away and took a step back. Jenn tucked in behind me.
“I’m good,” I said with as much finality as I could muster. “Yes, a booth would be fine.” He didn’t ask about a booth, but I wanted to get past whatever this was.
“Yes, a boos. A boos. Hmm…” He drifted back toward the menu bin, picked up two, and scanned the restaurant, looking for an empty table. All of the tables were empty. The only other patrons that we could see were a couple guys at the counter. “Oh yes, somesing by the vindow?” He led us over to a table and we sat down.
As soon as he floated back to the cash register Jenn lowered her head to the table and whispered, “What is happening?”
“It’s always been like this.” I said. “I told you this is the worst diner ever. See that dude at the counter? I think he used to come here like twenty years ago too.” I tilted my head in the direction of the counter.
“Hey, I’m Big Staci and I’ll be takin’ care of yuz. What can I gitchuz?” Big Staci was now looming over our table. I guess we’d been so distracted by everything else that we didn’t see her approach. She looked to be about seven feet tall, although that may have been an illusion fortified by the bigness of her hair, which erupted violently from her head and must have taken three Bon Jovi videos’ worth of Aqua Net to erect. She wore the classic uniform of a diner waitress, which I hadn’t seen in a long time. It was deeply stained and tattered, and appeared to be more vintage than retro. She held a pen to her mouth with her right hand, and had a pad of guest checks at the ready in her left, exposing a tattoo on her forearm that read “Big Staci” in letters three inches tall, presumably in case she forgot her name or scale.
Jenn defensively scrunched down in her seat a bit, opened the menu without looking at it, and said, “I’ll have the Eggs Benedict.”
“Oh hun, we might be all out of holiday sauce. I’ll have to check in the back.” Big Staci said with what seemed like genuine dismay.
Jenn got out, “Did you say ‘holiday’…” before I cut her off.
I said, “Don’t mind her, she’s not from around here,” hoping to avoid any further discussion of French mother sauces.
“Oh, where yuz from?”
I couldn’t resist the urge to say something absurd and blurted out, “We’re Dutch,” with a flat affect.
“Oh, well yuz talk real good American for being from Dutchland.”
“I was joking. I’m from Vincentown. She’s from out west.”
“Wait…what? You mean like the Amish?”
“Can I please have two eggs, scrambled, with corned beef hash, rye toast, and a coffee?” I attempted to bludgeon the conversation back toward Big Staci’s purview.
“Wait, do I know you?” She eyeballed me hard and gnawed on her pen like a rawhide bone to promote the thinking process. She eventually bit through the end of it, and dark blue ink streamed down her hand and out of the corner of her mouth.
I said, “I don’t think so,” and looked away.
“Ok, well I’ll get these in.” She turned back toward Jenn and said, “Hun, I’ll have to check on yours to see if we have any Benedict.” She walked away, and the vibe lightened, as if the disk of the moon had finally moved past the sun following an eclipse.
“There’s like a 2% chance that she remembers to ask about your order,” I said.
“What is happening?” Jenn was mildly panicked.
“This is seriously the worst diner. I’ve been telling you this all season.”
“Do you know these people?”
“Yeah. It’s exactly the same as it was when I used to come here. All the same people. Like that guy in the blue jumpsuit at the counter…he’s Super EMT.”
As if on cue, he started pontificating. “You know, a lot of people run away from danger. But luckily, some of us run toward it.” He was turned 135° away from the counter on his stool, as if he was talking to someone yet also trying to address the entire diner. Except that he wasn’t talking to anyone at all. There was only one other guy at the counter, on the opposite side, hunched over with his back toward all of us, and he didn’t even look up when Super EMT started spouting off. “I mean, that’s why I was drawn to emergency services in the first place.”
He was dressed vaguely in the style of a paramedic, but everything about his outfit was slightly wrong. The “patches” on his coveralls seemed to be drawn on with Wite-Out and ballpoint pen, and I could have sworn that his “badge” was just the emblem from the center of a Buick hubcap. He covered his mouth with his hand and made some loud beeping noises, then reached down to his utility belt and retrieved a Vietnam-era walkie talkie that was about the size of a loaf of Wonder Bread. He proclaimed, “Excuse me, I need to take this. It might be a serious emergency,” and then proceeded to do a hushed Señor Wences routine with it.
Jenn and I said nothing while we waited for our food. I never got my coffee. When Big Staci returned, she put down a short stack of pancakes in front of Jenn and a sad, wrinkled grilled cheese sandwich in front of me. Jenn started to speak up, but I lightly kicked her under the table.
Big Staci asked, “Did you say something?” as her eyes turned empty and red.
Jenn looked down at her plate and said, “Looks delicious, thanks.” Big Staci stomped away.
When Big Staci was gone, I said, “I told you this place is awful.”
“Is she a demon? I don’t even have silverware.”
“Can you kind of roll them up and eat them like some kind of Taco Bell breakfast disaster?”
“Hold on, I have chopsticks.” She started rummaging through her bag.
“You just carry chopsticks in your boat bag?”
“The last time you ate what you called ‘The Cup Noodle of Dubious Vintage’ on the boat, you complained that you didn’t have any chopsticks to eat it with.”
“Oh, well that was thoughtful of you.”
Serghei appeared at the end of our table. “Is everysing…as you expected?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said.
“Do you sink I don’t remember you? Vat are you going to do? Order one cup of coffee and sit here for five hours?”
I gestured to my sandwich. “Can you, like, not see this?” I waved my hand over it to confirm my sense of object permanence. “I mean, it’s not what I ordered, but I did order something.”
“Oh, Mister Funny Man. I’ve been making a little club of funny mans. You should join it.” He grinned. His canines were now three or four times too long.
The stranger at the end of the counter wheeled around and hopped off of his stool. He was about 4’10”, wearing a scrunched-up grimace and a black tank top with an image of the American flag superimposed with a bald eagle. It was Fuzzy Bunny.
“I knew’d it!” he exclaimed. He pointed his paw directly at Serghei. “Y’all vampires, y’all come around here, y’all take our jobs, y’all bite on our women folk. Well I ain’t gonna stand for it no more.”
“Vampire,” Serghei said, somehow exchanging all of the vowels and consonants in a way even weirder than Anthony Hopkins’ pronunciation of it in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. “I haven’t heard that vord in a long time. But yes, maybe so.”
“Well ’round these parts, we got a little thing called the Constitution, and it says that I can shoot any vampire what comes on my land whatsoever I feel like it.” He lifted his gut with one hand and used the other to pull a revolver out of his elastic waistband. He pointed it at Serghei.
“Is zis even your land?” Serghei asked, unfazed by the gun.
“This here’s America ya dang French Drac-a-la. It’s all my land because I’m ‘merican, born and raised.”
I looked at Jenn and incredulously mouthed, “French?”
Serghei said, “If you’re going to shoot your little…gun, go ahead and make it click.”
Fuzzy Bunny drew the hammer of his gun back with his left hand, since he doesn’t have thumbs. He squinted and said “I hope you like Coors Light, you gol-dung Nasferato, cause this here’s loaded with a sixer of silver bullets,” and fired four shots into Serghei’s chest. Super EMT got up and started running away and Fuzzy Bunny shot him twice in the back. The gunshots were painfully loud. Jenn and I were frozen in place. Super EMT thudded to the tile and Serghei just stood there.
Serghei briefly examined the bullet holes in his scarf or scarves, then looked up at Fuzzy Bunny. “Silly rabbit. Silver bullets are for Verevolves.” In a crude special effect straight out of an 80s music video, Serghei transformed into an approximately human-sized bat. He flapped his wings a single time, flew toward Fuzzy Bunny, and consumed him entirely in one bite.
He then transformed back into humanoid form. He coughed out a small clump of white fur, then continued to pick at his mouth as if there was one lingering piece of hair. He looked at me and said, “Oh, Mister Funny Man. I’m sorry zat you had to see all of zis mess, but now zat you have, you must definitely join my club.” He sashayed back to our booth and stood at the head of the table. He leaned in toward me and bent down low to get right in my face. “Oh, it looks like you didn’t even get your free refill of coffee.”
“I didn’t get any coffee. This place sucks.”
He smiled. “Oh yes. It does,” and he lunged toward my neck.
I could have thought a lot of things in that moment. What I actually thought was “At least I got the holding tank emptied.” Then I thought, “Wait, are you about to join the ranks of the undead, and the last thing that’s going through your mind is your holding tank? I mean, it’s good to be going out with a ‘clean slate’ or whatever, but man, think of something else. Uh… I think I made a real connection with the captain of the poop boat?”
And then Serghei fell limply to the table. He hadn’t bitten me. He slid off onto the floor, dragging our place settings with him. I snagged my wilted grilled cheese sandwich as it went by, just before the plate shattered to the ground. Serghei looked up at me and gasped, “You vere always a terrible customer.”
I took a bite of the sandwich. It was awful. I spit it out onto him and said, “This has always been a terrible diner.”
Serghei then slumped over, and I could see two chopsticks sticking out of his back.
“Oh, damn Jenn. You totally stabbed that guy. Nice.”
Jenn shrugged and said, “This really is the worst diner.” She made a crazy-eyed face and pantomimed stabbing Serghei again.
The kitchen doors flew open and Big Staci let out a shriek. Her tattoos were lit up like neon, and she seemed 30% larger than before—in fact, her hair took out a hair-sized hole in the wall above the top of the door jamb as she rushed toward us at full gallop. She took several long strides toward our table. Serghei let out an exasperated sigh as he finally expired, and immediately turned to ash. Just as he did, the material that made up Big Staci disassociated and splashed all over the place, as if she were a garbage bag full of Dinty Moore Beef Stew being hacked in half by a ninja sword.
“I’m not leaving a tip,” I said, standing up.
Jenn said, “I think you’re supposed to leave a penny to show that you didn’t forget and were truly dissatisfied.”
I looked over at Big Staci’s remains. “Our waitress looks like a pile of barf that was barfed from altitude. I think we’re good.”
“What about the other guy? Crazy EMT or whatever?”
“Oh yeah. I don’t know. Maybe he was actually a werewolf and the silver bullets got him?” I went over and nudged him with my foot.
“Do you know the phone number for 9-1-1?” he groaned. “I never learned it.” He may have started to cry.
I looked at Jenn and said, “Oh crap, this guy needs a real EMT.” I turned back to him and said “It’s like ra-a-ain, on your wedding day. It’s a free ri-i-ide, when you’ve already paid…”
“Bro, shut up.”
“It’s the good advi-i-ice, that you just didn’t take…”
“Bro, shut up. This song can’t be the last thing I think of.”
I looked him in the eye and said, “We all have our poop boat, my friend. We all have our poop boat.”