Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Rebecca Schumejda's Waiting at the Dead End Diner

Rebecca Schumejda’s collection, Waiting At The Dead End Diner, is published by Bottom Dog Press and is a very entertaining read. From budding romance to scandalous relationships both in and outside of the Diner alone with tragedies of losing a loved one to illness or to ideology, it is all here. Characters that melt your heart, make you grimace, or make you grin, you will not be able to forget the names inside these pages any time soon. Morals good, bad, and ambiguous all play out in Schumejda’s skillful hands. I have dog-eared many pages to share but will pare them down to just a few poems and I urge you to purchase this collection for yourself. You will also have renewed, or perhaps new, sympathy and appreciation for any and all who work in the restaurant industry. You will also find yourself driving to your nearest Diner and listen closely to the stories of the lives of the workers around you. Here are a few poems to whet your appetite:

The Weed Whacker

In the weeds, during a breakfast shift
with Lillian, I go into the kitchen with a
bouquet of orders that wilt instantly
under Tommy’s insults.

Back on the floor, while I dash around
in search of refills, condiments,
missing sides for the nine tables
in my section, Lillian, who is more than
three times my age, glides gracefully
around her seventeen tables
like a figure skater, poised enough
to ask each person how so-and-so’s doing,
if they got that promotion they were up for
or what place their child came in at the
science fair. I can’t even remember who
asked for the hot sauce that just came uncapped
in my apron and is running down my leg.

But Lillian knows and places another
bottle of hot sauce in front of Frank,
who’s fuming because he’s already eaten
half his eggs dry. Lillian smiles and says,
This should cool you down, and he cracks
a smile and begins chit-chatting about
the men down at the firehouse
about how big Al’s son just had a baby girl.

If you are a regular at any restaurant or diner where you live then you know there’s always that one server or employee that you look forward to seeing there. You know you’ll be taken care of and they do have that magic way of remembering you and your family. I grew up that way with my parents at a local Cracker Barrel in El Paso, Texas. I always wonder what happened to the waitress that always brought out a bowl of whipped cream for my little sister and if she still works there. Who do you look forward to seeing when you go to your dining place of choice?

Cold Soup and Overdone Steak

A woman at one of Jolene’s tables
grabs Carlos by the wrist and scolds him:
I don’t know how they serve soup in
your country, but in this country,
they serve it hot—bring this back now

Carlos apologizes, takes the soup
and tells Jolene. Later after the woman
cuts into her steak, she snaps her fingers
and screams across the diner,
Hey you, soup boy. She adds
incessant finger snapping.

When Carlos gets to her, she puts
her plate to his face and says,
Would you look at this? Does this
look rare to you? I said I wanted it
to moo.
Carlos says he’ll get Jolene,
but she says No, bring it back now!

Expressionless, Carlos does what
he is told. Tonight is the one night
a week he calls home to El Salvador
to talk with his kids on the phone.
He goes into the kitchen, gives
the steak back to Rick then opens
his wallet and takes out their picture.
He looks at his family,
ignoring Rick who mumbles,
I’ll make this cow moo for the bitch.

My blood boils for Carlos and the restaurant in general. Having worked in customer service (as a secretary) I can relate to rude customers who treat people the way this one does. I wish I knew if Rick spit in this woman’s food, too.

The Things We Bring

George decides to close the diner
from 6pm to 6am on Christmas Eve.
Edna invites us over to her house
and because I didn’t want to drive to
my parents’ house, I go over with a bag of chips,
a 16 oz. container of French onion dip,
a bottle of white table wine with a twist-off cap,
and a pair of flowered gardening gloves
folded into white tissue paper for Edna.

Maggie comes with her daughter,
brings a casserole, a bottle of vodka,
and two boxes wrapped in shiny red paper.
Rick carries a case of beer
with a potted red poinsettia balanced
precariously on top.
Jolen comes with her boyfriend
from the bowling alley, two twelve-packs,
and scratch off lottery tickets for everyone.
Rochelle brings a painting for Edna
and a loaf of golden Challah bread.
Carrie brings statues of the three wise men
and Danny, who carries her coat and pocketbook.

Tommy wears a Santa hat,
brings a large pan containing a cooked
spiral ham, green beans in a cream sauce
decorated with slivers of almonds,
a box of chocolates and a red envelope
for Edna. Then George enters
with a pan of baklava and a
bouquet of two dozen red roses.
Everyone is relieved his nail tapping
wife made other plans. Asif brings
a cheesecake and two small boxes.
He hands one to Edna and the other to me.
Even Hakim stops by for a minute
to drop off the clay owl he made for Edna.

We sit around two rickety card tables
pushed together and covered with
a beige laced table cloth laughing
about how Edna is running around
waiting on us on her day off. Sit down,
Tommy orders, and all the men
take over, waiting on us.

Later as Asif sits down beside me and
rests his hand gently on my leg,
I imagine what is inside each of the gifts
under Edna’s tree. Gifts, Maggie says,
Edna brings out every year.
They are the ones she bought for
her husband, son and grandson
the year fate stole them from her.

This poem brings my heart to my mouth. If you read this collection this poem touches you more deeply because you have gotten to know every single individual named in the poem above by now. The kindness of the gathering of coworkers as family and the tragedy of the ending stanza brings the complex feelings of most holiday gatherings into a bright and uncomfortable light.

There are countless poems I want to share with you but you will have to read this collection for yourself and it is definitely a worthwhile read. If you enjoyed this review you may purchase a copy of Rebecca Schumejda’s Waiting At The Dead End Diner from Bottom Dog Press for $17.00 at:

Thanks always for reading, please drop by again soon…