Sunday, 5:30 am
I’m here at IHOP for breakfast. I’m dining alone (like a bawse). The hostess shows me to an empty booth. Looking around, I see that the place is mostly empty, which makes sense. Too early for the old people/church crowd, too late for the Saturday night crowd and their post alcohol-fueled nighttime adventures.
Over to my left I see a middle-aged man greedily downing what looks like a Paul Bunyan-sized stack of flapjacks. The guy looks too thin to get the job done, but it isn’t stopping him from shoving that food in his mouth faster than a prison inmate would. Heck, maybe he was recently released from the joint. Maybe he escaped. Seven Locks prison is just a few miles away after all. Who am I kidding? The Birdman of Alcatraz he is not.
Three booths to his right is a couple, sitting side-by-side in a booth. I’ve never understood that. I get that looking at your partner chewing mouthfuls of whatever can be gross, but isn’t being repeatedly jabbed in your ribs by your lover’s elbow just a bit more annoying? Besides, now you’re both looking at an empty side of a booth? I fail to see the fun in that. No chance of an accidental nip-slip there.
The waitress comes by to take my order. She’s a woman in her late forties or early fifties. It’s hard to tell. By her posture and behavior, I can tell that she’s been doing this job for a while. And dealing with idiot customers has a way of aging you quickly. She’s just over five feet and quite rotund. I can tell by her demeanor that this is either near the end of her shift and she’s very tired, or this is the beginning of her shift and she just woke up and is tired. Either way, she doesn’t look like she’s going to take any shit. I’d best tread carefully.
“Hi there hun, my name is Mary, can I get you something to drink?”
“Sure, can I get some coffee please? And I’m ready to order,” I reply.
“Okay. What can I get cha?”
“Lemme get the Brooks BLT platter, but instead of mayo (which is gross and should be banned from this planet) can I get mustard please? Along with a side of hashbrowns.”
It was a gamble. First I’m asking for a non-breakfast food for breakfast (like a bawse). Second, I’m asking for a substitution, the bane of all food service workers everywhere. If anything it’s the second leading cause food-tampering by cooks. The first being…well, I can’t give away all of their devious secrets. After all, I used to be a grill jockey, I can’t betray their code. Also, if you knew, you’d never go to a restaurant again (especially with what comes next).
“Alright hun, let’s see what we can do,” she says.
Whew, I think I passed. Thanks to my killer smile, ridiculously good looks and under-the-radar sexy personality, I won Mary over. I open my book and begin to read. It’s the novelization of the movie “Dark City” starring Jennifer Connely. A powerful read.
I got up to wash my hands in preparation of my upcoming delicious meal, (damn, couldn’t even write that with a straight face). As I entered the bathroom, the first thing I couldn’t help but notice was that most of the kitchen staff was in there. The second thing I couldn’t help but notice is that a couple of them were shirtless and using the bathroom sinks to bathe. I stood there for a moment and let it all sink in. One of the guys looked up at me. Our eyes locked in mutual horror and embarrassment. The moment lasted forever and a day. The rest of the guys continued with their business, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I felt like Jacques Cousteau, discovering a rare fish in its natural habitat. Slowly, as if the floor was full of landmines, I gently tiptoed to an available sink and washed my hands. I then backed out of the bathroom, the way one would back away from a bear they accidentally stumbled across going through their trash, (people who live in cities know what I’m talking about, just substitute homeless guy for bear, it’s the same thing).
Back at my table, my BLT was waiting for me. As I sat down, Mary came up to me.
“Is everything okay?”
I looked down at the plate full of food, untouched by me. Then I looked up at her. Is she blind or something? Am I being pranked here? Obviously I have yet to eat, I couldn’t possibly know if things are okay or not. This could be another test. You’d better get this right Josh!
“I don’t know yet, but it all looks good and I’m sure it’ll taste good,” I said with my incomparable smile. She smiled back as she walked away.
I turned back to my plate and the bottle of mustard they provided (I guess union rules prevent them from putting anything but mayo on the BLTs? And yet they can still wash their bodies in the bathroom sink, what a funny old world.) As if on cue, “How Bizarre” by OMC (remember them? Of course you don’t. Nobody does.) started playing on the PA. How completely appropriate and a bit creepy that a random one-hit wonder from the 90s just appeared out of the blue at the exact right time.
I did my best to put the song out of my head and focused on my food. I slathered that sandwich with so much mustard, it looked like the money shot from a bukkake video (I want you to go to bed with that image in your dreams tonight.)
That’s when the old woman walked in with the little kid. He couldn’t be older than three or four. Three things instantly struck me. First was that I wondered what such a young kid was doing up at such an early hour. Then I wondered why he was dressed like Robin. Even more curious is that the old woman was dressed as slutty Batman, low cleavage visible on her sagging breasts, obvious varicose veins beneath her fishnet stockings and flabby arm skin dangling and everything. It wasn’t Halloween. What is was was an appetite suppressant.
Wait a minute, I thought to myself, I’ve seen dead, burnt, exploded bodies, surely a slutty grandma can’t put me off breakfast. Which was true. Until she pulled out her teeth and started gumming her pancakes, the syrup escaping out the sides of her mouth, only to be caught by her old, frail tongue, which constantly protruded from her mouth and made circular sweeps, like a damp sentry. For the syrup that got stuck in her wispy mustache, she used a napkin.
Sadly, we both went up to the register to pay at the same time. Batman and Robin were in front of me. As she pulled her hand out her purse, a couple of packets of condoms fell out, raising even more questions. Shocked into silence, I retreated to my happy place, where I stayed as I paid, got into my car and drove away.
Moral: IHOPs in Toledo really from the Twilight Zone.