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Modern Noir at an American Diner

I should have ordered something different. If you have the single booth in the time-frayed decor of a classic American diner and you’re not the hardboiled PI-type in Philip Marlowe mode having bourbon and coffee, perhaps you should go the sweet route a la root beer float or milk shake. A plain root beer is classic but also sad. It falls far short of bourbon’s effects as a temporary mood enhancer, and the bite it does carry is not enough to ease the bitterness of a lonely booth. A float might offer sweetness as comfort where the root beer alone is weaker than the company a bottle of beer or a shot of bourbon can sometimes pretend to be. Or real company for that matter.

Here I was, reenacting Hopper’s Nighthawks, but with harsher lighting and a toy train. The plan was simply to enjoy a free screening of Casablanca at the —- —- Diner on a Saturday evening. As luck would have it though, the movie area was already full up, and since I was hungry and unwilling to wait by the cash register for the chance at an available seat, I instead chose the single booth and dinner.

So I sat, alone, with a root beer and the paper presence of C.W Sughrue – hard drinking, hardboiled Montana private eye, as written by James Crumley, inspiration for a host modern noir crime writers  – as I read The Last Good Kiss over my fish and chips. Who orders fish and chips in a diner? I should have gone with a burger, or at least the meatloaf special. While in the next room, Bogie is doing his noble cynic thing, here I am watching the toy train make its way around the room and toying with my fish. It’s neither Hopper-esque loneliness made art, nor Bogart’s stoic nobility in the face of lost love

Eating along, a no-frills plate of two breaded fish fillets accompanied by a small heap of fries, has never felt sadder. To perfect the picture, I’m reading a noir mystery in this slightly tacky evocation of nostalgic Americana, and yet somehow this scene is failing to evoke the kitsch properly for me.  Should have tried my luck with Bogart in the other room instead. My furtive dinner and a book there was the epitome of loneliness. Hopper would have made it beautiful but I failed at that. At least the book was excellent. But good company failed to materialize, and the movie of exiles left me out in the single booth. Next time, I’m getting a burger and a bourbon, damn it.

[Note: This is not a review of the diner or its food and service. This is just a mood piece on one of my dining experiences.]


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