When I was twenty, I lived right next door to a very busy diner. It was one of those classic greasy spoons filled with formica table booths, vinyl seats repaired with large weaves of duct tape, and a team of waitresses in matching uniforms the colour of baby poo. I think they also may have worn those paper hats and had ruffled hankies pinned like a peacock tail behind their name tag, drawing more attention to the bustline than the stretchy polyester ever did - but that detail may be window dressing, care of my brain. If they didn't have the hats and decorated busoms, they should have. Trust me, it would have completed their outfits in ways that a coordinating handbag never could.
In the front of the restaurant was a row of stout vinyl stools along a counter where patrons could drink bottomless cups of coffee. It was coffee brewed to a point that could only be referred to "chewy" if speaking in the positive. There was also a large front window, greasy more than transparent, framed with curtains that never moved, and accented with wall-to-wall spider plants hanging on chains painted gold for extra class. A real five-star place.
All I can remember about the menu is breakfast was cheap and the poutine was acceptable in a pinch. The men who worked the grill looked the type that would say "No Coke. Pepsi" if you asked for a variation from their "speciality". And if you get that dinosaur of a reference, you're my generation baby. But that is neither here nor there because it was the diner that revisited me recently and not the oily men in hairnets or waitresses with heaving unibusoms.
I lived in a third floor walk up in a renovated row house. The apartment was large, had a deep bathtub with claws (that was the clincher for the rental), and built in wall cabinets with glass doors. My room was in the front, overlooking a busy street, and whenever the pizza delivery man pulled up to collect his next order from the joint across the way, the thumping of his techno music made my window rattle in protest. My windows did not like his particular choice of fat beat, she preferred Nirvana.
That's all I remember about that particular apartment - well that and a roommate who was the first in a small, demented historical group of my roommates from hell. She was the Hedy to my Allie a la SWF. But she will be part of a future post, not this one.
Anyhow, I worked retail back then, so my mornings rarely started before nine.
*let there be a moment of silence for the days where I considered waking up before 9am a travesty and miscarriage of justice*
Once a week I would be startled and roused up at the unearthly hour of five a.m. by a loud truck pulling up in front of the diner. Two men would jump out of the back of an open-back truck that looked like it was built from rust, gum, and popsicle sticks. They would loudly roll out two huge empty metal barrels - without any consideration for my sleep - into the alley behind the diner.
BANG bang bang bang THUD.... roooooooooooooooool thud
BANG bang bang bang THUD.... roooooooooooooooool thud
And then, using a dolly, they would pull out of the alley two capped barrels. They would grunt, swear, then grunt some more, swear some more, and eventually get these two obviously heavy barrels into the back of the truck. Then one of the men would slap the roof of the cab to get driver's attention. He would spark the sparkless engine and off they would go. Standing in the back among a group of like barrels.
Always at five a.m.. Always two barrels.
Being a city gal my entire existence, leading a charmed sheltered life, I had no idea what was in those barrels. Nor did I care. I only cared that these yahoos disturbed my precious precious sleep. Something I still whine about to this day.
But one day, or should I say night... no, it was more like a night that morphed into a day, like it does, but without the benefit of my sleeping... I found out what was in the barrels.
It was a late night of partying, a night so long and prolific, cab fare was spent at an after-hours club - because a walk home seemed like a really good idea as a forked over my last five bucks for a double rum and coke. A few of my party friends lived in the same 'hood, so we did the walk to sobriety together.
As we rounded the corner to my apartment, I saw that 5 a.m. truck coming up the street. Waving my friends goodbye, I stood by the door to find out exactly what these men ferried in the barrels - even though up to this point, I didn't care. Maybe I was feeling ballsy enough to tell them to be more considerate of my sleep, you know, being fueled with liquid courage as they say, but more than likely I saw this as an opportunity to learn exactly what was going on. My intentions are always that pure, I'll have you know. Anyhow, I stood in the doorway to my place, key in hand, trying to look casual and hoping I didn't sway too much as they pulled up to the curb.
And that's when it hit me.
A stench akin to rotting flesh mixed with eau du the bottom of my locker which was always crammed with the rotting shitty lunches my Mom made (sorry Mom) is about as close as I can get to describing what eminated from this truck as it pulled up.
I couldn't stick around. I fumbled with my key, trying to cease the need to inhale, and barely made it into the stairwell. It was a rare weekday off and as I stumbed into bed, I heard the thump of a hand on the cab roof, and away they drove - without a doubt leaving their distinct perfume to hang in the air.
Not having a clue as to what these men were doing and why they smelled like that, I did what I always do when mystified - I asked my Dad. Screw encyclopaedias - my Dad knows almost everything. And of course, he knew. They were pig farmers picking up slop.
So you ask, why tell this ever so exciting flashback from the annals of my mind? I say "why not?"
Oh and recently I found a bag in my daughter's school backpack - a knotted plastic bag from the grocery store that had something wet inside. When I opened it up, for a split second I was once again standing on that street, inhaling the stench of the pig farmer's slop in barrels - albeit on a small scale. A small pair of three days wet underwear, left to ferment in plastic and pee had taken me on that trip back in time.
Ain't life grand?