The door looked very grimy, but I was determined to try a new place. And, besides that, I didn't really want a gas station pre-packaged sandwich for dinner.
I opened the door and entered a bizarre world; one that included decor from the 1960's through the present time.
It was the Ptomaine Tavern; a place where one could possibly get any communicable disease known to man from many different directions. It's atmosphere also lent itself to distrust of what might be coming out of the kitchen that evening.
I had been on a short business trip and came through a town that I had passed through many times. It was the last eating establishment I had never tried on my various jaunts through that little berg, and since the only place I liked had closed and then opened with new management on the other end of Main Street, and the food was very poor, I decided to try the tavern, or so it was called. On their sign outside they advertised everything from hamburgers to spaghetti, Pizza to shrimp. I dreamed that it might be another Ray's like in Green River. A place with atmosphere and good food.
It was nothing like Ray's.
I walked up to the 1950s like counter. There sat a laptop wide open to ebay facing my way and behind it a 12 year old kid, with a very bad complexion, playing with his I-Phone. He asked me what I wanted and I told him the special that was on the sign. He got on a computer at the other end of the counter and came up with a total of $4.75. I paid him and sat down at a table with a checkered table clothe facing the big screen television in the corner. The dÃ©cor was right out of a strange movie. A placid painting portraying a winters day with a creek and a cabin hung over the top of a set of stand alone video games, none of which was newer than 1995. The Mortal Combat screen kept playing itself back and forth displaying it's 1992 copyright display. The only surprise was that there was no Space Invaders game standing there too.
The kid that I had paid came out of the door to the kitchen and walked out the back door. Right away he came back in, with what I supposed was his father because of the total resemblance between the two; dad was just taller, but just as skinny and with just as bad a complexion. Dad was also covered in grease (not the food kind but automotive). I had seen some guys working on a car on the other side of the tavern when I pulled up.
"Did you get the food started?" asked the dad. The kid shook his head. "Why the hell not?" the father shouted as he walked through the kitchen door. "Get it going."
At that point I decided I needed to wash my hands. I walked back to where I figured the rest rooms must be and found the men's room. It was dirty, but then what else should I have expected judging by the front door, windows and dÃ©cor. There was no soap, so I used just water. There were no towels and no toilet paper either; my hands had to air dry.
I could hear a commotion in the kitchen; pans rattling around and the sizzling of something cooking. Just as I sat down the kid walked through the kitchen door and into the rest room. He closed the little rooms door.
The television was tuned to CNN, but as in many places the sound was off so all you could hear were the obnoxious video games playing their enticing advertisements that basically say "Come play me and waste some money for no good reason."
About a minute later the kid walked out of the rest room wiping his hands on his Levis. And this was the guy cooking my food.
Just then a middle aged guy walked in through the back door, covered in grease and yelling at the father about the car they were working on. They started a loud discussion right behind me at the counter about what needed to be fixed. A couple of minutes later a short guy that looked like a copy of the other greasy guy came in. He joined in the conversation. They cussed and they lamented the broken tie rod end they were trying to replace. One pulled out a cigarette and started to smoke. The kid's dad reminded him that no one could smoke inside when customers were there and the man marched out all ticked off.
While they were talking I discovered a bed of ants hauling crumbs from the middle of the floor to the corner of the room where they dove back down through a crack in the concrete with their goodies. They looked like a line of excited Applebots flowing in and out of a first day opening of an Apple Store in some mall somewhere.
The wall phone rang and I heard the 12 year old answer it. I couldn't hear the conversation but it went on and on. Meanwhile I waited. Then smoke started to fill the joint and the dad rushed back in the kitchen and I could hear yelling, with words I will not write uttered. Within this pleasant atmosphere I waited some more.
I looked at the ceiling and noted that the lights that orginally there had been removed and new lights hung; problem was that I think some electrical code somewhere had been violated. The lights hung from bailing twine with tinsel cord hanging down to power them. No wire caps here either; bare wires or small pieces of electrical tape were the order of the day. All the outlets on the ceiling had their original covers gone, but instead were draped by duct tape.
As I stared out a dirty window, the kid showed up with my food. I wondered if I really wanted to eat it. The first thing I noticed was the drink. It was in a Pepsi cup the size of a large thimble. The fries were obviously Sysco and the burger, well it was actually okay. But just okay.
"Sorry it took so long," said the kid. "My grandma called and I couldn't get her off the phone and then the hamburger burned and I had to cook a new one and...."
Dad yelled from the other side of the counter.
"How many times have I told you not to make excuses to customers when they don't have a complaint?
The kid shrugged and walked back into the kitchen.
I hurried and ate, as the greasy guys walked out and drove away. Maybe I should have called it the Tense Tavern, since that was what it was from the moment dad came in.
I walked out wondering if I would end up sick that night. Never happened.
Still I am waiting for the long term ramifications of my trip to the Ptomaine Tavern.