Hey folks , I hope everyone is well. I had a few days in Hamilton, and attended the Authors in the Park event. The rain held off just enough to squeeze the sale in on Aug 1 .Then the heavens opened to unleash a torrent of rain and hail. I had my friend Jane Smythe at my table with her hand-made jewellery, and I made a brisk trade selling copies of When The Luck Runs Dry. Thanks to Hamilton: Our History for organizing the event and Hamilton Film Festival for the loaner of a table and chairs.
I am back in Montreal now, enjoying the weather, and working away at the sequel novel: Fallen Angels. If you have read: When The Luck Runs Dry, or watched the film: Lucky 7, you will recognize some characters and settings in the follow-up book. It is still in first-draft stage, but I’ll paste in a tease scene. Enjoy!
The Big Top. It’s an old greasy spoon breakfast and lunch emporium in the core of Hamilton. Down at the corner of Main and Sherman. It used to be a go-to spot for late night partiers who had stayed out until the next dawn. Back when the city was a hub of bars, nightclubs, theatres and mobsters. All of that has pretty much disappeared now by the 1990’s, except the mobsters part. Although after Lucano got bumped off last year, they have been laying low. But they were still there, if you looked for them.
The restaurant was joined by a coin laundry business on the bottom floor of this old mid-sized building; with a few floors of low-rent flats above. Across the street is a large newer generic drug store, one of a chain that seem to be sprouting all over the province. I can see a few folks straggling to and from the small parking lot that runs parallel to Sherman along the side of the pharmacy. I have a clear view from my small banquette halfway down the dining area of the Big Top. Over to my right is the old cash box and countertop dining area, with the fry cook further back. He is toiling away now scraping with a stone at the stainless-steel fryer top.
It is 10:00 so it’s a bit of a lull time here for the staff. A good time to show up for a bite in my humble opinion. I haven’t eaten much of my Big Breakfast Plate, however. Other that most of the stack of pancakes, even with the fake maple syrup drowning them in a pool of sticky sweetness.
I catch the eye of my waitress; Eileen I think her name is. She may have worked here since this place opened it’s hard to tell. She looks the same as when I first would start coming here on the occasional day, we would skip out on some afternoon classes at Cathedral High School. We’d either come here and hang out or wander down to Papa’s Billiards on Charlotte Street; there we would shoot a few games of snooker and maybe munch on a cheeseburger and fries at the old stainless-steel counter, spinning around on the stools in a never-ending circle of personal amusement.
But today, stool spinning is the furthest thing from my mind. What I need is a refill on the dark swill of coffee they serve here. The bullshit with Brian had kept us up late in the night, but I had arisen early enough anyways. I left Julia to keep sleeping and snuck off down the street to sort out my thoughts. I manage now to catch the eyes of Eileen as she if prepping coffee machines for the lunch rush in an hours’ time. She grabs a carafe and hustles over and tops up my mug. She pulls the Hamilton Spectator that is protruding out of her apron pocket, and places it in front of me. It looks like it’s already been passed to a few customers that morning.
Eileen: “All the news that’s fit to print.”
She walks away and I sip the scalding hot brew, pushing my plate of food aside as I open the front section of the paper in front of me. The selection of news is the usual gripes about how hard done by the city was and the pronouncements of entitled smallminded city councillors, some who have been in power ad-nauseum as this town had no term limits for politicians. Or mobsters. It seems they’ve been around even longer; except they could be replaced. By the barrel of a gun.
But read on I do, even settling for a few moments on the obituary column. But that’s not somewhere I want to dwell to long, so I decide on a read of a lengthy analysis on The Ticats early exit from the quarterfinals in the CFL playoffs last weekend. There will be no Grey Cup parade in steel-town this November it seems, and there is much handwringing and whining in the sports column to make some drama out of it.
It is an amusing read, and it’s only in the back recesses of my mind that I acknowledge hearing the entrance door squeak and footsteps approach my table. But I do hear the vinyl seat cushion strain under the weight of someone sitting down opposite me. I peak around the side of the newspaper to see Harry. His right hand reaches out to grab a stray piece of toast, and he dips it in messily in the uneaten egg yolk on my plate. Harry munches away, eating the toast. He grimaces and looks up now at me.
Harry: “The yolk’s a little runny, wouldn’t you say? “
I have no answer for him. as he takes another piece of toast and sneers at it. He looks over to the side of the tabletop and grabs a bottle of HP Sauce. He proceeds to dump a generous dollop on my plate and dips the toast. Harry smiles now as he eats it. Now he grabs my coffee mug and inspects it and sneers. He dips his finger in it. He looks towards the counter and waves a hand at Eileen, catching her eye.
Harry: “My friend’s coffee’s gone cold… “
Eileen walks over with the coffee carafe. She fills my cup and turns to leave. Harry puts his hand on her arm stopping her. He motions to the plate of milk containers on the table.
Harry: “And he doesn’t want this milk anymore, he’d like some cream.”
Eileen retracts her hand from Harry’s grip and her smile turns into a sneer as she looks at Harry while taking cream containers from her smock and dumping them on top on the milk.
Eileen: “Anything else your friend would like?”
Harry “Yeah. He forgot to order a side of sausage and toast. White toast lightly buttered and jam-lots of jam. Just put it on the bill for him.”
Eileen shakes her head and withdraws, while Harry mixes cream into my cup of coffee. He drinks from it and stares at the outside headlines of the Spectator which I am still trying to read
Harry: “Lots of bad news in the old rag this morning friend? “
I ignore him and keep reading. If Harry is here for a reason, I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough. We sit there is silence for a few minutes, then Eileen returns with the plate of sausage and toast and places it in front of me while I move the newspaper aside. Harry intercepts the plate as it hits the surface, and he slides it over to himself.
Harry: “All that bad news in the paper upset his stomach, gave him a little indigestion. Better just leave that here till his stomach settles down.”
Eileen: “Maybe it isn’t the news, maybe it’s the company he’s keeping.”
Harry: “I’ll let him know! Oh, and he could use a clean knife and fork when you got a moment sweetheart.”
Harry winks at Eileen and her sneer is now turning into a scowl. Or maybe it’s the other way around? Either way, she is unimpressed with Harry’s demeanour to say the least, and she grabs the cutlery from the next booth and places if loudly down next to him. She turns quickly on her heel, but Harry is non-plussed as he now digs into the food. I go back to the Spectator and start to read an article that makes me chortle lightly.
Harry: “Something funny Lucky?”
Me: “Yeah. I’m just reading this article about some guy that croaked last week. Tripped on his way down the stairs in a Chinese restaurant late one night. The owner thought he had skipped out on the bill, so didn’t go looking for him. The cleaner found him the next day. “
Harry: “That’s funny? “
I lower the newspaper now all the way down and gaze at Harry.
Me: “Yeah. It’s funny to think one minute you’re sitting enjoying some food in a place, and the next you’re lying stiff at the bottom of a stairwell with a broken neck.”
Harry: “Staircase is a few yards away. How you figure you can pull it off. “
Me: “Maybe you’re right. Guy could just as easily choke on a sausage though, couldn’t he?”
Harry: “Heard that happened to some gear- box in Toronto last year. What do
you expect trying to eat something down all in one bite?”
Harry laughs at his own sick humour.
Harry: “Kind of like the Andreoli brothers last year, no? They sure bit off more than they could
chew; didn’t they?”
Harry laughs again, and I lift the newspaper back up. But not far enough to stop me seeing him he begin to pick his teeth with a matchbook. He has downed that breakfast in record time it seems.
Harry: “Funny the stuff that don’t make it into the paper. Like some pissed-up Irish copper hanging out with a crack-whore all night, and his dumb-ass brother busting in and messing up the joint.
I lower the newspaper again.
Me: “I should have put my complaint through the Better Business Bureau?”
Harry:” Look. I’m just a messenger. I got better things to do than hang around in a greasy spoon staring at your ugly mug. The Reverend wants to see you about it tonight at the Domenica-ok? “
Harry gets up to leave now and burps a rancid belch as he down the coffee. He wipes his mouth with the side of his hand and looks at me
Harry: “Don’t forget to leave a good tip when you leave. You know how much they pay people these places? Peanuts.”
Harry throws his match book on the table as Eileen glares in his direction. He makes his way through the front door and onto the sidewalk. I fold up the newspaper, and neatly place it on the outside of the table. I throw 30$ down on top of it, figuring that should more than cover the bill for the food and the stupidity of Hary’s impromptu appearance. I get up and walk out, and luckily Harry is nowhere to be seen so I can walk away with only the roar of car traffic to accompany my thoughts.