I wrote this a couple of years ago. I thought I would repost here.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
An Original Short Story
by J.e. Matzer
It didn’t feel right taking a
booth. I was by myself, it was lunchtime, and I was sure there would be
parties of three or four who could make better use of a booth than I
I tucked the newspaper I had bought from the machine
outside tightly under my arm. There would be time to read it later, and
certainly no room at the lunch counter to spread it out.
were two empty stools at the lunch counter of The Tip Top Diner on the
far end of the counter. I sat down and stretched my arms to get a
better idea of what my elbow room would be if someone were to sit next
to me in the last remaining stool. I decided there was adequate room and
that I would be comfortable.
A waitress with red hair took my
order and smiled as she walked away. Her name tag said “Monica.” She
seemed older than she probably really was and you could tell that at one
time she had had a pretty figure and maybe a happier life. There was
nothing to her smile, except for the hope of a good tip and a smear of
I listened to the din of the diner. There was a
baby crying off to my left and a man with a thick and phlegmy cigarette
laugh to my right. There were glasses rattling in dish racks and plates
crashing around in bus tubs.
The Tip Top was just like every
other diner I had ever been in. There was nothing unusual about it. It
was a couple of notches above a greasy spoon and it was always crowded.
The owner, Gus, was a broad-faced man of Greek descent, and he greeted
every one of the Tip Top’s customers with a friendly greeting and then
some sort of mumble in Greek.
As I scanned the menu, a man sat
next to me. He was tall but his demeanor and face were that of a smaller
man. He was balding and had bright little eyes. He was wearing a blue
track suit and white high top sneakers. A tape player was connected to
his belt, and I could hear Springsteen’s Badlands through his head
He caught me looking at him and smiled.
“Afternoon. Sorry for the music. I just hate turning off The Boss, you know?”
He turned the player off and adjusted himself on the stool.
“It’s cool, “ I reassured him. ‘It’s a great song. And you weren’t bothering me.”
“Well, good to hear. And always good to meet another Springsteen fan. Would you mind passing me a menu?’
‘Not at all,” I said as I passed him a menu from the rack on my right.
“This place has GREAT French fries.”
“Is that so?” I said.
“Oh yeah. Well worth the travel.”
“Come a long way, did you?’
“You can say that.”
I looked at his funny little warm up suit and asked, “Did you power walk all the way?”
I imagined him doing that funny duck-walk-jog thing around the mall.
“Power walking? ME? You couldn’t get me anywhere near a shopping mall."
How weird that he would make that comment, I thought to myself.
“No. I just took a little stroll. It’s a beautiful day.”
“It certainly is. Thank GOD for that, right?”
“Sure. And you’re welcome.”
“I’m sorry. What did you say?"
‘I said they’ve got really good French fries here. You should try them.”
I turned and tried to act as if I had something better to do.
“Am I bothering you?’
“Not at all. I’m just waiting on a burger. Guess I'm hungry and a little preoccupied.”
"And fries?” He continued talking as if I wasn't there, "You got the fries with your burger right?"
“No. I decided to be good and got a salad instead.”
“What a shame. You should have gotten the fries. They’re magical.”
“Maybe next time.”
I saw my waitress coming towards me with a plate.
“You don’t know what you’re missing. I love a salad as much as the next guy, but these fries. Oh Brother!”
The waitress sat my plate down in front of me and I was amazed to see my burger with a large side of fries.
me,” I said, stopping my waitress from retreating into the back for a
quick cigarette break. “I had ordered the side salad, not the French
“Oh, I’m sorry Sugar. I could have sworn there was a
salad on the plate. I can get you a salad. It'll just take a minute or
I looked over at Smiley next to me. He nodded towards the fries and then back at me.
“No. No. that’s okay. I’ll go with the fries today. I heard they’re magical.”
“Okay, Sweetie. Whatever you want,” and with that she disappeared beyond the swinging doors into the kitchen.
Smiley was still staring at me. All time seemed to have frozen.
I reached down and picked up a rather long French fry, blew on it, and popped one end into my mouth.
“Is that not the best French fry you have ever had?”
It was hot and I huffed and puffed trying to put the fire out in my mouth.
“It’s hot,” I choked.
“Well of course it is. They’re fresh. But good right?”
“Magical,” I said.
“Well, then, you’re welcome.”
“You’re welcome? Why am I welcome?”
“You don’t think it’s weird that you ordered a salad and got French fries instead?”
is a diner. It’s an imperfect world. Mistakes happen. Wait. Are you
trying to tell me that you had something to do with this?”
He just smiled at me like the Cheshire Cat.
“Did you flag the waitress down or signal her or something?’
just say that I really wanted you to try the fries. It’s not a problem,
really. And you are welcome. Now eat up before they get cold.”
I took a bite of my burger and grabbed another French fry.
Smiley tried to spin around on his stool but it was far too crowded for that.
“Okay. What did you mean by ‘you’re welcome?’”
“Forget about it. You wouldn’t believe me anyway. Just enjoy your burger and fries.”
came back and placed a white plate in front of the perplexing man to my
left. There was a delicious looking BLT buffered by a heaping side of
Smiley hummed happily to himself and popped several fries right into his mouth.
“Who are you?” I asked quite matter-of-factedly.
“Just a guy.’
“Bull. There’s something else. I feel like I know you. C’mon. Out with it. Who are you?”
Smiley put down one half of his BLT and turned to look at me. There was a glob of mayonnaise on his chin.
“I’m GOD, Joe.”
“Excuse me. Did you just say you were GOD?”
“Yep. You asked and I told you.”
“GOD. THE GOD. As in GOD in Heaven? In GOD We Trust?”
He continued, “Thank ME It’s Friday. Yes. GOD. HIM. “ HE looked up towards Heaven and pointed.
“Great. Sure. It figures.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Me. I’m a magnet. For people like-"
He stared at me blankly.
I get on bus, I’m the one the crazy guy who sees giant rabbits wants to
sit next to and talk to and then after he's gotten to know me after a few minutes, invite me to ride those giant rabbits around the world with him and Beanie the talking mailbox.”
“I’m not crazy. Joe.”
“Of course not. You’re HIM.”
“Yes I am.”
“Well, imagine my embarrassment for having not said Grace before starting to eat.”
“Don’t be a wise guy.”
“Why not turn the other cheek?”
As I said that I bit the inside of my cheek.
“Hurts doesn’t it?’
“Am I supposed to believe you had something to do with that?”
“A little faith goes a long way, Joe. We could always test the theory and see if it happens again?”
I spat blood into my napkin.
“No that’s okay GOD. I’ll take you on your word.”
HE turned and enjoyed a few more French fries, a bite of his sandwich, and a sip of coffee.
“So, GOD, how do I know you’re really GOD?”
“You wanna see my driver’s license?”
“No. I mean. Seriously, how do I know you’re really HIM?”
muttered something to himself about people always wanting proof. He
stopped eating and mumbling and asked “Whatever happened to faith. Why
can’t you just believe that I am who I say I am?”
My inner voice answered, “Faith? You’re barking up the wrong tree, Mister.”
“I’m not barking, Joe, and you’re not in a tree. I’m asking the question. Whatever happened to Faith?”
For the first time since we had started our bizarre conversation, I was speechless.
HE continued on as is nothing had happened, if, that is, something had really happened, “So. You want proof?’
brain kicked back into gear. “Sure. I guess. Wouldn’t you if someone
sat down next to you at a diner lunch counter, ordered a BLT, asked to
borrow the ketchup and then announced that he was GOD?”
“You have a point.” He took a sip of his coffee. “Okay. What do you want?”
“Ummm…I don’t know.”
“Too bad I don’t have any playing cards on me. I do the coolest thing where I make the Ace of Spades-‘
“I don’t think card tricks are going to do it,” I snapped.
“Wow. Tough room. I can respect that.”
“Oh! I know, I said snapping my fingers. “How about a turning your coffee into wine?”
“No can do, Kemosabe.”
“’Because you can’t? ‘Cause you’re not HIM?”
I can’t turn that coffee into wine for two reasons. One. This is a
diner. It’s taken Gus over there a lifetime to build this business and I
would hate for him to get in trouble because someone had brought wine
into his establishment that doesn’t have an ABC license.’
“And the second reason?”
pragmatic, really. I just got the perfect blend of sugar and cream in
my coffee. I mean, this cup of coffee is perfect. Look at the color.
Perfect. I don’t want to ruin that. You’re talking miracles and I’m
saying to you. Here. Here is a miracle. I took a cup of Gus’ coffee and
made it something perfect.’
“Well, how about something a little more dramatic?” I thought for a second or two and then it came to me. “Make it rain.”
it rain? On such a pretty day? You know how many people have been
praying for a day like this? Do you know how many people took their bag
lunches to the park today because of the gorgeous blue sky and white
fluffy clouds? And you want me to ruin all that just to prove to you I
am who I claim to be?”
“Well, if you can’t do it-“
was a clap of thunder and the sky outside darkened. The diner grew
silent as everyone watched the perfect day outside cloud over with
shades of gray.
Within a second or two, the rain began to fall. Large drops battered the aluminum siding of the diner.
looked at the man sitting next to me who seemed to be burning holes
through me with his eyes. There was no expression on his face. There was
no gloating and he didn’t say “Ta Da!”
He simply turned away and took another bite of his BLT.
“Satisfied?” he said staring at his plate. “Can I stop now or would you like to see frogs falling from the sky?”
“Uh, “ I stammered. “Yeah. You can stop. Sorry I doubted YOU.”
alright. It was such a pretty day though. What shame. No crying over
spilled milk, though. And I guess a little rain never hurt anybody.
Truth be known, I like a good rain. It washes everything clean. It wipes
He took another bite of his sandwich.
“ Then of course there’s the whole rainbow thing.”
“Yeah, nice one there, with the whole rainbow thing.”
“”Don’t kiss up, to me, Pal.”
“Sure. You got it.”
I hesitated and after a minute of silence and a sip of his perfect coffee, he asked, “You okay?’’
“I’m not talking to myself, am I?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like in the movies. You aren’t invisible, are you? I’m not sitting here talking to myself, am I?”
course not. I’m really here, sitting right next to you, having a
conversation, and eating a pretty darn good BLT on wheat toast.”
I sighed and He laughed.
“You’re not what I expected. That is to say, you don’t look the way I thought you would.”
“What did you expect me to look like? Jerry Garcia? "George Burns? Morgan Freeman?”
“I don’t know. When I went to Catholic school, I always drew you with a white beard, sitting on a cloud.”
‘So, it’s Jerry Garcia then?” He laughed. “So, who do I look like?”
“Honestly? You look a little like John Malkovich.”
HE didn’t say anything.
“You know?” I pushed, “The guy from Of Mice and Men? In the Line of Fire with Clint Eastwood?”
“I know who John Malkovich, is.”
“Oh. Right. You’re GOD.”
“Well, yeah, but that wasn’t the point I was going to make. I was going to say that I like movies and that I know my actors.”
“Really. GOD is a movie buff? Who would have guessed?”
“Sure. I have to do something to unwind. What? You think I sit up there reading the Dead Sea Scrolls all day?”
like movies. I watch television. In fact, I just finished watching all
six seasons of The Sopranos. And between you and me and the napkin
dispenser, I hated the ending. Even I didn’t see that one coming. I
also like The This Old House Hour. Noah and I watch it on Sundays. Noah
is a real Norm Abrams nut. Loves the guy! I mean, like a teen girl with
Elvis. In fact he’s working on a hallway coat rack right now. I think he
prefers the smaller projects to…well you know.”
‘Speaking of which….is he?”
“Elvis? Dead? Yes. Elvis is dead. What a waste.”
HE took a bite of his sandwich and a long sip of coffee.
There was a small piece of toast on his lip.
“You’ve got a little piece of-”
“On your lip-there’s a piece of-”
HIS tongue darted in and out trying to find the crumb. It finally fell off and landed somewhere on his lap.
I couldn’t help but laugh.
“What’s so funny?”
“I’m just glad you didn’t decide to appear to me at a BBQ joint.”
HE laughed and when HE did the rain stopped and sunlight came pouring back into the diner.
“So. Any questions you want to ask while you have me here?”
“No. I’m good.” I shoved half of my burger into my mouth.
“It’s okay, really. This is a working lunch for me.”
kinda putting me on the spot. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around
the whole ‘I’m GOD-do-you-mind-if-borrow-the ketchup-thing.’ Questions? I
hadn’t really thought about it.”
“Sure you have. And you are right now. I’m GOD. I know when you’re lying.”
“I’m kidding. You darted your eyes to the left and right and then downward. That usually means you’re lying.”
“Well, give me a second.” My mind was racing. After all, what would you ask GOD?
How about The Loch Ness Monster. Fact or fiction? And Bigfoot. A hoax?
Or not? And Amelia Earhardt, whatever happened to her?”
sitting here talking to ME and you want to know about Bigfoot? Why not
ask me who is going to win Top Chef this season? Or if Heath Ledger is
going to win the OSCAR for Best Supporting Actor this year? Or where the
wallet you lost last year is?”
I stared down at my plate. I was never good under pressure. Damn it.
do you really want to know? And don’t give me anything you can find out
on your own watching The Biography Channel. What do you want to know?
I’m here. Take advantage of the moment.”
“Me,” I said meekly.
“What about you?”
“Who am I? What am I supposed to do?”
“Don’t you know?”
“No. I don’t. I guess I’m lost. I’ve been praying for-“
Then it hit me.
“Is that why you’re here?”
“Sort of. Plus The Tip Top Diner has the best French fries this side of Chicago.”
“NO. Are you here because of me? To help me?Tell me."
He turned his stool until our knees were touching.
I’m here for lunch. A sandwich, a cup of coffee and," He popped a
french fry into his mouth, "these great fries. There just happened to be
an empty stool next to you.”
“Oh. I see.”
didn’t think you thought you needed me. I didn’t think you believed in
me.” He seemed hurt but he didn’t seem angry or bitter.
“I-I-“ I couldn’t find the words.
“It's all good, Joe. Everyone’s faith gets tested. Everyone’s. It’s not an easy thing. I understand.”
“I used to believe in you. I mean, I still do, I guess…”
“Used to? Did I do something wrong? Did I let you down somehow?"
My expression changed and HE picked up on it.
"What? Your life didn’t turn out the way you wanted and you’re gonna hold me
responsible? You know how many people only talk to me when they’re
taking a math test or when they get pulled by the police and there is an
expired inspection sticker on their car?...”
“I still love them. I probably won’t be having lunch with them any time soon, because some of them just aren’t nice people.”
GOD.” I realized I was talking too loud when a woman stared at me from a
booth by the windows. I whispered, ‘You’re GOD. You’re supposed to like
“Who says? Who made that rule, Joe? And besides, I
didn’t say I didn’t love them, I said I didn’t like them. There’s a
difference. They’re all my children, and I love them even though some of
them are selfish, stupid, mean little jerks.’
“So you’re here for the French fries and because you like me better than some of the jerks in the world. Great.”
asked the question, Joe. Let me answer it. Who are you? You’re a guy. A
nice guy for the most part, although sometimes I wish you had a little
more patience with people and didn’t drive when you are angry. But for
the most part, you’re a good man. But as to the question, “Who am I?”
and “What am I supposed to be doing with my life?” that’s for you to
“That’s a cop out and you know it.”
It’s A Wonderful Life, Joe. I’m not Clarence, I’m not going to show you
how the world would have turned out if you had not been born and ZuZu’s
petals aren’t in your pants pocket.”
“Then why are you here?”
“Just so you know I’m here. And maybe, if that piece of the puzzle is in place, maybe you can focus on other things.”
“Answering those questions you posed to me.”
always here, Joe. Remember that. I’m always here. But I’m not going to
make it easy for you. You’re a smart guy. Figure it out. Work at it. In
the end, is your life really that bad? You have people who love you. You
have a sense of humor that has gotten you through some rough times. And
you’re smart, Joe. At least about most things, but when it comes to you, you can be as thick as granite.”
“And that’s it?”
do want from me Joe? You want me to grant you three wishes? You want
tonight’s winning lottery numbers? You want all the answers now? You
want me to tell you how the rest of your life is going to be? How boring would that be? What’s the point?”
“The point?” I seemed to
disrupt the entire diner and lowered my voice, “Yeah. The point. Why
are you here if you’re not going to help?”
"Joe. Joe. Joe. I can’t give you all the
answers. Part of the deal is that you do the leg work. You help
“And that’s that?”
“And that’s that, Buddy.”
“You can’t give me one thing?”
“Yeah. One thing that might affect my life.”
“One thing that will affect your life? Okay.”
I leaned forward and he leaned into me. I could hardly hear him over the clatter of the lunchtime crowd. In
a soft whisper, he spoke. “That load of white laundry you have soaking
in the washer? There’s a red sock mixed in. You’re going to turn
everything you own that is presently white a nice shade of pink.”
He pulled back and shoved the remaining half of his BLT into his smiling mouth.
“Seems pretty important, to me. Unless, that is, you want to walk around looking pretty in pink.”
“Well, thank you GOD, for saving me from a load of pink underwear and socks.”
welcome Joe, even though it doesn’t sound like you mean it. And here’s
one more thing. Your wallet. The blue one with that annoying Velcro
flap? It fell out of your pants at a movie theater, somebody found it,
took the money, and threw it away. Case closed.”
“Thanks. That’s one mystery down.”
He stood up, stretched, and threw a twenty dollar bill on the counter.
GOD was a good tipper. That was nice to see.
I tried to make up for my previous remark and shouted after Him, “And thanks for the fries…and for the rainbows.”
“Now THAT I believe you mean.” He put his headphones back on, paid the cashier, and walked out into the sunshine.
I finished my lunch, thanked my waitress, tipped her five dollars, and headed for the cashier.
I paid my tab and grabbed a handful of mints, shoving them into my pocket with my receipt.
stepped outside and squinted. The air had that just rained smell and I
breathed in deep. I didn’t know what had just happened or even if what
had just happened had really happened. I wasn’t sure if I felt better
about my current situation or not. I certainly didn’t know anything
more. I didn’t have all the answers I had been looking for these last
I did know one thing however. I didn’t feel as alone as I had before my lunch at The Tip Top Diner.
I walked down the sidewalk, I reached into my pocket for one of the
mints I had taken from the fishbowl near the register. The mints I
shoved into my pocket weren’t there, though. Neither was the receipt the
cashier had given me.
Instead I felt something that felt like
the wings of a butterfly. There were several of them and they were soft.
I squeezed my fingers tight to make sure I got all of whatever was in
When I pulled out my hand and unclenched my fingers, I saw something that brought a tear to my eyes. There,
in my hand, clumped together from the pressure of my grip, were the
petals of a flower. I stared at the yellow and white shapes and then I
pushed them back into my pocket.
As I continued my walk, I looked
up into the sky. The clouds had parted and the endless blue stretched
out above me. A car drove by to my left. The windows were down and I
could hear the strains of The Grateful Dead’s Big Boss Man.
I laughed to myself.
That was when I stepped into a huge puddle.
and that's 'Jody' with a 'y'
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