Having risen before dawn, I’m sitting in the Weston Café on a brisk, early-spring morning. The ceiling fan lights cast a cheerful glow on the pale yellow walls that spills out the windows and gives the place a warm, welcoming, cozy shine not unlike Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks at the Diner” if it had been painted by Norman Rockwell.
A few of the old men from town sit at the counter, nursing their coffees and watching the news on the television, which is perched high in the corner on top of the Coke cooler. The smiling, pretty waitress brings me hot coffee and ice water, and takes my order for “the veggie lover’s breakfast” with two eggs, over easy.
As I sit in a comfortable ease, sipping my hot, black coffee, the scents of the kitchen gently waft toward my table, carrying a fine, savory mixture of potatoes and onions, pancakes and gravy. When my breakfast arrives, it further awakens my senses with perfectly browned potatoes, bright, fresh green peppers, and passionate, red tomatoes. The two eggs on top approach a vetelline perfection, glistening with clarified butter, the yolks gently quaking in their firm whites.
I eat slowly, relishing every bite, while my coffee never gets more than half-drunk before the attentive waitress, with a toss of her thick, brown hair, warms it up from a fresh-brewed pot.
Time seems to slow to a leisurely meander, and I feel as if I could sit here forever in the bosom of this homey café in Weston, antebellum jewel of Missouri.
I’ve dragged myself out of a warm bed before dawn, and groped my way through a cold drizzle to the Weston Café, where I sit waiting for an apparently pre-occupied waitress to notice me. The harsh ceiling lights starkly illuminate a group of sullen old men at the counter. They stare into their coffee and suck greedily on their cigarettes as the T.V., from a high, neck-craning corner of the room, blares nationalistic propaganda from Fox News over their grey heads.
Still waiting for some kind of acknowledgement, I glance around at the sickly-yellow walls, studded with a few dusty old photographs, and out the window, where the glaring lights, painfully bright as they are, barely seem to penetrate the morning gloom outside, which is exacerbated by the sad, run- down aspect of Main Street.
When the somewhat dumpy, disinterested waitress finally puts down her phone and waddles over to take my order, she answers me only with a grunt, and leaves me to my luke-warm coffee, which is so thin you could read a magazine through it.
After what seems like an eternity, my breakfast finally arrives, some kind of hash with a few limp vegetables scattered across it. The two eggs on top are completely cold in their flourescent coating of congealed grease. I somehow choke it down, lubricated with tepid coffee and tap water. All I can think of is getting out of here, to my job of manual labor on Main Street, Weston, armpit of Missouri.
I simply tried, in these two examples, to switch my attitude from positive to negative, seeing something like the bright ceiling fan lights as either warm and welcoming or glaring and stark; the waitress as either pretty or dumpy; the food as hot and delicious or cold and limp. It’s easy to see Weston either as an idealized Norman Rockwell version of small- town America where time has stood still, with its quaint brick main street from the mid-19th Century, or as a run-down, backward nowheresville that hope and progress have left behind.
Although the first example is probably closer to the truth, I must admit it was more fun to write the second one, as criticizing and complaining seem somehow more humorous and satisfying than looking on the bright side. Both examples have a great deal of exaggeration in an attempt to heighten
the impression I was trying to make.
This exercise has reinforced my belief that how we experience our surroundings and other people has a lot more to do with the state of our own minds than with the objective truth of the situation.