Saturday, January 17, 2015
The King of Nowhere-Part One
“Here Sugar,” Maggie the waitress says as she slides my bowl of grits in front of me. Little wisps of steam rises up from the bowl and dance in front of my face flooding my nose with the wonderful aroma of ground corn. As usual. I add several pats of butter and watch them melt on the surface until there is a creamy yellow layer covering everything.
“My god Aaron,” Maggie says as she walks by tending to another customer, “you're going to eventually give yourself a heart attack right here and I'm going to be forced to give you mouth to mouth until the paramedics arrive.”
“You can only wish,” I respond back as I begin stirring all the coronary disease inducing saturated fat into my breakfast and contemplate my existence.
No one willingly walks into Ollie's Carolina Waffle House much less eats there. Some, like me, are lost souls looking for a place to hide from any number of bad decisions, while for others it's a place of calm outside the rush of normal life. And yes, the fact it's the only operating diner in a very rural area is an important factor as well even though the coffee often looks like some evil, thick tar dredged straight up from the bowels of hell.
Ollie's is a strange place occupying a spot just on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River lost somewhere in the desolate swampy area between the small one-street light towns of Hardeeville and Bluffton. You could say its almost purposely hidden from the upper crust folks who frequent posh country clubs of the Hilton Head area, not that any of them would ever set an expensive Italian loafer in the place.
The way Maggie explains it, The story of Ollie's began back in the mid-90's when South Carolina was almost taken over by evil video poker establishments that seemingly popped up overnight. Imagine old fashioned arcades, but instead of kids playing pinball machines, Skee ball, and Pac Man think adults staring hypnotically at colorful machines all the while pouring coins and dollar bills into them in a vain effort to win at an electronic version of five card stud.
The very idea of video poker gambling was enough to give all the good Christian folks of South Carolina a severe case of the vapors and stalwart opposition soon formed determined to kill it outright. Unfortunately, the industry did an end run around the self-appointed guardians of moral values by promptly buying enough state politicians to make it difficult to kill. Still though, both sides lawyers up, filed numerous legal papers, and began the long litigious conflict where the only true victors where the attorneys, much in the same way cockroaches would be the actual winners of a nuclear war.
It was during the numerous legal wars that some person filled with entrepreneurial spirit built “Ace's High Video Poker Salon” just a few yards away from the future location of Ollie's Waffle House. To paraphrase two old sayings, once it was built they came in the multitudes to try and snatch an incredibly elusive monetary victory from a near certain defeat. All during Ace's High existence it was a shining example of egalitarian principles in a state that even in modern times so wants to devolve back to a society ruled by a loose aristocracy. Both white and black, rich and poor from both South Carolina and Georgia flocked to Ace's High to pour all their readily available money into the greedy machines, only to be tossed away like some five-dollar hooker once they were broke.
Since nature and business abhors a vacuum Ace's High was soon joined by convenience store, pawn shop, strip club, payday loan office, and finally a small nationally franchised diner specializing in waffles, all establishments looked down upon by the morally high and cultural elite of nearby Hilton Head. However, since nothing good can last forever, the forces of video poker were eventually defeated in the courts and Ace's High was unceremoniously closed the next morning.
With Ace's High now closed, all the associated business soon died, first was the strip club, then the payday loan office and pawn shop, the convenience store lasted a little longer but it too finally passed away. Somehow, the small nationally franchised waffle diner stayed open even though it could go days without more than five customers at one time, but even it eventually had to padlock its doors. Given the location the erstwhile complex of empty and forlorn buildings soon showed the signs of decay and abandonment to the point they could have been used as a set on some post-apocalyptic movie.
Just a month or so after the diner closed, Ollie came along and reopened the place, abet on a severe shoestring budget. His situation was so bad he didn't have the money for a new sign but instead took a couple of pieces of plywood, painted the words “Ollie's Carolina” on them, and then bolted the two above each side of the old one. It was enough that when the busybodies from the national corporate office came by, ready to demand Ollie completely tear down the old sign because such a ragtag operation might hurt their good name they said screw it, and went home figuring he wouldn't last a month given the location.
Somehow though despite the odds, Ollie's Waffle House found a strange little niche in the cluster fuck we call reality and survived. While never overflowing with customers what human refuse that does trickle in keeps the place afloat supplying Maggie and her three other cohorts with something in the way of a paycheck. As for Ollie, with the diner up and running Maggie claims he up and disappeared and only makes his presence known through crypt phone calls and emails.
I found Ollie's place a few months after my divorce. I had once been a decent Charleston lawyer occupying the spongy moral middle area of my profession, neither a slimy ambulance chaser nor a shining knight out to protect the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. None of my possible futures included a seat on the Supreme Court but my clients and people in general truly liked and respected me. So much that on several occasions both political parties sent representatives to try and talk me into running for state office.
But like an idiot I went and blew it all away having an affair with a gorgeous blond investment banker who got caught playing funny, and quite illegal, games with the funds entrusted to her. Since my lover, Cynthia Howard, was not one of the big Wall Street Masters of the Universe the Feds had every intention of making an example of her to show the unwashed masses that they weren't beholding to such people. But I was in love and Cynthia had long since maneuvered me into some dangerous positions both legal and erotic.
While not smart enough to avoid trouble in the first place, I was able to marshal what wits I possessed and avoid both jail time and disbarment. The divorce on the other hand was a disaster of apocalyptic proportions, my wife got custody of the kids, house, dog, my balls, and even the city of Charleston itself since my face was the lead story on every local television news broadcast for several weeks.
The self-inflected disaster that my life became had all the seedy aspects of one of those “ripped from the headlines” television movies. Respected family man becomes unknowing pawn for a beautiful femme fatale whose web of lies and manipulations would have made Dick Nixon look like an innocent Boy Scout. The local press descended on me like an enraged school of piranha suffering through a bad acid trip. So even before the dust finally settled I tucked my tail between my legs and slipped out of town to begin my exile in Savannah, Georgia. A nice town, but not as beautiful as my lost Charleston.
Now I am a full-fledged ambulance chaser, I even have nifty refrigerator magnets with a picture of me dressed as the Terminator holding an over-sized judge's gavel like an assault weapon promising that I will make the insurance companies pay. It's beyond silly, bordering on stupid, but along with a similar advertisement published in a free weekly newspaper I pull in enough business to pay child support and buy enough food to avoid starvation. I wish I could say my clients are decent, hardworking people but I promised myself I would only lie during business hours. It was during one of my house calls, yes I have sunk that low, to see a man claiming that the new ladder he bought from one of the mega-hardware stores collapsed while climbing onto his roof that I stumbled upon Ollie's. Since then I come here to clear my head and on occasion, meet possible new clients that don't want to be seen in public.
“Listen Aaron,” Maggie said interrupting my mental fugue, “you've been sitting there for over an hour staring at your empty bowl. I'm not a mind reader, if you want another you need to say something.”
“Thanks Maggie,” I say, “just more coffee, please. I'm waiting for a possible new client” Maggie knows me well enough not to ask any further questions, so she fills my cup and walks over to the far end of the counter to talk with the cook.
I didn't have to wait long, as I stared out one of the windows looking at the Savannah skyline I notice a sparkling new and expensive BMW sedan pull into the gravel parking lot. That's the thing about Ollie's, everyone who frequents the place drive something held together with duct tape and good intentions. On the rare occasion a classy automobile does cruise by it almost certainly means one of the uber-rich Hilton Head crowd got lost looking for his or her meth dealer among the countless trailer parks of the area.
“Oh my God,” I whisper to myself once the driver got out of the car. As a cynic of the American political process even before my fall from Charleston grace I had developed a strange theory. See I believe that in some secret location there is an evil cabal developing cloning technology in the efforts increase the numbers of 1950's looking white males. Despite Charleston's beauty and culture the unseemly underbelly of its racist past still exists in that many of the old established families of high society. Deep in many of the ornate houses that sit at the heart of the old city these families gather and talk about how they are scared shitless over the increasing numbers of blacks and Hispanics who actually want to take part in the running of the state.
Think I'm crazy? Maybe. but who would have ever thought such a god fearing state would elect a disgraced former governor to the United States Congress whose claim to fame was not only going AWOL from the office he desperately campaigned for twice to see his mistress. But that he crossed half the planet to bask in the intensity of her South American passion only to return and claim to the people who elected him that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Since this deficit of white males was even noticed by one of South Carolina's senators I began seeing a strange collection of generic white guys aimlessly roaming around the Holy City as if there was a casting call for a new Ward Cleaver for a reboot of “Leave it to Beaver.” Whatever the case this guy fit the description, he was probably five-foot, nine-inches, had black hair combed back in a style that reminded me of Ronny Reagan, and was wearing an expensive conservative black suit with matching tie. The only thing visibly missing from his ensemble was the stick protruding from his butt.
Despite the fact that I wanted to break down and laugh, I set my evil preconceived notions aside because the guy oozed money and an ex-wife upset the alimony and child support checks are late is scarier than being attacked by a rabid dog. Figuring his possible net worth I really couldn't see myself turning the guy away even if he wanted me to kill someone.
“Mr. Aaron Moore,” the guy said shaking my had after coming inside, “I'm Bob White, your nine o'clock appointment, it sure was difficult finding this place,” he said while looking over the late-twentieth century plastic decor of the diner.
“Yeah,” I respond, “but for most of my clients it's ideal since they have a hard time getting into the city. How can I be of service to you Mr. White?
“It's not me actually,” he said, “I represent someone who thinks you have special talents that could be considerably advantageous with a particularly difficult endeavor and is willing to pay whatever it takes to put you on retainer.”
Yeah, every microscopic bit of my common sense was screaming something was wrong with both this guy and whomever he represented but the overstuffed envelope he placed on the worn table obviously filled with cash overrode their protests. “Of course,” I said trying to sound discerning, “I'd have to meet this person and see what I would be required to do before accepting such an offer.”
Mr. White smiled, not a human smile of happiness or basic understanding but the type of grin you might see on a spider after a helpless fly has gotten caught in its web. “Naturally,” he said sliding the envelope towards my hand, “you're a busy man and this is just a small incentive to pay for your valuable time.”
I'll give White credit, he actually uttered those words with only the slightest hint of sarcasm. “Okay Mr. White, despite what curiosity once did to a cat, lets go meet this cryptic client of yours.”
I paid my bill and then left the diner with Mr. White enjoying the comfort of his high-end BMW. What did this mysterious client want with me? I figured it probably involved insurance fraud with me acting as a snitch to expose one of my professional brothers or sisters who was priming the pump a little too much. It happens, and the insurance companies were well known to go to great lengths to slap down those who had drawn their attention.
I wasn't surprised when Mr. White began obviously heading in the direction of Hilton Head Island. After crossing the bridge connecting it to the mainland I still wasn't surprised when it appeared that we were heading to the extreme end, to the Harbour Town area, an area overflowing with money and the idle rich. What did begin to bother me was arriving at the marina, instead of going to a conference or hotel room.
“It's quite alright Mr. Moore,” White said to me noticing my growing nervousness after getting out of the car.
While Harbour Town is a nice name, the entire area is nothing but the creation of clever developers who had access to a considerable amount of dredging equipment to dig out all the earth to construct the marina. Throw in a few five star restaurants, golf courses, and resorts and you would never know the island itself was once a refuge for escaped slaves during the Civil War. No, what sent cold chills of utter terror coursing through my spine was to begin walking among the collection of yachts docked in the marina. This was no mere insurance sting operation, something else entirely was afoot and I was at least smart enough to know I was much to small a cog in the great machine to figure anyone would ultimately give a damn if I lived or died. People like me were little more than bacteria to those who could afford the yachts dock there, none which were under one-hundred fifty feet long.
It all came to a head as the walkway lead us to one of those futuristic mega-yachts that looked like it could cruise the oceans or the space between stars. After seeing the name painted on the stern I wanted to throw the envelope stuffed with money back at Mr. White and run away a fast as I could, but he was expecting my reaction and pulled out a taser, pressed it against my back, and pulled the trigger. A second later I'm on the ground flopping around like a live fish that just realized he had been dropped onto a sushi table.
Another dude came out of nowhere and along with Mr. White, began carrying me aboard the yacht Cynthia's Revenge. Adding insult to injury right before I passed out my ex-lover, Cynthia Howard, wearing a only a colorful bikini worthy of the beaches of Rio, came up and gave me a passionate kiss. As everything went black I actually found myself hoping I wouldn't wake up.
(Author's Comment: I have no idea where I can take this, any CONSTRUCTIVE suggestions would be helpful.)