God, how did I wind up at the Jefferson Diner. After our twenty-five-minute sidewalk wait, they crammed the six of us into a booth for four. Me, pinned to the wall with my shoulders angled to take less space. A wall-mounted mini jukebox sat above the table, face-height, eight inches from my nose. A wire basket of bottled syrup crowded any space on the table I might use for my plate. Cracked vinyl jabbed the back of my leg just below my cut-off jeans. The hissing din of voices, the claustrophobic press of the packed diner, it all disoriented me. I could have easily thrown up if I thought about it for a minute.

I blasted through my budget the night before drinking ‘yards’ at the Irish Times. A yard is a thirty-six-inch, long-necked beer glass resembling a vase more than a stein. How many? Three? Plus shots? I couldn’t afford breakfast. Earlier in the week, I got a payday loan. The banker at the finance company—he was about my age, maybe two years out of college—he reminded me of one of those assholes from our high school football team. Cocky. Assured. Assigned to a higher social class by virtue of his blonde hair and wide shoulders. He talked up the loan. “Twenty-seven percent, that’s an awesome rate. You sure you don’t want to borrow more money?”

My loan, two hundred bucks to carry me through payday, was already more than half blown. I planned to keep breakfast cheap. I ordered a malted milkshake. Plenty of calories, and the malt might even settle my stomach. I’d break away after breakfast and make a peanut butter sandwich.

Everyone talked drinking stories while we waited for our food. “Dude, you were so… done last night.”

“Remember how those… dicks added the tip to our bill?”

“I don’t… even remember the cab ride home. Did I… puke?”

They visited from Leslie’s home town. These were the guys she partied with all summer. Their affected speech pattern grated my nerves. Their Oxford shirts and pressed shorts, their loafers without socks, it all seemed so stuck up. So did the way James cut his burger in half at the Irish Times before he ate it. Leslie said I’d love these guys. I wondered what they thought of me.

Everyone went big. Eggs, sausages and pancakes. Orange juice. Extra bacon. Side waffles. I sucked down my milkshake before they brought out the last dish. I sat in my corner thinking about the report I hadn’t finished for Monday. I tallied up the cost of a week of microwave meals to see if I could make it to Friday. I dug at my empty glass with my spoon trying to corral any stray clumps of malt for one last taste. Sweat beaded on my forehead. I worried I might not be able to escape the booth before I got sick.

My breakfast plan failed. The milkshake barely touched my hunger. I eyed Brad’s plate, envious of his bacon. I wondered who ordered that waffle in the center of the table. Like the family dog, I sat alert, hopeful for a scrap to come my way.

After breakfast, the waitress, Joan by her nametag, brought the check? “Y’all did a fine job on that mountain of food. Can I get you kids anything else?”

Mark grabbed the check. He closed his eyes and let his head fall back. He held the check to his forehead like a cool washcloth. “Ah, God… no one can do this math?! Let’s just split it six ways.”

Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash

28 thoughts on “Malted

    • You’re right of course. All of that is missing. I’m little disgusted with myself that I don’t have the protagonist digging at his empty glass with a spoon trying to reign in the last few remaining molecules of milkshake. All great feedback.


  1. I’m not implying any criticism when I suggest thinking about the following questions, and if your answers would change anything about what you’ve written and how?
    Where would you like to publish? Target audience?
    A moral tale/ moral of the story? Use of first person? Can you exploit the dark humour angle? Would revealing a little more about the visitors increase our sympathy for you, dislike of them, or add more light and shade to the story?
    (I feel neutral for them and sorry for the guy who’s been hoist in his own petard).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great questions David. 3rd person writing scares the crap out of me. I’ve done so little of it (none?), I don’t really know where to start. A neutral feeling for my companions is actually the right emotion. I’m trying to elicit sympathy for myself while acknowledging that I’m a very classist twit. I think I’ll poke more heavily on the classism angle.


  2. The story pulled me from start to finish, Jeff. It read like a personal recollection and it wasn’t until I reached your description that I discovered the story was fiction. As DD said, you might consider writing the story from a different perspective eg third person instead of first.
    Or, write / rewrite the story backwards. (Use the end of the story as a starting point and work back to the beginning.) We used this technique in the police when taking statements from witnesses. Apparently it uses a different part of the brain to access information and may provide some additional layers to add to your story.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’m not sure I’d call it fiction, more of an amalgamation than a straight rendering of a single occasion. I like the idea of telling the story backwards (at least in my own head) to find more details. 3rd person writing. Yikes. Just about all of my writing is first person. I know I should be practicing 3rd person. I just feel so lost looking at it through that prism. Great feedback Davy.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The story sucked me into it and as far as I’m concerned it reads as a true recollection.

    And the picture of the diner, reminds me of a similar place that many of my peers would congregate at for an after school milkshake in the late 1950s/early 1960s. I couldn’t enter the place as it was far too garish for my comfort. My head would start spinning the moment I entered through the doors. And the jukebox was way too loud, even while waiting outside.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know. Isn’t that restaurant in the photo horrible? I can’t imagine anyone wanting to eat there. It’s not really what I was looking for as a representation of a diner, but it’s what I could find on unsplash. Plus, I thought it might draw in readers wondering what story could possibly accompany such a garish place. Your comment reminded me that I left out the assault on one’s senses in a 110% full eating establishment. I’ll go back and try to weave some of that in. Thanks

      Liked by 2 people

  4. With zero writing experience I have no literary advice. But, I definitely thought it was a true story. Also, I can tell you my mouth was watering as I read about the food and, I, too felt like the family dog. Lastly, the varsity blues guys name was Brad, priceless.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. At first, I thought this was a true story–a retelling of a misspent youth sort of thing. Very naturally written–believable. And I could picture everything. The crowds, the smells would probably make you sick after a night binge drinking. The question that pops up, why was he drinking so heavily the night before? Is this a problem for him, or did something happen? What happened that led up to the Jefferson Diner? So many questions!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Angie. In my experience, it almost always works out like that. Get burger instead of an entrée and everyone wants to split the check evenly. I’m glad you liked the story, I had fun writing it.


  6. I really enjoyed this story, real or otherwise, Jeff. I’ve sat squashed beside other people in a too-small space and know how you felt with your shoulders angled like they were. Not very comfortable, but the sort of thing we’d do with a group of mates when younger. I could feel the cracked plastic of the vinyl digging into the back of your leg.

    I’ve also learned a couple of things after reading your post – I’d never heard of a yard of ale, so I searched on Google images and was amazed that anyone could drink three yards. That must have taken some doing! I’ve also not heard of malted milkshake and wondered whether the malt was like the sticky, syrupy mixture my Mum used to feed me as a child because I couldn’t eat ‘normal’ food. Apparently, it is the same concoction – I used to love it. I really liked the line, ‘I dug at my empty glass with my spoon, trying to corral any stray clumps of malt for one last taste.’ I can picture you doing that, chasing the ‘bits’ around the glass, not wanting to leave a single piece.

    You mentioned Unsplash and not being able to find the exact image you were looking for. I have the same problem, although I search through Pexels and Pixabay (both free), too, so I have more choices. Nevertheless, I come across some bizarre images when searching for something I think of as relatively straightforward. For my poem today, I really wanted a picture of an alleyway with fences on both sides, but I couldn’t source one anywhere. I chose one with buildings on both sides and slightly altered the wording to fit the image, although I realise that’s only sometimes suitable. All-in-all, an enjoyable story, Jeff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • For the first two days after I wrote the story, I solicited feedback at the bottom of the page. This was a ‘writing assignment’ for a class I’m taking. Because it started from a prompt, people assumed it was fiction. It’s not, but it’s also no a faithful retelling of one event. It’s sort of a cut and paste job of a specific period in my life. I should probably use Pexels and Pixabay too. Usually when I finish a post It’s after my bed time and I really just want to go to sleep rather than look for a good image. Next time, I’ll check out those two outlets. Unsplash is just turning into a marketing site for iStock anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

      • When I read your story, I thought it was an actual event, so even if it was an amalgamation of events, it still came across very realistically as one day. I, too, find writing assignments from prompts difficult to do. It’s better to think of something myself or base it on something true, even if I alter it a bit to make it more interesting to read. I’m taking part in a a writing course now, too. It does seem to help my writing.

        I know what it’s like writing late at night. I do it, too. Sometimes, I stay up late finding the right image (having trawled through dozens to get there). I regret it the following day as I’m so tired, I can hardly keep my eyes open.

        I don’t know whether Pexels or Pixabay will be any better for you. It’s just a case of going through them all until you find exactly the one you want. I know it’s annoying that Unsplash have so many iStock photos (and usually excellent ones, but have you seen the price!?). I think Pexels, and certainly, Pixabay, advertises iStock photos, too. It’s frustrating. Sometimes, it takes me almost as long to find the right image as it takes me to write my piece. Happy writing.


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