On a recent Thursday I have supper in this one-day diner. A diner. Open for one day. With one booth. Sweet.
I bump into the painter-slash-musician Mitchell Wiebe and he says, “do you know about the secret cafe?” Of course I don’t. He says, “well, that’s one place, but friends of mine have this other place, a diner with one booth, in their apartment on Agricola. Want to go?” I have a few dollars in my pocket. I say yes.
We make our way to Agricola Street, and go through a door with a flyer posted. The flyer says the diner is called “2nd Cousins Twice Removed,” a great name for a place above Cousin’s Snack Bar. The flyer has drawings of a pirate cat and old-fashioned courier typing:
we got tons of food. but just one booth, so call ahead for reservations. no. fuck that. no reservations. come one come all. thursday from 11am to 7pm. by donation.
Mitchell and I go up dark stairs and knock at the door on the left. No one answers. The door is unlocked and we go in and walk gingerly through a warren of rooms in a scuzzy punk house. Tons of mess, bad-ass wabi-sabi dumpster decor. Books, cassettes, videos, old clothes, piles of shoes. “I think,” says Mitchell, “the kitchen is towards the back.” More dimly lit rooms. “Helllllooooo,” Mitchell calls out.
Around a corner there is warmth and light and food smells. Capp Larsen and Pierre Blais, in cute aprons, are pleased to see us. We sit down in the one booth, painted red. The tablecloth is mostly turquoise with a road trip motif around the edges and a big coffee stain. The table holds salt, pepper, ketchup, sugar and an old jukebox console. Above is the menu, on a blackboard. Waffles, eggs, potatoes, tofu scramble, veggie bacon, coffee, diner coffee, toast. We both go for grilled cheese sandwiches with a side of home fries. Mitchell gets cheddar with tomato; I go for the cheddar/mozza combo with tomato and onions.
Two more folks arrive. Mitchell knows them. I don’t. We get mugs of water and a big bodum of coffee appears on the table. The soy milk is in a cat-shaped creamer. There are also little restaurant creamers of coffee cream. Pierre says they got a big bag from the food bank. The coffee is good. I am happy. I am where no one will ever find me. Maybe even in another city. Maybe something magical has happened and I’m back in Philadelphia.
One more person arrives so we are five in the booth. The sandwich and home fries are wonderful. The tofu scramble, chunky with lots of mushrooms, is pronounced really good. More people arrive and sit on a little bench nearby. Pierre and Capp scurry around the stove and counters, in steady good cheer. An offer to help with dishes is laughed off. Folks catch up with each other. More arrive. The word is out. Capp says the diner is a one day deal. Pierre will be away for three months. They may start up again when he comes back. But both are surprised by the numbers of folks coming in; maybe, after all, they will open again some time.
When we’re done, the bill arrives, stamped “Scuzins welcomes you.” Another great name for this place. It has my name at the top, a list of what I ate, and at the bottom Capp has written, “Thanks! A great guest! xoxo Capp ’n’ Pete.” There’s no amount owing; payment is by donation. Mitchell and I donate and then we’re back out in the real world, bellies warm. And I’m still thinking that a little magic has happened.