The three of us, La Flor*, Little Carmen, and me sat in my car in the parking lot of the strip mall that housed U Shoe China Garden. That’s the way they spelled it, don’t email me corrections, por favor.
“Why are we sitting here?” I tossed the question out like a dandelion tosses its seeds to the wind. I didn’t care who answered. And, the dandelion doesn’t care where the seeds land. We both only wanted to get this thing done. The way I figured it, three things could happen and all were bad.
La Flor chimed in, “It’s only three fifty. The senior specials don’t start until four.”
“That’s all they charge for the meal?” asked Little Carmen.
La Flor turned her head, cocked it sideways, and looked at Little Carmen, then she turned toward me. I found myself in the position of the interpreter. I said, “Little Carmen wants to know why they only charge three fifty for the buffet.”
“They do? I’ll make a note of that,” said La Flor.
Is there any sanity left in my world? Has my life come down to being the straight man for La Flor and Little Carmen?
Why do we want to eat at four? Can I eat at seven two (remember, that’s how he says, ‘too’). I used to be a senior, that was right after I was a junior, but before I congratulated,” Little Carmen informed us.
“You mean graduated, right?” I said.
“Ray-mo you’re thinking of sugar. You know, the graduated kind.” I think he meant to say granulated, but this could go on for a while if I pursued it. So I nodded in assent.
“We don’t want to eat,” said La Flor.
“We don’t?” said Little Carmen. “My tummy is making noises likes somebody is inside me choking somebody.”
“Remember what I taught you, LC. Be nice and we’ll have something better later,” said La Flor rubbing the back of Little Carmen’s neck.
Little Carmen, who is not so little, seemed to shrink to child size in front of me. I wanted to see if his tongue hung out. His big brown eyes gaga with the beautiful, tough, and edgy fill in the blank.
“How can you be the Phantom Diner if you don’t eat the food?” I asked. My question made sense to me. Perhaps, I was the only one in the car to whom it made sense.
“That’s easy, Ray,” said La Flor. She patted Little Carmen’s right bicep, the one with the tattoo that said Mite. His left bicep’s tattoo read Dyno. I know it’s lame, but La Flor wanted in here. Take it up with her. She continued, “LC, tell Ray your plan.”
My worst fears started to take form. Little Carmen, pointed out the window, with a forefinger the size of a large brat. “Sees that guy, the one with the walker?”
I looked out the window, there was a guy with a walker headed toward U Shoe. He was followed by a man who was followed by a woman, both driving senior scooters. Both with baskets on the front. All three were racing at one point six miles an hour to see whose name was first on the seating list.
The old gal made a move to pass the old guy in front of her. A car honked at the trio who seemed to be crossing slow motion in front of the car. The old gal turns and flips the driver off, then turns her front wheel into the rear right wheel of the scooter in front of her nearly causing a senior scooter rollover. The guy in front of her can’t turn all the way around because his urine sack is restricting him from full mobility. She sneaks into second place at the finish line. The door to U Shoe.
I answered, after my digression into the senior follies, “I see him.”
“What took so long to answers me?” said Little Carmen.
“I was giving the readers some filler.”
“What’s they gonna do with a filter?”
“Stay focused, LC,” that’s’ a good boy. Here’s a mini Snicker’s bar for you,” said La Flor extracting a small Snicker’s bar from her handbag.
“Thanks, beautiful, tough, and edgy phantom diner.”
I’ve got my Christmas present in mind of La Flor. A retractable leash she can use with Little Carmen. Thankfully, Little Carmen lost his train of thought as he munched on his Snicker’s bar. The three of us went into U Shoe.
A medium height, thin, balding male who looked like his ancestors came from somewhere around the Pacific Rim, said, “Table for three?”
Little Carmen spoke up, “No. We’re going eat with those three.” He pointed his brat at the senior trio with two scooters and a walker pulled neatly into a circle in case of an Indian attack.
“We have plenty of other tables.”
“We wants that one, see,” said Little Carmen two inches away from the host.
“Don’t worry, he’s had all his shots,” said La Flor.
What did she mean by that, distemper? Rabies? Heart worm? Or, tetanus, polio, measles? I wasn’t sure.
“This won’t look good for you on the write-up?” said La Flor.
I whispered to her, “The phantom diner isn’t supposed to tell anybody she is the phantom diner.”
“I told you. I told LC. I told BC. What’s the problemo?”
The host walked us over to the table with the seniors. The three of us squeezed in at the table.
“What the hell is going on?” said the senior male with the walker, now known as SM1.
The senior male with the scooter, now known as SM2, said, “Victoria cut me off. I should have been second.”
“Leave me out of this if one of you want to take me home tonight,” said Victoria.
“Hell, we all came in the same SUV and we’re going to the same place,” said SM1.
“You can’t take Victoria home,” said SM2.
“Why?” said Little Carmen.
Question: Why is Little Carmen jumping into this domestic dispute?
“That’s what I want to know,” said Victoria.
“Sing it, sister,” said La Flor.
I began to look for cover. I said, “I’m going to the buffet.”
“No, you don’t, we go in order. Last week Victoria went first. Then SM1. Then me,” said SM2
“That was two weeks ago,” said Victoria.
I signaled the waiter, “Can I have my fortune cookie?”
“Fortune cookie?” Little Carmen took an interest. He said to the waiter, “Me too, and brings one for the beautiful, tough, and edgy, Phantom Diner.”
When will this end? What did I do to deserve this? Of all the alt egos available, I get La Flor and Little Carmen.
La Flor said, “That’s a good boy, LC.”
I was happy she didn’t say shake.“What’d he say?” said SM1.
“What’d he say?” said SM1.
“He asked about a cookie,” said SM2.
“What’s he want with a cookie? I don’t think we ate. Victoria, Did we already eat, I don’t remember?”
La Flor grabbed my arm, “I think they’re dangerous. Let’s get out of here, now. I have everything I need for this place.”
“You do?” I said.
“LC help me with my chair.”
“Here’s your check,” said the waiter.
Little Carmen said, “The guy with the scooter. He’s paying.”
Highlights from La Flor’s write up.
Mark the parking spaces by the tables for scooters and walkers.
Put fortunes in the fortune cookies.
Victoria has got to do something about her hair, it smells of perm.
My Fortune read: Your lucky number is 7. The moon is in your phrase (that’s what it said “phrase). Life turns on a daisy (I have no idea where they get these fortunes).
* La Flor is a fictional character and acts as my alt ego. Her character has evolved over the blog posts. She began with a single letter as her name. Her name gradually grew to two letters, then three before she settled on La Flor. She liked the name because it fit her idea of a beautiful, tough, and edgy feminine PI. It is my interaction with her persona that serves as the source of these blog posts. I have no notion how La Flor will continue to evolve. It is an adventure for me as well as the reader.