After a particularly gruesome day battling tape drives and ham-handed software misinstallations on what used to be a really nice server, Denny's and the copy of Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon that ravenword left with me after her recent visit were just what the doctor ordered. Atypically for Stephenson, it's a hell of a good book - incredibly funny in places, at least mildly thought-provoking in others, a generally damn good story in most of the rest, and with an absolute minimum of his usual masturbatory appeals to wannabee techno-nerds.
Wandering in nerdishly with enormous trade paperback in hand, I was greeted by a waitress I hadn't seen before. Natalie is nearly as tall as I am (5'10" and some spare change), lightly freckled, has medium-long hair the color of dark honey which she's neatly-but-casually tossed back in a ponytail, and she's got an intriguing combination of incredibly-cute yet kinda-horsey-faced looks - the kind that get my attention better than the Cosmo cover-girl look ever will. She's fairly young, and fresh-faced and earnest enough that she's clearly not Career Denny's - she's also missing that somewhat weatherbeaten look that even the teenagers who're There For The Long Haul inevitably seem to have. No, Natalie is pretty clearly a College Kid, Picking Up Some Extra Money For The Summer.
Natalie's giving me a pretty high-wattage smile as she seats me, and gets through the first few rounds of take-the-drink-order, bring-the-drink, take-the-food-order, etc with a sort of charmingly fumbling competence - she comes off as a little nervous, and keeps bumbling things just a tad, but never enough to really screw anything up. During the lulls between her rounds I cheerfully muse to myself about how much of the mildly nervous impression and the almost unnerving number and intensity of smiles she's giving me are the result of inexperience as a waitress, and how much due to the fact that I'm quite randomly having a phenomenally good personal appearance day, and maybe she's finding me as attractive as I'm finding her.
I really hadn't planned to linger forever over Cryptonomicon and Denny's coffee - there are some technogeekish things I want to do back at the house. (Having already both turned my TiVo into a $400 paperweight this weekend and brought it miraculously back from the dead, I'd begun feeling invulnerable, and earlier I'd decided to see what happened if I stuffed a new 120GB Barracuda in it.) But even though I've long since finished my food, Cryptonomicon isn't making itself easy to put down, and Natalie seems to have established herself in an odd harmonic relationship with the novel and my coffee cup - I can't just leave "because I finished the coffee" since the cup never gets close enough to empty to kill, and I don't get the usual "eh, tired of reading this" feeling you eventually get with even the best page-turners, because she keeps distracting me for just long enough at just the right times that it doesn't quite feel like continuous reading.
So I sit there and read the damn thing, and drink coffee from a neverending cup, and Natalie keeps being earnestly charming. For the first hour or so, her smiles keep getting higher and higher wattage, and my answering smiles do too, until I think half-jokingly to myself that she's got to cut that out before one or the other of us has an aneurysm. But eventually, she gets used to me enough that the smile gets dimmed down to something more comfortable. There's the tiniest bit of small talk every now and then, and in one snatch of it I learn that she's only been working there for a month, and that she'll be going back to the College of Charleston (we're in Columbia, about 110 miles away) for fall semester tomorrow, and she's really excited to get back.
I eventually realize that in between Cryptonomicon and the never-ending coffee-cup and the continuing intermittent interludes of charming waitressiness, I've been there for nearly four hours - and I'm pleased to realize that no matter how inexperienced a waitress Natalie is, there's no way in hell she's been paying exactly the right amount of attention to always fill my coffee cup right at the halfway mark, and charm me a little without being a pain in the ass while she's doing it, for four straight hours, just in the name of waitressly duty or in the hopes of a big tip. Clearly, she finds me as interesting as I find her - and even though I have no intention of trying to make anything of it, and I rather doubt she does either, it's an awfully nice thing. Finally, I hastily kamikaze down that seemingly-immortal bottom half of my coffee - breaking the spell long enough for me to leave a ten dollar tip on the table, pay my eleven dollar ticket, and head out.
I said there's no point to this anecdote, and there really isn't - I just haven't written any prose-for-the-hell-of-it in a while, and felt like hearing the soft click of keys on the laptop, and letting my poor beleaguered TiVo heave a quiet electronic sigh of relief at going without further molestation for another night - but I hope you enjoyed the ride anyway. Good night.