Gloria, the suicide blond waitress at the Moondance Diner, calls out to Wilf, the cook who hasn’t shaved in three days, “Angels on horseback, two bloodhounds in the hay, one cowboy with spurs, Adam and Eve on a log and wreck ’em, Bossy in a bowl and give her shoes, one jack mouse trap, zeppelins in the fog, walk a cow through the garden and pin a rose on it and Eve with a moldy lid on wheels. Got it?” “Got it,” Wilf snarls back.
Obscure and/or arcane forms of communication have always had a place on my blog. I’ve posted about languages specific to certain needs from a symbolic hobo code used in the early 20th century to obituary euphemisms to reports on my personal experiences with human/spirit communication. All of them provide a new way of experiencing the world, of describing what we see and getting the job done.
Recently, as I listened to some of Tom Waits early material, I realized he was using diner phrases that I didn’t understand like “Adam and Eve on a log.” I started researching diner slang and found a delightful and fresh language that’s been in use for over a hundred years in diners all over North America.
Starting in the early 1900s, diners were originally railway dining cars, no longer used by the railroads, that were parked on a street and opened to the public. Their basic design persisted long after the last railroad dining car became, simply, a diner. In that same spirit of transformation, diners were places where salt and pepper became side arms, coffee became java, mud or joe, sugar was sand and the works meant the works! Edward Hooper’s iconic 1942 painting Nighthawks depicts a late night diner.
Online I discovered hundreds of phrases used in diner lingo. I enjoyed
the metaphorical leaps, witty playfulness and simple appropriateness of the terms, the constant forward movement of the message and the
quaint, rather silly sound of it all, like delicious gibberish. Some diner lingo has found its way into our everyday speech, giving us BLTs, mayo, cow juice, moo juice, sunny side up, over easy – bland terms compared to the wild richness of waitress-to-cook communication required for clarity and sanity in a small, smoky, noisy tube at three in the afternoon or three in the morning where over easy becomes kiss the pan.
Here’s what Gloria actually ordered:
- angels on horseback – oysters rolled in bacon served on toast;
- two bloodhounds in the hay – two hot dogs with sauerkraut;
- one cowboy with spurs – western omelette with french fries;
- Adam and Eve on a log and wreck ’em – two scrambled eggs with sausage;
- Bossy in a bowl and give her shoes – beef stew to go;
- one jack mouse trap – grilled cheese sandwich with jack cheese;
- zeppelins in the fog – sausages and mashed potatoes;
- walk a cow through the garden and pin a rose on it – a hamburger with tomato, lettuce and onions;
- Eve with a moldy lid on wheels – apple pie with a slice of cheese to takeaway.
Here are a few more I find especially evocative:
- blonde and sweet – coffee with cream and sugar, alternately, hot blonde in the sand
- Bronx vanilla – garlic;
- chicken in the hay, hold the grass – egg salad sandwich no lettuce;
- cluck and grunt – eggs and bacon;
- dough well done with cow to cover – buttered toast;
- elephant dandruff – corn flakes;
- first lady – an order of ribs (Eve, get it?);
- leaves in the hail – iced tea;
- mother and child reunion – chicken and eggs (ask Paul Simon)
- put out the lights and cry – liver and onions;
- radio sandwich – tuna fish sandwich (tuna as in tune a radio);
- shingle with a shimmy and a shake – buttered toast with jam;
- splash from the garden – vegetable soup;
- two dots and a dash – two fried eggs and a strip of bacon;
- whistle berries – beans;
- wrecked and crying – scrambled eggs with onion
Spend 51 seconds in a modern diner from the plate’s point of view by clicking the word cackleberries
For clarity the term “suicide blonde” means a woman who has dyed her own hair, punning on “died (dyed) by her own hand.” The term certainly predates INXS’s song of the same name. My friend Steve Black suggests it originated in the 1940s.
Gloria offers a third refill. I decline. She takes my ten to the till and slides four-eighty to me in change. I leave her a dollar tip. Blondes can always get a buck out of me. I reach for some lumber. Wilf nods good night. The glass door squeezes shut behind me as I step out of the din into the cool night air, my burp echoes long and loud up and down the street.