Six feet of America

Everyone thinks he looks like Elvis. But look at him closer when he’s slinging his drinks and his sideburns and his wisencracker monologues all over Gusoline Alley. Ya, there’s an initial Elvis-oscity — followed by the blunt smash of ’70s detective-show bad guy, Nick Cage without all the whine and pout. He’s always geeked on the java bean, which produces hundreds of hands-through-the-jet-black-hair motions every six-hour shift.

Patrick Tierney is not a man of half-thoughts or puffy white indecision or soft Star Trek utopias. This is a man who has worked things through, knows it all like he knows his mother. Almost everything he says comes out with quotation marks, forcing one to pause and search for a pen or a friend who has to hear it for himself. Women want to fuck him and men want to have pints with him on the sidelines at a rugby game.

“Smashing good scrum there, fella! Hey, would you mind banging my wife sometime? She would really appreciate that. Still got the UPS uniform? Bring it.”

A gladiator. A philosopher. An awkward dork who will spend days asking people the name of the second guy killed in the bakery in that one Cagney flick. “You know, the one where he shoves the grapefruit in her face. What the hell is her name? God, I am such a retard. What is her name? You want a lime with that?”

We sit down at the Delmar. Royal Oak. Eleven Mile. Everything is a “Special” here. There are more specials on that chalkboard than items on the menu. Which brings up a point that I’m sure Tierney could go on for hours about: “If everything is special, then how goddamn special could it be?”

I resist bringing it up. We find things on the nonspecial side of the street. Grilled cheese (I wish I were 12) for me, and a couple chicken babies with a side of squeal for Mr. Quotable:

“Tell ya what. If priests had to take Latin, there would be a lot less time for all this altar-boy fucking. Give ’em something to do. Make the priesthood a real avocation like it used to be! Give ’em something to study, for chrissakes. Too much time on their hands.”

The food is always good at the Delmar. Maybe all the orange leather and the bright lights affect my judgment, put me into a passive, accepting mode. But I can’t recall a broken yolk, a short hair in the soup or anything I had to smell 20 times before I ate it.

It’s three in the morning, and all the patrons are red in the face. The weather, you think? They are also loud, and enjoying the fact that they found a seat, that the Delmar never runs out of eggs and zaftig brunettes who make sure those yolks never pop.

A joke is hurled nearby: “Q: What is the difference between a dishwasher and a snowplow? A: You have to hand her the shovel.”

A diner at 3 a.m. is the domain of men, primarily. Or a Barbara Stanwyck Double Indemnity thing. Any chick in a diner this late can always be described as a “broad.” Except for those wiry, perfumed things that stumble in with their Brads and their Joshuas and their Tobeys. They giggle coming in, they giggle going out. Broads never giggle. They laugh. Right in your droopy mug, they laugh. Then they dip their bacon in their black coffee and laugh some more. I love broads.

Patrick gets on a subject and he’s gone, man. He’s still sputtering about the church and faith and piety and the Franciscan school he got booted from in ninth grade. I know about Jesuits, but I don’t know anything about Franciscans. What’s the difference?

“About six years of school!” Then he laughs a guilty laugh. Good Catholics always have that going for them. There’s always a nun behind their backs, making all their pleasures guilty ones, slapping their faces and pulling their ears.

It’s no mystery why Tierney is a film-noir freak. That’s where his heart is, his myths, legends and morality, out there on a black and white street, the rain pouring down, smoking a square, laughing at a dame who just lost the heel of a pump on the curb.

There’s nothing film noir about Royal Oak, where he makes his coin. Come on, Tierney, there’s a quote there somewhere. He takes a deep breath, looks at the clock (he’s got two kids and a wife waiting for him) and runs those thick sausages through his greasy mop one last time:

“ I tell you what … I don’t care how many fucking haircuts come walking down Fourth Street. I don’t care what you got pierced, what you got branded, what you got dyed. I don’t care how many freaks and heathens and sodomites you got running around trying to impress each other. This is still fucking Mayberry, man!”

Robert Mitchum smiles under six feet of America.

Dan Demaggio dines with interesting people for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected]
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