Down at the Low Dive Cafe, Part 1
By Arthur J Miller
There once was a high-class dude, a real upstanding pillar of society dude, by the of named Professor Armchair. He was a shining star among the uptown intelligentsia crowd of highbrow folks. He had written many books and given countless lectures on the lives and historical events of the class of people far below his pedestal. He felt he had a social responsibility to explain the lives of those who could not speak for themselves, let alone understand any significance in their existence. Pity for the poor dumb working stiffs bled his heart.
Up until now all his research had been done by reading books by others of his kind and putting his own profound spin upon their conclusions. But Professor Armchair decided that he wanted to do something different than he had done in the past; he wanted to go out and find some of these low class folks and interview them. Once he had collected a number of interviews he could write a book explaining the real meaning of their words, and how those words fit into his social theories.
In his first few interviews, he heard talk of a place where a group of the lowest of the lower class of working stiffs would gather and speak in their nearly unintelligible grunts. The place, he was told, was called the Low Dive Cafe, and could not be found in the Yellow Pages of the phone book. He was warned, however, that he should not seek out that place.
There were dangers to a person of his high means just getting there. But the more people tried to warn Professor Armchair, the more he felt like an anthropologist hunting for some 'lost' tribe in the jungle, not realizing that maybe the 'lost' wish to remain unfound.
One day he came across a tattered looking fellow digging a ditch and asked him if he knew where the Low Dive Cafe was located. The poor old fellow wanted nothing to do with our high-class dude until a twenty-dollar bill was offered. He then drew Professor Armchair a map and made him agree not to tell anyone where he got the map.
Professor Armchair went off to a clothing store to pick out some working class drag. He thought folks might open up to him if he looked like they do. He first thought to pick out a flannel shirt, but decided upon a blue colored work shirt. He thought to himself that there must be a reason why such people are called "blue collar" workers? Then he got himself some work pants and work boots.
That night he laid out his working class duds, his notebook and tape recorder and wondered if he was missing anything for his expedition. He thought that maybe he should find an interpreter, but remembered he had a book by a famous linguist on lower class dialects. This he studied far into the night.
The following day he decided that he should arrive at his journey's end in the early evening, because working people have got to work he deduced. That gave him time to work on the questions he wanted to ask and to make sure that they were in words and terms that these lower class subjects could understand.
Along about 3 P.M. he put on his working class drag and looked at himself in a mirror. . . "My goodness" he thought, "I look like a worker!" Having concluded that he was prepared, Professor Armchair set off on his expedition.
Following his map, he made his way through different communities. He noticed the condition of homes, stores and roads was steadily decreasing, and made a note of that for further reference. After what seemed like a transformation between worlds, he came upon the railroad tracks marked upon his map. He had a moment of thought about the social significance of this important landmark, for legend has it that lower-class folks always come from the other side of the tracks.
Over the tracks he went and closer to the waterfront he came. He noticed that everyone he passed looked at him as if he was out of place. It then dawned on him that his shinny new BMW must standout in this land of junkers.
Making a turn down Low-Life Boulevard and then another turn on Rummy Avenue, he began to notice the old dilapidated warehouses, seedy bars and flophouses. The people walking the streets seemed alien to him, and he thought that the anthropologists venturing off into some jungle had an advantage over him, because National Geographic gave them an idea of what they would see.
Professor Armchair made the last turn that his map showed him, which turned out to be a dark dead-end street called Wharf Rat Alley. He wondered if maybe he should have stayed in his own world and just written another book that was far removed from the reality of the subject.
Off on the left was another dead-end street called Dump Street. It acquired that name back in the old days, when the city dump was located at the end of the street. Dump Street was the end of the line for the down and out class of the lowest level of human existence. Many have come to call it the dumps. So when you hear that bluesy moaning song tell of being down in the dumps, you will know of where it speaks.
At the end of the street he found the sign his map told him to look for, Bed Bug Inn; across the street was a seamen's flop called the Seamen's Retreat. The professor had been told that when seamen wanted a few days of dry land or they were between ships they would stay in such a place. This particular place, the Professor had been informed, was run by old Wobbly Leg Vaughan, the rebel scourge of the seven seas.
He parked his car, a bit worried about leaving it on such a street. After taking a deep breath to settle his increasing anxiety, he walked around the side of Bed Bug Inn and found the spot he was looking for, The Low Dive Cafe. A faded sign with an arrow pointing down some wooden steps to a basement marked the establishment; on the door a second sign read "Welcome All Weary and Hungry Toilers, We Serve the Rich; Boiled, Fried or Baked."
He opened the door and was met with the acrid smell of thick cigarette smoke, fried foods and stale beer. All sound stopped and as his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he noticed that everyone was looking at him. He wondered why this was? He had himself all decked out like a real worker, he thought.
Scanning the room, what a sight to behold! - An assortment of laggards, hooligans, paupers and general lower-class misfits - the lowest of the low, the dregs of society. "Damn!" he thought, "I have hit pay-dirt. None of my esteemed colleagues have ever had such an allotment of specimens to study."
While pondering his situation, a voice spoke out; "Do you need something Mr. Dude?" Looking down he saw a half-pint fellow looking up at him. Upon his head was an old hat, tilted a bit, with what looked like union pins on the side. There was a smile upon his face that seemed to be somewhere between the warm grin of welcome and the sinister sneer of a scoundrel. In his hands was a length of rope that he was fiddling with.
"I would like to sit down and get a cup of coffee, if I could."
The little guy directed him to an empty table and brought him a cup of low dive Java mud. Then he asked, "what brings you our part of town?"
"My name is Professor Armchair, and I am doing research for a book on the social limitations of the economically and culturally disadvantaged class."
"Well, gee whiz Professor, how can us poor dumb disadvantaged folks help one such as you?"
"I would like to interview some of the people here as subjects of my research. May I start with you?"
"Why sure Professor," the little guy answers as he begins to tie knots in his rope.
Professor Armchair brings out his tape recorder and pushes the on button. "Please, if you would, tell me your name and what kind of work you do."
"My name is Northend Dil and I help out around the cafe."
"Well Mr. Dil, what . . ."
The little guy breaks in and says; "there ain't no 'mister' about me . . . just Dil if you please."
"Ok, Dil, what do you think accounts for your economic disadvantage in the social structure of society?"
"Wealth is like a big old pie, the upper class folks take such a large chunk of the pie that there is only a small slice to divide up among everyone else. The more the rich folks have the less that the poor folks have."
"You believe then that rich people should share more of what they own with those that have less?"
"Nope!" Dil stated; "I believe that we workin' folks should stop giving away our labor to the rich varmints and keep what we produce."
"And how would you go about doing that since the rich are the owners of the shops of working class employment?"
Dil got a rather ornery look on his face then said; "ownership is only pieces of paper that we can burned in the fires of an insurrection of toiling stiffs. The tools of work are already in the hands of workin' folks, all we need to do is use them for our own benefit."
"What would you do with all the rich people?"
Dil starts to whirl around his rope and then he says: "My idea is to take our rope and ties them up and throw them all down into a shark pit. That way they would finally serve some useful purpose, that being shark food."
Shocked by the bluntness of the words just spoken, Professor Armchair mumbles, "Yes, we must all do our part for social justice," for he wished to show that he had more usefulness than being some shark's dinner.
Thinking it would be wise not to continue his interview with this little knave, the professor asks Dil if he would bring another person over to be interviewed. "How about that woman over there by the counter?"