“LOAF ME! LOAF ME HARD!” I’d call out as I stumbled into Charlies Chowder House.
One of the teenage waitresses would laugh in a way that seemed more than a little stoned, then yell to Charlie, who would be working in the kitchen, “GRIMBOL IS HERE! HE NEEDS TO GET LOAFED! HARD!”
He’d laugh and wave hello.
I’d sit and wait and drink coffee. If it was busy, I would go behind the counter and pour myself a cup. Then I’d be served a massive plate of Buffalo Meatloaf, wrapped in crispy bacon, a meal they stopped making shortly after I left. That’s fine. I also loved their fish taco and their gumbo.
I ate there as often as possible. Sometimes I would get there for lunch, hang out all day, then get dinner. Once things slowed down at night, I’d have a drink with Charlie. We both loved reading Bukowski and Fante and other disheveled writers like that. He’d tell me about Astoria’s past.
Often we talked about our friends who also hung out at the Chowder House. Helmet John was easily the most infamous of the Chowder House folk. He was known for wearing a motorcycle helmet like it was a baseball cap. He pushed around a grocery cart full junky treasures and talked to himself and laughed loudly. His laughter was contagious and I was always happy to see him. One thanksgiving we all gathered at The Chowder House and Helmet John poured red wine on his pile of turkey meat. Then laughed and smiled at us. Later that night, Charlie and he got up and pretended to perform a bunch of Beatles songs, using old tennis rackets as guitars. I usually hate the holidays. But that was a good night. We drank and laughed and listen to Jimmy Buffett and danced around and ate amazing food and laughed some more.
When I think of Charlies Chowder House I get sappy. I often wish had never left Astoria. Its a scrappy town that loves rain and fog horns and weed. I got a visit a while back. Charlie had some meat loaf waiting for me. We drank and he told me about some of our friends. Some had passed away. We drank about that. Then we listened to Jimmy Buffett. Usually, I have a hard time listening to that kind of music. But Right then, with a belly full of loaf, in that Chowder House, in that grumpy town on Columbian River, Jimmy Buffett sounded good to me. It sounded familiar somehow. Like I had been listening to Jimmy Buffett my whole life without realizing it.