Luncheonette. Darn it all, I just found
the word I was looking for back in 2007 when I set a scene in a
coffee shop in New York. It wasn’t a coffee shop, it was a
luncheonette. In that era, you could use the term coffee shop, but a
reader might picture a Greenwich Village or a North Beach San
Francisco dive that served espresso to long-haired women and men in
berets. In my novel Beggar of Love, I wanted to evoke elbows
on the counter, ham sandwiches and steaming cups of joe.
Telling my sweetheart about this, she
popped out with, “My Beautiful Luncheonette.” We laughed, because
of the 1985 gay male film “My Beautiful Laundrette.” I
immediately thought I could write a short story about a luncheonette,
but I don’t have enough time left to write a story about every word
I fall in love with, not to mention I already wrote Dusty’s
Queen of Hearts Diner.
We had another laugh over the thought
that, while I regret not meeting my sweetheart thirty years earlier,
I really, really regret not using the word luncheonette.
If you’re a writer, you know what
torment it is for that one perfect word to escape you. Working on
Rainbow Gap, I needed genuine Southern slang in the worst way,
because some of the characters had ancestors in Florida or Southern
Georgia going back generations. For me, words are fun to research.
I’ve been collecting slang for decades and have my expressions,
idioms, and colloquialisms stored on hundreds of index cards, which I
review when I’m stuck.
There are times when a word flashes
into my mind. The other day it was “midriff.” I asked my
sweetheart when she’d last used the word. It was popular, in my
memory, in the 1950s. Oh, boy, I said, I can’t wait to use that
word. I pictured a character with a bared, tattooed and pierced
midriff. I had to ask where, exactly, did a midriff start and end?
Both of us guessed at the answer. I asked our brand-new Google Home
Mini for synonyms and she came up with: stomach, belly, midsection.
Thesaurus.com offered: belly, gut, midsection. In my mind, it’s the
band of bare flesh between a 1949 halter top and the waistband of a
woman’s wide flappy shorts. Men don’t have midriffs as far as I’m
Then, I was cursed with the image of an
old step van, in a dark color, adorned with the script, “The
Midriff Brothers.” That got us started amusing ourselves all over
again. My sweetheart wouldn’t budge from the idea of The Midriff
Brothers Bakery. An old firm, they used to deliver bread and other
baked goods in their step van. And the business slogan my sweetheart
supplied? “Filling Midriffs for Three Hundred Years.” See why I
love this woman?
My favorites are the out of favor words
and phrases. A neighbor asked how I was doing and I think I had an
out of body experience. I replied, “Fair to middlin’.” These
things just jump out of my mouth. I had never before used that
Then the neighbor, apropos of this,
said, “Flibbertigibbet. Now there’s a word you don’t hear.”
For the most part, this particular neighbor keeps herself to herself,
another old saying meaning she’s a very private person.
Speaking of herself, when you come from
a heavily Irish family like I do, your “old mither” would have
dinner on the table in “two shakes of a lamb’s tail.” After
telling someone off, she’d say, “Put that in your pipe and smoke
it.” I was a little dickens when I pulled a prank. I still describe
an overly attached person as glomming onto someone or something. And
I love how the word slumgullion feels in my mouth, though I don’t
think I’d like the inferior stew.
Here are lesbian words I’ve admired
since adolescence. Carson McCullers started Member of the Wedding
with this first line: “It happened that green and crazy summer when
Frankie was twelve years old.”
Willa Cather’s My Antonia took place
here: “The dwelling-houses were set about haphazard on the tough
prairie sod; some of them looked as if they had been moved in
overnight, and others as if they were straying off by themselves,
headed straight for the open plain.”
Radclyffe Hall wrote of reading: “Sir
Phillip and his daughter had a new common interest; they could now
discuss books and the making of books and the feel and the smell and
the essence of books—a mighty bond, this, and one full of
And today Mary Oliver never disappoints
me. These are my favorite line from “Wild Geese:”
“You do not have to be good. You do
not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert
repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love
what it loves.”
Oliver creates miracles of words.
Meanwhile, those Midriff Brothers served their goods piping hot from
their bakehouse. Their customers were always tickled pink. If
something burned they’d have a cow.
I regret every scrumptious word and
historied phrase I’ll never get to use.
[Editor's Note: Lee Lynch is the author
of over 13 books. Her latest, Rainbow Gap, is available at
Strokes Books. You can reach Lynch at LeeLynch@ontopmag.com]
Copyright 2017 Lee Lynch.