Tucked away in a corner of the exceedingly decrepit Indianola Shopping Center, essentially just a block removed from us, this weirdness warehouse first came to our attention one night after Damon and I grew bored shooting stick in desperation at nearby Suzi-Cue. We immediately became smitten with this funky hangout, bringing Alan and Shannon on board at our earliest opportunity. And while we all know better to even so much as mention much less suggest such an unhinged destination to Paul, the rest of us can’t get enough.
This, the night of the latest excursion for Damon and me, there are some real live flesh and blood girls in here, amazing though it seems, four of them and good looking ones at that. Ordinarily, however, not so much. Two of them are playing fifty cent pool at the table on the far side, while the other pair are seated in the random furniture near us, facing the plate glass front wall, conversing with this moustache sporting sixty-something arteest looking guy in a black leather cab driver’s hat, a white haired cat named Mark. With mismatched lamps and tables further accentuating the scene, a game of Scrabble and magazines among the various amusements scattered throughout, this section of the ostensible diner resembles your average cozy campus living room. One which features a bunch of underage Mexican kids, though, whom this Mark character is lecturing about God. That and a section behind him designated as a “stage” of sorts, where two keyboards rest, untouched at the moment, on metal stands, tempting anyone who passes to attack them.
This otherworldly café only opened this past summer. Open around the clock, seven days a week, the Sugar Shack is in theory a coffee shop, yes, though clearly offering much, much more. Local artists have adorned the walls with various pieces of their work, but the styles range from Deco to Cubist to Impressionist and beyond, encompassing the entire timeline of art history, and no two works are even remotely alike. Price tags hang from most of these but gathering from the static arsenal of paintings which greet us upon every visit, it would appear that very few if any of these masterpieces ever sell.
The tables and chairs are thrown together relics from some thrift store, mismatched to even more appalling effect than the paintings, tacky and tasteless. The lighting is lifted straight from one of the haunted houses that pop up each October, a spooky shade of green coating the front half of the café till giving way to a more conventional white near the back. To the right of the door, upon entering, a small section of the tile floor is cleared off for what this aforementioned, theoretical performance space, though we’ve never seen anyone plying their wares here in earnest. Should a band or a poet choose to perform here they best choose to leave most of their equipment at home, however, as space is limited, and the tension of a tight performance is enhanced by playing in front of that huge window, feeling the eyes from those in the parking lot upon your back.
Along the right wall, a refrigerated glass case boasts a wide selection of wedding cakes for those severely strapped for options, the kind of bizarre touch that seems right at home here. In the diner’s left half, a room kept slightly darker than the rest of the joint, two pool tables sit, open for play at fifty cents a pop. With every other establishment in town charging either seventy five cents or else a whole dollar, we can’t go wrong here, and have designated this our regular billiards spot above even the beloved Ruby Tuesday. Dividing these two rooms is a chest high wall upon which sits a number of board games, pamphlets, and knickknacks, basically anything the owners or anyone else felt like flinging there, and finally, in the back hallway by the restrooms, an overweight woman snoozes on a couch with a Chihuahua sitting upon her stomach.
Behind the counter hangs a cardboard sheet delineating the various prices for their delicacies. Written in black magic marker the sign proudly proclaims BREAKFAST SERVED 24 HOURS A DAY! and it is indeed. Not bad fare at all, either, though a bit too salty and cooked, served, sold no matter what the day or hour by a bunch of poor Mexican kids who look to be no older than twelve. Meanwhile the owners, the parents, are seldom seen and spend their time for the most part in this camper trailer parked behind the store.
The blonde girl strikes up a conversation with us, agreeing in hushed tones that this joint is more than a little strange, and what is the deal with all these Mexican kids, running around everywhere at three in the morning? Damon and I are having a blast as always merely observing the spectacle, although this pleasant, unexpected encounter certainly ramps up the appreciation a notch.
Except now the blonde’s friend, an equally attractive brunette, gets into a shouting match with our guest arteest here, over what else but religion. Mark, who is clearly the resident know-it-all in this precinct, continues to offer his smug, inflexible interpretation of various scenes from the Bible, accentuated by a former beatnik’s knowing smirk. The brunette eventually storms over to where we are, interrupting our conversation with her sidekick.
“You ready to go?” she demands of the blonde.
“Uh…yeah,” she says, then turning to us smiling adds, “see you guys later. It’s been nice meeting you.”
“Yeah, nice meeting you,” Damon and I reply in unison, and they are out the door.
At least these kids provide plenty of comedy relief in their wake. Mark does stroll over to the keyboards a couple of times at random and rips off some surprisingly virtuosic classical music runs, apparently for his own enjoyment, before sitting back down again. As a few adults now drift out from somewhere in back, those who run this place and are by appearances the adults in charge of these youths, the little ones tickle the ivories themselves to substantially lesser effect. Meanwhile Mark preaches to the owners, now, and mentions more than once having been spoken to by Jesus.
“Hey Mark,” one of the children, a boy who looks to be about ten, pipes up and asks, “has Jesus ever said these two words to you: shut up?”