Cody’s Diner, out on 95 Water St. — a brisk 20-minute walk from Yale — is a pint-sized place of Tom Waits-ian charms. With its matter-of-fact logo (a coffee cup on a saucer), undemanding prices and 24-hour service, it serves New Haven’s post-club crowd in much the same capacity as Gourmet Heaven serves undergraduates — a late-night mecca of extensive choice and greasy-spooned gratification. After a table frees up and the cop at the door ushers you in, past the squeaky barstools and Van Dome wristbands, it doesn’t take long to feel comfortable amid the all-night breakfast specials and wall-to-wall mirrors. And, if things get dicey, the cashier is packing a .40-caliber Colt.
I learned this last detail, fortunately, not from my Jan. 23 sojourn to the Diner — a midnight trip wrought by a Zipcar and a Google search — but rather from an article in the New Haven Independent (“Firefighter Probed in Diner Gun Incident,” Feb. 11). At 3 a.m. on Feb. 11, off-duty firefighter and diner patron Reggie Blakey carelessly handed a gun to his cousin, a convicted felon, to carry back to his car. Noticing a suspicious lump under the man’s shirt, diner owner Troy Bacon informed the off-duty cop always stationed at the diner; he called in backup. The police arrested Blakey’s cousin after a brief struggle, and Blakey is now subject to both a police probe and an internal fire department investigation. Besides providing a textbook case of shockingly poor judgment, the story itself is largely unremarkable. But an incidental detail, thrown into a subordinate clause and unmentioned in any of the 16 comments posted on the Independent’s Web site, caught my attention. The article quotes Bacon, spotter of the concealed weapon: “ ‘I carry a gun. I know what a gun looks like,’ said Bacon, who said he was packing his own .40-caliber Colt at the time.”
If, like me, your main experiences with the number 40 and the brand name Colt are rather different, a .40-caliber Colt is a rare, snub-nosed pistol that fires seven-round magazines and sells for about $800, used.
My unfamiliarity with both the gun and the situation, perhaps, stems from the paucity of firearms at the eating establishments I frequent. Yale Dining employees do not carry guns to work; nor, as far as I can tell, do the staff at G-Heav, Ivy Noodle or Mamoun’s. Somewhere between these student-stuffed eateries and 95 Water St. there must be a point where it is no longer surprising for the owner of a late-night restaurant to work while armed — even with a police officer present.
To be clear, there’s nothing specifically worrying about Bacon’s, or any other local restaurateur’s, gun ownership. Connecticut ranks third in the nation for strictest gun laws, according to criteria established by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence tied with Massachusetts and bested only by New Jersey and California. Connecticut law requires universal background checks, safety training and fingerprinting in order to acquire any kind of firearm; the use of deadly force is not an authorized first resort in public places; and Connecticut has the third-lowest rate of gun-related deaths in the nation. In other words, if there’s any place in this country where one might feel safest about a gun-toting food service industry, it’s Connecticut.
And I doubt that being aware of the restaurant’s armed readiness would have significantly changed my dining experience. Indeed, it may even have enhanced the novelty of eating a place so far from my quotidian Yale experience, where my friends’ and my presence was both exotic and amusing to the regulars. (“Yale kids!” a woman whispered to her friend, as we walked to our table.) My toasted muffin and grits may have seemed even more flavored with edginess, the subversive zest of an environment most of us know mainly from the sensationalized fictions of music and movies, made viscerally real.
But it is this feeling that Cody’s Diner represents a transgressive alternate reality to my existence on campus — especially now that I know of its resident arsenal — that must be taken to task. Guns do not feature in our everyday eating experiences, and so the sudden revelation of their presence acquires an undeniable cachet. Yet, this realization is one of division, of demarcating more completely the boundaries of our self-contained academic city-state by yet another criterion — and one that strays dangerously close to sensationalism and stereotype.
We cannot speak theoretically about gun control when we live minutes away from places where citizens feel the need to arm themselves at work. If we break out of our habitual paths in search not of voyeuristic experience but rather of genuine connection, then so much that lies outside the fishbowl of our campus concerns — including, but not limited to, the presence of guns — becomes neither abstraction to be pondered nor thrill to be sought, but rather fact to be confronted.
Sam Lasman is a sophomore in Berkeley College.