“Blind man coming through with some food,” announces John Diakakis in “Bendix: Site Unseen,” one of two documentaries about him that is being shown this week at the Summer 2022 New Jersey International Film Festival.
Yes, Diakakis, the blind manager of the Bendix Diner on Route 17 in Hasbrouck Heights, sometimes serves as a waiter there. He sometimes works the cash register, too. Mainly, though, he supervises the staff, which include the three young sons he is raising alone, and jokes around with the customers.
“You know what happened to me and my blind girlfriend, right?” he asks one of them. “We stopped seeing each other.”
The 26-minute “Site Unseen,” directed by Anthony Scalia, is being shown at the festival alongside the 19-minute “Bacon ‘n’ Laces,” which covers pretty much the same territory: How Diakakis manages his job, his relationship with his sons (including Harvard-bound oldest son Tony) and his many quirks. He has massive collections of colognes (which he calls “the blind’s man jewelry” in “Bacon ‘n’ Laces”) and sneakers (he can tell which is which by their feel and smell) and has developed an amazing memory. He loves getting body waxes, and is shown doing so in “Site Unseen.”
With its longer length, “Site Unseen,” not surprisingly, paints a slightly more complex portrait of him. It spends more time showing him venting about his frustrations, and also shows him doing his standup comedy act at Scotty’s Pub and Comedy Cove in Springfield.
Both documentaries are well worth seeing, though, and demonstrate how an extraordinary person can rise to extraordinary challenges and end up seeming, somehow, like an ordinary person just getting on with his life.
At the end of “Bacon ‘n’ Laces,” Diakakis is shown with his sons. “Nothing is permanent,” he says, talking about them. “They’re going to go on, become young adults, have careers, families and stuff like that.
“So as human beings, we try to take a situation where some people might think is so uncomfortable, and make the best of it, and that’s what every human being should do.”
“Site Unseen” and “Bacon ‘n’ Laces” are both part of a shorts program that will be available online June 11, and will screen at Voorhees Hall at Rutgers University in New Brunswick that day, at 5 p.m. Visit njfilmfest.com.
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