Breakfast at the Diner — #9

There's a sign on the diner's door: "Masks required. Limit 10 customers inside." That's been the county-wide rule for months, and now it's posted on the door. There are five customers; two masked, three eating.

As I walk to my stool, Phil and The Fixture are having a split-level conversation. I've seen each of them at breakfast, many times, but never seen them interact with each other before, and they're an odd combo — a volcano, and a quiet meadow in springtime.

I've probably never spoken to Phil, but I know his name because everybody knows his name. He's stereotypically Italian in mannerisms — lots of swooping arms and colorful language — but I don't think he's Italian. The Fixture is the opposite; he just sits on the same stool every day, and says what he wants to say but always uses his "inside voice."

"I used to be a law and order Republican," Phil is not quite shouting. He's clear more than loud — the clarity and perfect enunciation make his words audible everywhere in the place. "But I've seen too many videos of too many cops beating people up."

"The videos are crazy," says The Fixture, "and just awful, but what's striking — literally — is that there are suddenly so many videos of so many police doing terrible things. It's not a few bad apples, that's for sure."

"I'm not even sure there's a few good apples," Phil says. "No matter how many cops are caught on camera beating people up, you almost never hear about a cop being fired. You can't fire a cop. It's almost impossible. Their union backs them up no matter what they do, and their bosses back them up."

All this before I even get to my spot at the counter. As I slide onto my stool, The Fixture quietly says, "I'm a union guy. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. I love my union, but you know, if I went crazy like some of those police, maybe intentionally wired short circuits and it's all on camera, I don't think my union would back me. I hope they wouldn't back me, like the police union backs police no matter what crimes they commit."

"You're damned right," says Phil, and editorially I'll add, The Fixture is damned right. Didn't say anything though, because nothing more needs to be said. Then Phil and The Fixture are talking about the coronavirus, but you know, it's been months and it's only getting worse and I'm coronavirussed out.

♦ ♦ ♦

A middle-aged lady orders her breakfast. She's white, and she's also dressed mostly in white, which makes her look very 1950s snooty. And yeah, the wardrobe suits her character. She orders something and eggs, and Kirstin the waitress asks, "How do you want your eggs?"

The woman says, "Shirred?", but says it like she knows it's unlikely. I've never even heard of shirred eggs; had to write it down and look it up on Wikipedia when I got home. Kirstin politely explains that her eggs won't be shirred, and I'm thinking, Buzzzz — try again.

The lady in white settles on over-easy with some further intricate instructions, and then Kirstin asks what kind of toast she'd like. This might be fun, I'm thinking.


"Sorry —" Kirstin says, and the customer interrupts.

"Marble rye?"

"We have white and wheat."

The customer makes one last fearless effort, "Twelve-grain?"

"I haven't counted the grains," says Kirstin, "but we get no complaints about our wheat toast."

"Wheat, then," the lady says. She looks sad, and I'm discreetly glad. What restaurant does this lady think she's in? What country? It's not a French boulangerie.

♦ ♦ ♦

"What's with the sign?" The Fixture asks. "Masks required, maximum ten."

"Slim put the sign up yesterday, after we had quite the scandal at lunch."


"We were doing lunch service," Kirstin explains, "and it was busy by COVID standards, which means not busy at all. It's never busy these days, but ten's the limit, and I keep a count of customers in my head."

I'm thinking but don't say, That sounds a little tricky. Customers are always finishing up and leaving, others coming in, so now in addition to saying hi and bye and taking their orders and bringing the food and pouring the coffee and ringing them up, she's also making sure everyone's masked, and running an ongoing census in her head.

Kirstin continues: "We had nine customers when I excused myself and stepped into the ladies' room, and when I came out, Slim was bringing coffee to a couple that he'd seated while I was indisposed."

"Nine plus two…" says Bouffant-Walker, down the counter from me.

"… is eleven," says Kirstin, who's pouring Bouffant some more coffee. "That's the math, so we had eleven customers inside."

"Did anyone call the cops?", Phil asks.

"No, and I'm not going to kick somebody out after we've seated them. I mean, I know the rules and I follow the rules. I believe in the rules, because my health is at stake here too, just as much as yours."

"Hear, hear," says The Fixture, quietly.

"But this is a restaurant," says Kirstin. "Service is what we do, so we served them, and for about five minutes we illegally had eleven customers in the building."

"Holy crap," says Phil, deadpan. "I'm calling the cops," he takes a bite of hash browns, "soon as I'm done with my breakfast."

"Didn't know I was talking to a narc, Phil." Kirstin chuckles and pours him more coffee.

"If you're here to arrest someone," Slim shouts from the back, "it was my fault, not hers. I forgot to count."

"I'm not a cop," Phil says, laughing.

"My fault, not yours," says Kirstin. "When I said I was stepping out I should've told you 'nine'."

"I can count," says Slim's disembodied voice from the kitchen. "I just forgot to. Thought I was working at a restaurant, like in the old days."

"You can count," says Harvey's voice, also from the back, "but you never mastered readin' and wrintin'."

"I'm workin' on it," says Slim.

"So Slim made us a sign," Kirstin says to the tiny crowd, "and we're hoping the customers will count if we lose track."

There's a moment of sweet silence, and then, "I count six," says Bouffant-Walker.

♦ ♦ ♦

Two customers, unfamiliar to me and seated several stools apart at the counter, are talking with their mouths full, and somehow the subject is laundromats. One of them says his preferred laundry is still closed for COVID-19, and the other one says his is open but it's disgusting and he doesn't like going there.

Harvey is in the kitchen, and he hasn't been at all involved in this conversation, but he shouts from the back, "I like going to the laundry if there's a pretty woman washing her panties." Oh yeah, this is a classy place. I glance over at Twelve Grain, and she looks two shades whiter than when she came in.

♦ ♦ ♦

Phil finishes his breakfast, pays and walks toward the door, and Kirstin says, "Thank you, officer."

"I'm still not a cop," he says with a smile, and then he's gone.

The Fixture is still on his stool, sipping coffee, now and forever.

♦ ♦ ♦

A couple of white men in their 50s sit down at a table, and talk about real estate. You might think that would be boring, but it's much more boring than you think. Then a third white man in his 50s comes in, joins them at their table, and they're all very enthusiastically cross-talking over each other. About real estate. Through superhuman will power, I somehow do not stab my eyeballs with my fork.

♦ ♦ ♦

Here's a young couple, he and she, white, maybe late-20s, early 30s. They come in holding hands, sit at a table in the back, order breakfast and coffee, and say exactly nothing to each other. Wordlessly they eat, always watching their screens and tap-tap-tapping.

When they're done, they pay at the register, and walk out. They're holding hands again, so I guess they're not angry; they're just not speaking to each other. Other than ordering and saying "thank you" as they paid, it was just silence, and scrolling on their devices.

I want to sneer at them, but I did the same thing. Didn't say a word beyond ordering my breakfast, and "thanks" every time Kirstin poured me more coffee, and "thanks" again when I left. I sat on a stool for forty-five minutes, swallowed coffee and eggs, and said nothing. I was reading a magazine instead of a screen. Guess that's the only difference.

Well, that, and I came to the diner alone. If I'd brought a date/spouse/whatever, I think I would've coughed up a few words during breakfast.


I'm a grumpy old man who lives alone and has few friends — basically a hermit. Once a week I have breakfast at my favorite diner. Most weeks it's my only in-person interaction with other humans, which is not my strong suit.

Yeah, I'm aware of the coronavirus, so I go to the diner at dawn, before it gets busy. I wash my hands before and after, cough into my elbow, spray Lysol on my food, pay at my plate, tell the waitress to keep the change, and hold my breath while leaving until I'm outside. It's a little more dangerous than staying at home, but life would suck without breakfast at the diner, so get off my lawn.

And remember, decent people leave a generous tip.


Breakfast at the Diner

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  1. "The Fixture is still on his stool, sipping coffee, now and forever."

    I'm going back and re-reading some of these, and this one hit me hard. RIP Fixture.

  2. 'Now and forever'... accidentally profound.


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