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Breakfast at the Diner — #10

The waitress, Kirstin, is nowhere to be seen. One of the cooks, Harvey, is up front pouring coffee. I sigh, and settle for second-best. This is a pretty good diner without Kirstin, but it's better when she's here.

There are four other customers: The Fixture is present, of course, because he lives on that corner stool. He's talking to a middle-aged black woman with what I think is a blue knitting needle in her hair, and her facial expression says, I wish this guy would shut up. At a table near the window, two very scrubbed-looking young white men in suits are eating breakfast, each with a Bible beside his plate. I'd rather have a cinnamon roll.

♦ ♦ ♦

I pick a stool strategically distant from everyone else, and Harvey approaches, nods at me, and says, "You want coffee?"

"With cream," I answer, and he plops a cup in front of me, fills it, brings cream.

"Need a minute?" he says.

I look over his head, where the daily-special sign is on an upper shelf, but it's blank. Harvey sees where I'm looking without looking himself, and says, "Sorry, no special today."

I tell him what I want for breakfast. He jots it down and says, "We'll make it seem special."

♦ ♦ ♦

ManBun is back, still or again wearing the same Grateful Dead t-shirt as last time I saw him, and he says "Good morning" to me as he walks past with his girlfriend or wife. Of course, I say the same. Dunno why he said good morning to me. Is that what people do? We've never spoken to each other before, but now that's lost forever.

He's white and his companion is black, and they're both young and pretty and pierced, obviously counterculture. They sit at the diner's last table, way in the back. Harvey is taking their order, and ManBun's LadyFriend says, "Are you working alone today?"

"No, Slim's in the kitchen, but it's just the two of us. Business is so slow, though, I could probably work the restaurant all by myself in a pinch."

"Well, don't let your boss hear you say that," she says, "or one of you will probably get fired."

"Nah," he says, "Bob wouldn't fire anyone unless we flipped him the finger. But if business doesn't pick up, he'd maybe cut us all back from four days a week to three."

♦ ♦ ♦

My breakfast has arrived, and it's special — perfection on a plate, as always. While I'm eating, the Bible Bros discuss Leviticus, throwing verses at each other, and deciding what each reference really means, like after so many eons these two have ascertained the Bible's true meaning in a diner over eggs. They're especially fervent about what's an acceptable sacrificial animal, because Leviticus says God won't accept injured or maimed animal sacrifices, or any animal with warts or festering sores.

Knitting Needle, the black woman who'd been listening to The Fixture, has finished her breakfast, and she's masked up and standing at the cash register, paying. This puts her maybe five footsteps from the Bible Bros, just as they're going into detail about why God can't accept a diseased sheep as a sacrifice.

This lady looks at them, and I know exactly what she's thinking. Same thought flashes through my head sometimes at the diner — do I butt in and tell some stranger what I think, or shut up and mind my own business? She chooses the former. "God created the sheep," she says, "and God created its disease, but He won't accept it as an offering?"

They look at her with smiles, and start eagerly explaining, but she's not having it. "No, no, no, no, no, no …" she says, rapid fire. "But you guys have a great morning." She takes her change from Harvey, and she's out the door.

"And can I add something?" says The Fixture from his stool. "Nothing against God, but we're in a restaurant and you guys are talking about animals with diseases and festering sores. Could you at least, like, switch to the New Testament while people are eating?"

They apologize, and seem sincere about it. For the rest of my morning at the diner, their conversation is noticeably quieter. Thank you for your service, Knitting Needle and The Fixture.

♦ ♦ ♦

A twenty-something white guy comes in alone, and Harvey hollers at him, "Q-Man! Good to see you, bud." The names vary, but this is not an uncommon occurrence at the diner. It's like they sang about on Cheers, "Sometimes you want to go / Where everybody knows your name / And they're always glad you came…".

That lyric never made sense to me, though. The bar on that show looked like a nice enough (albeit phony) place, but I'd never want to go to any bar — or diner — where everybody knows my name. I want to be anonymous. I'm not here to make friends. I'm here for an omelet.

♦ ♦ ♦

Some stranger walks in, 30s, white, with a curling mustache like sideways question-marks on each side of his nose. He sits along my section of the counter, not far from everybody-knows-Q-Man, and soon those two are talking about Fools They Have Known. It's the most interesting conversation of the morning, but it happens too quickly for me to keep more than the briefest notes.

Q-Man starts it by saying something about his idiot brother-in-law, who thinks the coronavirus is a hoax or a communist plot.

Handlebar-Mustache replies by telling about his cousin, who thinks everything is a hoax or a commie plot, dating back to JFK's assassination and perhaps earlier.

"You think that's stupid?" says Q-Man, and now it's Game On. One-upmanship. Which of these guys knows the stupidest person? Q-Man tells us about a guy at his office who goes home every day at lunch, not to eat, but to shower off the accumulated radiation from looking at a computer monitor.

"That's pretty damn stupid," says Handlebar, and he retorts with his sister, says she seems to worship Donald Trump more and more, the more stupid things he says and does. She's ordered hydroxychloroquine in the mail to save her from COVID-19, and she's aggravated that it's been weeks and it hasn't arrived yet.

"It's never going to arrive," says Q-Man.

"Yeah," says Handlebar. "There's a sucker born every minute." Then he brings up his sister, who says Black Lives Matter is more racist than the KKK.

"Can't top that," says Q-Man. "Your sister wins the prize. Top Fuckin' Moron for Today."

♦ ♦ ♦

In comes an old, white, bald man getting around with a walker. He's moving so slow you could have read this chapter top-to-bottom before he's pushed his walker to the table he wants to sit at, and before he's struggled with the difficult mechanics of sitting down. No disrespect intended, though — quite the opposite. He's in here all the time, and it's not easy for him.

Me, and probably you? If we want the diner experience, we just walk in and take a seat. But for Bald-Walker, walking to his seat is serious work. I imagine getting dressed to come here is a challenge, yet he's here, and often, and he's probably been coming here since before he was walking with a walker. Gotta respect someone willing to put that much effort into breakfast at the diner.

Harvey takes his order, pours him some coffee, and Bald-Walker says, "Hey, is the other guy working this morning?"

"You mean Slim?" Harvey answers, only he says Slim's real name, which I've heard twenty times but always forget.

"Yeah," says Bald-Walker. "Will you tell him I said thanks? He sorta saved my butt a few weeks ago."

♦ ♦ ♦

Here's a white couple in their 40s, dressed a bit nicely so I'll presume they're both on their way to jobs where you need to look presentable. He's in a suit; she's in a muted but still colorful blouse.

Mrs Dressed Nicely quietly says something to her husband, and it's a brief moment of near-total silence in the diner, so I can hear clearly: "Are you sure about this place?" He cocks his head, meaning, Huh?, and she goes on, "It seems sort of … dirty."

Dirty? The place doesn't sparkle, but it's tidy, and the kitchen looks clean, at least from the seating area. Someone who's accustomed to breakfast at Perkins or Denny's or IHOP might think this diner is dirty, though. The walls could use a fresh coat of paint. The staff is in street clothes, not a uniform. A couple of cabinet doors behind the counter are held shut with duct tape. The tables are old and a little rickety, like me.

Mr Dressed Nicely wants hot sauce, and says it to Harvey exactly like that: "Hot sauce." No hostility, but it's a command, not a request. Harvey grabs a bottle of tabasco, passes in front of my stool on his way to deliver it, and under his breath mumbles, "Here's your hot sauce, you son of a bitch."

I am chuckling so much as I jot that in the margins of my magazine, a couple of hours later I had a hard time deciphering what I'd written. Harvey knew, like I knew, like Mr and Mrs Dressed Nicely already knew, that even if everything is sweet perfection for their entire breakfast, they're never coming back. So to hell with 'em.

 

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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