Breakfast at the Diner — #17

After pouring my coffee and taking my order, Kirstin cracks a brief joke — eight or ten words. I could tell that it was a joke from her tone of voice, but I didn't get it, because I could only make out one of the words ("mailbox"). Sigh. I've grown hard of hearing in my old age, but a joke told a second time is usually just annoying to everyone, so I laughed like it was funny and let it go.

♦ ♦ ♦

Two old and white and grumpy men are talking at a table, about the news on TV and whether they believe it. "When I was young it was Walter Cronkite," says Grump #1. "He was telling the truth and there was never any doubt about it."

"There are no Cronkites now," says #2. "He had wrinkles, and they don't allow wrinkles on TV these days."

"Yeah, everyone on the news has to be young and handsome, or young and pretty."

"Or both."

"I don't think they're lying," says #1, "I'm just not sure they know what they're talking about. Don't you get the impression that they're just reading lines someone's written for them?"

"I believe the news the same as I believe the weather forecast," says #2. "They're not lying, and they're not making things up — at least, not on the real news networks. They're reporting what they think, only sometimes they're wrong, just like the forecast."

"If you're watching the real news, yeah."

"For me it's sometimes NBC, always PBS, never CNN, and absolutely never Fox. That shit shouldn't even be called 'news'."

Me, I don't watch news on TV at all. I prefer newspapers and websites where the reporters worry more about having the facts right and less about having their hair right. Still, I agree with the skepticism and the sentiment, so ten stools away I lift my coffee cup and gently mime bumping champagne glasses, and nod at those old guys, neither of whom notices.

♦ ♦ ♦

Bouffant-Walker comes in, comes past my stool. He says, "Good morning," so I'm required by law to say the same, but then he says something more — I can't remember what — and all of the sudden we're almost in a conversation. I take a long, slow sip of coffee and hold it at my mouth for too long, but Bouffant is still talking, and I think he's talking to me, as he continues to his seat at a nearby table. Have I inadvertently encouraged him by saying more than merely good morning? Now I'll put him on 'hard ignore' and concentrate on my omelet to make his wordiness taper off.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Bible Bros are seated at what seems to be their favorite table, up front by the window where I've seen them before. Again they're engaged in another tedious conversation about the Bible, and today it's specifically the King James Version. One of them believes the KJV is the best translation of the holy scripture (he says 'holy scripture' more often than he says 'the Bible') but the other Bible Bro goes further. He believes that the people hired by King James to translate the divinely-inspired word of God into English were themselves divinely inspired. So you get two sets of divine inspiration in one Good Book.

It's a free country and you're entitled to care about anything you wish, and these two? They care about this. They're almost arguing — no sir, it's not merely a question of which translation might be more accurate or inspirational, because God Himself sat at the table and assisted in the translation of the KJV.

I will swear on a stack of King James Bibles that I have nothing against God, or against people who believe in God, but c'mon. It's like anal sex or a difficult bowel movement. These are things you really don't need to hear strangers arguing about at the diner.

♦ ♦ ♦

Maurice and ManBun are seated near each other at the counter, and talking. They're an unlikely mismatch — Maurice is ancient, and ManBun is a tie-dye dopey doofus who's wearing a crocheted hippie hat, so today I'm taking his manbun on faith. They're chatting about baseball, which still reaches across the multi-generation gap. Sounds like someone hit a home run a few days ago, but was ejected from the game as he stepped on home plate.

"That umpire is too full of himself. Gotta let your ego go and let the players play the game," says Maurice.

"He kicked dirt on the plate, and we can't have that," says ManBun, sarcastically.

"Well, whoop-de-doo," says Maurice. "The ump has a little broom in his pocket, right? He sweeps home plate a hundred times every game. Make him sweep it 101 times and you're sent to the showers?"

"Authority is always the problem," says ManBun. "It's a rare person who's given authority and doesn't abuse it."

"Absolutely," says Maurice. "Question authority, always," and there's something about the way he says those words. I get the impression that he's said those words many, many times, and he believes those words. The rest of their conversation is lost to me as I look at this old man across the diner. I've observed him from a distance through hundreds of breakfasts, but this morning for the first time I'm wondering about Maurice and his life.

He's clearly older than me, and I'm in my sixties. If he's in his seventies, and it's 2020, some simple subtraction suggests that Maurice was in his twenties circa 1970. Which means that he might have been a hippie himself, an original hippie, way back when. Or at least he might have been someone who had some counterculture in him, someone who maybe carried a placard or resisted the draft or smoked some serious doobie in his time. Perhaps it's not so odd that Maurice and ManBun should strike up a conversation.

♦ ♦ ♦

The phone is ringing a lot this morning, with phoned-in orders to go. Harvey said earlier, the phone orders are what's keeping the diner in business.

The first time the telephone rings after Bouffant-Walker sits down, he says, "I'll get it," like folks his age and mine used to say when the landline rang at home. When I was a teenager, I said exactly those words many times, if a phone rang at a public location — the library, a gas station, whatever — and oh, I thought it was brilliantly funny every time. It's bizarre to hear an old man make the same lame joke a thousand years later.

Second time the phone rings, Bouffant says, "The phone is ringing again," as if we need play-by-play to understand that, indeed, the phone is ringing again.

Third time it rings, I glance at him expectantly out the corner of my eye, but Bouffant has his mouth full so good manners keep him quiet. He can't resist, though, and starts chewing faster, takes a sip of coffee to wash whatever down his throat. It's been maybe three seconds since the first ring, and now we're into the second ring as Kirstin walks toward the phone, and I know Bouffant is going to say something, and pretty sure it'll be dumb. He swallows and shouts, "Saved by the bell!"

That's almost painful, but as stupid as that line was, I could picture myself saying the same stupid thing. I tend to keep zipperlipped in public, but at home half-witticisms like that are just about all I say when I'm talking to myself. My sense of humor is 95% silly puns and potty humor and mockery ... and I smile, remembering how patiently my wife put up with all my low-wattage wisecracks like that, for twenty-plus years. Thank you, dear.


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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