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Breakfast at the Diner — #18

I arrive at the diner later than usual, because this morning I fell asleep while getting dressed. It was still dark out when I sat down, pulled socks onto my feet, and suddenly there was sunlight and an hour had passed. I'm shaking my head, just remembering it. Hope I have time enough to grow accustomed to being old.

♦ ♦ ♦

This is the latest I've arrived in years, so I'm wondering if the diner's cast of characters will be different, and it is, mostly. Again, there's no Fixture on the front stool, but maybe he's already had breakfast and left? Bouffant-Walker is at the back of the counter, which makes sense; he usually comes in about half an hour after me, so he'll be finishing shortly. There are two old white guys I don't recognize at the counter, another old white guy alone at a table in the front, and two more old white guys at a table in the back. It's Old White Guy Day at the diner, and I'm the seventh.

Bob is cooking this morning! He's the old white guy who owns this place. Picture Lou Grant, but grumpier and wearing a sweatshirt instead of a tie. Pre-2020 he was in the kitchen about half the times I ate at the diner, but I've rarely seen him since the virus came and kicked 'normal' out of town.

Bob sees me enter and slightly tips his head, a mini-nod, and then he's again looking at the grill. I may have blushed. For Bob, that tiny nod is the equivalent of a hearty handshake and a clap on the back.

I strategize a stool at the counter, as far as feasible from all the other old white guys. My habit at the diner is to take notes on the more interesting conversations overheard, but I'd never complain if there were no conversations at all, except perhaps for a few words with Kirstin, the waitress. She's usually smiley and chatty, but in a way that's inexplicably not annoying. She tells me the daily special, as usual, but as usual I order my usual instead.

♦ ♦ ♦

A young black woman walks in, and even with half her face hidden behind a mask, the first thing I notice is that she's very pretty. Like, she belongs on a TV show, not in this dumpy little diner. Second thing I notice is that she has a baby with her, in a bassinet with a wicker handle. The baby, of course, is not wearing a mask. There's no way to keep a mask on a baby's face, something I'd never pondered until this moment.

Kirstin takes the woman's order, and goo-goo gaw-gaws the baby. That's usually a female thing, but if I was closer I might be susceptible too. The kid is dang adorable, and though he/she could start crying at any moment, it's our lucky morning and the baby remains cute and quiet.

A flurry of thoughts flood across the dry prairies of my brain. I risk my life to have this omelet every Friday while a pandemic rages, because I don't think the risk is all that huge, and because it's my choice. Who the hell knows about other people's lives, other people's choices? I can't and won't judge, but it feels worrisome to bring a baby into this place, while masks are required, seating is limited by law, and everyone still flinches when anyone coughs.

I'm still not judging but a few minutes later, it turns out that this lady's order is to go. Bag in one hand, bassinet in the other, she butt-bumps her way out the door.

♦ ♦ ♦

Two more old men come in, one black, one white, and they sit together at a table. They're buddies, and I've seen them together in the diner before. They get coffees and menus and talk about their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, which surprises me. They're old, but I wouldn't have guessed they were that old. They've brought family or vacation pictures, not on a device but in an old-fashioned scrapbook, which they're showing to Kirstin, who's either interested or expertly faking it.

After looking at several pictures, she assumes the classic take-order position, pen in hand, and says, "Are you guys eating this morning?"

"Yeah, it's still a restaurant, right?" says one of the grandfathers.

"Nope, we're a tattoo parlor now," she says. "You order breakfast, we ink it on your arm."

♦ ♦ ♦

Two women come in together, and sit together at the counter. They're middle-aged, which makes them the youngest people in the building. From what I can eavesdrop, my impression is that they're longtime friends who haven't seen each other for a while. Whatever happened to this person?, and Did you hear about that person?, and so on.

Their otherwise dull dialogue briefly snags my attention when one asks, "So, are you for Biden?"

"Oh, God, no," says the other. "There's nothing in that man to be 'for', but he's not Trump so I'm voting for Biden." They both laugh, and I smile. Perhaps there's hope.

♦ ♦ ♦

Later on, though, another old white man is yakking with yet another old white man at the counter, and that conversation is decidedly stupider.

"I don't care about Trump's politics," says what I fear is a typical American voter, "but he pisses off all the people I hate, so I love him."

"Biden makes more sense when he's talking about the pandemic," says the other old guy. "Or about anything. I'm voting for Biden."

"Not me," says the first guy. "Biden is a damned socialist."

"Oh, for fuck's sake" I say, surprising myself. I'm staring right at him and I've said the words a little too loudly.

"Was I talking to you?" the old guy says, fists clenched all tough-like.

I snicker, not because I'm brave or itching for a fight, but because he's a frail-looking elderly dullard, not the rowdy ruffian he seems to imagine himself. If he was young and buff, hey, I would've said nothing to him all morning, but here's an approximation of the man who's shaking his fist at me.

"No, you weren't talking to me, but when you say something stupid loud enough to be heard...", and I shrug ¯\_(⊙_ʖ⊙)_/¯ instead of finishing my sentence. The shrug seems to calm him, and maybe it calms me too. I then make a brief, clumsy, and futile attempt to explain what socialism is, to someone who thinks it's a synonym for 'bad'.

"So you're a socialist?" he says to me, and I give up.

"I'm someone who knows what the word means."

Any undecided voters reading this? Let me reassure you that Biden would not nationalize General Motors and Bank of America.

♦ ♦ ♦

After Kirstin brings breakfast to Salt & Pepper, they show her more pictures from Salt's family album. From her response to some of the photos, it seems she knows the whole family, and just as I'm wondering about that, Pepper explains it.

"Well, of course," he says, "we've been coming to this diner since before Shep was born." I don't know who or what Shep is or was, but I reckon it means they've been eating here for a long time, and Pepper explains that as well.

"Since the '80s, I think."

Salt says to Kirstin, "That's even before you were working here."

"Was there a time before I worked here? I thought I was born and raised in this restaurant."

♦ ♦ ♦

My breakfast, of course, is fantastic. It's always fantastic, but it's even better when it's made by Bob the Breakfast-Builder himself. Did he maybe make my portions a little larger, because I'm a little larger, and usually I'm not obnoxious? I glance at him in the kitchen as I write this, and he looks up, so I return his miniature nod from forty minutes ago.

I leave my money and tip on the counter, under my empty coffee cup, and slip the mask onto my face. "Thanks," I say to Kirstin, and "Adios" to the Ancient Republican. I'm almost out the door when Kirstin yells, "Hey, Ted, do you want your magazine?"

"Uh, yeah." I want my magazine. How could I forget my magazine? All my notes are all over it, written in flamboyant pink on any page with ads or excess white space — pink, just because I happened to bring a crazy pen this morning. So if anyone flipped through my New Yorker, pink words would shout everything everyone had said and done at the diner, as I ate my eggs.

Fact is, I'm basically stealing words and sentences and conversations from all the strangers and staff at the diner. It probably isn't right, but it's fun so what the hell.

Can't believe I almost forgot the magazine. At least I didn't fall asleep, though.

 

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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