Breakfast at the Diner — #24

I've arrived later than usual, on purpose and on accident. I'd been aiming for 6:30, half an hour after the diner opens, on the theory that the early-risers have finished their breakfasts and there'll be less competition for the prime stools ate the counter. Distractions cluttered my morning, though, so it's a few minutes after 7:00 when I push the door open and step inside the diner.

Harvey is pouring coffee, and glances up at me and says, "Sorry, Mister. You can't come in without a mask."

"Ah, hell," I say, and turn right around. I'd forgotten to mask up! There's always a mask in the car, because it's 2020 so nobody sane leaves home without one, but I don't wear it while I'm driving. It's a long walk across the parking lot, forty-four footsteps and back, now with my ugly face wrapped in cloth.

I'm annoyed at myself for forgetting the mask, but it's not a big inconvenience compared to dying of COVID. I'm more annoyed because apparently Harvey is tending the counter this morning, again, instead of Kirstin. Two weeks in a row, dang it. Nothing against Harvey. He's OK. But Kirstin is better than OK.

It's almost ten past seven as I walk in for the second time. That's about as late as I've ever eaten here, at least in the pandemic era. "You look better with your face covered," Harvey says, and I smile despite my mood. "Coffee with just cream, right?" he says.

I'm impressed that he remembers me, and he's right, that's how I always start my breakfast. Here's a plot twist, though: I'm cutting back on caffeine, so I say, "Not this morning. How about an orange juice instead?"

"Well, ain't you full of surprises." Which wasn't meant to be prophetic but it was.

There were five customers in the diner when I first entered, but two left while I was masking up, so now there are only three plus me: Maurice (old, ill health, oxygen tube in his nose), and Phil (middle-aged redhead jokester), and a pudgy 50-something white guy wearing a suit and old-style horned-rim glasses. I've never seen him before and hope to never see him again. The three of them are sitting adjacent to each other at the counter, talking, but I'm not yet sure what about.

I order my breakfast, settle in with my magazine, and I'm hoping that the small crowd means it'll be a quiet morning. It's now clear that the conversation I'm overhearing is about the election, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, which puts me a little on edge. It's been an on-edge week, if you're been following the news and election returns, and it's not official but it looks like Biden will win.

The diner, like the city it's in, generally tilts to the left, but I've overheard plenty of conservative conversations here. Usually it's cordial. Sometimes it's stupid. I've overheard enough from Phil and Maurice to know that they're both reasonable people. Phil is an old-school Republican who's said he'd be voting for Biden, and Maurice is so liberal he probably pees blue.

There's a good article in my magazine, so I'm soon paying next-to-no attention to their conversation, and I'm not sure what happened, how the conversation got where it got, or what was said before this nitwit newcomer says: "Trump's big mistake was that he didn't pound the drum about 3,500 babies being murdered every day in America."

Now I'm not reading. I'm waiting, waiting for Maurice or Phil to say something. They're both quiet, though, so he says it again, "I mean, three-thousand five-hundred murdered babies, every single day. Why didn't Trump talk about that?" He's saying this so loud that I'm not even eavesdropping. He wants to be heard by everyone, and again I'm waiting for someone to respond.

C'mon, Phil. Say something, Maurice. Even Harvey, up front doing something with the coffee pot? Someone's going to say something, right? Because if nobody says anything, well, then it's gonna gotta be me. Same as if he was spouting racist or homophobic talking points, I'll have to speak up. Sigh.

Here goes.

"Nobody's murdering 3,500 babies. Nobody's murdering a single baby, or if they do they get arrested. You can't say stupid stuff like that in public and not expect to be called on your shit. A fetus isn't a baby." That's me, being both more loud and more longwinded than he'd been.

"Hey, I'm an American and I get to say anything I want, anywhere I want," he says, "and if it's not a baby, what is it then, a gorilla?"

"It's a clump of cells, about as human as a pimple on my buttocks. It ain't murder to squeeze a pimple, or have an abortion."

Then he says something, and I say something, and we're both loudly talking over each other and it's just a big mess. He calls me a baby-killer, or maybe not — someone is a baby-killer, but it might be Biden. I again semi-shout that a fetus isn't a baby, and me and the Abortion Nitwit shout at each other for what feels like half an hour. Probably it was half a minute.

Next thing I remember clearly, Harvey is holding up both his hands in a "stop" gesture, and saying, "Guys, guys, please hold it down." Maurice and Phil don't say anything until the moment has passed, and they start talking about baseball.

Now I'm looking at my magazine but barely reading it. I'm angry at the Abortion Nitwit, and at Maurice and Phil, and mostly at myself. I can't be a fair judge but I think I lost the argument, and badly. When I'm angry I'm the opposite of eloquent, and I'd been angry. I remember saying "Nobody's murdering 3,500 babies" but what I probably said was, "Nobody's murdering 3,500 m*therf*cking babies."

I don't even look at the Nitwit again, because I assume he's glaring at me and I don't want to go there. He soon slips into the baseball conversation with Maurice and Phil. Then he says thanks to Harvey and Slim, and goodbye to Maurice and Phil, and he's gone. Five minutes later they've both left, too, and I'm the only customer in the diner for the rest of my breakfast.

All alone with only half my omelet eaten, I have plenty of time to reflect on how our argument went, and it went poorly indeed. If I'm prepared, I could win an argument on abortion, or at least do better than I did just now. I wasn't prepared, though. You order an omelet; you don't expect an abortion.

In my defense, if he'd simply said "Abortion is wrong" or "I'm against abortion" I wouldn't have said anything. He's entitled to his stupid opinion.

3,500 dead babies every day isn't an opinion, though. It's a lie. A fetus is a baby in the same sense that a nail is a house — it isn't, and saying it is is a lie, and it honks me off when people lie to make political points. That's why I hate Trump and most of right-wing America. Their politics is their politics and I disagree, but their lies about plain facts are relentless, never-ending and infuriating.

Yeah, I'm still simmering, thinking about all the ways I mishandled everything, when Harvey and Slim start talking in the kitchen. They seem to think customers can't hear them from back there, but with no other customers, the words come across loud and clear.

"What the hell happened?" says Slim.

"Just politics," says Harvey. "It was [the man's name] against the big guy. Got loud. I stayed out of it."

"No punches thrown?" says Slim.

"Nope, [the man's name] kept his composure, which is a good thing because he's a little unhinged," and I'm not sure whether "he's a little unhinged" refers to the Nitwit, or to me. I don't remember being unhinged at the diner before this morning, so maybe I'd been arguing and probably shouting profanities at a guy known to be "a little unhinged"?

In addition to losing the argument, I'm annoyed to have outed myself as an outspoken liberal at the diner. I'd prefer to be 'the big guy' who sits and reads and maybe takes notes but never says much, but today I've reinvented myself as 'Mr Lefty'.

Also, if the Nitwit is unhinged like Harvey says, maybe he'll be waiting for me outside.

When Harvey comes up front again, he says, "You all good here?" It's a catch-all question, I think — meant to ask both 'Is your breakfast OK?' and 'Are you about to go all unhinged again?'

"Breakfast is great," I said, "same as always. Sorry I got a little loud."

"No worries," he says, "just another day at the diner." And after that, with no other customers to tend to, Harvey and I talk for the next few minutes. It's too many words to remember, but the gist of it is, he's known the Nitwit since he was a regular at the bar where Harvey worked as a cook and bartender, before joining the diner.

"I've seen him do that before," Harvey says. "He loves to get people pissed off." Great, I gave the Abortion Nitwit exactly what he wanted. "You should see him when he's had a few beers."

"A little unhinged?" I ask.

"Oh, he's a lot unhinged, but aren't we all?"

"Well, I certainly am," I say.

"Never saw it from you until this morning," says Harvey, "but like I said, aren't we all?"

I finish my eggs and OJ, all while having the longest in-person conversation I've had with anyone since the eternal lockdown began months ago. Last thing I said to Harvey as I paid and tipped more than usual was, "I promise I won't be an asshole next time I'm here."

"Ah, you be you," he says. A perfectly Harvey thing to say — a touch rude but also just kidding, or you can never be sure.

Breakfast left a bad taste in my mouth, but only metaphorically. The food was terrific, as it always is. Love the omelet, and the hash browns are the world's finest. Bob's Diner is where you want to eat, provided I'm not there, or provided things don't get crazy.

Walking out to my car, there's an oversized Jeep or mini-Hummer with its engine running in the parking lot, and I'll confess to wondering whether the Abortion Nitwit was inside, looking to rough me up. I glanced in my rear-view mirror more often than usual on my drive home.

And also, PS — I Googled the stats while typing this up, and there are 2,362 abortions on an average day in America, which means the Nitwit even lied about the number in his lie.


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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