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Breakfast at the Diner — #29

I'm at the diner on Thursday instead of Friday this week. Something about our Lord and Savior being born tomorrow, so the diner will be closed, and if I want an omelet this week it needs to be Thursday, Christmas Eve. Saturday would work too, I suppose, but the diner gets too crowded for me over the weekend, so here I am on Thursday morning. Feliz Navidad and all that.

I saddle up to the south side of the counter, and Kirstin says "Hello and merry Christmas." I say hello and she says, "The special is biscuits and gravy." That was my wife's favorite breakfast, so I order it as a sentimental nod to her.

"You usually like the special as an omelet," Kirstin says. "I'm not sure how that would work with biscuits and gravy, but if you want we can try." Sometimes it's hard to tell whether Kirstin is serious. "You look like you're mulling it over," she says, and I am. "I'll give you a minute to contemplate your navel. You're still doing orange juice instead of coffee?"

I nod, and immediately there's orange juice. "OK," I say, "let's do the biscuits and gravy as an omelet."

"Will do," she says. "I don't know how Slim 'will do' it but 'will do' it he will," and she takes the fresh-scribbled ticket to the kitchen.

I can't see Slim, but I can hear him mumble a few questions, and then he says, "What the hell. I can do it. Might even be edible." If it's awful I'll have to blame myself more than the cook.

♦ ♦ ♦

Just the Hash Browns comes in with Health Report, whose medical condition is usually the first or second thing he wants to talk about. Their conversation is already underway, though, so today's update on his gout and goiter and everything else must've been before they arrived.

Can't miss Hash Browns' reliable catch phrase, though. The two men sit a few stools apart, and Kirstin pours them some coffee and gives them hellos, and after a few more lines she asks them what they'd like. Health Report orders something, probably something healthy, and then Hash Browns says, "Just the hash browns, honey."

"Somehow I knew it," says Kirstin, but of course it never varies.

The hash browns are terrific here, by the by. Best ever, every time. Some time when people aren't talking enough to file my report, I might bore you with a rhapsodic ode to the diner's hash browns, but that day is not today. I will say, though, they don't even need ketchup.

♦ ♦ ♦

Hangover Harry is seated toward the back of the diner, sipping coffee and eating a plate of eggs all by himself. He's an occasional regular, and always more interested in the coffee than the eggs.

He looks like hell, which is his ordinary look. His hair is a mess, his clothes are rumpled like he slept in them, he needed a shave yesterday and needs it worse today, and his eyes are so vividly bloodshot it looks like Hollywood makeup gone mad. You can see the almost-neon red in his eyes from across the diner.

It's obvious that he drank too much last night, same as every time I see him: head in hands, bags under his eyeballs, ignoring all the conversations in the diner, and glaring at anyone who says anything above a whisper.

Maybe he only comes in on his hangover mornings, though. I don't see him often, once every month or two. Maybe on other mornings he's chipper, but man, on diner mornings he desperately needs that coffee he's nursing.

Not seeing Hangover Harry often, of course, doesn't mean he's not a regular. Maybe he's a Thursday regular. I'm a Friday regular, so there are lots of regulars at the diner that I've probably never seen even once. I'd never see someone who comes into the diner every Friday, same as me, if they come in at 9:00 or noon, after I'm gone.

♦ ♦ ♦

You won't be surprised at my verdict on the biscuits and gravy omelet: It's damned good. Here's what Slim invented: I think he took the recipe for house omelet — onions and peppers and tomatoes and cheese — and added two biscuits to that mess, frying the biscuits right into the omelet. Then he covered the omelet with gravy. The biscuits are biscuits, the omelet is good, and the gravy is delivered direct from the heavens.

After two bites, I holler "Slim!" from the counter.

It takes him several seconds, but he pokes his head over the partition that separates the kitchen from the front-of-house. He looks around, and he says, "Yeah?" He's not sure who he's talking to, until I wave, make the OK sign (index finger wrapped into the thumb) with one hand, and point at my plate with the other. He smiles and nods and goes back to his work.

♦ ♦ ♦

The diner's background music has always come from an old-fashioned and very old radio next to the pie-display, set to the oldies radio station. There's classic rock, stupid DJ banter, and commercials all through every breakfast, but the volume is low so it isn't a bother. The radio has always been a breadbox-size Philco made of faded cracked and stained plastic, which might have been white when it was made but it had gone yellow long ago.

Well, that radio is gone. In its place — exactly the same place, plugged into the wall by the pie-display — there's a 1990s-style boombox. It's black, and comically huge, perhaps four feet long, from a time when the size of your boombox was a measure of a man's manhood. The new boombox is playing the same oldies music and commercials, though.

An ad for a Toyota store finishes, and the radio starts playing "Same Old Lang Syne," by Dan Fogelberg. You know, Met my old lover in the grocery store, the snow was falling Christmas Eve, I stole behind her in the frozen foods, and I touched her on the sleeve….

I wouldn't have even noticed the boombox had replace the old radio, except someone asked Kirstin when they got the new sound system. I'm pretty sure calling it a sound system was intended as a joke. "Months ago," Kirstin says. "The old one did a Humpty Dumpty, and we couldn't put it back together again."

♦ ♦ ♦

Two men much older than me are seated at a nearby table, and I'm old, so saying they're much older than me is saying something. One of them is telling his companion some stories his grandpapa had told him — the first time his granddad saw an automobile, the first time he used a telephone, and sad tales of people dying from gangrene and childbirth. My wild guess, just from glancing at the guy who's talking, is that his grandfather would've been born not long after the Civil War.

Their conversation drifts toward the mysteries of the universe — life and death, why we're here and how we got here, and the origins and end of ourselves and the universe. Hey, I love a mystery, and this is intelligent talk, not stoner drivel. It's well worth overhearing, unlike most of what I overhear here. Also, I appreciate that they're talking at a discreet, low-volume level, so to listen I have to want to listen, which is also unusual.

"You have to marvel at it all," one of them says. "Out of all the stars in all the universe, somehow we ended up here."

The other old guy says, "A lot of it's awful, but overall this is a pretty good place to be." They mean Earth, I think, not Bob's Diner.

The first man says, "And then Korea, and COVID, and everything in between. So many things that could've killed us along the way, but here we are. Happy 80th, and merry Christmas."

And they laugh, and I wonder, are they friends since forever, are they brothers, are they lovers? Well, there's no knowing without asking and I'm not asking. They're just two more customers, eating breakfast at the diner.

 

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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