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Breakfast at the Diner — #30

I'm at the diner on Thursday again this week, because tomorrow is New Year's Day so they'll be closed.

When I walk in, Phil is sitting at the corner stool, Frank's former residence. Phil usually sits a few stools down, but he's moved to fancier digs now that Frank's stool is empty. He looks up at me as I enter, and I toss him a nod.

Phil says, "No politics, no religion," and giggles. Very funny. He's always a joker, but today nobody's sitting near him. He has no-one to talk to, or at. No-one to tell jokes to. Hanging out with himself would be no fun for Phil, but I usually prefer it, so I don't even think about sitting near him.

I take a seat at the other side of the counter, three stools from Knitting Needle, and nobody else. Kirstin brings orange juice and optimism, takes my order, and the best part of my week is underway. For the next 45 minutes or so, I'll have no worries, just good food.

♦ ♦ ♦

An old white guy comes in, and he's a familiar face so I know how this is going to play out. He takes an empty stool near Phil, and when Kirstin says "Good morning," he doesn't answer, just points at the coffee pot.

She pours him a cup of joe, and knows to bring him sugar but not cream, and then she wanders off to other duties. Still without words, he adds a little sugar and stirs, blows on the coffee to cool it, and takes a tiny sip. Then another. There's now just a hint of a smile on his lips, and he says to himself, "Damned Good Coffee." It's what he always does and says.

A few minutes later, Phil and Damned Good Coffee are talking, and Phil is telling him a bad joke. Yeah, some things never change.

♦ ♦ ♦

Another old white guy comes in. I didn't think anything of it at the moment, but later I remembered that it was a particularly quiet moment, and I'd heard Kirstin say under her breath, "Oh jeez."

She smiles and approaches, and they trade ordinary opening good-morning lines, and then she says, "Do you want coffee, Eric?"

He says, "Yeah, bring me a cup and shut up about it."

I put down my magazine, and that's when I should've said something, but I don't, partly because I'm a coward but also because Kirstin's reaction is no reaction at all. She knows this schmuck, and she reaches for the pot and pours coffee into a cup, instead of onto his head.

"Would you like a menu?" she asks, still all waitress.

And he says, "What?"

"Would you like a menu, Eric?

"Say it again, I can't quite hear you."

She just looks at him, but she's facing him so her back is to me, and I can't see her expression. Who the hell is this guy? Well, he's Eric, obviously, but I've never seen him before. The diner is usually a congenial place, wankers not welcome, but Kirstin is unflappable. She asks a third time, still nice as can be, if he needs a menu.

"I don't need a menu," he says. "You know what I want — vittles."

"Vittles just means food, sweetie, so everything we serve is vittles. Could you be more specific?" He replies and I don't quite catch what he said, but it's safe to assume it's something stupid. Kirstin steps away to tend to another customer, someone who's not an ass.

♦ ♦ ♦

Party of four comes in, and takes a table near the back, so now the diner is fairly busy. They ask for coffee and menus, and Kirstin is there with a full pot and taking their orders when the phone rings. "Harvey, I'm kinda busy here," she shouts.

The cook yells back from the kitchen, "Can't get it now," and it rings a few more times. Well, I'm not answering it. The machine finally does.

♦ ♦ ♦

Kirstin is still cordial and completely Kirstin as she comes back to Eric and says, "Are you ready to order?"

He says, "Yeah, an hour ago." He orders something, and then adds, "And get my order right this time!"

She can be ferocious. I've seen it, so I'm confident that Kirstin could verbally dismantle this clown — but she shouldn't have to, and apparently, she doesn't want to.

Phil always tells jokes, but he's sitting stone-faced. Damned Good Coffee is frowning, or maybe that's just his natural look, like me. Knitting Needle is sitting close enough that I can hear when she lets out a loud sigh. Nobody's enjoying this, but if Kirstin is cool with it I'm not sure what to say, or whether to say anything.

♦ ♦ ♦

A few minutes later she brings my breakfast, and I say, "That guy," and glance toward Eric the Ass.

Kirstin is wearing a mask, of course, but I know she gives me a genuine smile. "I appreciate that," she says, though all I've said is two words, nothing to appreciate, "but that's just Eric. He dishes it out, but he can't take it." She says this at an ordinary volume, loud enough that I know Eric heard.

I'm mulling that and taking a bite of sausage, and Knitting Needle says quietly, "I'd never want to be a waitress."

♦ ♦ ♦

Kirstin pours a refill into Damned Good Coffee's cup, and he says,"Thank you."

"No problem."

"Hey, speaking of bad manners," he says, though nobody had been speaking of bad manners, "you've probably poured coffee for me 10,000 times, and sometimes I wonder, am I supposed to say thank you every time you pour a coffee refill?"

"Only if you ever want another."

♦ ♦ ♦

Big Hat dances into the place, and 'dances' is only a slight exaggeration. She says a cheerful "Good morning!" to every face that's familiar to her, including mine, and nods at the people she doesn't recognize, but she completely ignores Eric. She pokes her head over the partition to say hello to the kitchen crew, and eases into her ordinary table, way at the back of the room.

With her kind words and smile and happy demeanor, not to mention her ridiculous hat, she has the whole diner in a better mood. At the table next to hers is the party of four, and she's soon engaged them in conversation. They're all laughing like they've known each other for years. Everybody becomes friends with Big Hat pretty quickly. Hell, even I like her.

♦ ♦ ♦

A few people have left, and an Asian couple comes in, he and she, in their thirties. They ask for tea, but when Kirstin says "We have Lipton" they order coffee instead, and breakfast, of course. They chat, quietly and unobtrusively, with nothing interesting to overhear, especially since they occasionally switch to a language I don't know.

Soon, their dialogue fades into the ongoing murmur of all the other conversations, until the woman raises her voice — she's not loud, but it carries above the diner's calm cacophony when she says, "Yes! Yes, you do! You always do! You do it every time!"

Her breakfast date frowns and says quietly, "Yeah, I guess I do." Then their conversation fades again into the noise of the diner, and we'll never know what it is he always does.

♦ ♦ ♦

Eric has been mercifully quiet for a while. He still has food on his plate, so Kirstin asks, "Do you need a doggie-box?"

He says, "Yeah, bring me a box and make it quick."

She brings the box, but not quickly. First she works her way down the counter, pouring more coffee for everyone, and then puts the pot back on the burner. When she finally brings the doggie-box, she says nothing to Eric, just drops it and starts filling creamers from a carton in the mini-fridge.

Eric says "Thanks," and I'm surprised to hear it. Then he says, "You know I love you, Kirstin. I just enjoy giving you a hard time."

"No worries," she says. "I never pay attention to people like you."

 

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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