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Breakfast at the Diner — #32

Harvey is waiting tables again, and when I walk in, he looks at me and says, "Sit anywhere." That seems like an odd thing to say, in a restaurant where there are five customers and 39 empty seats, and to a guy who comes in every week and always sits anywhere.

Today, 'anywhere' is where it usually is, on the south side of the counter. Underwear-Model is a few stools to my left, and Handlebar-Mustache is a few stools to my right, and we all nod wordlessly at each other.

I've never noticed before, but Handlebar has a Confederate flag tattooed on his right arm. That makes him an asshole, in my opinion, or at best a former asshole who's stuck with a bad tattoo. Before I sat between them, Handlebar's stars and bars would've been plainly visible to Underwear-Model, on my left, who's a black man. I say nothing to either of them, but resolve to remain in this stool, blocking the view, until one or the other has left.

♦ ♦ ♦

Harvey says, "You want coffee?" and yeah, I do want coffee, but I order orange juice instead. You can't always get what you want.

Harvey pours me an OJ, slides it down the counter at me, and instead of asking what I'd like for breakfast, he just raises his eyebrows and stares at me. I ask, "What's the special today?" and he points at the small whiteboard sign atop some shelves behind the counter. I turn, I look, and the whiteboard is just white. There are no words, so I guess there's no daily special. "My usual," I say, just to test him.

"Got it," he says, and walks back toward the kitchen. I figure, Harvey got my order wrong last week when I told him what I wanted, so maybe he'll get it right if I don't tell him.

♦ ♦ ♦

Two young white men come in, both wearing suits and carrying Bibles, and I sigh to myself. It's the Bible Bros, a couple of regular customers who always talk about God and Christ and scriptures, always a little too loudly, and loitering too long.

They take a table up front by the window, and Harvey comes 'round with coffee and menus. They're instantly ready to order, which is nice for Harvey, and for everyone — it means they might be gone a couple of minutes sooner.

Today, though, they're talking about President Trump, and I'm surprised but also wary. Trump is profoundly un-Christ-like, but for reasons unfathomable, a great many Christians love him as much or more than they love their alleged Lord and Savior.

"Through the eye of a needle," says one of the Bros.

"Oh, it's more than that," says the other, as he flips through the pages of his Bible. "James, chapter five," he adds, and then slides his Bible across the table, bumping it into his companion's Bible. His friend reads the first several verses out loud, and I don't take shorthand, so I can't transcribe it, but I quickly scribble 'James, chapter five' in my notes. At home an hour later, I look it up:

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.

When the Bible Bros are here, there's no escaping overhearing them, but in countless breakfasts, today's the first time I haven't found it annoying to overhear them.

♦ ♦ ♦

Breakfast arrives, and it's a house omelet with wheat toast and hash browns, and two pancakes. Harvey got my order exactly right, though I do have to ask for jam. And syrup. And silverware.

♦ ♦ ♦

Way too many people are at the door. Two of them make it into the diner, with six people behind them, squeezed into the vestibule because this place is small. Harvey looks bewildered, and the man at the front of the throng says to him, "Party of eight." I'm already taking notes, because I know Harvey's going to be Harvey.

"Party of eight?" Harvey says. "That's not happening," and he's pointing them out the door. "Our max occupancy is eleven, COVID rules — and I'm not kicking anyone out to make room for you." I count the customers; there are six of us at the moment. Six plus eight is usually more than eleven.

The man at the front of the crowd looks to be 30-something, white and well-dressed and well-off, as is everyone in his throng, all of whom emit the same aura of entitlement. Their spokesman is frowning and indignant, as if he doesn't hear the word "no" very often.

"Some of you aren't even wearing masks," Harvey says, "so get the hell out of here. Go to Denny's." There are some shocked grumblings, but they all start turning around, bumping into each other in the diner's small vestibule.

Their spokesman stops, turns mostly back toward Harvey like he's going to say something, and I'm hoping he does … but he doesn't. He just turns around and follows his crowd out of the building. Harvey looks disappointed. I get the impression, just now and often, that he'd like to punch someone. He's just waiting for that special someone who needs to be punched.

"Party of eight with six masks?" he says to himself. "Did they sleep through 2020?"

I hadn't even noticed that Phil was in the diner, but he's eating breakfast, so I guess he's been here for a while. He says, "Management reserves the right to refuse service," and laughs at his joke.

"I'm not management," Harvey says, "I'd have to wear a tie, and say something stupid every few minutes."

♦ ♦ ♦

After the above, I don't ask but someone else does, and Harvey explains about the allowable customer count.

"The COVID regulations say we're limited to 10, maybe 11 customers at a time, and it's a big fine for violations — $1,000 — not per incident, per person over the limit. So if we're caught with 14 people in here, that's a $3,000 fine. And Bob says, 'If it happens, you're paying the fine, not me'. So we do take it sort of seriously."

♦ ♦ ♦

Handlebar has left the building, and Underwear is nursing his last refill. Breakfast without coffee isn't quite as good, and neither is breakfast without Kirstin, but it's still a great way to start the day. I leave my money under my empty OJ glass, say "Thanks, Harvey," and head home to spend the rest of the day alone, like every other day.

 

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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