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Breakfast at the Diner — #37

This just in: Christ is King. At least, according to the graffiti, painted in neat white lettering on the gray fence of the parking lot. It wasn't there last week, so my congratulations to Christ on his promotion.

The graffiti invites me to take a closer look around. The lot is paved and painted and tidy, but there's a strip of dirt between the asphalt and the fence, and scattered on the dirt are a thousand cigarette butts, a few empty beer cans and fast-food cups and wrappers. Bit of a mess, actually. Christ's kingdom on Earth.

I park, lock, and walk to the diner's door, just as ManBun and Lady ManBun are approaching from the other direction. Are they together again? Kids today, I tell ya.

Walking in, I hold the door for them, and ManBun says, "Domingo! It's always good to see you." I am not Domingo, but I once told ManBun that's my name. How nice of him to remember.

Lady says "Thank you" to me, for holding the door, and then she gives me a long look and a lovely smile and says, "Have you lost weight?" I shake my head no. Thanks, but no.

♦ ♦ ♦

In the diner, again it's Harvey instead of Kirstin working the counter, and before I've even picked a seat, he says to me, "Cream and sugar, right?"

I could say, 'Nope, orange juice, please,' but I miss having coffee. "Just cream, man," I say. What Harvey lacks in charm, he makes up with coffee.

I take the stool at the end of the counter, and Harvey pours. Today's special, he tells me, is corned beef hash, and since he's Harvey instead of Kirstin I know I can't have it as an omelet. This place makes the best hash, though, so I order it with eggs over-hard.

♦ ♦ ♦

I sip my coffee, read my magazine, wait for my breakfast. The sun is coming up, first daybreak through the diner's big front window. We get no direct sunlight, but yellow pops off the passing windshields on the busy avenue.

Seated at a table in front of the dawn, ManBun and Lady ManBun laugh at something, and I notice that they're holding hands. It's a good moment.

♦ ♦ ♦

The diner is busier than it's been since all hell broke loose. This many customers would've been illegal a few weeks ago, but the COVID situation has improved and restaurants are now allowed half capacity instead of the 25% that's been the max. Nobody's an idiot, though. We're all well-spaced, and everyone's masked except when they're eating.

At the counter there's Maurice, Phil, Sudden Urge to Pee, an Asian couple I haven't seen before, Jerry the Flower Thief, and me (hi, Mom!). Several tables are occupied, too, including the ManBuns up front, and Big Hat at the table closest to me, where Bouffant-Walker usually sits. She's at Bouffant's table because some accountant-type guy — white, bald, glasses, suit — is sitting at her usual table. There are no reservations at the diner.

Big Hat is in especially good spirits, as she always is. She's talking to the accountant who's in her seat, and at first he's reluctant but after a few minutes she's past his defenses and has him laughing. My impression is that he's someone who doesn't laugh often, so it's doing him some good. Hell, maybe me, too.

♦ ♦ ♦

"Nice morning out there," says Sudden Urge, looking at the sunshine through the window.

Phil makes a joke, because Phil is always either joking or trying, and Maurice chuckles, not because Phil is funny but because Maurice is kind.

Sudden Urge ignores Phil but answers Maurice. "Yeah, maybe winter will be over soon."

Nobody says anything. We're all looking out the window.

"And COVID," says Harvey. "Maybe COVID will be over soon."

Sudden Urge is still looking out the window. The conversation goes on without him, until he says, "It took my dad." He says it softly, and for a moment I thought I was the only one who heard, but now Maurice is saying he's sorry, and Phil, too. I'm far enough away I can plausibly pretend not to have heard.

Sudden Urge says a few words about his father, and then says, "It's been months, though. Sorry I brought it up."

"Months aren't enough," says Phil. "Not if you loved the man." The three of them raise their mugs to toast Sudden Urge's father, and then, being men, they change the subject soon as manners allow. Through it all Phil makes no jokes, and I'm impressed.

♦ ♦ ♦

Bouffant-Walker comes in, says hello to me among everyone else, and walks/rolls toward his table, where he gives Big Hat a COVID-unsafe hug. Usually Bouffant eats alone, talking to the walls or to Big Hat a few tables away, but this week they're at the same table, laughing.

Big Hat hasn't forgotten The Accountant, though. She includes him in the conversation, tossing a sentence over her shoulder now and then. Bouffant talks to him too, and after The Accountant has finished his breakfast, he brings his coffee and relocates to their table.

♦ ♦ ♦

Maurice's coffee cup crashes to the floor, explodes, and Harvey says, "Whoops." Slim wordlessly emerges from the kitchen with a mop and broom. Maurice apologizes, and Harvey says "It's OK" but I don't think he means it.

Hey, no tube — Maurice has an oxygen tube in his nose half the time he's here, but he's tubeless today, and I can't remember the last time he was tubular. It's been weeks, maybe months. Good on you, Maurice. (Unless he's doing oxygen the same way I'm not drinking coffee.)

Slim never has much to say. He picks up the pieces of the shattered mug, then mops and sweeps, while Harvey talks about how busy the restaurant was on Valentine's Day, and how the now-allowed bigger crowds mean he's working harder than he'd like to be working.

♦ ♦ ♦

A tough-looking white guy at a table toward the back gets his breakfast, and Harvey asks, "Do you want any hot sauce with that?"

"Yeah," he says, "that sounds good."

"Tabasco, coming up."

The guy says, "That's all you have?"

Harvey says yup, and the customer says, "I'll pass. Can I have ketchup instead?"

♦ ♦ ♦

The diner's radio is always set to oldies rock'n'roll, loud enough to recognize the songs but quiet enough that the commercials aren't too terribly nauseating. We've just heard from Elton John, and now it's "Great deals on new and used cars, come on down."

Harvey, though, is re-singing the song, softly and surprisingly on-key, as he stacks dishes and wipes the counter. "And I guess that's why they call it the blues / Time on my hands should be time spent with you..."

♦ ♦ ♦

I've had four refills of the glorious coffee I shouldn't be drinking, and I'd like a refill on the corned beef hash too. Instead I slide cash under my cup and leave. On the way out, I squeeze Sudden Urge's shoulder and say, "Sorry, man."

 

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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