Breakfast at the Diner — #40

Kirstin says hello as I walk in, and I smile and say "Hi," but I'm in a sour mood just because I'm me. There's an open stool and the mandated social distance on the right side of the U-shaped counter, where I've been sitting for the past few years, but there are also several empty stools on the left side of the counter — including my formerly preferred seat, at the top of the counter's U.

Upper left-side stools, closest to the kitchen and the pie display — that's where you'd usually find me and my wife. After she died, I migrated to the other side of the counter, mostly because of Phil. See, he's always here on Fridays, same time as me, and invariably he sits on the left side of the counter, near where we always sat. It was bearable with my wife between me and Phil, but without her to shield me from his non-stop patter of bad jokes and dull conversation, he gnaws on my nerves. That's why I've been a refugee on the other side of the counter.

This morning, though, I'm eyeing my old stool. Maurice sits there nowadays, but he's not here this morning and I'm feeling feisty and I'm taking that seat. Try and stop me. As I walk past Phil I give him an unsmiling look, hopefully telegraphing: Good morning but don't talk, and then I settle in five stools away from the Philbert. He studies me as I sit, but doesn't say anything, so we have a truce, I think.

Sure, it's nuts to be giving my seat this much thought. Probably I stood inside the diner's doorway for ten seconds, deciding all the above. Nuts I am, though, and it's good to be sitting where I used to sit, upper left side of the counter. I've missed this view, of the other side of the same coffee pots.

"Long time since you sat over here," says Kirstin, reading my mind as she often does. "You want orange juice, right?"

I nod and smile and say something inane about the weather while she pours the juice. I do not mention my wife, and I'm not even thinking about my wife, but Kirstin lightly double-taps the counter at the empty spot next to me, and says, "She was a sweet lady."

Yeah, she was. Thanks, Kirstin, for remembering.

♦ ♦ ♦

Solitary comes in, a middle-aged black lady carrying a newspaper, and that's quaint. You don't see many newspapers in the diner any more, not since that newfangled internet came along, and the newspaper box out front was hauled away.

She sits down, expecting she could read the paper, but she's made the tactical mistake of sitting near Phil, and soon they're talking about whatever's on the front page. She doesn't seem to mind the conversation, and Phil has an audience, so I guess they're both happy.

♦ ♦ ♦

Big Hat comes in like a twister, says howdy to everyone, and twirls her way toward her usual table at the back of the diner. Someone sitting near her is talking about basketball, and after a few minutes Big Hat deftly shifts the topic to her high school basketball heroics.

"I wasn't very good, never started, most games I didn't even get in, but we were in overtime and someone sprained an ankle, so there I was, pressure situation, game on the line. Time out, the coach diagrams the play, but everything goes wrong and there's a scramble and someone shovels the ball to me and I just launch it, wing and a prayer."

She waits for someone to ask what happened. Someone asks, and "Swish!," she shouts, holding her arms in the air like a touchdown. "I only scored like 22 points all season, but that basket won the game." Everyone gives Big Hat a round of applause, and I clap too. She's got to be 60, and I've heard her basketball story before, but every time she tells it she's breathless, as if she's just made that shot again.

♦ ♦ ♦

My breakfast is here and of course it's perfect — an omelet to live for, and hotcakes from Heaven, and hash browns with ketchup and toast with strawberry jam, and no, you can't have a bite. Kirstin makes conversation with me, but not much, just two or three sentences over the course of a meal. Enough to make me feel welcome but never so much it's an intrusion. Ain't no breakfast in the world better than breakfast at Bob's Diner.

♦ ♦ ♦

Maurice comes in, and looks at me, or more accurately, he looks at someone sitting on his stool, who happens to be me. I shrug and sorta smile. He shrugs and doesn't, and takes a seat on the other end of the counter, where I usually sit. I'll probably sit over there, next week. I never like to make trouble, and anyway, Phil talks too much.

♦ ♦ ♦

A youngish white couple comes in, man and woman, and they sit between me and Phil. Their conversation was underway before they got here, and they bring it with them, and what they're talking about is whether they can squeeze a baby into their lives. Context suggests that she's not pregnant, but she's thinking about it.

"We'd need a bigger apartment," she says, and he sort of grunts. "We'd need to watch our expenses," and he grunts again. She's clearly more into this whole 'baby' concept than he is. It seems mildly inappropriate as diner chat, but hell, you know me. I'd think almost any chat beyond "Good morning" is inappropriate. So I shut up and eat.

Since this couple is sitting near Phil, they're soon sucked into his vortex. It starts with a few words, but soon Phil and Mr and Mrs and even Solitary are all talking about the joys of raising children. After a few minutes, though, the man says to the woman I assume is his wife, "Maybe we should start with a dog, and work our way up to a baby." His wife and Solitary don't think that's funny, but Phil does, and so do I.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Bible Bros step into the diner, both carrying Bibles, of course, and both wearing suits and ties as if they're going to church or mass or whatever after breakfast. Their suits almost match, but one's wearing a green tie and one's wearing a purple tie. I'm not a fashion expert, but both ties seem rather garish.

These gents take a table up front, order coffee and their meals, open their Bibles, and as always, talk about whatever passages they're studying.

"I've never understood about the demon-possessed men and the pigs," says Bible Bro #1.

"Well, they asked for it," says Bible Bro #2. "Jesus gave them what they asked, and they couldn't handle it." And then, being who they are, they read the pertinent passage aloud, a little too loud.

"Matthew 8," says Bro #1, which I jot down because what the hell, I might Google it later (and I did). They read the entire story, but I'll condense it for your convenience: Some men heckle Jesus, who decides that the hecklers must be possessed by the devil. They dare Jesus to send their souls into a herd of nearby pigs, so that's what your Lord and Savior does — he sends their souls into the pigs, and the pigs immediately run down a hillside and into a lake and drown.

That's a story I do not remember from Sunday School, and I'm not sure what's the point. Jesus don't take no crap? I'm also wondering, what happened to the heckling men's bodies after their souls became pork? But I don't ask, just eat and listen.

♦ ♦ ♦

Bouffant-Walker comes in, says hello to me (but not to Phil, I notice). Then he looks around and says, "Huh. You're where Maurice should be, and Maurice is where you belong. This is very confusing," but he's already wheeling his way toward the table where he belongs, and he starts talking to Big Hat before he's even sat down.


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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