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Breakfast at the Diner — #41

There are more customers inside the diner than I can quickly count — twenty or so, I'd guess. That's too many, but not too too many, and there's still room at the counter.

The diner always gets busier as the morning progresses, which is why I come early. This morning, though, I slept too well and long, and I'm here an hour later than usual.

"Good morning," Kirstin says. "Did you forget to set the alarm?"

"Yeah," I say, cleverly.

"Our special today is homemade corned beef hash."

"Hash me."

"You shall be hashed," she says, and takes the ticket to the kitchen.

Looking around the place, there's nobody here that I recognize, except Kirstin, and Harvey the cook in the kitchen. I'm a 'Fridays at 6:00' regular, and I know the other 'Fridays at 6:00' regulars, but it's well past 7:00, and all the customers in the diner are strangers.

♦ ♦ ♦

Here's an especially strange one. She's a white lady, early 30s and white. She has long, straight hair, too much makeup, a brand new sweater, etc. Did I mention that she's white? She walks in with a frown, and before Kirstin can say hello or mention the daily special, this woman says, "I want a bowl of granola, please, with 2% milk."

Kirstin says, "Pick 'n Save."

The lady says, "Excuse me?" It's 60° and cloudy out, but there are icicles in her voice.

"We don't have granola, and we don't have 2% milk, but there's a grocery store about a mile down the road. Pick 'n Save." She says it with a smile.

"Well, what do you have?"

Down the counter and under his breath, a man in a plaid shirt says, "Nothing you'll want."

Kirstin hands the lady a menu, and says, "Diner food, and it's good." She's still smiling, like she's supposed to, and you might not know she's annoyed. But she's annoyed.

The lady looks at the menu, turns it over and looks at the other side, which is the lunch menu. She was already frowning, and frowns more as she leaves without another word.

"You were right," I say to the man in plaid, after she's left. He laughs. I laugh. Kirstin laughs. Even when everyone's a stranger, it's still the diner.

♦ ♦ ♦

Customers eat, pay, and leave, and more come in. I don't know any of them, but just like my 6:00 regulars, this crowd eats and talks. Most of what they say is boring, but some of it's not:

• "He was the dumbest kid anyone ever saw, not counting the genuine mentally challenged. And now he's a teacher? Pity the children, I tell ya. That boy couldn't teach a dog to poop."

• "Maybe they shouldn't let men be cops at all. Testosterone plus a gun is too dangerous. Want to be a police officer? First you have to be a woman."

• "He's vegan, so he doesn't eat that." Something, something. "No, he doesn't eat that, either." A minute later, "Maybe we could just ask him to bring his own food."

• "Every girl I approach is always surprised. She's like, 'Really? I thought you were gay!' No, I dress nicely, but that doesn't make me gay. Sheesh. You want to know how 'not gay' I am? Go out with me on Friday night."

• "Every day for four years I thought Trump couldn't do anything stupider than what he'd already done, and the next day he always did something stupider."

• "Something about him rubbed me the wrong way. Thought I was gonna hate him. But then he said something funny and we smoked a bowl, and now he's my best friend."

• "Fifteen years, and he leaves without saying why or even leaving a note. Fifteen damned years. "

That last line bugs me. You want to leave? Leave. "To thine own self be true," to quote frickin' Hamlet, but don't be a dick about it.

♦ ♦ ♦

Ah, here's a customer I've seen before. He's a white man with mildly disheveled hair, a day or two of whiskers on a face that doesn't want to be awake, and almost painfully bloodshot eyes — it's Hangover Harry.

It's nice to see a familiar face, even a familiarly miserable face, so I smile. Harry's not happy to see me, though. It's nothing personal. He's never happy, at least never that I've seen, and maybe he needs cheering up? I don't shout it, but I say enthusiastically and a little loudly, "Good morning, Harry! Great to see you!"

He winces and twitches, but doesn't answer. To Kirstin he quietly says, "Good morning," and adds, "Coffee, please."

Kirstin pours Harry's cup, and toppers for a few other customers. Then she pauses and whispers to me, "Funny, maybe, but not nice." I believe I've been scolded.

♦ ♦ ♦

A couple of thirty-something men come in, one white, one black. They sit down, order breakfast, and only one of them wants coffee, so Kirstin asks the other, "Do you want something to drink?"

"Do you have anything with alcohol in it?" He thinks he's being witty.

"Just the cook," Kirstin says.

There's laughter from Harvey in the kitchen, and then his voice booms back: "And I thought I was being so discreet."

Does every conversation at the counter carry into the kitchen, I wonder? They hadn't been talking loud, but Harvey heard every word.

♦ ♦ ♦

A guy comes in, 50-something, white, fat like me, and wearing kind of sloppy clothes. His shorts are hitched up higher than his pants, so we all can see that he's wearing Tommy Hilfiger briefs.

He walks back toward the table where there's an old man in a wheelchair — toward the table, but not to the table; instead he stops directly behind me. Too close.

"I thought you might want a lift," he says to the man in the wheelchair. "It's raining pretty heavy."

"Oh, thanks, Wally," says the old man. "Very thoughtful. Let me finish my eggs." Seems there's no hurry, and Wally wearing Hilfigers is still standing over me.

I want to say, "Hey, walk away," but he's wearing a mask like he's supposed to, and from what they're saying it's clear that they're leaving as soon as the wheelchair man swallows his last bite of eggs, so I stay quiet. If I die of COVID in a few weeks, this is the moment I caught it.

Their dialogue continues, a few more sentences revealing that Wally Hilfiger is a cab driver, who somehow knew wheelchair man would be in the diner, knows where he needs to be afterwards, and he's going to give him a ride.

"This one's free," says Wally. "My treat. I don't want you getting all wet waiting for the bus."

And then they're gone, and in a few minutes I'm gone, too. Those two are family, I guess, or good friends. It's good to have a friend, and extra good when it's raining to have a friend who's a cab driver. But jeez, man. Six feet is still the rule.

♦ ♦ ♦

When I've finished my fabulous hash, I say "Toodle-doo" to the man in the plaid shirt, and leave payment and tip under my plate.

On the way out, I holler, "Thanks, Kirstin," directly over Hangover Harry's shoulder. He flinches, and as I leave, the last thing I see is Kirstin shaking her head.

 

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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