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Breakfast at the Diner — #44

Kirstin says hello as I enter, but she’s a ways away so I just wave. Harvey is at the grill, and we exchange slight bobblehead-moves, and I remember that last week he told me his brother had died. Should I say some awkward words of encouragement? Well, I will if I get the chance, but I’m not yelling something nice across the restaurant.

There’s room for one more schmuck at the counter, and that schmuck is me. Kirstin has already poured my orange juice, and she says, “Today’s special is strawberry French toast.”

That sounds pretty dang good, but I’ve been looking forward to the hotcakes. If I have fancy French toast and hotcakes, my belly would explode from all the carbs, so I say, “House omelet with wheat toast, and hotcakes.”

“Your usual, coming up.”

♦ ♦ ♦

There’s no Phil this morning, but his buddy Maurice is here, talking to Lady ManBun about computers. Maurice is about 250 years old, with splotchy skin and a tube up his nose, so you wouldn’t expect him to know about computers, but he’s explaining something somewhat complex. Lady ManBun asks him a question, and it turns out Maurice is the webmaster for his church. Now he’s telling her how he sets up the streaming sermons every Sunday.

Mr ManBun is listening but saying nothing, and he looks at me and frowns and quietly shakes his head. We both smile. It’s unexpected that someone’s granddad would be so comfortable with technology, but to me it’s more surprising that Maurice is a Christian. I always thought he was Jewish, just from his name, and his mildly Yiddish pattern of speaking. His sentences that aren’t questions often sound like questions?

♦ ♦ ♦

A middle-aged South Asian man enters the diner alone, sits at a table, and Kirstin brings coffee and takes his order. When she walks away, he pulls a book out of his bag, flips through the pages to where he left off, and reads. There are fewer books in the world than there used to be, thanks to everyone carrying everything inside their phones, but I still prefer books, and it’s nice to see another reader.

♦ ♦ ♦

Kirstin brings my breakfast, and the omelet is delicious, and the hotcakes are a pinnacle of human achievement, but the potatoes — until today I would’ve said the diner’s ‘taters couldn’t be improved, but Harvey’s done some magic here. Today they've been cut a bit different, mostly shredded but with some knife-sliced chunks as well. With whatever seasoning he’s shaken on, dag nab it this is good. I want to run away with Harvey and have his little potato children.

But I don’t want to talk about his dead brother, so I’m relieved that Harvey stays in the kitchen all morning. He's never within talking distance, so we don't talk.

♦ ♦ ♦

Maurice has finished his lecture on website management, and now he and ManBun and Lady ManBun are having a more diner-ordinary conversation about the pandemic. ManBun says he’s tired of wearing a mask everywhere, and Kirstin pipes in as she’s pouring coffee, “I love wearing my mask, and I’ll bet you know why.” She talking to Lady ManBun.

“The makeup,” Lady says. “We’re all always beautiful, under our masks.”

“I do a little around my eyes, but that’s all,” says Kirstin.

“I haven’t worn lipstick in a year,” says Lady ManBun, “and I’m not sure I ever will again.”

♦ ♦ ♦

It must be 6:30, because Bouffant-Walker is here. I’d know his towering head of hair anywhere — that’s why I call him Bouffant — but this morning his hair isn’t towering and well-coiffed. No, it’s windy outside, so the hair is all over his head like a dropped dozen eggs.

Still, he casually strolls and rolls through the diner, saying hello to the other regulars. You’d almost think he's unconcerned that his hair is a mess, but I don’t believe it. Nobody has hair that fabulous without caring about it.

He says hello to me, and I say, “Hey, man, I missed you last week.”

“Nice of you to notice,” he says. “It’s a long story, involving a train and a goat and a TV set, but you know I’da been here if I could.”

Usually I hate long stories, but that one sounds promising — if he’s serious, but I’m almost sure he was kidding. And anyway, nobody gets to hear the story, because Bouffant keeps walking, past me, and past his ordinary table, though no-one’s sitting there. He rolls across the dining room, and into the men’s room, and when he emerges a minute later, his hair is puffy perfection. Yeah, Bouffant cares.

♦ ♦ ♦

Kirstin stops by to ask if everything’s OK. “Everything’s always great,” I say, “but my stool has the wobbles.” I wiggle my butt to demonstrate, and the stool gives by a quarter-inch left and then right, with clacking sounds.

Kirstin says she’ll tell Bob, which reminds me of one breakfast a few years back, when Bob had a stool on a table. It was all disassembled, and he was cursing quietly and wrenching at it, while everyone ate their oatmeal or omelets or whatever. I’d wager five bucks this stool will sit right the next time I’m on it.

♦ ♦ ♦

There’s an earnest white twenty-something man at one of the front tables, sipping coffee and looking out the window. He’s dressed up just a little, and he’s anxious, and he explains to Kirstin that he’s waiting for a friend so he’s not ordering yet. She says it’s OK and walks away, and he keeps looking out the window.

I can only see the back of his head, but if I could see his face I’m sure I’d know the look. He’s not waiting for a friend — he’s waiting for a special friend. Early days. First or second date, and he’s worried that she isn’t coming.

♦ ♦ ♦

I try to ignore it, but when you gotta go, you gotta go. “I’ll be in the restroom,” I say to Kirstin, “but I’m not done with breakfast so please don’t clear it away.”

She says, “I will protect your plate against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

The men’s room at the diner is tiny — no stalls, just one toilet and a sink. They ought to call it the man’s room, because there’s only room for one. As I’m sitting, I look around the latrine, and all the fixtures are old, and a few of the floor tiles are cracked, but I’m impressed at how clean everything is. Always. That was part of my calculation, when I decided a year ago I’d eat breakfast at the diner even during the pandemic.

After flushing and washing my hands, I’m saddened to see the 21st Century creeping into the diner again. The paper towel dispenser with a metal crank-handle is gone. Instead there’s one of those thoroughly modern “wave your hands for five seconds and hope for a paper towel” dispensers. I wave and hope, and I'm in luck — a paper towel appears.

♦ ♦ ♦

While I was away, another customer came in and seated himself at the counter, leaving only one empty stool between him and my breakfast. That’s not enough space under pandemic rules, but my seat was empty so I suppose he thought I’d left.

Now what am I gonna do — tell him to move? “I was dropping a doody,” I could say, “but now I’m back to finish my breakfast, so I need you to go one stool south, please.”

Nah, too many words. I don’t like speaking so much, and prefer to avoid confrontation, so instead I scoot my plate and myself one stool north. My new stool doesn’t wobble, but there are only a few bites of breakfast remaining.

♦ ♦ ♦

Earnest Twenty-Something’s lady friend arrives, full of apologies for running late. I’m only reporting the facts when I say, she’s pretty, and she’s happy to see him, and he’s happy to see her.

I pay and say thanks to Kirstin, and leave, and wish I was twenty-something again.

 

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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