Breakfast at the Diner — #49

Maurice says “Hello,” Phil looks at me and smirks, and Kirstin says, “Good morning, sweetie.”

“Howdy, howdy, and howdy,” I say, gregariously but a little annoyed about it. I sit a few stools from Sudden Urge, who must've arrived only a moment before me, cuz Kirstin is still giving him “Good morning / how ya doing?," pouring his coffee and setting his silver. She tells him, “The special is kielbasa and eggs. Is that what you’d like?”

“Why do you even ask?” he answers, and she takes his order to the kitchen.

She comes to me next, and does the whole ritual again. That's her job, but she always makes it sound sincere. When we're done with hello / how are ya, she says, "Orange juice, coming up. No coffee for you.” 

“With vodka, please.” That’s me, trying and failing to be funny. She pours OJ, and again I wish it was coffee. 

"I'll have what he's having," I say, pointing at Sudden Urge.

"He's having kielbasa and eggs, but you'll want it in an omelet, right?" I nod. "With pancakes and wheat toast," she adds, writing down accurately what I hadn't said.

♦ ♦ ♦

The diner is almost as busy as before the pandemic, with people seated in more than half the seats. They’re old and young, black and white, regulars and unfamiliars. Silverware tinkles on china, and there's the murmur of quiet conversations with occasional laughter. You can hear something sizzling in the kitchen, and smell it too. Smells good. Two high school boys toward the back are a bit boisterous, but not obnoxious.

Underwear Model and Knitting Needle are eating together, at a table in the sunshine at the front window. There's a flower on their table. The diner certainly isn't the kind of place that has flowers, so one of them must've brought it.

ManBun and Lady ManBun are at a table in the back, him with his arm around her. She playfully feeds a forkful of food into his mouth.

Phil and Maurice are talking about something boring, and Jerry and Q-Man are talking about something else, just as boring.

The Cleavers are seated near the window — Mom and Dad and Wally and the Beav, a white-bread family of four. They don't belong in this decade, but they're amusing — all scrubbed up and slicked back like they’re headed for church, though it’s Friday. Dad has some grey hair, but he's wearing a letterman's jacket, and Wally is, too.

I sip at the orange juice, wait for breakfast, and marinate in the diner's easy vibe.

♦ ♦ ♦

An old white guy is eating alone at the counter, and there’s something about him ... but I'm not sure what. Nothing to be said about him — no distinguishing features, no glasses, not much hair. I've seen him somewhere before, though. Probably here, since I don't go much of anywhere else.

He bites his breakfast. Kirstin pours a refill of his coffee. He says, "Thank you." She says, "You're welcome," and walks away. It's all ordinary, even bland, but I know this guy.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

At the other end of the counter there's someone more interesting — a Hispanic lady, 50 or so. Our stupid society would say she's plump, but it looks good on her. Not that I'd notice.

♦ ♦ ♦

In the margin of my magazine, I write, ‘Hispanic lady’ but mid-scribble I see that Sudden Urge is watching me.

“What are you writing?” he asks.

“Uh, nothing really,” I say. “I’m old and my memory’s shot. Any thought that pops into my head is gone forever if I don’t write it down.”

That’s not even a lie, though there’s more I don’t say: I like to write, but don’t have many good stories to tell, so I borrow yours and everyone else’s. 

Sudden Urge smiles but barely cares, and starts talking to Maurice about how well the Bucks are doing in the playoffs. In the magazine's margin I write, ‘what r u writing’.

♦ ♦ ♦

A gravelly voice startles me back to the counter. “How ya doin’?” It’s Bob, behind a mask, sliding my breakfast to me across the counter, and then pouring himself a cup of coffee.

“Top of the world,” I answer, but Bob says no more. He’s already walked away. He takes a seat at the opposite end of the counter, near Phil and Maurice. When Kirstin comes by, Bob orders an omelet he won’t have to pay for.

Can't imagine how big (or dead) I'd be, if I could eat a free breakfast here any time I wanted.

♦ ♦ ♦

Kirstin didn't ask, but that vaguely-familiar man volunteers, "Breakfast is good, and you're the best."

"Yes, I am, and thanks for noticing."

"So we're friends again?" he asks.

Kirstin says, "We’ve always been friends, Eric," and she walks away.

Eric, Eric … and now I recognize his stupid face. He's Eric the Ass, a customer who'd been rude to Kirstin a few months back, and thought he was funny. This morning, though, he's a complete gentleman.

♦ ♦ ♦

I've eaten half my breakfast, and of course it's fabulous, and I'm slipping into a piggy-omelet state of grace. The diner makes me happy, and it's the only place I feel at home, other than home.

Kirstin comes bustling past, and says, "You look like you're enjoying your breakfast," and I am. I quietly belch, glance up, and see something I haven't seen in a year — Kirstin's face.

“Holy crap,” I almost shout. “You’re not wearing a mask.”

“I’ve been face-naked all week.”

“Well, it’s great to see you!” And it is. The pandemic is fading away, and life is returning to normal. Obviously, normal stinks, but it's an improvement over 2020.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

That woman I hadn’t noticed? The plump, attractive, 50-ish Hispanic lady in the maroon top and black pants, with silvery hair and matching silver earrings?

She’s leaving now, which involves walking past me and my stool. I smile at her, and she smiles back. That was two or three minutes ago, but I'm still smiling.

♦ ♦ ♦

Phil says something I don’t quite hear, and Bob laughs and says, “The fuck, you say.”

Kirstin says, "Hey, watch the language. This is a family restaurant."

Bob says, "Sorry, boss," and I glance over at the Cleaver family. They’re not offended by the vulgarity. They're not paying attention. Mom is saying something to Dad, Wally is reading a book, and the Beaver is looking out the window.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Eric says, "Thank you, Kirstin," pays his tab, says thank you a second time, and he's gone.

Kirstin walks past me at the counter, and I raise my hand like in elementary school. She stops, smiles — and it’s nice to see her smile, too. Nice to simply see faces, unmasked.

“Something you need, Doug?”

“How did you house-train Eric the Ass?”

Kirstin says “Um,” and seems to pick her words carefully. “He came in a few weeks ago, making his mean jokes on a morning I wasn’t at my best, and ... I'd had enough.” There's more to that story, but the diner is busy and she lifts a coffee pot.

“But now you two are friends again?”

“Not likely,” she says, "but I’ll take his order, and take his tip.” She doesn't say, "but I won't take his crap," but it's implied. Then she's on rounds, so she walks away, pouring coffee a few ounces at a time into cups down the counter and at a half-dozen tables. But none for me.

♦ ♦ ♦

Bouffant clocks good speed as he walker-walks toward his table, saying hellos and good mornings along the way. When he says hi to me, I wave instead of saying anything, and he taps me on the back as he passes. It’s nothing, really, and I might be mistaken, but I think it's the first time anyone’s intentionally touched me since months before the coronavirus, a year and a half ago.

His table is occupied, so he sits at a different table, across the aisle, and briefly glares at the stranger sitting where he'd rather sit. Kirsten brings coffee and takes his order, and after she's gone, Bouffant tells everyone about his bus ride to the diner.

What’s interesting about his bus ride? Nothing, but Bouffant won't let that stop him.

♦ ♦ ♦

Maurice: “You can swallow all the pills, get all the jabs, but you still might get sick and die."

Bob: “Not even ‘might’. It’s only a matter of ‘when’.”

Phil: “’Not today’ is always good.”

♦ ♦ ♦

My eggs and hotcakes are radiating bliss inside me. I drink the last drops of OJ, open my wallet, and here's a minor dilemma:

I don't have any fives, only tens, which means my tip will either be extra big, or embarrassingly small. Sure, I could pay at the register and get change, like a normal human, but I never do that. I always just leave money under my plate, so what the hell, Kirstin deserves a big tip.

♦ ♦ ♦

The clientele here is often so old that I’ve wondered whether the diner will exist in five or ten years, but looking around on my way out, most of this morning's customers are young. I don’t mean younger than me (everyone in the world is younger than me), I mean young, like they’re in the first third of their lives. Ample hair, no wrinkles, and only one walker.

As I'm passing through the door, Big Hat comes into the diner, wearing a mask but undoubtedly smiling. I step aside and she says hello, then lifts her arm, and we high-five. I haven't high-fived anyone in years. And human contact with two humans on the same day? Can’t even remember when that last happened. 

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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  1. You're single, allowed to say something to that lady if you want. Go for it!

  2. That's never going to happen. Romance takes some effort, and I'm lazy.

    1. I won't second guess your choices, but if you never ask she never has a chance to say no ... or yes.

    2. At this stage of life, that's what I'd prefer.

  3. Eric was the biggest asshole in all these stories. Man I wish you would've been there for Eric Day when Kirsten lost her temper.

  4. I'll ask her about it some morning when I'm talky and she seems to have some time.

  5. Hi Doug. I wait every week for your new Breakfast story. Is there something wrong with the link for story 50? It won't open for me.

    Ps. Hi from Toronto, I moved with you from the other place!

  6. Thanks for coming over from the other place!

    That broken link for #50 is just me being sloppy. I had #50 almost ready to go, but decided it needed more work, so I posted something else instead. Breakfast will be served tomorrow morning (Wednesday) though. Try the house omelet...


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