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Breakfast at the Diner — #50

Kirstin isn’t here, Slim is in the kitchen, and Harvey says, “Coffee, chief?” while I settle in at the counter.

“Orange juice,” I explain.

He walks to the mini-fridge, takes out the jug of OJ, and pours. “There's no special,” he says, so I order my usual house omelet and hotcakes.

The phone rings, and Harvey answers it, and takes someone's order for pick-up. Then he beelines back to the counter to collect someone's payment, and when he's done with that he says to me, “Coffee, chief?”

“No, man. We’ve already had that conversation.”

“Ah, I got confused, sorry. I’ll ask that question 200 times this morning, and I haven’t had my coffee yet.”

♦ ♦ ♦

The Bible Bros are two too-Christian men, always in suits, always with Bibles, and always too loud to ignore. Sometimes they’re fun, though, so I focus my eavesdropping on their table. They’re reading scriptures aloud, and discussing what they think the Bible says about the pandemic.

“Psalm 91:5-6,” says the bigger bro. “Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.”

“Thou shalt not be afraid?,” the other one says. “We fell short on that, didn't we?"

His friend says, "Indeed, I was sore afraid.”

♦ ♦ ♦

A middle-aged black man comes in, alone, and after a few sentences with Harvey he says, “Hey, is Slim here this morning?”

“Yeah, I think he's in the back punching one through," Harvey answers, and without pausing for a breath, he turns to a lady whose order he just took, and asks, "You wanted that medium-rare, right?"

♦ ♦ ♦

The diner is busy again this morning. Harvey brings someone some hot sauce, rings up a customer, and takes an order from a party of four, so it's Slim who delivers my breakfast. I say thanks, and he smiles but says nothing. Slim is the quiet type, like me only quieter. 

♦ ♦ ♦

A white, male, youngish customer comes in, and you can tell he’s a first-timer, by the way his eyes dart around the place, and from his momentary hesitation before he decides, correctly, that a waiter will not be escorting him to a table.

He seats himself within easy earshot of my seat, and Harvey is there in a minute. “Coffee, chief?”

He wants coffee and sausage and eggs, and Harvey says, “Scrambled, or raw?”

The guy looks at Harvey, frowns, and says, “Excuse me?”

Harvey repeats himself, very banal: “Scrambled, or raw?”

“I don’t — I don’t understand,” says the newbie.

“Ah, I’m just fucking with you, mate,” Harvey says, and laughs.

I’m watching the new guy’s face, because this is the moment when we’ll know whether we'll ever see him again. He stares at Harvey, then grins and giggles. “Over-medium,” he says.

Touché, I say to myself, and welcome to the diner.

Then my breakfast is here, and it's eatin' time.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Bouffant-Walker's hair is especially majestic this morning — gray and wavy and way up there. His walker squeaks as it rolls, and he squeaks too, as he says hello to all the regulars. He sits at the same table where he almost always sits, and soon Harvey brings coffee, and takes his order.

When he’s alone again, Bouffant look around, makes a frustrated face, and mumbles, "Man, I'm so sick of —" but the rest of his sentence is indecipherable, due to my increasing deafness and his odd speech patterns.

I rarely pay attention to what Bouffant says, because he says a lot of nonsense, but the first half of his sentence makes me curious. "Say again, man," I say. "What is it you're so sick of?"

He looks at me, maybe surprised that I've spoken after all these years. He says more clearly, "I'm sick of being ignored."

As a general principle, I prefer being ignored, but out of manners I nod in agreement. Anyone who pays attention to me usually annoys me, or finds me annoying, or both, so please ignore me all you want. But I don't say any of that. I simply return to reading my magazine.

After reading a few sentences, though, I realize that I'm doing exactly what Bouffant is complaining about — ignoring him. So I look up and over at him, and pick up where we'd left off, asking, "Who's ignoring you?"

He'd been studying the wall, but now he studies me. "Everyone, pretty much," he says. "My doctor, for one. He's in too big a hurry to hear me out."

"Yeah, I know how that is," I say, and this time I do. I don’t detail it to Bouffant, but my wife was sick for several years before she died, and we dealt with some doctors who'd decided their doctorly advice before she said a word.

"And at the home," Bouffant continues, "they bring my meals and pills and hurry out the door. Never take time to talk." Well, if Bouffant lives in an old folks’ home, guess I know a little about that, too. Several years before she died, my wife had some post-op complications, and spent months recuperating in a nursing home. We both came to hate that place, and she said it was the worst several months of her life.

I just nod, though.

"And my family,” Bouffant continues. “For a year they couldn’t visit because of COVID. Now they can, but they don't."

"Are you close with your family?" I ask, but soon as I've said it I know it's a dumb question — if they were close, they'd visit.

"Not really," he says. "I guess we're a dysfunctional family."

"Oh, so we're cousins," I say, and Bouffant laughs longer and louder than that line deserves.

I seem to be having a conversation with someone, and I'm not good at that, so I'm relieved as Big Hat arrives. I know, once she's twirled around and said good morning to everyone in the building, that she and Bouffant will talk as they often do, and I'll be able to finish the article I'm reading in The New Yorker.

Even a hermit like me misses occasional conversation, but my few words with Bouffant leave me exhausted. I need that cup of coffee I'm not allowed to have. 

♦ ♦ ♦

Just as that thought flashes across my mind, someone says, “Damned good coffee.” I look down the counter, toward the voice, and it’s him — Damned Good Coffee himself. I hadn’t even seen him come in.

“How’s the coffee?,” I ask.

“Damned good,” has says again, smiling, holding his cup in both hands, then enjoying another slow sip. His face looks nearly orgasmic, and — why did I stop drinking coffee again? For my health, I guess, but screw it.

“Hey, Harvey, could I have a cup of coffee please?”

“Sure thing,” he says, and clatters a cup onto the counter and pours. I never drink it black, but just this once I sip and savor it uncreamed, and it's smooth and strong, but not bitter. Once I've stirred in a generous dollop of half-and-half, it’s, well, "damned good coffee."

Yeah, screw health. I deserve a cup of coffee once a week, but by the time this morning’s breakfast is finished, I’ve had four cups.

♦ ♦ ♦

Let's pause for an amusing anecdote that might not be that amusing:

Several years ago, after especially loving the diner's coffee one morning, I asked Kirstin what brand they serve. She told me it’s from a local mom & pop roastery called Torke.

So of course, when I got home I went to their website and ordered a can. I brewed it at home every morning for weeks, until the can was empty. It was the same coffee they serve at the diner, and it was good, quite good — but never quite diner-perfect at home.

The coffee is an important part of the coffee, but maybe the magic of it comes from the diner.

♦ ♦ ♦

There's a muscular middle-aged white guy, with cratered face, tattoos, and a longshoreman's arms, eating at what was once The Fixture's spot. He's halfway through his breakfast, and Harvey puts the little green ticket onto the counter, beside this guy's plate. So far, so normal, but then Longshoreman looks up at Harvey and says, "Bob usually lets it slide."

Harvey stops and stands very still, then says, "The hell he does."

"No, seriously," says Longshoreman.

"Seriously, no," Harvey retorts.

Are they old buddies, kidding around? These two men are both built like Popeye, so we're all hoping for detente. Even a chuckle would be nice, but there are no laughs and the diner is suddenly quite quiet, and that guy still isn’t reaching for his wallet.

Harvey walks away, and stocks something under a shelf, or maybe, for all I know, reaches for a gun that's stashed there. When he’s done doing whatever he's doing, he stands up again, walks over to Longshoreman, and loudly taps the ticket on the counter. "If Bob lets it slide, that's on Bob. When Bob's not here it's on me, and buddy, you will pay."

The customer looks at Harvey like 'buddy' is an insult, and it was. They stare at each other, and after a few seconds Longshoreman grins,  reaches for his wallet, and takes out some cash. Harvey rings him up, and says “Thank you,” but he doesn’t say, “Come back again.”

Then the big burly guy is gone, and once the door has closed, Maurice asks, "Was that someone you know?" 

"Just another asshole," Harvey says, as he steps to the sink and starts washing dishes.

♦ ♦ ♦

I linger a little longer to finish my last refill of coffee, and then leave money on the counter, and say goodbye to Bouffant and Big Hat. On my way out, I holler to Harvey at the sink, “Thanks, chief.”

 

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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4 comments:

  1. I would've ignored him. but good on you for being uncharacteristically nice to Bouffant.

    ReplyDelete
  2. luv duh way uze right and duh blog is good.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh, I just want to give Bouffant a big hug.

    ReplyDelete

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