Breakfast at the Diner #54

Kirstin is nowhere to be seen, and Harvey says, "Hey, Chief," so breakfast just got a little worse. It'll still be good, though. Always is. Half a dozen people are at the counter, but there's room for one more, so I occupy a stool and Harvey says, "Coffee?"

"With cream," I say. "No sugar, please."

Soon there's coffee and cream, and Harvey says, "Back in a mo'," and disappears. Glancing around, I notice Knitting-Needle, three stools to my north, is eating french toast. Also I notice that the french toast looks terrific.

"Is that as good as it looks?" I ask her. She's chewing, so her response is a smile and a nod, and I decide I'm ordering french toast.

And also, how is it that I've been coming to this diner forever, tried every omelet they have and sometimes the daily special, but never ordered french toast?

Harvey returns and says, "Sorry, there was a spill. The special today is—" 

"The special doesn't matter," I say. "French toast is what I want."

"You're usually an omelet," he says, penciling the green order ticket, "but today you're french toast. Got it."

"No, I'm french toast and an omelet. Cheese omelet, please."

He scribbles, says "Got it" again, and passes my order back to Slim in the kitchen. Never knew I wanted french toast until I saw it.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

An old white man comes in, and sits where the counter corners, making him elbow-adjacent to Knitting-Needle. She's a middle-aged black woman, and to me she's Knitting-Needle cuz she had a long pokey thing in her hair the first time I saw her. There's been no pokey thing since, but she'll always be Knitting-Needle to me.

She and the old white guy are talking like they've known each other since Before Britney. He's prattling on about taking his Mastiff for a walk, then falling asleep on a bench in a park, and waking up when the mastiff started licking his head.

Kintting-Needle laughs, and tells him about her Labrador Retriever that refuses to retrieve anything but empty tin cans from the trash, and other gifts she never asked for. The white guy smiles, sips his coffee, and sticks out his hand. "I'm Matt," he says.

"I'm Elaine," and I'm flabbergasted. They've been talking and laughing for several minutes already, and they'd never met before? That's a level of pre-friend friendliness I almost can't comprehend. They're only talking about dogs, sure, but I never have that much to say to anyone until I've known 'em for at least a year.

Also, she's Elaine? I never knew.

♦ ♦ ♦

An old white guy at the counter is talking to another old guy while they eat. It's unclear whether they knew each other before breakfast, but that's irrelevant at Bob's Diner, ain't it. They talk about bars they've known and loved, but I'm not a bar guy so it's boring and I'm barely listening. Then Harvey comes 'round with coffee refills just as one of the old white guys mentions the Half Moon Tavern. That's a well-known local dive bar.

"Hey, I worked there," Harvey says, "like, twenty years ago."

"Yeah?" says the old man. "I've been drinking there since I've been drinking," which, looking at the guy, means fifty years at least.

Harvey is wiping drips around the coffee machine, but he pauses, holding a wet rag in his hand, and sizes the guy up. "I probably mixed you a Bloody Mary," he says.

The old man tilts his head like Lassie, perplexed, and says, "That's how I always start the night. How did you know?"

Harvey says, "Ya got Bloody Mary written all over ya," and then he slides an omelet in front of me, and a side of french toast on a separate plate.

♦ ♦ ♦

The french toast is a revelation. The first bite is a life-changing moment. It is buttery, eggy, sweety, cinnamony, it's on thick Texas-toast style bread, and it is one of the five best things ever inside my mouth. There will be no more pancakes for me at the diner, though they have great pancakes.

My omelet and hash browns are great, too, but that's ordinary. The french toast is the headline here. Oh my golly.

"You were so right about this," I say to Knitting-Needle, as she's paying, tipping, and leaving. 

"They know how to do the french toast," she says.

"Damn right," I say, and then she's gone.

♦ ♦ ♦

A couple of Republican men are jabbering at the back table, retelling each other lies of a stolen election. One of them actually says, "Lets go, Brandon," and the other one laughs like it's funny, because for some people, that's as funny as they get. 

♦ ♦ ♦

A plump, gray-haired older woman sits at the counter, where Knitting-Needle had been until a few minutes ago. She glances at me and smiles, and I'm old and fat and ugly, but still, when a woman smiles that's your morning right there. I smile back, but have nothing to say.

♦ ♦ ♦

A white man, 40-something, walks in but he doesn't sit down, just stands at the cash register. "How ya doin', Rich?" Harvey asks, walking toward the man. 

"Hungry," he says, "and in a hurry. Gimme two homewreckers on white, to go."

Harvey writes something on his green order pad, walks the order back, pins it to the wheel, and also announces it to Slim, "Two homewreckers."

There is nothing remotely like 'homewrecker' on the menu, and I'm tempted to ask what the hell, but I don't have to. Phil, across the counter, has the same question and he's never shy. "What's a 'homewrecker'?"

"Bacon-ham-sausage-egg sandwich," Harvey answers, a little too loud, because now he's bringing someone breakfast at a table behind me.

Phil looks confused, and I take a menu from beside the napkin dispenser to see for myself, but the guy sees me reach and says, "On the menu it's just a bacon-ham-sausage-egg sandwich."

"Gotta be a story behind 'homewrecker'," Phil says.

"Not much of a story," says the man. "I was on a city work crew then, and we'd all come in and order it just about every morning."

"Hey, what ever happened to those guys?" Harvey asks, closer now, back behind the counter.

"Ah, some of 'em quit, one of 'em died, but I still come in."

Phil says, "And it's called a 'homewrecker' because…?"

"One of the guys had a heart condition, and he wasn't supposed to eat any of the ingredients, but he ordered it every time. He told us once that his wife had yelled at him about it." Then, mocking an angry housewife, he says, "'You probably ordered that sandwich you know will kill ya!'" 

The phone rings, and Harvey walks off to answer it, but on his way he says over his shoulder, "And after that guy died, I started calling the sandwich a 'homewrecker'."

♦ ♦ ♦

I maybe moaned with pleasure while eating my french toast, cuz damn it's delicious. The lady a few stools away gives me a second smile, and says, "It's that good, eh?"

"They know how to do the french toast," I say.

She studies me and sips at her coffee, and I sip at mine and go back to my magazine and breakfast. 

♦ ♦ ♦

After a few minutes of silence, the lady says, "What are you reading?" 

I peel back the cover so she can see, Smithsonian, and she says it out loud. When I say nothing more, she says, "Well, anything interesting? What's happening at the museum?"

OK, so she's a chatty lady. A normal man would chat right back at her, but I hate chat and can't do it without more effort than there's in me this morning. I kinda try, though.

"The magazine isn't really about the museum," I say to the magazine, and then remember to look at the lady. "It's sorta science, sorta history…" and I let my voice trail off, and fade back into an article. I hope we're done, but we're not.

She says, "Do you come here often?" and I think Ah jeez, making conversation is awful enough, but that last line sounded almost like she's coming on to me. She's gotta be joking, right? I look at her again, and I am flattered and she is fine, but even the idea of flirting at my age makes me want a nap.

"I eat here once a week," I say, and say no more. I have no experience rebuffing anyone's advances, because no female has ever made advances, and please god, let there be quiet, and coffee and eggs.

She says nothing for long enough it qualifies as an uncomfortable silence, so I lift my eyeballs from the magazine and look at her again.

She's still smiling. Not a big smile, just half a sideways grin. "You don't talk much," she says. It's not quite a question.

"Sorry," I say. "It's a good breakfast, and that — that's all I want."

Hope I haven't pissed her off or hurt her feelings, so I look at her again, and she's still wearing that fractional smile. "Nothing wrong with a good breakfast," she says, and takes another sip of coffee while still looking at me. Then, thank Christ, she looks out the window and away from me.

♦ ♦ ♦

Here's Bouffant-Walker, and we say good morning to each other. He sits at his always-table, and starts talking to nobody in particular, as he usually does.

A few minutes after his entrance, comes Big Hat, always happy and exuberant.

Next it's Hangover Harry, who — again — looks almost awake and not hung over at all. I might need to rename him.

I glance at Phil, and he raises his eyebrows, like we're in seventh grade and he's encouraging me to say more to that dame.

Chew, swallow, sigh. I don't know any of these people, rarely talk to them, but they're the faces at the diner. Familiar faces, and I sorta like them. That lady could've become another familiar face, and I'm second-guessing myself for being a bit too brusque with her.

I slide tab and tip under my coffee cup, and as I pass behind her on my way toward the door I say, "Enjoy your breakfast, lady. Maybe we'll see you again here some time."

She doesn't say anything, but she looks at me, still slightly smiling, and without a snarl. I haven't made a new enemy, and that's usually the best I can hope for.

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.


  1. >Kirstin is nowhere to be seen, and Harvey says, "Hey, Chief,"

    It's been so long sind e Diner entry, I worried that Kristen quit or something since the last time I was at the diner. Then I realized, wait, it's not me, it's you, and you still go weekly.

    I'm a dumbass.


    I like French Toast, but I'm not a sweet breakfast guy. Load me up with salt, carbs, protein, and fat, and I'm happy. Biscuits and gravy with home fries and a side of rye toast, maybe some bacon and eggs. Or Eggs Benedict with the taters and toast and bacon. Damn.

    1. I never want to choose, so I eat two breakfasts at once, something fatty and greasy and meaty and potatoey, and also the french toast.

    2. I've mentioned this before, but your fatness is different from my fatness. I like the "bad" foods, but just eat them sort of around the clock. I can't load up my guts with a huge meal, it makes me utterly immobile and uncomfortable.

    3. Different indeed. I can and sometimes do go 24-36 hours without eating, but when the thought of food occurs to me I never want to stop eating.


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