Breakfast at the Diner #58

The diner is crowded, but it shouldn't be. I'm here at my normal time, early early, because the diner is not supposed to be busy at 6:09 in the morning. But dozens of people are here. 

Breakfast at the Diner

With no room at the counter, I sigh and sit at Bouffant-Walker's table. He's not here, and his table is one of only a few that seats only two.

Despite all the customers, Kirstin hurries over with coffee and a smile, and she asks, "How's things with you?"

"Eh, I'm old, fat, and ugly, so nothing's changed."

"You are not," she says, but she doesn't say which of the items listed I'm not — old, fat, or ugly — because of course I'm all three.

"Today's special is a chili and cheese omelet," she announces, so that's what I order, along with hotcakes.

"Why is the diner so busy this morning?"

"There's a football game, later today," she says, or maybe it was basketball or hockey or sportball; they're all of equal disinterest to me. "It's usually busy before a game, then dead once it starts, when everyone's at the game or watching on TV."

Then she's gone, needed elsewhere in a diner full of customers.

I haven't told Kirstin that I'm leaving Madison. That'll be a personal conversation and probably end with a hug, and I hate hugs even more than a personal conversation. I'll tell her goodbye at my final breakfast.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The food's the same as at a table, and so's Kirsten and the coffee, but the counter is where I belong. Most folks at the counter are eating alone, same as me. At the tables, eaters tend to come in pairs and threes and fours. 

There are two people at the table to my left — an old woman and an even older man. There are four at the table right to my right — two women and two men, all in their 20s, and one of the women is a yapper. 

♦ ♦ ♦   

Phil and Maurice are laughing, and several regulars sit in a row on the right side of the U-shaped counter — Sudden Urge, Underwear Model, Mr and Mrs Manbun, Jerry the flower thief…

But I can't hear what they're saying, because of the woman at the table to my right. She's not loud, but she's four feet away so she's loud by proximity, and she has so much to say. The others at her table sit and wait to say something, but it's a long wait, and most of what the yappy woman says could've remained unsaid.

"My neighbor's cat has a sore on her leg, and they're putting ointment on it…" Thus begins one of her monologues, but who, beside the neighbor and the cat, could care?

♦ ♦ ♦    

Here's my omelet, and it's an orgasm of eggs and meat and cheese, but it would taste better if that woman would shut up.

♦ ♦ ♦   

My discreet attention turns to the table at my left, where an old woman and older man are eating. She's old like me, which is old indeed, but he's older, frailer.

Watching him drink his coffee is an adventure — several shaky seconds from the table to his lips, and then the long journey of the cup back to the saucer. He doesn't spill, this time, but every sip seems precarious.

Their conversation is in a long lapse, until she breaks the silence with a question, hoping to get him talking.

She asks, "Are you walking every day, like you should?"

He answers, "Huh?", she repeats the question louder, and he says, "Yup." 

She says something about 'Mom', which verifies what I've suspected, that they're father and daughter. But they're distant, farther apart than merely across a table.

Maybe they're trying to repair a rift with eggs and bacon, or maybe there's nothing they haven't already said to each other too many times.

After a silence, they talk about his orange juice, and then they have nothing to say, again. The only sound is clinking silver, and the woman at the other table.

♦ ♦ ♦  

She's talking about a meal at Olive Garden that was "sooo disappointing, hardly even Italian," and I groan and jot her stupidity into my notebook.

She talks about her brother's border collie, but she says "broader collie," and laughs at her mistake. "Oh my God, I just can't talk this morning."

"You're doing OK, I think," someone says from a few tables behind us. The yappy woman giggles at the stranger's 'joke' that was actually an insult, and starts talking again.

♦ ♦ ♦     

Kirstin brings more coffee, and I haven't complained but she knows me and my disdain for too much talking. With a frown and a nod but without saying anything, she apologizes.

It's not your fault, I try to telegraph in my grimace back to her.

♦ ♦ ♦   

When they've finished eating, the woman who wouldn't shut up leaves with her friends, and her chatter trails after her out the door. As it closes, I hear Maurice's voice at the counter, saying, "The diner is really cooking this morning."

Phil says, "Its always cooking — its a diner."

That's so cornball, but that's Phil. Maybe I'll miss him.

♦ ♦ ♦   

The old man and his old daughter's story is easy to figure: It's a duty, but she tries to do something with Dad once a month. She skips a month sometimes but feels guilty about it, and this morning she's taking him to breakfast at the diner.

That's all supposition, but I'd put money on it. And it's sad, because breakfast at the diner shouldn't be a chore.

Soon they're leaving, and the daughter gets up first, dabs at her old man's face with a napkin. She offers her hand for stability as he gets out of his chair, and he holds it tight as he rises to his feet.

She pays, they're gone, and she's done what she had to do. She's spent some time with Dad. After all, he doesn't have much time left.

Do me a favor, though. When I'm so old I can't hear, can't smile, can't barely get the coffee to my mouth, just cancel breakfast, please, or let me eat alone. I never want to endure the breakfast those two had.

♦ ♦ ♦   

I'd know that head of gray hair anywhere — it's Bouffant-Walker. He says hello to everyone as he makes his way into the diner and toward the back, and to me he says, "Hello, but you're at my table."

I extend an arm and open hand, offering him the table's other chair. He settles in, unfolds his walker, leans it against the wall.

Never shared a table with anyone at the diner before, not since my wife died. Not sure why I offered it, except that it is his table, but if I hadn't gestured toward the chair, he would've sat somewhere else.

Like my time in Wisconsin, my meal is almost over. At most this'll be five minutes of awkward talking with the squeaky guy, and then he can have the table to himself.

"Have I told you how much I hate Republicans?" he says after sitting, and without waiting for a yes or no he launches into how and why he despises right-wingers. There's no conversation I'm more willing to have, so we carry on like best buddies, and when Kirstin offers a refill of coffee I nod, yes.

"Your name is either Doug or Domingo," he says to me as she pours. It was the only moment we weren't talking politics.

"It's Doug," a confession I've rarely made at the diner.

"I'm Adam," he says, and jabs his hand across the table. We shake, and after a million breakfasts at the same diner, now I know Bouffant-Walker's name.

He orders his breakfast, and we return to talking about our love of hating conservatives. "All they have is anger and fear and lies," he says.

"And money," I add.

"And evil," says Bouffant — sorry, says Adam — and then what the heck, I stay and we talk until Kirstin brings his breakfast.

Then Big Hat makes her entrance singing, "Walking on Sunshine," and she always makes me smile. But they're friends, Adam and Big Hat, and I don't want to share a table or conversation with two people, so I say, "Gotta be going," and get up.

"It was nice talking with you," Adam says, and it was.

♦ ♦ ♦   

Big Hat says hello to everyone when she's at the diner, but always before I've been sitting down. Today I'm standing at the counter, and she's still singing the song and interrupting herself to toss out hellos, and when she comes to me she says hello, and then her eyes get big and she opens her arms. There's no time, no chance to say no, so we hug, only for a second. 

She lets go before it gets weird, then laughs all the way to her ordinary table at the back, stopping to say hello to Adam/Bouffant.

An unexpected hug after fifteen minutes of conversation — whoa, I am disoriented, but in a good way.

♦ ♦ ♦   

The counter has empty stools now, so I put my tab and money in a clear spot, wave to Kirstin, and point to the cash. She hollers, "Thank you, see you next week."

And she will, but next week will be the last time.

At the door, I stop to take in the faces, the chairs, the walls and windows, the sounds and smells of the diner, because I am going to miss this place and these people. There'll be a good breakfast somewhere in Seattle, sure, but it won't be Bob's Diner.

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.

Illustration by Jeff Meyer


  1. Captain HampocketsJuly 29, 2023 at 4:35 AM

    >That's all supposition, but I'd put money on it. And it's sad, because breakfast at the diner shouldn't be a chore.

    Ha! How far you've come.

  2. That was the beginning of the idea, of once-weekly breakfasts with the family.


The site's software sometimes swallows comments. For less frustration, send an email and I'll post it as a comment.