Seemingly cured of my insomnia, I’ve been taking the newspaper with me to the diner each morning. As I read, I listen to the regulars talk over their eggs and coffee in what I’ll admit is a respectful form of eavesdropping.
I am growing quite fond of Bill and Marc, two middle-aged truck drivers who meet virtually every morning for breakfast. Bill has a son who has just purchased his first truck, and a younger daughter who wants to be either a truck driver or a marine biologist when she grows up. When Bill told Marc this on Wednesday, he laughed and said, “Marine biologist is better.” “You got that right,” Bill said, lighting a DuMaurier regular. “She should definitely be a marine biologist!”
Mike and Joe usually sit on the far side of the smoking section, and have a conversational dynamic that falls somewhere between Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton and Jay and Silent Bob. Mike, the more loquacious of the two, is a wellspring of unsolicited advice on matters ranging from Joe’s financial woes to his choice of girlfriends, which, apparently, are not unrelated. “No wonder you’re broke, Joe,” Mike opined yesterday. “She’s a mooch, pure and simple.” Joe occasionally mumbles in protest, but mostly he looks off somewhere in the distance and smokes.
Then there’s George, a thirty-ish labourer who is positively surging with testosterone and who may or may not have ties to the Greek mafia. George brought his ten-year old daughter with him today, whom I infer is the product of a failed marriage and is clearly as sharp as a tack. After he placed their order, George playfully harangued the girl about the perils of global warming. “It isn’t normal,’ he said, gesturing toward the rain outside. “By the time you grow up, this country’s going to be a swamp!” “Since when did you become an environmentalist?” she shot back at him, teasingly. “Because...” he pronounced, suddenly grave, “if you don’t leave your kids with solid ground under their feet, you’ve given them nothing.”
It goes without saying that the men at the diner remind me of my father, and their daughters of me. There are faint echoes in their voices, their gestures, in the way they drape their arms across the booths and joke with the waitress when she comes to refill their coffee. I find these echoes comforting, even if I know I am romanticizing them a little. They are, still, the residue of the world I grew up in, which couldn’t be farther away from the world I live in now.
As I paid for today’s breakfast, a twenty-something hipster couple sat down in a non-smoking booth and considered their order. The man decided on souvlaki, but his female companion wasn’t hungry. “I’ll just have an herbal tea,” she said brightly. The waitress responded in a flat voice. “We don’t have herbal tea. We have regular tea and coffee. And water.” Then, she looked over at me and rolled her eyes. I smiled back and left my tip on the table.
The woman had water.