by Peter Brav
It is a great deal of pressure to be a regular. Maybe more than it’s worth.
It is nice to be recognized though. To stroll into familiar environs and be greeted by your first name with a plucky alliterative adjective in front (Pistol Pete, Fast Freddie, Rockin’ Ricky), your last name with a cute add-on (Hey, Jones-y, how’s it going? Murph-man what’s up? Cohen-y-boy, que pasa dude?), your school (the Yalie’s arrived, the Terrapin is in the house, oh-oh here comes Miami Man), your job (You ever have to fire that thing? How goes the plumbing biz? Free anyone from Death Row lately?).
Being a regular worked for Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble at the bowling alley in the sixties. But that was television. And so were Opie turned Richie Cunningham and Fonzie at Arnold’s Diner in the 70s, Sam and Norm and crew at the Cheers bar in the 80s and Jerry and George at Monk’s on 112th Street in the 90s. Just television. Familiarity and a simple cheap set to shoot.
Real life is tougher. For fifty years I bounced from high school ice cream shop to college dive to Manhattan pizzeria to office lobby coffee shop in total here’s your change pal anonymity. But finally it happened, this regular thing, at a New Jersey diner not far from my house.
It started innocently enough. Coffee, two eggs over medium, home fries well done, whole wheat toast butter on the side once a week. It went to twice without much fanfare. A year later, three mornings meant a few more pounds and a whole lot of knowing smiles as soon as I passed through the door. There he is! from the host owner Leo, followed by a laughing Menu? Rosie, Gail, Maria, Becky, Steve, they all knew the drill, and my coffee arrived almost before my butt settled in the booth and coffee, two eggs over medium, home fries well done, whole wheat toast butter on the side was recited by all of them as my mantra. I didn’t have to say a thing.
My wife was very happy for me. Nice to get out of the house, isn’t it? You like people. This is a good thing.
I did like people. And I liked eggs. And this place did a good job. You can mess up eggs, you know. You can screw up the potatoes and slobber the toast too. And they never did.
One week we traveled to Canada. Went to the top of a very tall building and looked down through the glass floor. Saw some jazz, walked underground and avoided the frigid temps above, met some old friends for dinner.
Thought you died. It was Leo, the host owner, visibly relieved to see me. Something wrong? Maria spill something on you? You come and tell me next time, please.
I was in Canada. We went to a hockey game.
We was just saying, I hope nothing happened to him. Hey, maybe you could have got hit in the head with a puck or something.
A lot of pressure. I cut back to twice a week, then just Friday mornings. One day, we were on our way back from food shopping and passed the diner, and my wife could tell I was troubled.
It’s the diner, isn’t it? She knew.
Yeah, too much pressure. The whole regular thing.
I told her I would start cutting back to whenever I was in the mood but we both knew that would never work. I could never ever go back. Cold turkey. Better for me, better for them. They would think I died after all. Or moved far away and became whatever type of food-limiting-arian eliminates eggs and toast and potatoes with little bits of onion and green peppers strategically placed, where breakfast was steel cut oatmeal with honey or a cup of coffee alone in the car. I would avoid the diner, the bank branch near the diner, the parking lot, the adjoining gas station.
I began sleeping better immediately. I could surprise myself for better or worse at other diners or Wawa, wherever. I was anonymous again, just another six dollars in search of grease and carbs.
Three years later, a beautiful Sunday morning with the sun just poking up, and I was on my way out to forage for my breakfast. I stopped at a red light and looked to my left, through the open passenger window of an old sky blue Ford Fairlane. Before I could turn away, or duck, our sunglasses met and I knew it was Leo on his way to his place.
Two eggs over easy! he called out to me from behind his dark glasses. I was sure you were dead. I would have called but I didn’t have your number. I said a prayer.
A calm came over me as I prepared to gun my engine at the green. I knew I was neither regular nor dead.
Over medium, Leo. Over medium. Always.
I hit the gas and caught sight of his car, still unmoved, in my rearview mirror. There were any number of possibilities this morning and I was in a hurry to check out them all.
Source: Baret News Wire