Breakfast with Zombies
Whoa. I’ve already broken soil on another blog entry and it hasn’t even been an entire year since my last. Perhaps my stars are aligning. Or perhaps I’m just beginning to give less of a shit about my other endeavors and real responsibilities. Either way:
My family and I were having breakfast at my son’s favorite diner a quick fifteen-minute-or-so bike ride from our home. It being his favorite has little to do with the food since he generally eats one of the same three things at every restaurant on the planet, and more to do with the fact that it’s connected to the train station. You can choose a table outside and watch the trains come and go. The train stops, the doors open, people hurry off without looking up, others hurry on, also without looking up, the doors close, the train leaves, and the process repeats itself again and again. It’s like a magic show for him. Occasionally the train won’t stop – or even slow down – and it just flies by, blowing napkins from tables and dust into the plates and respiratory systems of paying customers. He loves that shit.
As with most train stations, there are even those once-in-awhile occasions when two trains approach from opposite directions, neither one of them showing any signs stopping. This is his favorite scenario. He’s always convinced they’re going to crash into one another. Rephrase: He always hopes they’re going crash into one another. It’s not that he wants people to burn to death, he just likes explosions. When they don’t crash, he’s always a little disappointed. “So am I,” I tell him.
So am I.
The patio door opens and a little girl walks out. I’m no connoisseur of little girls, but I’d guess her to be around eight years old. Behind her, an older woman I assume was her mother, and behind her, the young hostess with menus in hand. There were quite a few tables available, it being a Sunday and all. Sundays are when most Americans stay home to prop in front of their televisions and watch enormous men tackle she shit out of each other.
“Choose any table you like,” the hostess cheerfully instructed the woman, who then looked to the little girl. “Where would you like to sit, Allison?” Don’t quote me on her name. I heard it, but I don’t quite remember it, so I’m just giving her a name commonly assigned to caucasian females at birth. For the sake of the story, but also because I enjoy stereotypes of all genders and pigments. It could’ve been Heather. Or Jennifer. Honestly, it could’ve been Darth Vador. I was too busy staring at the hostess to catch such insignificant details. I’ll name the hostess Esperanza. If you’re as good at stereotyping as I am, you already see her in your head.
So there stood young Allison, with two braids and a decision to make. An easy decision it seemed, the only problem being that Allison had no earthly idea where she was, who she was with or what the fuck her mother was even saying. Allison had earbuds lodged into, well, her ears, the other end of which was plugged into an iPad that hadn’t been further than six inches from her face since she entered the patio. Probably since she arrived at the diner. Maybe before she left the house. From where I was sitting, I could see that she was watching a movie. “She likes this one,” the woman said, pointing to a table. This brings us yet another detail: the woman was a fortune teller. The hostess lays down the menus and silverware. “Okay, your server will be right with you. Enjoy.” The woman sits down and opens her menu. Allison is still standing there. As far as she knew, she was still in her living room.
A few moments pass and the little girl finally crawls out of her coma just long enough to realize her mother was already seated. With a roll of her eyes, she takes a seat. She glances over at the menu laying next to her, and without giving it a second thought, disregards it and goes back to her movie. Her mother has made her choice. She looks at Allison and notices she’s not looking over her menu. “Allison, are you going to order something, sweetie?” She pauses for a response. No sign of life. “Allison? Allison sweetie…” Still nothing. Time froze and I was numb with intrigue. The woman opens her own menu back up. “Ooooo look, honey! They have strawberry waffles! You love strawberry waffles!” No response. The woman’s losing patients. She reaches over toward the little girl. Yes, I think. Finally! She’s gonna slap this little dickhead girl in her stupid face. Nope. She slowly waves her hand above the little girl’s iPad to get her attention. Allison finally looks up with that sort of “what the fuck do you want” look on her face. “Allison, do you want a strawberry waffle?” The little girl nods her head, but with body language that said “yeah whatever” more than it said “yes”, and promptly returns to her iPad. That’s when my mind was made up: fuck Allison. I wanted to light her on fire. That’s table #1.
Table #2: A family of four. A husband, a wife and two young boys the same size as my son, so I’m guessing they’re about five and six. They had been there awhile but I didn’t notice them until I was desperate to focus on something other than my urge to curb-stomp Jennifer. I mean Allison. To put it nicely, they were yuppies. The man wore a collard pull-over with “Callaway Golf” embroidered into it. The woman, a pink sweat suit (just in case she suddenly needed to go jogging or run for her life) and a pair of sunglasses with lenses big enough to shade all of the Western Hemisphere. The sides of said sunglasses were dressed with so many goddamn rhinestones it’s no wonder her lenses had to be so big. How else were they to shield her eyes from the strobe light beams shooting from her temples? If only I’d been on ecstasy. Again, it was a family of four, but there were five chairs. One for each family member and one for the woman’s three hundred and seventy-two pound Louis Vuitton purse. It must’ve been packed it with extra clothes for her to change into after jogging.
Table #2 wasn’t as interesting as table #1, but only because it was silent. They all had food in front of them, but none of them were eating. Each parent was busy scrolling away on their individual iPhones, one child was staring off into space and the other child… wait for it… Hey! Another iPad! The silence was broken only when one of the parents would look up momentarily to yell at the child without an iPad for blowing bubbles in his soda. I actually felt bad for him. I could tell he was the younger of the two, and he was basically doomed. Whatever potential he had for becoming anything more than a social zombie was being promptly pissed away by his caretakers. Make haste, o apocalypse.
The waitress comes back outside to check up on everyone. She approaches table #2. “How is everything? Can I get you all anything else?” Silence. Not a sound. Trying to break the awkwardness, she looks at the boy with the iPad. “How are those pancakes, hun?” Without making an ounce of eye-contact he replies, “I want more Coke.” That’s when my mind was made up for the second time: fuck iPad boy. The waitress responds with something to the effect of, “Oh, my pleasure. Is that okay with mom and dad?” The man, finally realizing another human was attempting to interact with him, nods his head in the same way Allison did in response to her mother. No please. No thank you. When the waitress returned with the little shit head’s soda I hoped had been poisoned (in addition to the poison already in soda), the man, still looking at his iPhone, says, “You can bring the check now.” That was table #2.
By this time my family and I had finished our breakfast and my son was still watching for trains while I sipped my hundredth cup of coffee. As we were preparing to pay the bill, the patio door opened and an older woman stepped out. She was much older than anyone else in the patio area. I’d peg her at around sixty. The first thing I noticed was the colorful tattoo on her right shoulder below the strap of her dress. It was a sparrow, designed in traditional Americana style. The second thing I noticed was her smile, and the way she nodded to me when our eyes met as she scanned the area for a desirable seat. It wasn’t much, just a quick, friendly acknowledgement that said, “hello, person I’m about to eat food next to.” I smiled back and sipped my coffee.
The door hadn’t shut behind her, it was being held open by the man she was with. He was holding it open for Esperanza, allowing her to enter first. “After you, dear,” he said to the hostess. Also in his sixties, he was a jolly, somewhat chubby man with thinning hair and thick-framed eye glasses much like my own. Admittedly, I wear them because I’m trendy and a bit pretentious, whereas he wears them because he’s the type of guy who unknowingly absorbs and reverberates smart, cool shit. He’s earned them. His right forearm was decorated with tattoos of anchors, roses and several banners containing phrases I couldn’t quite make out, but I’m sure were badass. Under his tattooed arm was a blue, hardcover book that was significantly bigger than anything I’ll ever read in my lifetime, but might tell people I’ve read. It had an innumerable amount of multicolor place markers sticking out from it’s pages. There must’ve been five thousand pages, three fourths of which had place markers. This guy was reading the shit out of this book.
The pair take their seats and thank their hostess with a smile. The waitress arrives and begins her usual shpeal: “Hello, how are we doing today?” A rhetorical question. However, something miraculous happened: they replied. Not only did they reply, they engaged her. “Oh just fine, how’s your morning going so far?” the man asked. “How nice that we can sit outside in the sunshine and watch the trains,” his wife added. Sensing my stare, the man looked over at me. I immediately did that thing you do when the person you’re staring at catches you staring at them. You turn your eyes away but keep your face pointed at them, then turn your head to the side but put your eyes back on them.
“Morning,” he said to me cheerfully. It caught me off guard and I stumbled over my words. Suddenly I was the asshole. I regained consciousness. “Hare are you?” I asked. Another rhetorical question. “Oh, just fine,” he replied as he looked over the menu. Once they had ordered, they just sat there talking amongst themselves. It seemed to be just small talk, but they were talking to each other. Every so often the woman would giggle and the man would let out a hearty laugh. They’d smile and observe the way my son took so much interest in the passing trains. He was the only child who even bothered looking up when he heard them coming. I nodded to both of them as we were leaving and they nodded back. That was table #3.
There are several conclusions I could jump to after my experience at the diner that morning.
A.) People who read books, tattoo their bodies and stray from technology are happy people.
B.) People who wear brand-names, carry expensive bags and stay joined at the hip to their digital devices are unhappy people.
C.) Older people are more polite, more in tune with one another and carry personal traits being forgotten as technology advances.
I could even go as far as to say that people who don’t have kids are happier. I could say a number of things, but it would all be speculation, which is a fancy way of saying I’d be talking out of my ass. Have you met many old people? A lot of them love to think of their generation as the plateau of society, the last domino to stand before pants-sagging people of the future came along and tipped it all over for shits and giggles. Many poor people would rather think of rich people as disconnected, corporate slaves than to accept the possibility that they might’ve just worked hard, stayed focused on their goals, and now live really awesome lives. Conversely, most successful people would rather think of those living check-to-check as lazy and unmotivated than to consider the possibility that they themselves might be happier without so much excess, all of which came as a result of wasting so much time and money on a degree or a corner office.
If you’re wondering how exactly all of this ties into the people at the diner, well, how the hell would I know? I’m just a rapper with some tattoos on my body and some THC in my system. I’m not a psychiatrist, or even a college graduate. I don’t have answers, I just think a lot and occasionally get around to writing some of it down. What I can tell you, is which group appeared to be the happiest. They were the same people who were the most polite and personable, and the only ones who didn’t have screens in their faces. They were real people. They held conversations. They didn’t wear costumes. They said “please” and “thank you”. They took note of their surroundings, the sunshine, and acknowledged the people they’d crossed paths with. I know all of this because it’s what I saw. It’s what I grew up seeing as a child watching my own parents, and it’s what I’ll make sure my son grows up seeing watching his. May he never cease hoping to see trains explode.