I am good at finding my kind of place for breakfast. Especially in small towns. This place had all the right elements.
It was embedded in the middle of a mini-mall, in between a second-hand furniture store and a laundrymat. Lots of new pickups parked outside. All-you-can-eat Chinese food buffet on Sunday nights. All-day breakfast for five bucks. Neon “open” sign flashing in the window. Vinyl booths and chrome-edged tables that have been there since the ’50s.
I pulled up a stool at the counter and the owner passed me a newspaper and slopped coffee into my cup without asking.
The old guy sat down right next to me a minute or so later.
I had seen him and his hand-carved cane coming up the sidewalk when I was parking. GWG jeans, a white Stanfield V-neck T-shirt under a faded red and blue plaid jacket, work boots with stainless steel starting to show at the toes where the leather was worn through. Clean-shaven. Export-A cigarette pack peeking out of his breast pocket.
I know this kind of man. He has worked hard every day of his life. Paid his bills. Buried his wife.
He keeps his garage spotless, draws outlines of hammers in black felt pen on the pegboard above his workbench, repairs the lawnmower of the single lady next door, even though he doesn’t like her noisy kids. My father will be this kind of man one day, sooner than I would like to admit.
The owner smiles hello at the old guy. “Soup of the day and pie with ice cream after?”
The old-timer nods and then spins his stool around to address the two older ladies tucked into the first booth by the door. “Bea. Helen. Enjoying the sunshine?”
They smile, exchange niceties, and then he turns back to me, squinting at the headlines in the open newspaper in front of me. “No good news in there; I read it this morning.”
We get to talking. He asks me what I am doing in town, as it is painfully obvious to all of us that I am not from there. I tell him I am a writer, in town to teach some creative writing classes at the high school.
“Ah, an educated man then?” he narrows his eyes at me, and then smiles, as if to let me know he will not hold this against me, even though he should.
I shrug. We move on and talk about other things.
As far as I can tell, he continues to think I am a young man. I can tell by his comfortable body language, how he slaps me in the upper arm with the back of a gnarled hand when I crack a joke, the kinds of questions he asks me. The details about his own life he reveals.
Some people would say that I am being dishonest, that I am lying, to not stop him mid-sentence and inform him, even though he has not asked me, that according to what he has been taught to believe about these things, I am female.
The people who believe that I am being deceitful have never lived in a skin like mine. I answer his questions with the truth. I mind my pronouns, sure, but I do not lie. Ever. (read on)