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I don’t judge anyone who comes through my front door, unless they ignore the clearly-written “No Substitutions” printed on my menu. Sometimes they’ll ask for one, like they’ve got a special sticker on their forehead indicating their inability to consume carbon-based food. I’ll judge that person till their intestines invert with hunger. Most of the time, they end up ordering straight from the menu. Looks like you will too.

Have a seat at the counter.

The checkerboard floor is original, the wood paneling is original, the booths are original, and yes, the olive drab green wall paint is the original color—and there are several coats of it. That means it was chosen again and again. Some call it old. I call it charming. It ain’t shiny, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s warm inside when it’s cold outside. Makes you wanna eat a big breakfast, right? Right.

Sandra—don’t call her Sandy—is on the grill. I wish I could tell you that she is the master of the 8-inch spatula and makes Benihana chefs look like first day juggling students, but that’s not Sandra. She don’t have time for pyrotechnics and choo-choo trains made of onions and steaming hot water. However, your fried eggs won’t scab, and your hash browns will be crunchy like potato chips on the outside and squishy like Thanksgiving mashed potatoes on the inside. Then you’ll know what Nirvana tastes like. She’s a former accountant, but that don’t matter. Her marital status? That really don’t matter. She’s making your food, so be nice.

Danny is happy to take your order, as long as all you’re doing is giving your order.

He’s no bartender. He’s two years sober, and in 15 minutes, most of the 20 seats in the dining room will be filled with customers expecting Sandra’s pancakes and omelets. Don’t tell him your story, tell him your food desires. No need to be clever just because Danny called you “Maestro,” or “Boss.” On the other hand, he gets to say, “Dolores!” (dollar-size pancakes), “Sausage Sammy!” (eggs, cheese, hash browns, sausage patties on rye), and “Brewster!” (coffee) because he’s earned the right, and Sandra knows him best. Their code is not your code. Just tell him what you want, and don’t slow him down with questions, neither. Who cares if the food is locally-sourced, free-range organic, or kosher for Saint Exuperance Day? It tastes great. If you’re really worried, our water is gluten-free. Happy?

Barry sits at the counter shoveling food into his gaping maw, not with speed, but with the quantity of a man just released from prison, looking over his shoulder in case the guards show up with billy clubs and tasers to take him back. The kind of bites that require concentrated breathing through your nose that is part-survival, part-“this food tastes like happiness.” No nibbling. Barry works his jaw like a washing machine after your clothes spent a week digging ditches. (That ain’t the food. That’s just Barry.) Try the pancakes… no, a bigger bite than that. That’s right. See what I mean? Barry knows what’s going on. He may look like a raisin with 60-year-old scrawny arms covered in life scars and pockmarks, but judge ye not, because Barry knows some shit.

Bet your butt it’s a big-ass portion. No one eats here trying to fit into a bathing suit. People eat here because they want to feel human. They want to feel seen and understood and appreciated through eggs, bread, bacon, toast, coffee, and juice. So don’t think about what kind of nap will be induced from this meal, or that Co-Lester-all menace that your doctor keeps telling you about. Think about how butter is the fat of the gods, and how much you’ll enjoy that nap. Are you a hot sauce guy? Nice to meet you, Mr. Hot Sauce Guy. Here’s a bucket of bottles of peppery joy. Take your pick and we’ll see you on the other side.

Barry gets up from his stool and goes behind the counter to grab a food container.

Don’t get any ideas, Hot Sauce Guy.

That’s not how the place is run. See Barry scooping his food in the container, then putting an apron on? Yeah, he’s my dishwasher and he just ate the best fuckin’ free breakfast. Sure, he talks like a New England homeless guy, but he’s sweet, he’s never shown up late for work, never gave me an excuse for nothing, and his “thank you,” has more sincerity than your mom getting a new ashtray for Christmas. Bet your ass, he eats for free.

That fork you’re using to break off a chunk of scrambled eggs? It’s been in over 6,000 mouths, has been dropped on the floor 300 times, and is dented and scraped like a battleship coming into port from the war. It’s not a freakin’ Stradivarius violin. It’s a fork. I replaced the plates recently because solid dishware eventually chips. Plus, my food looks better on the blue plates, according to the hipsters. Speaking of the hipsters…

See that nose-ring lady taking a picture of the Crunchy French Toast Sandra just cooked up?

I love that shit. When I opened in 1975, no one thought of admiring the food so much, they whipped out their camera to capture the moment. Today, I got Instabook, FaceTweet, SpaceChat, whatever it’s called, taking my food and sending it around the universe. Sure thing, duck lips. Take as many food selfies as you want and post ‘em everywhere. Remember to tag the location though, so my door keeps opening and more hungry hipsters like you walk in. It’s not just hipsters. Vets, ladies, families, dates the next morning, sad guys, poets, Repubs, Dems, they all love breakfast.

Be nice to Barry if he asks to take your plate and you’re not done eating. He’s a quirky guy with a fashion sense of Guy Fieri meets the Marlboro Man, but he works hard. Danny wears flannel shirts and trucker hats no matter what season it is. Sandra doesn’t care if you can see her sports bra through her tattered Bruce Springsteen shirt. She didn’t show up for your charm. This is her joint, and if she’s not cooking, you’re not eating. And if you’re not eating, then what the fuck are you doing here?

Bring a book, bring a friend, stare into the void.

I don’t care what you do when you are seated in my booth or at the counter. Whatever is bugging you out there ain’t bugging you in here, and that’s how I like it.

So… whattya havin’, Mr. Hot Sauce Guy?

Jay Heltzer

Jay Heltzer writes attention-challenged fiction, plays bass trombone, digs sloppy fountain pen sketches, and is in pursuit of the perfect cheeseburger.

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