This breakfast place is packed. I’m supposed to be meeting a friend. He’s nowhere in sight.
I wait ten minutes and my friend calls to say he’s canceling. If I had a nickel for every time he canceled, I could buy a Lincoln-Ford dealership.
The waitress says, “If you don’t mind eating with a stranger, I can seat you at a two-top now. Or you can wait forty more minutes.”
“I like strangers,” I say.
Right this way.
He’s an older man with hair like cotton. He wears two hearing aids, thick glasses, and tucked-in shirt.
He squints at me when I sit.
“Mister Dan?” yells my waitress. “Can this gentleman eat with you?”
He smiles. He didn’t hear a word she said. He adjusts his hearing aids and shouts, “HOW’S THAT?”
And so it goes.
He is half-deaf, but he tells me he enjoys his elderly hearing deficit.
“I can turn my hearing aids ALL the way down,” Mister Dan shouts, demonstrating. “And suddenly, I have peace and quiet.”
How about that.
His wife died two years ago. She was the quintessential woman. She took care of him.
She cooked big breakfasts from scratch while he piddled. Then he’d piddle through lunchtime. And every night after supper, he piddled some more.
Then they’d play Gin Rummy.
“Started playing when our kids were in high school,” he says. “They’d stay out late, neither of us could sleep until they were home safe.”
The couple kept a scorecard going for thirty-some years. When she passed, Mister Dan was ahead fifty-nine points.
“If I’d known she was sick,” he said. “I woulda been letting her win. She probably woulda murdered me if I EVER intentionally lost.”
Her death nearly killed him. His house became a tomb. His kids live out of state.
What good is piddling when there’s nobody to piddle for?
One day, Mister Dan refused to suffer from loneliness any longer. He started taking walks. He forced himself to make friends with neighbors.
He walks a neighborhood dog twice each day—a beagle named Dennis. Sometimes he keeps Dennis when his neighbors go out of town.
“He’s a good ole boy,” says Mister Dan. “Can piss a river, though.”
Mister Dan comes here for breakfast often. The waitresses take good care of him.
He hugs a brunette server. He asks about her kids.
Last month he started playing Bunko with some ladies in town. They are younger than him. He’s only played twice so far, but he’s playing again tonight.
“It’s kinda fun,” he adds. “But ain’t as much fun as playing cards with my wife. I sure do miss my honey.”
He’s lonely. He lives in an empty house. He does his own laundry. He’s Every Old Man U.S.A, sitting at a breakfast table alone.
Mister Dan pays his tab. We shake hands. He hobbles toward the door. And while I write this tonight, he is playing Bunko.
“Take care of yourself,” he shouts before leaving.
I shout back. But he can’t hear me. He’s already turned off his hearing aids.
I ask the waitress for my bill.
“Oh,” she says. “Breakfast was Mister Dan’s treat, sweetie. He said he liked having some company today.”
Well, Mister Dan.
So did I.