#908: The Colloquium

March 30th, 2018

“Sal’s late,” the fry cook said.

“He was late yesterday too,” the man on the end of the linoleum counter said as the waitress topped off his coffee.

“It’s always quiet ‘til Sal gets here,” the waitress said, rushing back to refill the pot.

It was still the stretch-and-yawn section of the morning, just past the “Why am I up?” moments and not yet to the “Oh god, I’m late for work.” Regular crowds’ go-to move, according to Mr. William Joel, is shuffling in and that’s what they were doing at Jeri’s, on the corner of Western and a park that’s been closed for construction seemingly forever.

“Happy Good Friday, dear,” the waitress said, topping off the coffee of an old woman in a Reno sweatshirt.

“Thank you, my bunny,” the woman replied, as the old man in plaid across the table from her wordlessly turned his newspaper to the next page.

Each comer and goer was addressed by name. An unshaved, white-headed duffer wandered out with the empty glass frame he had been gazing at all through his coffee and hash browns.

“See you, Charlie,” the fry cook called over his shoulder.

Absences were noted as well.

“Nah, it’s Good Friday. I don’t know if we’ll get Jennifer or the kids,” the cook mentioned to the waitress. “They’re probably off school.”

The man on the end of the linoleum counter soon became two men, then three, then four. A round table on the end of a long counter, they soon became a crew of white men plumped to middle-aged perfection by a steady stream of pork fat and butter-cooked eggs.

“You’re the leader of the pack, Rocco,” the Latina waitress joked to one.

“I ain’t got no pack,” he chuckled into his coffee.

The waitress wandered off, singing “Leader of the Pack” to Rocco, unsuccessfully trying to get his crew to join in.

The conversation on the end of the counter was as catholic as the day was Catholic. Any topic was up for debate. Family memories, health, the gentrification of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, the symbolic dissonances between the Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica visions of humanity, sports.

“That’s why they had to create the Borg, somewhere to direct all that hatred and anger, the way the Klingons represented the Russians in the ‘60s,” the fry cook held forth.

“I never liked the Klingons,” the newly arrived Sal said.

“You are a Klingon,” the waitress teased.

There’s a moment when a group becomes a crew, or a collection of gabbers becomes a colloquium. There’s an invisible, magic split instant when one last friend wanders toward the gang and the circle is complete. The jokes become louder, the insights more insightful, the counter of chubby, silver-headed white guys become a pantheon, albeit one eating eggs on linoleum.

And I guess that happens here often enough the gods take note when Sal’s late.

Young love at a different diner

Posing at a classier joint

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You are currently reading #908: The Colloquium by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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