#DaysGoneBy

Three men sit in a small booth in a big diner on a busy corner in Brooklyn.

It’s noisy, because the diner has terrible acoustics, but busy, because the food is good and the prices are reasonable. But the diner is old, and although everything is working today, the decor and equipment is oddly stuck between “needing to be replaced” and “so old it’s cool and vintage.”

It still exists because the owner of the diner owns the whole building. The rent from the nine apartments in the three floors above meet the building’s overhead, and the owner isn’t a greedy man, and he’s been friends with the residents for decades.

Even now, the owner of the building, wearing a cook’s apron and glasses that need to be cleaned, joins the other three men at the booth. He smells like a twenty-four hour kitchen.

All of them are at least in their sixties, but look a lot older. They have the faces of the retired, people with little to do and less to look forward to (although each of them would argue that.)

The cook, Joseph, greets the others with a simple nod and says, “Boys.” He looks at their plates and takes mental notes about which meals were finished and which weren’t. “Ralph, what was wrong with the eggplant?”

Ralph shrugs. “It was undercooked. Still tasted like a vegetable, you know? And too much oregano.”

Joseph shakes his head. “I told the kid one tablespoon of chopped oregano..pretty sure he put in a cup. Undercooking it, though, that was me. I was rushing and lost track of time. Thought it was in longer than it was. Sorry about that.”

Ralph smiles. “No worries. I ate most of it. Was still good.”

Joseph looks at the others. “Mikey. Vince. I can’t even tell what you guys ate, you’re plates are so clean. Good for  you.”

“Your burgers never disappoint, Joe.”

A young waitress brings over a plate and a glass of water places it before the owner. Tuna on toasted multigrain with plenty of lettuce above and below. “Here ya go, Joe,” she smiles.

“Thanks, Ro.”

Mikey watches her leave. “She’s cute. She’s new?”

“She’s my granddaughter, you idiot.”

Mikey raises his eyebrows. “Tom’s kid?”

Joseph talks between mouthfuls of sandwich. “You’re such a dope. That’s Rose Marie, Marie’s youngest.”

Vince puts down his coffee. “Marie’s youngest? I thought she was in, like 5th grade..”

“She was. Ten years ago. Now she’s in college and works part time here.”

Mike: “Joe, why do you put so much lettuce on that? It’s mostly lettuce with a side of tuna.”

“Shows how much you know,” Joseph says. “Lettuce between the tuna and the bread keeps the bread from turning mushy. Besides, I like it with lettuce.”

“Yeah, but that’s too much..”

“Too much for you, maybe. Not too much for the morning crowd that buys my lunch packs. I always get compliments about how the bread is still..you know..bread. Not mushy.”

Mike nodded, getting it. He looked at the others, who were just looking around.

Mike, never afraid to say what’s on his mind: “Joe, we were wondering if there was something you needed to tell us.”

Joseph keeps chewing, nods his head. Puts down the sandwich and drinks a little water. “You saw the ‘For Sale’ sign in the window.”

“Yeah, we saw the sign. Kind of hard to miss. It’s the size of a billboard.” Vince looked hurt. Now that Mike broke the ice, the others were paying attention.

Ralph says, “First of all, why didn’t you tell us you were even thinking of it? You just woke up and said, ‘Hey, ya know what? I’m gonna sell the diner.'”

“I’m not just selling the diner. The whole building.”

Ralph and Vince freeze. Mike says, “What the f-”

Joseph raises his hand. “Easy, Mikey. I’m not kicking you guys out. The contract will make sure your apartments will still be at the rent your paying for 10 years or you die off, whatever comes first.”

“What am I gonna do ten years from now?” asks Vince.

Joseph looks up. “You should be so lucky. I hope that’s a concern for you 10 years from now.”

Ralph, struggling to be the voice of reason. “All right, everyone relax. Joe, what brought this on? Why now?”

Joseph laughed. “Why now? I’m 68. I’ve been living here all my life. I’ve been running this diner for 40 years. Why now?” He took a sip of water. “I’ve outlived my wife. My kids live too far to visit, and when they do, they can’t stand Brooklyn. When you live on 20 acres with trees and big night skies and a river, it’s kind of hard to sleep on Flatbush Ave.”

Mike says, “I couldn’t sleep in a place like that. Too quiet. All those trees..it’s just creepy.”

“Says the old guy eyeing the 20 year old,” Joseph says.

“What? She looks older.”

“Joe,” says Vince, “Where are you gonna go? Kansas?”

Joseph nods. “At first I’m going to move in with Jon and Lucy, in Jersey. They have plenty of room, Lucy is away a lot, Jon says he’d love to have me. But I’ll probably buy a place near the Kansas spaceport. Marie lives there, and I’ll be able to hop up to the moon a few times a year to see Tom.”

The diner was starting to quiet down as the lunch crowd thinned. No one spoke and Joseph finished his sandwich.

Then Vince says, “I was thinking of moving, too.”

Mike: “What?! You, too?” He immediately looks at Joseph. “Did you know?” Mike looks back at Vince. “I thought you were worried about 10 years from now.”

Vince says, “I am. But my daughter keeps asking when I’m going to move out of the city. Live a little closer. She keeps saying ‘Dad, you know your grandkids aren’t getting any younger.'” Vince shrugs a little. “Maybe nows a good time.”

Joseph takes off his glasses and cleans them carefully. The group is silent, holding fast to something they can see and feel slipping away.

 

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