Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Breakfast at Denny’s

Breakfast at Denny's - Avidor
Scene: a Denny’s Restaurant in Lino Lakes around 8 A.M.

A bearded man, leading a donkey with a young boy on it, walks through the parking lot. He’s dark skinned with long hair and has eyes so dark they are almost black. He’s wearing a loose-fitting cotton or linen shirt and baggy pants made of a similar material, using a length of twine as a belt. He’s wearing sandals. The boy on the donkey looks like a typical suburban grade schooler.

The man looks around, puzzled, and finally ties the donkey to the handle of a car in the handicapped parking spot. There are several pair of eyes fastened on the odd looking stranger through the restaurant’s window. He’s takes the boy off of the donkey, and they enter the restaurant.

“Hey, you can’t park your donkey there,” says one of the patrons near the door, “You don’t have a handicapped permit.”

 The stranger looks at him, not understanding, but the boy tugs on his shirt, and the man leans over. The boy whispers something to him; he shrugs, and goes outside to untie the donkey while the boy waits behind.

The man reties the donkey to a tree in the grass strip between the parking lot and the street. The donkey begins to graze contentedly, and the man returns to the restaurant. When he’s back inside, he gives the patron a quizzical look, searching for approval, and the patron smiles and gives him the thumbs up.

The boy leads the man to a table, and they sit down. A waitress comes over with two glasses of water and wordlessly sets them down. The boy takes out a menu from the rack in the middle of the table, and the man studies the pictures on the menu, sometimes frowning and holding the menu at a different angle. He points to a couple of the pictures on the menu, and the boy, who is sitting on his right hand, rather than across the table, whispers to the man, apparently telling him what the items are.

The waitress returns in a few minutes and asks the pair if they are ready to order. The boy says, “Yes, but he would like a pitcher of water first.”

“A pitcher! What does he need that for? He hasn’t even drunk the water I brought him,” replies the waitress.

“Yes, I know, but his feet are dusty and he wants to wash them before he eats. It’s custom.”

The waitress stalks off, and returns with a pitcher of ice water. The stranger, puts his hands on the side of the pitcher, feeling the cold, but he looks up at the waitress and smiles in thanks. He walks out with the pitcher in hand, and he sits down on the curb, removes his sandals and washes his feet with the ice water.

“Say, who is that?” the waitress asked the boy.

“He’s my uncle; he’s staying with us; he doesn’t speak English,” chirps the boy.

There is the sudden scraping of chair legs on the floor across the room. “What’s the matter, Carl?” says the waitress, “I’ll be with ya in a minute.” The stranger reenters the restaurant, and walks past the man whose chair had made the scraping noise, having breakfast with his wife. “Hey, pal, you ain’t from around here, are ya?” says the man.

The boy calls out, “It’s okay; he’s my uncle.” The uncle hesitates for a moment, but then walks back to the table where the boy is sitting. He gives the waitress a nod of appreciation, hands her the empty pitcher, and resumes his seat. Carl glowers at him across the room.

“Well, are you ready to order now?” asks the waitress.

“Yes,” says the boy easily, “I’ll have a short stack, whole wheat, and some OJ. My uncle is hungry, though, so he’d like the Hungry Man breakfast with black coffee. But he wants a substitution for the pork sausage. Please.” Carl shifts in his chair again.

“Does he want bacon, then?”

The boys smiles and says, “No, that won’t do either, I’m afraid.” The boy and the waitress confer for a few moments. Then she walks back to to the order pick-up window and yells into the kitchen, “Hey Lenny! We got any lamb or goat?”

Carl stands up now, upending his chair in the process, and shouts, “Goddammit! That’s enough.” He starts toward the stranger, and the boy steps between them.

“Honest, mister; we don’t mean any harm. As I said, he’s a stranger here.”

“Well, you and you uncle can just pack up that donkey of yours and get the hell outta here! I am so tired of this foreign crap.”

Then the stranger speaks to Carl for the first time, addressing him in a strange language.

“What the hell kind of language is that?” demands Carl. “Arabic?”

“No, actually it’s Aramaic; it is a Semitic tongue, though,” replies the boy.

“Whatever. What did he say?”

“He’s thanking you. He said ‘I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.’”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“I’m not sure; he’s full of odd sayings like that. Has always been that way.”

The boys turns to his uncle, grabs his hand, and says sadly, “Come on unc; we’ll eat someplace else.”

The illustration is by Ken Avidor, who blogs at Dump Michele Bachmann and sketches at Urban Sketchers – Twin Cities. Click on the graphic to see its original size. You’ve probably seen Ken’s work sketching the 2008 Republican National Convention and the recent Tom Petters trial. The idea for the story came up in a conversation with Ken.

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