Breakfast at Oliver’s

I appear to have eaten at Oliver’s Cafe about 90 times since March, 2012 (can’t account for a few cash transactions). I ran the Quicken report that told me that through a quick script to count how many of those visits were on a Sunday (“Dad and Ben breakfast day”): Harder to know that because the date of the transaction going through varies from the date the transaction happened, but it must be about 70.

Ben’s got a usual: 2 scrambled eggs, a sausage patty, a cinnamon roll and a cup of decaf. He settled on that after a streak where he was all about the bacon pancakes, which are incredible but also torpor inducing. Lately I’m all over the place. The coffee is a constant, but it’s hard to choose between all the scrambles and omelettes, plus the occasional bacon pancakes or plain old hotcakes.

When we first moved here, the space Oliver’s is in was occupied by Le Sorelle Café. You could get coffee and pastry and panini there. We’d stop in on Sundays after going to the farmers market. Le Sorelle didn’t last. Coffee in Lents, in general, does not last unless it’s being served out of an espresso hut. That’s a shame, because until the neighborhood is ultimately overrun by people like me, it’d be nice to have a slow but steady coffee place to go work at now and then. We had that in the form of Lents Commons, but it fell apart pretty quickly because it was never meant to be a coffee place: The owners wanted it to be a performance space.

Oliver’s has been at it for a couple of years now, and I hope they’ve cracked the code for remaining viable in Lents: They’re only open until 2 each day. They’re not even attempting dinner service.

Anyhow, this isn’t its Yelp page, where it is mostly appropriately revered by the neighborhood.

Ben and I have been walking down there most Sunday mornings for a while. It’s about 10 minutes from our house, so we’ll go all but the worst days, unless we’re feeling lazy and don’t want to get out of our pajamas.

Some days, we don’t say much. Other days, Ben wants to talk about World of Warcraft or something he saw on YouTube. This last Sunday, he was curious about elections and what it would be like if we had more than two major parties. “Winner takes all” was pretty easy to explain. Proportional representation was helped along by our recent Munchkin Cthulhu binge, because forming a coalition government in parliament is exactly like agreeing to gang up on a level 16 eldritch horror in exchange for a cut of the treasure.

When we get there, we’ve got a few preferred booths over on the east side of the restaurant, where it’s more isolated. Our waitress this past week is new – or new to Sundays – and she’s only seen us four or five times. She was visibly disoriented when we had to sit over on the west side in straight-backed chairs like a pair of chumps, though.

So, most of the wait-folks there know us pretty well by now. Ben still delivers his order each week like it’s going to be news to the waitresses. I’ve made more of an effort to mix it up ever since I caught a waitress starting to write my order down before I spoke it. The next week I deliberately broke my rut and there was an expression of polite surprise that I wasn’t having the omelette.

After I left the newspaper – my first job after college – I ended up in a burger joint for a while. On the days I had the lunch shift, there was a group of three mailmen who’d come in every day. They ordered the same thing every time, and one of them brought exact change every time. The first time I served him his burger I forgot to apply some discount the owner had made up for mailmen and there was a diplomatic incident. I never got the comfort of that routine because the three of them were pretty sour-faced guys. I just saw them sitting there eating their burgers in silence, maybe tipping a curt nod at the counter person on the way out, back to their routes.

I’ve certainly had routines since. Al & I were regulars at the Barracks Road Mister Donut in Charlottesville, VA on Sundays: chocolate angels to go with the Sunday Times for a long while. The fall and winter she was pregnant with Ben it was me going over to Jae’s Low Beer Price on Belmont for ice cream sandwiches, Diet 7-Up and the big box of Dots (which were fresh maybe one time out of ten, which always provoked pleased exclamations).

But I’ve got a weird thing about my routines being picked up on, too. It can feel strange and intimate, and I think about those mailmen and how little I knew about whatever they did besides eat burgers at the College Mall Road G.D. Ritzy’s in Bloomington, IN and (I hope) deliver mail, and how flattened out they seemed to me.

Sounds a little neurotic when I see it there in black and white, but there it is. Most major demons and powerful wizards are similarly particular about people knowing their true names, let alone their preferred breakfasts.

But with the exception of adjusting my ordering habits now and then to appropriately reset expectations with the wait staff at Oliver’s, I don’t mind being a regular there so much because the other half of things I think about in the process of regularing there is my childhood:

Several moves around town before I was five, a big move from Texas to Pennsylvania before kindergarten, cross-town moves and a few elementary schools, a move to Chicago, then back to Pennsylvania (way down the road from where we’d been before), then Indiana in the middle of eighth grade.

I recently did the math, and realized that this time in Oregon – since July 6, 2001 – is the longest I’ve lived in any state my entire life by a couple of years. We’ve been in this house just a few weeks over 5.5 years, and that’s the longest I’ve ever lived in a single house.

I’m not going to say moving around a lot was bad for me. I got a lot from it, especially because it was all so varied: suburban Chicago, dairy country in Pennsylvania, small-town Indiana, Texas, suburban Pittsburg. Lots of experiences – jumping up from dinner to help our host birth a calf out back in the barn! – and lots of people of all kinds.

But it was also kind of lonely. The Pennsylvania farm kids hated the accent I picked up in Chicago. The small-town Indiana kids didn’t really care about hunting much, and my hunter’s ed certification badge wasn’t really a mark of achievement to them. The Chicago kids – I guess they all went on to become John Hughes characters, but I don’t know because I only knew them for this little slice of their grade school lives. I had friends but they didn’t last, and I didn’t ever learn to expect them to.

So when Ben was getting ready to start kindergarten, we decided to make up our minds about where we’d be living, and we picked our house partly because we could see the elementary school he’d be going to from the front porch. I was pretty set on the idea that we’d be looking from that porch to that school every morning until middle school. That on Ben’s first day at middle school, he’ll be in a new place with friends from that school. And that when he starts high school, there’ll be familiar faces in the halls that first day – faces he’s known for almost as long as he can usefully remember anything.

Ben went on this Lady Gaga kick a couple of years ago. He loved her makeup and costumes, and “Born This Way” just sort of resonated with him. He got marked as a weirdo for it, and there was some trouble at school briefly. A group of mean girls started a playground “Ben’s a fag” campaign and he got pushed around. We briefly freaked out – I took six months of that kind of abuse from a bunch of farm kids in Pennsylvania in eighth grade – just five or six punches on the arm or in the gut every morning before gym for six months straight – and it sucked. We’d managed to “win” the elementary school lottery, though, so we could have picked another school to transfer him to the next year. But the thing we learned from the teacher when we talked to her about it was that Ben’s friends had all stuck up for him, and even if there was some stuff going on from a few shitty little kids, after the first shoving incident his friends had all just surrounded him and kept him safe. I thought about it some and realized transferring him to another school would just mean starting over, and maybe not making those friends he’d need before a mean girl clique over there decided he was a weirdo, too.

All of which is to say, that’s part of what we bought – that sense that the best school is the one his friends are at. I have to randomize my breakfast orders to keep from – whatever would happen if I let myself be known that way – but Ben gets to walk into a place where sometimes we hear the waitress behind the counter say “the guys are here,” and he can have his usual.

#yesallwomen

This is a story of getting things wrong, and perhaps continuing to get things wrong, but not knowing exactly what to do besides what I’ve come up with.

prologue

When I lived in Bloomington, IN, some guy spent a week in one of the student neighborhoods attacking women. The one account I read from a victim was that he walked up to her with keys sticking out from between the fingers of his balled fist, slashed her cheek open, and said, “not so pretty now” before running off.

i.

A while back, before Ben was born, I took a few night classes. A few of us getting out of class together had to walk four or five blocks down a quiet side street to get back to a common parking area.

So, class would let out and we’d make our way down to the street. Throw in some random travel variables — like getting backpacks repacked or chatting with classmates on the way out the door or whatever — and you’d end up with four or five of us spread out over two blocks headed the same way down a side street after dark.

Most nights, there wasn’t much to think about: Out the door, down the street, into the car, home.

One night, I ended up falling in behind a woman from my class. She was about half a block ahead. I don’t think she noticed me at first, but I stepped onto a loose metal plate and it made a big noise. She glanced over her shoulder and appeared to notice me for the first time, and I think the next several blocks were very frightening for her.

Within a block, everybody else had headed down another street. It was just the two of us. She kept glancing over her shoulder, and I could tell I was making her anxious. There was no way it made any sense to pick up the pace to just get past her — I was engaged enough to realize that — but there was a smaller, stupider part of me that was pretty fixated on just getting to my car and going home. That part wasn’t doing much problem-solving that didn’t involve getting to go the direction I wanted to go as quickly as possible.

Well, let’s not dissociate.

I wasn’t doing much problem-solving that didn’t involve getting to go the direction I wanted to go as quickly as possible.

In the end, she ended up picking up the pace, she got to her car a block ahead of me, and it finally occurred to me that if I slowed down just a bit she’d be able to get into her car without feeling quite so much like she was racing me to get something between us but distance on a dark sidewalk.

So I slowed down and she got into her car and she drove away and I quietly congratulated myself for the five percent of our separate but shared walks where I had really thought about her and what she might be going through.

ii.

The next week, class let out and I went out the door with another woman in the class who’d been in my workshop group. We’d enjoyed each others’ work and we were talking about it. We walked out onto the sidewalk and I noticed we were headed the same direction. I didn’t want the conversation to end quite yet, so I pointed the way she seemed to be headed and said to her, “are you headed this way, too? I’ll walk with you.”

Her face tightened for a moment, but then she agreed. We walked a few blocks, she got to her car before I got to mine, and I had yet another belated realization that she’d been nervous the whole time. She couldn’t say goodbye fast enough.

iii.

So, when class let out on the third week it was back down onto the sidewalk and assorted variables came together to put me about half a block behind the classmate I’d walked with the week prior, just the two of us on the quiet and dark sidewalk. And — just like two weeks prior — she didn’t notice me until I made a sound. Then we spent a block with her looking over her shoulder at me, noticeably picking up the pace.

So I stopped and put my backpack down on the sidewalk to get my keys out of it, which helped her put a block between us. Then I crossed the street so I’d be on the opposite side from her, and slowed way down until she made it to her car.

iv.

I’ve done pretty much the same in similar situations ever since: If I end up behind a woman on a quiet sidewalk, I just go across the street. If I see that she’s noticed me behind her before I can do that and seems to be watching me, I’ll backtrack to the last intersection to do so.

It’s the smallest, saddest thing.

#YesAllWomen

9, 23, 25, 26, 29, 33, 35, 39 & 46

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. — Psalm 90:10 There is no safety in the threefold world; it is like a burning house, replete with a multitude of sufferings, truly to be feared, constantly beset with the griefs and pains of birth, old age, sickness and death, which are like fires raging fiercely and without cease. — The Lotus Sutra

9

When I was nine years old, I borrowed a collection of Star Trek stories from my dad. It included this one, wherein William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly all end up in the 23rd century owing to some sort of freak transporter accident.

That was a pretty exciting premise to me. Since I knew that I was living in the 20th century and that Star Trek was happening in the 23rd century, I could do the math to figure out how long I had to wait to see it all for myself.

23rd century - 20th century = 3 centuries, pretty much.

So if it was 1977, then I was looking at having to wait around until 2277. I grabbed dad’s Commodore calculator (it looked like this) to help with the next part:

2277 - 1968 = 309 years.

So, dad being in seminary at the time and our family being church-going anyhow, I had some idea that some people lasted a pretty long time. Methuselah had a pretty good run. Hadn’t Noah made it to 900? Needed to check with mom, though.

Yes, she explained, people in the Bible lived a long time, “but we get threescore and ten years now.”

I knew how much a score was because Abraham Lincoln was my hero.

So …

1968 + (20 * 3) + 10 = 2038

and 2277 - 2038 = not even close, really.

Further away from now than last year’s bicentennial had been from the first Independence Day.

I just wasn’t going to make it.

21

My favorite grandfather is dying of a brain tumor. Mom goes down to Texas, hoping to make things right, but all she does is get in the way of the t.v.

23

I don’t think what I experienced was a “death trip,” exactly. I just remember that things got pretty morbid some time around dawn. I was in the tv room at the house in Indianapolis, looking out at the parking lot behind the back yard. Cody and Kevin and Bill were riding bikes in the morning fog, gliding in and out of view.

24

Hudson was so stupid and inept. They made him my buddy and told me if he didn’t make it out of basic, it’d be my fault.

The last week, we were out in the field under a tree. It was raining and Hudson had fucked something up and all he could do was cry. All I could do was put my arm around him and tell him it’d be fine.

25

Jump school seemed like a good idea. It never really occurred to me to feel frightened during the day, but every night I dreamed of falling and falling with no parachute. My subconscious mixed it up by letting me ride a mattress into the dirt one night.

26

The team’s up on the Richmond site outside of Taejon. It’s an old building behind a gate. We’ve put up the mast and we’re on the network. The team chief asks us what we’d do if the balloon went up. Oh … I know this one:

“We take our defensive positions and the one on radio watch burns the SOI and takes an axe to the COMSEC gear, then we all defend the site.”

The team chief says, “you do that. I’m gonna run my ass down the hill before it gets shot off. They won’t bother with soldiers anyhow. They’ll just dial us in and light us up.”

and

I arrive at Ft. Bragg the week a major in my brigade had a bad landing, broke his leg and the bone severed an artery. He bled out on the drop zone before anyone could find him and help him. I don’t know if he knew what was happening.

29

That last nine months I was on jump status, I was pretty sure each jump was going to kill me. If you could be on jump status, though, you were supposed to be on jump status. That’s how it was. The sergeant major would cut your wings off your chest in front of everybody otherwise.

33

They aspirated a lump in my throat on a Wednesday, the doctor fucked off on vacation before the labs came back on Thursday, and nobody would tell me anything until the next Tuesday.

It was fine.

35

Ben. He stirs some things up.

39

“I mean,” says my friend, “FORTY. Aren’t you freaking out?”

“I just don’t, I guess.”

It wasn’t a question for me though, was it? In retrospect, I regret the answer.

46

Here we are.

I still don’t.

Some days, I feel naive or clueless and I think to myself that I might be wrong, and that I might be giving the wrong answer on a cosmic test.

Some days I think, “you’ve taken advantage of a number of opportunities to consider it.”

Mostly I think we’re born in a house that’s on fire, and there’ll be a moment between flame and ash.

We’ll need to have been kind.