Five-Dollar Omelets

Everyone around here loves the health inspector for all the wrong reasons.

You get tired of looking at the grey and the brown, the bare trees and the dead grass. The crisp golds and reds of the fall season look soggy and brown with the first handful of frosts and everything outside your window looks like a lifeless compost heap.

Does it look this way to you?

The headlines say something about how there is another lockdown looming. Like sailors on shore leave or the submarine pilot before his next six-week dive, you take a moment to remind yourself what it is to breath abundant air on steady ground before the next thing happens — whatever that may be.

Looking around the two stories I have no problem calling “home” for the moment and we feel the need to sleep in a different bed, work around a different dining table, stream through a different wifi password while we still can. We pack up the dogs and a week’s worth of wine and groceries and set out to see if the rest of the world is as grey and brown. Driving across the span of North Carolina we find ourselves on a beaten path overshadowed by a giant red billboard that simply reads: Trump. Under it, in smaller letters, paid for by Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork. It’s dark when we pull into the driveway of the little house in the middle of a block on a coastal town. It’s the kind of house you buy to say you have a “beach house” and the first page of the guest book, underneath all of the important phone numbers, is a paragraph about how to turn on the air conditioner (use sparingly! Open the windows in the evening for a pleasant breeze) but nothing about the furnace. Then again, who rents a beach house in the dead of November?

The morning warms quickly, the kind of warm where you can sit on the porch and count your breath and pretend to not notice the abundance of stray cats that must populate every seaside town. There is a picture on the listing showing the house with a rope swing hanging off the branch of the big, low oak tree in the front yard. The swing is gone and in it’s place is a 4X4 post of processed, weather treated lumber — something likely cut from a far younger pine or birch forest — to support the old, heavy weight of the branch as it continues to grow over the street and into the power lines. The tree likely won’t weather the next storm that comes through here. The post is doing what it can to help it defy the inevitable gravity.

The irony isn’t lost on me.

The diner down the street promises five-dollar omlettes so we call in an order. I’m wearing yesterday’s t-shirt and my shoes aren’t tied very well, but I have my mask and headband on as I walk the two hundred yards to the joint. The parking lot is full, not a good sign, and I open the door to be greeted by a waitress whose welcoming smile runs from her face. I’m not typically the type to be greeted with a smile, so it doesn’t bother me, but she didn’t have a mask on. No one in the place did and here I am looking like I’m going to rob them all blind.

I move past it and tell her the name for my order and she runs my credit card. Behind her, staring at me over the rim of his coffee mug, is a heavy retiree in a red hat who hadn’t shaved this week. Next to him was a familiy of nine — five kids, none of them able to sit still — the father staring me down.

You never know about things like this when you go to a new place. The rules and mores. I break the eye contact while I wait for them to bag my order and take a renewed interest in the appearance of my shoes. On the floor are the decals — stay six feet apart. Everyone around here must know the health inspector, he must be a well-loved man.

Or woman. But probably a guy.

The man in the red hat (maybe he’s the health inspector?) stares at me through the window as I walk back up the street, order in hand. I imagine he will go about his day, maybe down to the marina or back to his laptop, and will tell anyone who will listen about what he saw walk into his usual breakfast spot that morning.

We all think we’re doing the right thing.

Eight billion people gather on this planet, but only one of us is deserving of the seat closest to the fire.

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