My Breakfast Club
After retirement, I needed to get out of the house. Get out of my slippers and back into the world—a residue of a lifetime of going off to work every morning. Only now, I was heading off to the nearby coffee shop, ordering a latte and reading the national newspaper. It was comforting, but far from satisfying. I missed the connection with others. Having left my work community, I needed to find a new one.
Casting a critical eye at the older habitués gathered in fours or five at the window table, I would hear them regurgitating stories from the local paper, grousing about the price of oil, the younger generation, politicians, their spouse and kids. Occasionally, with a wave of a hand, someone would invite me over to join them. In my lonely superiority I would shake my head. Not for me all that thoughtless chatter and aged-male bravado. I wanted something better. But what?
After a while I gave up the fancy brew in upscale coffeehouses, and started frequenting local "greasy spoons." To me this isn’t a derogatory term, but one of endearment. Built in the early fifties, with a counter running along one side and booths along the other, they are classic emporiums of bacon and eggs, toast and coffee—real breakfast food.
Far from being fading relics of another age, such diners are in my opinion heritage sites, preserving what was best of another way of life, a time that was happier and friendlier. Guys rubbing elbows at the counter, yattering away about the weather, and the game the night before. And in the booths, which offer a little private space for conversation, people like me.
Every city and town across North America has them. In Toronto my favourite is near the corner of Bloor and Jane. I walk in and there’s the newspaper and a steaming cup of coffee waiting for me. The owner, at the cash register, gives me a nod of recognition. This is my type of morning hangout. And where it all started.
Gradually over the years I found myself with one or another of my friends, sitting in a booth. Somehow face-to-face with a pal there was less bravado, less need to rant, and a greater interest in what the one sitting across from me was about. In some ways it was so obvious, and yet in another way it was a revelation. In some sense it was a breakthrough moment although in real time it took several years for what happened to evolve.
Over more than a decade, with a growing number of like-minded souls—usually introverts like myself—my breakfasts evolved into almost a ritual, something far more and much deeper than I could have imagined. We meet one on one, in communion over our bacon and eggs. And so it begins.
I confess I shape the conversation, and most who sit opposite me seem willing to follow my lead. Rants of any kind, about bosses, mates, government, whatever, I limit to one minute, a bit longer it they are fun or amusing. No discussion of politics or sports, but weather is allowed. If they have a personal connection, movies are more than acceptable. Listening is good; questions are golden. Suggestions, advice, except when asked for—verboten!
Mostly we drop into the dimensions of our lives, sharing back and forth the pain, the humour, the meaning, the purpose, the lack of, whatever we are about at this moment that’s important to us. In most cases, we find ourselves in a rich place of sharing, a time that is real and human and caring. It is a place where we’re safe, and can bring as much of ourselves as we’re in touch with to the table. For here is revealed and shared the mystery of our lives. Equally important is the laughter at the quirkiness and indignities of life at a certain age.
Over time the routine has become expected, anticipated. Every four to six weeks, I phone each friend and arrange a time and place. If I don't call, they do, wanting to know when we can get together.
Now, as I get ready to celebrate my 80th birthday, I realize that I’ve created a new community, a new circle of friends, with whom I can talk in a deeper, more human way than any I had at work, or on the golf course. And yet it isn’t really a community, for none of these friends of mine have ever met each other. It’s time to change this. The two or three dozen unique and special "old guys" who have given my life a new meaning and joy and a reason to get up each morning, I want all of these intimates in one room together. Let them get to know one another as I knew each one of them … this is how I want to celebrate my birthday.
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