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“You know, you always think you’re right,” she said with fists clenched after an extended stare out the diner window onto 2nd Avenue.
“Yup,” he responded without thinking or emotion. He was distracted by his two over-salted, overcooked scrambled eggs. He always found it difficult to eat eggs with potatoes in one bite. Both the eggs and the potatoes were too soft and they’d fall off the fork. And he hated the fact that he had to butter his own toast. He lived in a town where two eggs scrambled with rye costs him $8.75 but they won’t even butter the toast. He never liked the waiters either. He was always expecting nice old ladies like the ones he had growing up in Pennsylvania. But here, they were just grumpy old Greek men who would watch CNN on the TV above the table while taking down the order. Regardless of his many issues, he still ordered two eggs scrambled with rye toast at the diner every day. His simple order made him feel innocent. And a decaf coffee. He doesn’t do caffeine. He says he doesn’t want to get addicted.
“What do you mean ‘yup?’” she asked with confusion.
“I mean I always think I’m right,” he answered without hesitation.
“You know that’s a bad thing, right?” she countered.
“No it’s not,” he replied calmly and went back to wrestling through his eggs. He wished he could use his hands but knew better than that. He always had on a facade of naivety and properness. It made him feel innocent.
“What do you mean? Yes it is!” she answered back, this time loud enough for the table behind her to hear.
He stopped with the eggs for a moment and put his fork down. Sideways and on the left, of course, to indicate he hadn’t finished eating.
“Why would I say something if I thought it was wrong?” he asked with a smile. He thought his smiles were endearing, everyone else thought they were condescending.
She stuttered, “Wh-- th, that makes no sense. That’s not what I’m saying.”
He responded quickly, “It’s exactly what you’re saying. I do always think I’m right. So do you. So does the waiter, that lady at the door, and...” he surveyed the room and pointed to one of the TVs, “Anderson Cooper,” he said. The headline on the screen said something about the Greek economy. The waiters were mesmerized.
“No I don’t!” she yelled with angled eyebrows.
“So you say things even when you think they’re wrong?” he responded, again with the same smile.
She went quiet as she prepared her argument. He went quiet as he went back to scooping up the scrambled egg fragments.
“That’s not what I said,” she finally responded.
“It is what you said,” he explained without looking up.
“Well, it’s not what I mean,” she responded quickly.
“Then say what you mean,” he answered even quicker. He abandoned hope of scooping up the egg shrapnel individually and decided to mix it with the leftover potatoes and peppers. He felt a small defeat.
“What I mean is that you think, just because you do something a certain way, that means it’s the right way to do it,” she explained with confidence.
“Yup,” he answered again.
“Stop saying that!” She yelled, now loud enough that the diner went silent.
He gave her a wide-eyed ‘what the fuck’ stare with his thumbs turned up. Her pale face got redder than usual. He thought she looked Irish. A bit like Saoirse Ronan. And like a young Meryl Streep. But she wasn’t Irish. She was Croatian. Or Macedonian. Or one of those few nationalities whose country he couldn’t identify on a blank map. Whatever she was, she was beautiful.
“Sorry, sorry,” she whispered once the restaurant chatter returned.
“Good. Now what were you saying?” he answered. He almost forgot over the commotion. He hated attention if it was from strangers.
“I said stop saying that,” she responded.
“Stop saying what?” he asked.
“What?” he asked, this time with a smirk.
“Stop saying ‘yup!’” she yelled with annoyance.
“I’m asking you who’s on first!” he yelled, cracking himself up. This time he didn’t mind the people staring at him. He was too absorbed in an Abbott and Costello fit of laughter to care.
“Are you done?” she asked after he quieted down.
“Yes, sorry,” he said, still giggling.
Frustrated, she explained, “Anyway, I was explaining that, what I meant, is that you think, just because you do something a certain way, that’s the correct way to do it.” She really wanted to burn him here. She loved winning arguments, though he never let her win any. Even after she asked him to. There are a lot of things he’d do for her, but losing an argument wasn’t one of them.
He sipped his water. For some reason he loved plastic-cup-diner-tap-water. It was better than his apartment water, he felt. Of course, he also thought ice cream tasted way worse at home when he was a child. Maybe this was the sad, adult version of that. He drank an ice cube, swished it around his mouth, and spit it out back into the glass. He wondered how such a disgusting act was so widely accepted.
“No shit.” he stated bluntly.
“Seriously?!” she asked, angrily.
“If I thought I was doing something incorrectly, why would I continue doing it? Are you hearing your own questions before you ask them?” he answered. He was now angry at her persistent accusations. He couldn’t understand why she kept yelling at him. He was just trying to enjoy his eggs.
“Fuck you,” she said, shaking her head and grabbing her coat. She was leaving. “You’re such a fucking asshole.”
His heart dropped. Not a small drop, but like the drop you feel when your car starts sliding off an icy suburban road. Or like the drop you feel when you’re plummeting to the ground in a dream. His recent anger now turned to panic. He grabbed her hand, she pulled it away. “No, hey. Where are you going?” he asked nervously.
“I have to get to rehearsal. You know that,” she explained while putting on her coat. She didn’t take the time to look at him while she answered.
He looked at his watch. She actually did have to go. But this was no time to admit that.
“No, hey, I’m sorry. I’m being an asshole. You have tons of time just stay, I’m sorry,” he mumbled in embarrassment.
She wrapped her scarf around her neck. “No, I can’t be late,” she said, still without looking.
“Seriously, come on just stay. I’m sorry,” he pleaded. It was 25 degrees outside and he was suddenly sweating.
“Relax, I’m not mad I really just have to go,” she said, obviously annoyed. “I’ll Venmo you.”
His heart sunk even lower. He knew her well enough to know that she’d let him pay for anything.
“No don’t worry about it, I got it!” He tried to sound cool. He was a bad actor.
“No it’s fine,” she said, picking up her Prada bag. He never understood why they were so expensive. He’d always tell her she overpaid for it, then he’d brag about how his Old Navy slip-ons were only $8. They made him feel innocent.
He stood up. He was now shivering with sweat dripping down his back. He grabbed her arm and turned her around. She rolled her eyes but turned his way without making eye contact.
“Hey, look I’m really sorry. You’re right, I’m wrong. I always do think I’m right and that’s not good. I really want to fix that. Please just stay for a little. We can talk about something else. I can tell you about this jazz guy I’ve been listening to. Bix Beiderbecke. Really good cornet player.” He tried to smile but it didn’t work.
“Dude, I really have to go,” she said and walked out. That was the kicker. Any time a girl calls you “dude,” you know you’re in deep shit.
She smiled at the elderly woman behind the counter as she walked out, who then smiled at him. He managed to show his teeth for her. Old people always made him smile. They seemed innocent. He sat down again and looked out the window.
“Fuck. Fuck, shit, fuck. God fucking damn it, fuck. Fuck. Fuck,” he whispered to himself as he ripped a Sweet & Low packet to smaller and smaller shreds.
He saw her through the window as she crossed over to the east side of 2nd avenue. Her rehearsal was around Washington Square. In other words, west of 2nd Avenue. The only reason she’d go east is if she was going home, he thought. He wondered if that’s where she really was going.
She was bundled up in a big coat. A puffy one. Probably expensive, but he didn’t know coats. It just looked like a regular coat to him. Luckily, it was a short coat. He watched her pretty, little butt twitch as she made her away across the crosswalk before her sneakers took her through the air over an ice puddle to the curb. She walked behind the fruit cart for just a moment. He wondered if she’d ever reappear on the other side. (He watched way too much Twilight Zone.)
He cherished seeing her, even if it was seeing her walk away from him. He had only met her about a week before, but that never mattered. She liked him. Well, did like him. This defeat definitely stung more than the eggs.
And anyone that liked him meant the world to him. If they liked him, he loved them. Dearly. The mere touch of her hand on his index finger sent a heatwave up his spine. The back of his head, right where it meets the neck, would tingle until he tensed his shoulders. His toes would wiggle. His insides would squirm and plummet. As a child, his doctor diagnosed him with a sensory issue, but this wasn’t physical. He was just so grateful that someone was interested in him. He never thought he was unattractive, just unworthy. Holding hands would send him into this shockwave. A kiss on the cheek. Even a poke on the nose.
Her leaving depressed him immediately. But it wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling. He pulled out his phone and scrolled Facebook, then his photos, then his notes. He played Benny Goodman’s “It Never Entered My Mind” quietly on his phone and held it right up to his ear. He did anything to ignore his thoughts.
He distracted his old waiter from Anderson Cooper for a moment and got the check. He looked out the window for a long time. He thought about how the booth he was in was the same booth he sat in when he read the gruesome chapter from Catch-22. The one where Snowden’s guts spill all over the plane. He thought about the feta omelet he had splurged on the other day. He thought about some girl’s Tinder bio he read the day before. Something stupid about EDM. He laughed sadly to himself about it.
He thought about how many girls had left him stranded in that diner. More than he’d care to admit. Most of the time because he thought he was right. Of course, he still believed he was. Every time. He asked himself if it’s possible that he’s right everyone else is just wrong. He thought so.
But that wasn’t the end of his thoughts on the subject. Someday, he’d learn that being right is great, but so is having people who love you.