March 16. Stuart’s birthday. He invited me to join him and his sister, Linda, for a birthday brunch — my first time meeting any of his four sisters. I was bracing myself for the questions, the sly head to toe assessment, the approval or rejection signal passed from sister to her only brother.
None of that happened.
From the moment I walked into the Beach Street Cafè in Watsonville (there is no beach but there is a street) I was enchanted and warmly welcomed. Not only was the diner-style restaurant a throwback that immediately took me to my days as a breakfast waitress in a white uniform working my way through college in the 1960s, but it was also filled with real people. You know the kind who work for a living — guys in denim shirts with embroidered logos above the chest pockets, women in scrubs with their hair pulled into a bun, teenagers in Catholic School uniforms.
Stuart and Linda were already seated when I walked through the door precisely at the agreed-upon time. It was the first day of the social distancing edict. Stuart and I embraced as though it could be our last day on earth. We pried ourselves apart and I turned toward his sister to be introduced. We simultaneously did an air-hug. We laughed and launched into non-stop conversation. Okay, it did stop when the food arrived.
When I perused the menu my eyes landed on Crab Eggs Benedict and my mouth wanted it. But. I figured it was fake crab — the highly processed stuff made of fish bits and chemicals. When I asked the friendly, helpful waiter, he broke into a grin and said, “Yes, it is real crab. First time here?”
As fabulous as the food was, the conversation was even better. Linda and Stuart did their best to include me, but the years of friendly banter carried the day and warmed my heart. When Linda whipped out the Birthday Bag, I immediately liked that she had used a recycled (beat up) bag and made a special bow from scratch. You may remember I’m on my “save-the-planet” campaign. I rinse out zip-locks, wrap gifts in newspaper and hang pieces of plastic wrap up by my kitchen sink to reuse.
For days now, I’ve been watching toilet paper zombies scurrying about. I have heard about the lines out the door with carts at the ready to load up on Charmin and Bounty — I refuse to get caught up in the panic. But I will admit to having fun watching.
The gift bag had been sitting on the bench, and when it was time, Linda reached down, hooked the handles with her index finger and placed it before her brother. With a deadpan face, she said, “Happy Birthday, Stuart. It’s a survival kit.”
He reached in and pulled out a lone bar of Palmolive, a single packet of disinfectant wipes, a travel pack of Wet Wipes, and something wrapped in sparkly netting with one of those plastic bread fasteners holding it together. Ahh, this is the real present, I thought. As he pulled it out of the bag my brain took a few seconds to register.
Linda spoke as we both stared at the object, “Sorry, that’s all I could afford for twenty-five dollars.”
Dead silence, blank stares, no comprehension for about a second, then realization and all three of us cracked up! There was a sixteenth of an inch of toilet paper on a barely-still-round roll.
In case I have a T.P. emergency, it’s good to know there is a secret stash in Stuart’s goody bag. I don’t think he has noticed that I sneaked the bar of soap into my pocket when he wasn’t looking.
Perhaps someday I’ll get to give Linda a real hug. Someday soon.