SIMONS: A Study in Others’ Conversation

Alan Simons, Canadian Jewish Record

By ALAN L. SIMONS

The time has come in my life when I must freely admit I honestly miss going to Toronto’s United Bakers Dairy Restaurant just by myself for breakfast and sitting at my new favourite table at the south-west corner.

Perhaps I should explain. I choose my table very carefully, as I do my friends – not that there’s any similarity between them. My friends are neither square nor rectangular nor suffer from the same identical height, and they certainly don’t have a wobbly leg or screech when they move around.

I know from the regulars who visit UB for breakfast that they have one thing in common: They take great pleasure in being scanned by other patrons as they walk into the restaurant. For the life of me, I have no idea why – and they revel in endorsing UB’s superb breakfast of orange juice, two scrambled eggs, hash brown potatoes, a slice of cucumber and tomato, with a toasted bagel accompanied by jam, all washed down with a bottomless cup of coffee.

Which seems to me quite odd, since I’ve never witnessed any of them eating this meal. We shouldn’t make too much of this, for if UB is known for anything special, it is that its patrons can be categorized as “characters.”

Take for instance the two elderly ladies of an age far greater than mine who were sitting on my left. To distinguish the two, I will call one Luca, who I immediately recognized as speaking stereotypical Hunglish. The other I will call “the second woman.”

“Tell me, darling what do you think? How’s my hair looking?” asked Luca. “Earlier this morning I went to Mario’s. Be honest, do you think Abe will notice me?”

To which the second woman replied, “So, when are you going to have your hair done?”

Their urbane conversation abruptly stopped, reminding me of what George Bernard Shaw had to say. “She had lost the art of conversation but not, unfortunately, the power of speech.”

Conversation during breakfast makes UB a superb location to visit. Let me give you a further example. Take the dialogue between Ruthie and Fran, two ladies out of a vaudeville act.

Ruthie: “My only brother is in town. The one I don’t talk to. He’s in town with his ‘thing’ that we don’t mention.”

Fran: “His thing?”

Ruthie: “Yes his thing. He married her 25 years ago. No one knew. He didn’t tell the family. Me, his only sister, he didn’t tell. Now, after 25 years, he phoned me. I said, ‘do you want to get together?’ He says he’s busy! Who’s he busy with? Her, the thing!”

At this time – need I say it? – Ruthie and Fran received my full attention.

Fran: “He’s in town after 25 years?”

Ruthie: “I’m not seeing him. After so many years I should see him when he didn’t invite me to his wedding?”

At the next table to their left, an elderly man, dressed in old-fashioned bright polyester – one might see in Florida at the early-bird dinners – struggled to get up to leave. Oblivious to the two women, he slowly shuffled past them heading for the exit.

Ruthie: “Oi Fran, say nothing! Shush! Not one word. Just look at me!”

Fran: “What’s up, Ruthie?”

Ruthie: “It’s him!” she croaked, pointing to the elderly man. “It’s my brother!”

I’ll tell you frankly, there is no doubt that if I were a theatre critic, I would have been the first to stand and applaud the performance of these three thespians. However, the very thought of doing so at such close vicinity while attempting to move my table and not spill my coffee and glass of water settled the matter for me.

I have heard from time to time of similar conversations at United Bakers. But with such great stress put on me while eating my breakfast, to my credit, I have now found a table far from such animated dialogue.

I think this will count toward a longer life.