Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012 | 3:29 p.m.
The tiny room that separated the road slush and bitter cold from a thin, long room lined with tables on which fresh pressed coffee and masterpiece breakfasts rested housed a small table, and on it, a sign-in sheet.
Next to be seated from the sheet for this little Williamsburg, Brooklyn, breakfast nook was Sam, whose name — along with the digit “2” — had been written in with shaky, freezing hand. Beneath Sam’s name, and in similarly shaking hand, I wrote some illegible form of “Billy” and “1.”
From the tiny room one could see the tease of tables filled with happy eaters and a dining hall bathed in warmth.
But stuck in this tiny room there were three people, a clipboard on a table, and the type of visible breath one sees belching from Green Bay Packers facemasks during home games in December.
Through the window we could see a table for two open. Just then, Sam’s friend — presumably his girlfriend or wife — read a text aloud announcing Joan and Sean could join them for breakfast.
“Let’s just meet them after,” Sam said.
“They’re in a cab already,” said Sam’s girl.
“Let’s just meet them for coffee after,” Sam said. “We will be done eating by time they get here.”
The hostess came to the room and glanced at the clipboard. Sam stood.
“It’s four of us now,” said Sam’s girl.
The hostess glanced back down and then up at me, smiled and opened the thin door and invited me to a promised land of heat and of hot coffee with biscuits and gravy. So I obliged.
I saw that Steve Earle is right. The East Village has crept over the Williamsburg Bridge. Most women wear some kind of eyewear as a moniker, and the waiters all look like Dave Grohl. The winter garb on the diners on this day looked meticulously unplanned in a very meticulously planned sort of way. Everyone who walks this village’s streets looks as if they were plucked from an iPod commercial.
My table faced the tiny room and gave me a view of Sam and Sam’s girl that was clearest when they were not exhaling. Sam, to his credit, was stoic and not at all unpleasant in mood. He had every right to be. Sam had been just one text message away from redemptive warmth and a delicious wake up.
I sat with my coffee, waiting to place my order. And I watched as four, then four more, then two then yet four more people joined Sam and Sam’s girl in the little room to sign the clipboard. Everyone who entered violently shook the cold, having just escaped a wind that speared between their ribs and out the other side of their bodies.
And with each arriving party, the steam in the room grew denser and Sam’s face grew grimmer. Sam’s girl shifted her glances to the slick sidewalk outside and back to the floor, again and again and again.
I ordered, and later it arrived. I felt I owed it to Sam to eat quickly, and so I did.
Sam’s day grew increasingly ruined with each bite of candied bacon I took. He was shivering now as he watched those who came in after he had beckoned for an available table.
I finished and forewent a heat-up on the coffee. It was the least I could do for the guy who had thought he had left home in time to see the National Anthem and missed the entire first period.
That’s how most guys I know are. If we get out of the house we can’t miss the Anthem (even if it is attempted by Steven Tyler) or the previews at the movies. When we execute the plan to beat the rush at a popular but miniscule breakfast place when it’s 50 degrees-below-reason, we expect to beat the rush.
This is called the National Anthem principle. And it applies to eggs.
But I digress. I paid the check, and without even taking the time to ready my scarf, gloves and hat I left the restaurant, you know, out of respect for Sam. As I passed through the tiny room Sam’s girl jumped up with a selling, “Oh there they are, Sam!” as an overjoyed couple entered from the street.
Sam slowly stood and showed — as best he could — just how happy he was to see them. Then, I assumed, he was seated in the warmth and, after much perusal of the menu, placed his breakfast order only to be told that his favorite dish had already scored a hat trick and that he had missed it.