Diner – by Wentworth Miller
by wentworth miller
i was sitting in a diner on colorado boulevard the other day, enjoying a nice breakfast with a friend (late 40s, a working mother of three), when a homeless man materialized next to us.
i say “materialized” because i had no awareness of him entering the restaurant (even though i was seated facing the door) and no awareness of him approaching our table. yet there he was. tall, thin, white, dressed in a t-shirt and jeans and a filthy trucker’s cap. looking about 50 going on 80. and he wanted money.
“do you have any spare ch-” was all i heard before tuning him out and looking away, making eye-contact with my friend across the table. i felt sure we were both thinking the same thing. “oh boy. here we go.”
before i could launch into my “sorry, buddy” speech our waitress (late 40s, tiny) was standing at our table, telling this guy to take a hike. “you can’t be in here / you shouldn’t be bothering our customers / please leave” etc.
but he didn’t leave.
instead he got into it with our waitress, pointing out the cross on her neck and gearing up for a dressing down on themes of christianity, charity, and the whole shebang. and our waitress was having none of it. “you can’t be in here / you shouldn’t be bothering our customers / please leave” she repeated, this time minus the “please.”
all the while i’m sitting there silently, wondering when it would be over, waiting for whoever was in charge to come over and handle things. i’m not sure who i was envisioning. probably the manager. who would be male. and older. and in charge.
he’d know what to do.
things are heating up now, the homeless guy and our waitress bristling, really starting to go at it, about 30 seconds from taking it to the next level. my friend across the table is very quiet. she, like me, is waiting for it to be over. for order to be restored.
and then, as i sit there witnessing two women in discomfort and a man in distress, it occurs to me – nobody’s coming over. nobody’s going to handle things.
i’m the man. i’m the one in charge.
and suddenly i’m rising from the table. i say, “let’s go outside, buddy. i’ll give you something outside.” and my tone of voice isn’t “hey, asshole” or “listen here.” it’s matterof-fact. like, “this is what’s going to happen.”
and then the homeless guy and i are walking to the door together. and then we’re through the door and out on the street. and then i open my wallet and hand him a 20- dollar bill.
and then he’s holding me.
i don’t know or remember exactly how that came to be, but all at once his arms are around me and i’m getting a full-body hug from a homeless person.
and this hug is textbook MKP. no awkward thumps. no tentative pats. no “let’s keep our groins angled out of this, okay?” he’s just holding me. and, after a beat, i’m holding him.
and this goes on for 20 seconds. 30 seconds. he’s talking into my shoulder too. i hear the words “veteran,” “oklahoma,” and “my birthday.” everything else is muffled. but i also hear “thank you, brother.” he says this three, maybe four times.
and as i watch someone walk past us and do a double-take, as i continue to inhale the scent of a man who’s spent years (decades?) on the street, i think to myself, “yes. this is my brother.”
then it was over and i was waving good-bye. i went inside the restaurant and slid back into the booth, now smelling like the homeless guy. and i wanted to weep.
and while the waitress proceeded to call me “hero” and then scold me for putting myself in “danger,” i thought about masculinity and chivalry and the need to be seen and heard and how i’m a 40-year-old man (going on 41) who’s still waiting for the guy in charge to show up.
i thought about how i would have handled the situation before starting my work with MKP six months ago, which probably would have looked like me not handling it. or like me handling it by making it worse. like me handling it by robbing another man of his dignity and the chance to connect.
and i thought about how we are all brothers. all of us.
then i looked up and noticed a man i knew from MKP, a man i’d seen just the night before while sitting in an i-group, seated with his wife across the restaurant, enjoying a nice breakfast.
brothers everywhere. all around.
– is a deeply personal issue that everyone decides for himself. Sometimes the price is high, sometimes low. But this is not very important for life. Life is an interesting thing. And the price on Viagra – too.