WILSON: The romance of Tommy Jones meets technology

The sign in the window of Sarah’s Diner shifted from red to blue, indicating a business open-close paradigm shift. Like clockwork in the middle of an orange, Tommy Jones usually arrived first and took his seat at the head of the big round table. The others followed, arriving at irregular intervals, each having established his own pattern of chaos within the workings of the universe.

In the span of a half hour, Tommy would be joined by Harry Winkle (the grouchiest member of the group – and least likely to change), Arnold Tobin (the most political and least electable), Jimmy (the most likely to complain and proudest of it), Mort (the most internet savvy yet, least technologically capable), and Firewalker (the most rehabilitated from the behaviors of his youth because survival of his part of the species depended on it).

By the time Sarah, proud owner of Sarah’s Diner (tolerant, longsuffering, and least likely to put up with attitude), poured the first round of coffee and took everyone’s order, Big John Hudson would straggle in, slap his ball cap on the table with a flourish that would make a pastry chef proud, and spout something ridiculous usually involving internet dating sites featuring Russian women. Naturally, this prompted the other members of the congregation to reply with a plethora of equally factless and freshly caffeinated responses.

This morning was different. Tommy was the last arrival at the table, causing the entire cosmos to wobble, slightly. “Sorry I’m late gentlemen,” he said with a grin the size of Walmart’s parking lot, “I had a date.” His opening comment caused an even greater wobble, resulting in Sarah dropping the nearly empty coffee carafe – and the immediate need to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on Jimmy.

“Wha…?” came their unified — in six-part harmony — first response. Sarah, and the others, were stunned by Tommy’s revelation.

Jimmy was the first to wonder aloud what Tommy, an octogenarian widower, could have been doing on a date that made him late for breakfast. Harry tried to do the math in his head — but was unsure of which numbers to use. Mort grabbed his hand held, personal super computer, and Googled “How did he do that?”

Firewalker and Big John simultaneously gasped, “You Dawg!” — the proper response, according to rule #27 of The Guy Code (look it up).

“Continue,” Sarah chided, as Tommy helped her mop up the spilt coffee. “I don’t get involved in anything that gets said at this table – but, you haven’t said enough.”

“After Helen passed,” sighed Tommy, “my daughter has pushed me to get out — start a social life. I kept telling her I have a great social life right here at the diner. I have my schedule and I am happy with the way things are.”

All the other members of the Circular Congregation Breakfast Club nodded their heads in solid agreement. Sarah scowled at the mass of male ignorance encompassing the table.

Tommy explained that he had met a young lady at the grocery store — for Tommy, at age 82, most women are young. Following several micro-conversations, prompted by aisle-by-aisle encounters, he eventually mustered enough nerve to ask for her phone number.

“She beat me to the punch,” he said, in a tone waffling between bragging and embarrassment. “She asked me if I was on Facebook, told me her name, and suggested I message her.”

“And?” asked Sarah impatiently.

“I told her I sure was on Facebook,” he said quietly. “But, I didn’t know what any of that meant.” Tommy blushed and continued, “I had to ask my daughter.”

Five derisive snorts leaked out from around the table. Sarah scowled and threatened to cut off their coffee.

“My daughter bought me an I-Know-It-All phone and showed me how to do whatever that stuff is,” he explained. “I’ve been up all night texting with her. My finger is chafed.”

“That’s it?” scoffed Big John. “Your big date was on your phone? I know an internet site that…”

“Who did you spend the night with?” Sarah forcefully interrupted. “The lady on the Shopping Channel?” Sarah didn’t put up with any attitude — and she knew no one should take dating advice from Big John Hudson.

Larry Wilson is a mostly lifelong resident of Niles. His essays stem from experiences, compilations and recollections from friends and family. He can be reached at wflw@hotmail.com.

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