Sometimes, putting your foot in your mouth makes you look more human and approachable. At least, I hope that was what it did.
This time, riding bicycles was completely off the table, both because of time and because it was raining. My son and I were running late for our usual weekly trip to the doughnut shop. Unsure whether they closed at 11 or 12, I rushed us out the door at 10:54.
While he finished buckling up, I plugged the accessory cable into my iPod Touch.
“Daddy, can you play that ‘Set Fire to the Rain’ song?” He’s eight, but his mother plays music any time they’re in the car together.
“No, son, I don’t have that on my iPod.”
Instead, I left my player on shuffle, prepared to skip any inappropriate song it might decide to play. Space-like sound effects emanated from the car’s speakers.
“Hey, that’s cool,” Benjamin said. He’s very into sci-fi.
Then the crunching guitars kicked in.
“Whoa, I love this song,” he said.
That’s my boy. Keep those music tastes eclectic, and you’ll be happier throughout life.
It was “Light My Way,” by Audioslave.
“This is one of my favorite bands, and they started it from members of two of my other favorites.”
We pulled into a parking spot at 10:58, and someone inside the doughnut shop was sweeping the floor. The neon “Open” sign still glowed red and blue in the big plate glass window. I urged Benjamin to hurry out of the car.
The doorbell dinged as I pulled open the door. The young lady sweeping looked up. “Good morning,” she said in her thick Korean accent through her blinding white smile. I am always amazed that she and her sisters who also work there are so thin.
“Good morning,” I said. I turned to Benjamin and pointed at the refrigerated case. I wondered exactly why I still do that, as after nearly seven years of coming here he knows the drill.
He walked past the sodas, fake fruit drinks, and flavored waters, to grab his half pint of white 2% milk. While he made his way across the shop to our usual spot at the bar against the wall, I stepped up to the doughnut case. All of this has become an unspoken ritual in the routine trip.
The young lady who had been sweeping walked over behind the counter, quickly washed her hands, then grabbed two floral plastic plates. As she laid wax paper across them, she asked, “For here, right?”
“Yes, for here,” I said.
Having moved so much before we landed in Texas, and eating out only sporadically, I was not accustomed to having anyone make assumptions whether I was going to eat in or take out.
We don’t always get the same thing, but we don’t shake it up much. Benjamin jumped down from his barstool and scampered — cowboy boots clopping, to the fresh, sweet pastries under glass. He leaned down and pointed at a row of glazed sour cream cake donuts. “I’ll have that one, back there, with cinnamon on it,” he said. I ordered a plain glazed twist.
She carefully set our donuts on our plates and then added several doughnut holes from a rack of freshly-fried goods. They do that for the regulars occasionally.
Benjamin dutifully counted the holes. “Seven,” he said. He furrowed his brow, probably trying to figure out how to ask if he could have four.
“You may take four of the holes if you want,” I said.
He relaxed. “You sure I may?” We have been working on “can” vs. “may” when asking for something.
“Yes, that’s fine.”
After we finished, Benjamin stacked up our plates and our trash and put them in their usual spot.
“Hello,” said a voice from behind me.
I turned to see the younger sister of the girl who had sold us our doughnuts. She was behind the counter, smiling and waving to Benjamin. Her teeth, also blazing white, looked like they were missing something.
“Hey there. When did you get your braces off?” I said.
“Oh, about two years ago,” she said. Her accent was less pronounced than her sister’s.
“Wow. I can’t believe we’ve been coming here so long, and I didn’t even notice.”
“Yes, I was a senior in high school when I got them on, and now I’m a senior in college.”
“Really? That’s great. Where?”
She told me.
“Good for you. What’s your degree?”
“Ah, yes, I took zoology, but then I changed my major. I was pre-dental until then,” I said.
“I am pre-dental, too,” she said. Her smile widened.
“That’s great. My dad’s a dentist. Well, he’s retired now.”
She pointed to her sister. “She is starting dental school soon.”
“Oh, right. That’s where you went to college, isn’t it?” I said.
“Yes,” she said.
“Did you hear that, Benjamin? She’s going to be a dentist, just like Papa.”
“Cool,” he said.
I went on. “Except, she won’t have the big belly and the gray beard.” I mimed those last two parts, as if someone listening might not understand English, and regretted it instantly.
The older sister smiled and said, “Well, I might.”
We all laughed.
In those two minutes, I learned more than ever about the family who has served us doughnuts since the summer of 2005. Oddly, I still don’t know their names.