Because of social distancing, I’m not in Coffee Shop. I’m in my writing room, looking out my window to the empty street, thinking about matchmakers. I once thought of myself as a matchmaker. The first time in the early seventies in the Windjammer in Wasaga Beach, I tried fixing up my friend with the guy sitting at the table next to ours. I saw them as a couple – both short, cute, the same colour brown hair cut in the same shag style with bangs. In fact, they could have been identical twins. She took one look at him and shook her head. I was disappointed. The second time I told a guy who asked me on a date about a friend of mine. She went out with him for a while, then realized what I knew about him; he liked to party too much. I assumed she did too. I was wrong. The night I met the person who would become my hubby, I suggested to the man who asked me to dance that the friend I was with might be a better dance partner for him. They ended up dating for two months until she realized she was lesbian. Or she lied to him. I’m not sure since she disappeared out of my life. Probably made a vow never to speak to me again. Then I tried to fix up someone with one of my hubby’s friends. After that disaster, I gave up. But contemplating Matchmakers makes me wonder if there is still such a thing. The Hallmark channel feels there is since I watched two movies last night about Matchmakers. As my research tells me, they are an alternative to online dating. Years ago I worked with a woman in her forties who talked about a mediator, a go-between negotiating with a man she was dating. I thought it strange. But it makes sense now. Perhaps she used a Matchmaker. They meet clients, interview potential matches, and give dating advice. They also perform background checks, administer personality tests, and build psychological profiles of their clients. The cost? $5,000.00 to $10,000.00. Makes me wish I hadn’t given up matchmaking. I might have gotten better at it. But, in a way Matchmakers are a lot like writers: always on the job, always have eyes and ears peeled to their surroundings. And they know how to ask questions. The difference is, Matchmakers are not afraid to approach people to ask if they are single. Something I am not comfortable with. But here’s my question about Matchmakers. What happens if they fall in love with the person they matched their client with? What happens if the client falls in love with the matchmaker? It happened in both movies. Since they were Hallmark movies, it wasn’t a problem. Turns out the clients bumped into the men of their dreams and fell in love – just like that. Everyone hugged and kissed. Even the dogs they adopted cheered. Hubby says I shouldn’t trust anything on a television channel with a W on it. Is he right? Is a television channel with a W on it all about romance and no logic?
After many years I am packing up my writing room. It’s where I put on music and sit with a coffee. Look out the window and watch the leaves change from green to orange, snowflakes float, buds open and snow melt. It’s where I watch the grass grow, the lilac tree bloom, and spring arrive. Where my animals spend most of their day. They sleep while I write. It’s where my mind roams. Where I turn words into paragraphs and creativity rules. Where I wrote three novels and rewrote…and rewrote…
Books from the bookshelves are packed in boxes and labelled. Framed photos wrapped in bubble wrap sit on top of boxes. File cabinet cleaned of notes, short stories and forgotten manuscripts now typed and saved on an external drive. The bulletin board is clear of reminders and magnets with cute sayings. The shelf above my desk sits empty except for two Buddhas and a plant. I am moving on. To a new town. A new house. A new writing room where I’ll put on music, sit with a coffee, watch the seasons change and write…
Here I am on New Year’s Eve in Coffee Shop watching snowflakes fall. And I can’t help but think: Why is Abba asking Fernando if he hears the drums? And what was in the air that night? Why is it when hubby and I go to Home Depot we never get a cart? And I have to put everything down and get one, which is always outside. Why, do men turn into The Hulk the minute they enter hardware stores? And when they do handy man stuff at home? When I go to the grocery store for one item why do I end up juggling ten in my hands? Why is it when someone complains about winter, there is always one person who tells them it’s Canada, as if the complainee doesn’t know they are in Canada. But when someone complains about the heat in summer no one says, “it’s Canada.” Why is that? Why is it that duct cleaners phone from India? They live in a hot country, do they know what a duct is? Or do they think it’s our ducks that need cleaning? Why, when I type the contraction, it’s my computer underlines it and thinks it should be the possessive, its? And what time was Paul Simon singing about in, Late in the Evening? Why is it people take things literally? Like what I’m writing at the moment. Like the man two tables over talking about the fires in Australia and predictions in the bible about the earth ending by fire this time around. Why will someone feel the need to answer the question? Why are the Kardashians popular? And what happens to all the contestants who didn’t win The Voice? Why is it no one has written a reply to the song, How Long by Ace? My enquiring mind wants to know how long it’s been going on: two months? A year? Five years? Thinking of love, why do people post their love life on social media? If I invest a minute of my time reading all about the love of their life, cheering them on, liking their posts, I need an explanation when it’s over. So, like the Bee Gees are singing right now, maybe you can tell me how a love so right can turn out to be so wrong. I need to know. I need closure. I really do. Why is it my hair never does what I want and always, always, always does what it wants, as if it has a mind of its own? Why do I think it does? Why is it Monday has a bad rap when every other day is fine? And why if Monday is good to John Phillips does it make him cry? Why am I sitting here thinking of this, this & this? Because Annie Lennox is asking, Why? And on a snowy day Coffee Shop is the best place to let the mind roam.
Coffee Shop no longer carries English newspapers. I think of making a fuss like I did with the music but I realize it’s been changing over the last year, catering to a larger demographic. I am now a tiny speck in Coffee Shop. Me, and the woman coming to the back with her coffee and muffin. She sits down at the table next to mine. I continue to go between watching snowflakes hit the ground and reading my book. Within minutes the woman begins a conversation about the teachers protesting outside the high school. I teach creative writing. I taught fitness for fifteen years. Except for teaching a group of uncoordinated high school baseball players aerobics back in the ‘90s, I have never taught a class room of kids. I do not know what goes on in classrooms and I don’t want to discuss it with her. But, somehow she feels that I need to know about teaching, teachers and the system. This leads to her talking about herself and giving me a few lessons about life. But this isn’t about the woman. This is about me. Without knowing anything about me, what is it that makes people feel that I am interested in their opinions? Makes them assume that I don’t know anything and need a lesson? Do I look stupid? I asked Hubby once. He said I attract the weird ones. I have since the 1970s. He’s witnessed it. They see me across the room and head my way. I look approachable, someone they can try out their shit on. Since I am polite and easy-going I listen, hmm, aww and smile. I don’t challenge their nonsense. So, they continue. Like the woman is doing now, yakking about the highs and lows in her life, all the things she has done, throwing in a few items she feels I need to be educated about. It’s all very interesting, to her. And I think: She’s been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a queen. Before she gets up she says, “But that’s life.” And I think: We meet people. We listen. We are polite. One day we’re reading a newspaper in English the next we have to read it on our phone. Everything is temporary. Change is inevitable. We move. We find a new coffee shop. We go up and down and over and out. It’s all in the flow and that’s life.
I’ve ridden in a donkey cart, legs dangling over the side. Tumbled from a wheelbarrow in a race, rolled on the ground laughing. Caught tadpoles, placed a caterpillar on a branch in a jar, watched it turn into a butterfly, then let it go. Trapped lizards, been surrounded by hummingbirds and butterflies, let grasshoppers crawl over my hands and stared them in the eye. Tormented frogs and listened to crickets sing all day and all night for rain.
I’ve walked on paved and gravel roads without shoes. Stung by marabunta and army ants. Bitten by bête rouge and mosquitoes. Tramped through floodwaters and experienced drowning: The spinning. The tunnel. Endured cuts, bruises, and grazes on elbows and knees. Stepped on nails, followed by the dreaded tetanus shot. Slept under a net. Hidden from cockroaches flying into the house and screamed in terror until someone killed them.
I’ve taunted bulls and cows. Felt the sear of the sun, tasted the warm salty spray of the sea. Built sand castles and ran on the ocean floor when the tide was out to play with crabs, shells and what we called ‘four eye fish,’ then dashed to the shore as the tide flowed back towards the beach. I’ve flown in a sea plane, landed on the river and taken a canoe to the dock.
I’ve seen real poverty. The kind that makes you grateful for what you have. The kind you don’t forget—dirt floors, meals cooked outside of shacks on coal grills in dented pots black from smoke. From a distance I’ve watched children have fun bathing in the rain—the only shower they knew and I wanted to be one of them. Gazed at mothers sitting on rickety steps outside dilapidated houses plaiting their daughters’ hair with crisp colorful ribbons. And wished I had braids and shiny ribbons like theirs.
I’ve breathed in the smoke of burning buildings and cane fields, and seen sky-high flames during riots. Witnessed the hysteria of people scrambling to escape an uncontrolled situation. And the eerie silent disbelief of little coffins of friends lined up by the altar in church.
I’ve skipped rope on the seawall, inhaled cool evening ocean breezes and stared mesmerized at the trees and store windows in town lit-up at Christmas. Ate apples bought from stalls on the sidewalks: a yearly treat. Ice apples we called them because they were from somewhere in North America and it was icy up there.
I’ve been excited and scared at the same time of the Mother Sally parade coming down the street to booming drumbeats and barking dogs. Laid in tall grass and found shapes in clouds. Stared in awe at a star-studded sky. Experienced tropical gale winds and tremors of earthquakes. Heard the roar of torrential rain on the galvanized roof and thunder like thousands iron balls crashing while lightning blazed across the heavens.
I’ve danced at sunrise in pajamas, dew wetting bare toes and collected eggs from chickens. Ate hibiscus flowers, plucked fruit from low-hanging branches and ate them—unwashed. Clambered over fences and gates to picnic on a desolate cricket field. Climbed a mango tree only to get stuck. Drank water from coconuts falling from way up high. Eaten sugar cane from the field and molasses, and dark, raw sticky brown sugar. Drank milk straight from a cow, ate freshly churned cream and butter on hot out of the oven bread with homemade jam. And ice cream stirred up on the back step. And custard ice-blocks.
I’ve scraped the leftover bits from the bottom of the fudge pot. Bare feet on hot asphalt, cup in hand, chased a vendor with a dirty pushcart selling shaved ice covered in syrup. Eaten Indian sweets, bought from the side of the road on a Saturday afternoon.
I’ve run wild and roamed free until the six o’clock cicada bees buzzed: time to go home.
I’m about to pay when a woman pokes in front of me, hands the server change and orders a coffee. The server who I called Shirley for years but whose name, I found out today is Marion, says, “You have to go to the back of the line.” The woman is in a hurry. She has to catch the bus. Marion tells her she doesn’t care. The woman leaves. “I know I’m being a bitch today but too bad,” Marion says.
“It’s okay, sometimes dealing with people can be difficult,” I say.
The perky woman behind me pipes in, “I worked in customer service for years and I loved it.”
“It’s been awful since early this morning,” Marion says. “A guy tried to pay with his phone but it wouldn’t work and he kept jiggling it and jiggling it and it still wouldn’t work. And he wanted me to call the manager. I told him it’s his phone. The manager can’t fix it. All the time the line kept getting longer and longer and he was getting more and more annoying.”
“Well, I’m a people person,” perky woman says. “I love people.”
I want to ask her if telling everyone in line about her people loving skills makes her superior and does she realize she’s made Marion feel worse. But I don’t. Instead, I pick up my coffee and take to the back.
“Hi Sammy,” I say to the man sitting in my seat, then regret it. A few years ago he bought the café where I spent every morning writing Sunshine Girls. He’d turned it into an old boys’ business club. They would spread their newspapers and work on two tables. Wouldn’t move it when I asked. Sammy told me they had the right. Turned out they were his friends. That’s how I ended up in Coffee Shop. Now here he is, years later in my seat arrogant as I remember. And I hate that I said hello.
“Sold the café,” he says when I sit down at the table two over from his. “It’s now a juice bar.”
I don’t care. I’m interested in what’s happening across the room. The man I call, Mafia Boss, is chatting up two elderly ladies. And I think: How come we can no longer be vocal about having a bad day? What’s with only positivity allowed and no negativity? Don’t they slide together? And how mafia can you be in a bright yellow jersey making two grey-haired ladies giggle like schoolgirls? Who knows? All I know Marion is having a bad day. And I’m in Coffee Shop drinking from a red cup.
The Physical Therapist, a nice young man in his thirties likes to tell me stories about his three-year-old son while he works on my injured knee. Today, I ask about knee replacements. “No need for that conversation,” he says. “But, you are in the golden age.” And I think: Golden Age? What the F&^K. Two weeks ago a cashier asked if I was a Lady of a Certain Age. Now I’m a Golden Girl. How did that happen? I loved the television show, The Golden Girls—still do. When it first came out in the ‘80s, I was a young mother. At the time I wondered why in their sixties they were still looking for romance. I mean they were old, almost elderly. Now I’m being told I’m one of them.
“If you needed a knee replacement which you don’t, you would get one,” the Physical Therapist continues. “If you were thirty years older, they wouldn’t give you one or if you were thirty years younger, you wouldn’t get one because they don’t last and you’d have to get another. But you are prime.” I leave the office, feeling a little antiquated. But at home, as I run up the stairs for the first time in three weeks, I think: I’m not rusty. Not rusty at all. I am golden—shining in my heyday.
It’s the usual in Coffee Shop. Muffin Man eating the top off his muffin while Hat Guy tries to engage him in a conversation. The Good Old Boys yakking about farms and fixing machinery. Job Searcher scrolling through his phone. Frank and Wife reading their newspaper, and Laptop Goddess, frowns at her computer screen. Boring stuff but nothing happens on a Monday morning. Today is no different. Until the words: “Don’t worry, you’ll never have to bring me flowers or chocolates. I’m not that kind of woman,” breaks the silence.
I look up from my book at the man and woman sitting by the window. I don’t hear his response but she roars with laughter. They’re not young, not old either—forties, maybe. He’s a burly guy, curly brown hair to his shoulders with Harley-Davidson written on his gray shirt. She’s in jeans, slashed at the knees, skimpy top, and she has a black-booted foot on the seat of the chair beside her. If she has to tell him he doesn’t have to bring her flowers or chocolates makes me believe they’re on a first date or it’s the morning after coffee. There’s no lack of conversation between them. Lots of merriment and they’re both perky—a good sign for a first date or the morning after.
She tells him about her job. It’s stressful—oodles of lifting. “When I first started working there, I wore a size sixteen pants.” She stands up and pulls up her top and twirls around showing off her body. “Now I wear a size two.”
All at once Coffee Shop comes alive. Hat Guy jumps out of his seat mesmerized. For the first-time Job Searcher is interested in what’s happening. Frank and Wife lower their newspapers. Farm Machinery forgotten, the Good Old Boys turn around and stare at her. And I think: If this is Monday what will Friday bring?
“I love your shirt,” the young man behind the counter says when I walk through the door.
I look down to see what I’m wearing. It’s my Beatle shirt. “It’s Webber Wear. A friend of mine, Kenny Webber painted it,” I say.
“You’re lucky,” the young man says. “Does he do canvases?”
He waves his hand in the air. “I would love a wall done just like that with the same colours.”
And I think: Wow, he’s talking to me as if I’m a young hip-chick. “That would be sooo cool,” I say, trying to sound groovy.
As I turn to leave he raises a fist in the air and says, “Wear that shirt proud.”
I head down the sidewalk, with a bounce in my step, coffee cup in hand, feeling young and, as we would say, nifty. In the store two doors down I pick up two cushions and take them to the counter. The sales woman whispers, “are you a lady of a certain…”
And I think: Is she asking me if I’m a lady of ill repute? Who asks that kind of question? And do they still have ladies of ill repute? “Sorry, I don’t think I heard your question correctly,” I say.
“Are you a lady of a certain age?” She almost mouths the words making it difficult to hear. “We have to be careful how we ask the ladies if they’re a senior. For the senior discount, you know.”
And I think: A few minutes ago I was young and cool having a conversation with a millennium about art. Now I’m a lady of a certain age? How did that happen? “What’s the discount?” I ask.
She raises her eyebrows and smiles. “Seniors get a twenty-percent discount.”
And I think: Do I tell the truth and take the discount? I mean twenty-percent is a lot. Or do I stick with the young hip-chick thing? The discount won.
“Write this down. Put it in your book,” the woman next to me says, “call me Mary or Vivienne or Roxanne. Call me what you want.” Her life story flows. Eighty years old, looks seventy, born Irish, adopted as a baby, and she loves sexy books, wants to write one. “A secret boyfriend, I have.” She flashes a smile. “He’s married but I like him…a big secret.” I take down her words; listen to a burst of notes flow from the upright bass and guitar. Across the room an artist brings an empty canvas to life. Sunrays, I think, the ocean, sea life, the colours of Barbados.