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’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.
“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.
My morning coffee meeting, and my lunch plan with a friend change and I end up at two thirty in the afternoon in Coffee Shop. Not that I mind. I spend a lot of time alone but when two people cancel with me within hours of each other I can’t help but think: Is it me? Or is it my biorhythms? And what are biorhythms? What ever they are maybe mine are off today. Since I know nothing about them, I take out my phone and do research. This is what one website says—when the cycle switches from plus to minus or minus to plus it’s a critical day because you are neither up nor down, but in a state of limbo. So here I am in limbo listening to a young man educate a couple in their seventies about life. They grin at him pretending they believe what he’s saying. Finally, he taps the table and says, “Okay let’s go.”
Except for the music, it’s quiet at the back until the two women behind me begin a conversation. “He liked me, was always nice then he stopped being nice,” one says.
“That’s what he does,” her friend answers.
My mind wanders back to my biorhythms and I try to find out how to fix them. Every once in a while I am interrupted by the women’s loud voices.
“I told her to elope, it’s her second wedding for heaven sakes, but no she wants a big wedding, now we have to plan a wedding.”
“That’s how they are,” says the other. Her voice rises and bounces off the glass windows when she says, “At least you see her. I rarely see my children. I know they’re busy but they could come once a week or even once a month.” Now she’s getting louder. “Is that too much to ask? Am I asking too much?”
Shut up, I say, too quiet for them to hear over the music and their yelling about who’s paying for coffee next time. They put on their coats and walk to the front. Just as I think it can’t get any worse a man and woman come to the back and sit down. It’s just the three of us now and it’s obvious the woman has set up the date to tell the man he’s a cheapskate. He has lots of money but too cheap to spend it. Apparently, the other night when they were out with a group of friends he kept phoning for cabs. He should have hired a car and driver for the day. He can afford it. I feel sorry him. He can’t get a word in edge wise. Then she starts about his apartment, his furniture, his clothes—a man with his income should have better clothes and furniture.
And I think: What is with today? Is this March coming in like a lion?
“But I have a ten thousand dollar stereo system,” he says.
“No one gives a shit about a stereo system,” she says.
“I do,” he says. “It’s important to me.”
And I think: I’d like to hear my tunes on that stereo.
The conversation continues with her telling him she’s done, finished, can’t do it anymore and he’ll never meet a nice woman. He shrugs. And I think: His biorhythms must be off and I’m not in limbo, I’m in hell. Time to go home, sit on the couch and listen to the sounds of silence.
The holidays are over and I’m back in Coffee Shop. I’ve missed it. The coffee. The newspaper. The morning quiet. Being with people but, at the same time not being with people. The woman at the counter is happy to see me but not enough to give me a free coffee. I take my regular seat and open the newspaper. At first I don’t recognize the man who stops at my table. Not until he removes his toque. it’s Hat Guy. “No one puts Baby in the corner,” he says. And I think: Am I Baby? And am I sitting in a corner? I give him an itsy bitsy teeny-weeny smile. He picks up on my confusion and says, “you know Baby, Dirty Dancing.” I get it. He doesn’t want to sit at the table behind the wall. And I think: You’re not sitting here. You talk took much before nine. He walks around the room looking for someone to chat with. He’s in luck. Muffin Man sits down with his muffin and coffee. Hat Guy heads over to his table. They begin a: resolutions conversation. All about getting out more, doing more, slowing down. And I think: Are they talking about resolutions or goals? Two words that can be easily mixed up. The difference being: A goal has an end point. One either meets it or doesn’t. A Resolution is a long-term promise and usually broken. And how does one do more and slow down at the same time? I don’t know. But I have a whole year to find out.
Sheila Horne at: https://www.facebook.com/sheilahorneauthor/
Frank and his wife, the non-speaking couple, are in the coffee shop. Not much else is going on. Everyone is quiet and whispering. Maybe they realize I write about them. I open my book and stop. “This Diamond Ring,” by Gary Lewis and The Playboys comes over the sound system. And I think: Grade nine, Lamar Junior High School.
I sat next to Rhonda in art class. She was engaged to a boy who played football for Baylor University. Whenever the Texas A&M Aggies played Baylor, we all cheered for the Aggies, like everyone else in Bryan. Except for Rhonda, who sang Baylor’s pep rally song: Baylor University is going to beat the Aggies…hey, hey let’s go Baylor, over and over. She stuck her arm out in front of her and sang: This Diamond Ring. Then removed her engagement ring and ask if anyone wanted to buy it. Apparently, it no longer shone for her. I was in awe of her. She was the only fifteen-year-old girl I knew who was engaged, and not to a high school boy. I wished I had a ring to sing to, but all I had was one the nuns gave me in the convent school. It had the Virgin Mary on it. Somehow I lost that ring in the lake at Wasaga Beach in the ‘70s. But that’s another story.
I’m not sure what happened to Rhonda, if she ever married her Baylor University football player or if he broke her heart. But today, as I watch Frank trudge past my table to re-fill his coffee mug, there’s no skip in his step, not like the other day. Instead, his boots scrape on the carpet. As if he doesn’t have the energy to lift his legs. Or joy has been ripped from soul. And I think: This Diamond Ring is the perfect song for him.
The couple eat and drink their coffee without speaking to each other. They’re regulars. Not talking is normal for them. But today something different happens. Something unusual. Something interesting. The woman finishes her bagel and leaves. A few minutes later another woman walks to the table and says, “Frank?” He nods, and she sits down opposite him. He perks up. It’s the first time I’ve heard him laugh, or talk, or see him enjoy himself. They gab on and on. When he walks to the front to re-fill their coffee mugs, he has a skip in his step—an actual skip. And I think: energetic dynamo, who knew?
Two women, who I call, worker bees, are having an intense conversation. They whisper…whisper…whisper. One wearing black high heel pumps says, “she spills coffee and tea on the carpet near my desk every day.” She leans in close to the other woman and shouts, “Pisses me off.” Whisper…whisper…whisper. Their raised eyebrows and facial expressions fill in the missing details. “Exactly,” says her friend. “Know who I don’t like?” she asks. Now, they are almost nose-to-nose. Whisper…whisper…whisper. High heel pumps, says, “She’s a bitch.” And I think: bitches get things done.
The good old boys are back. No tractor talks today. It’s all about Buicks, Fords and Cadillacs, until one of them gets a call. He puts the phone to his ear. “Speak,” he says. And I think: must be his dog phoning.
Chatty woman from two weeks ago says she looks for me every day. Now she knows I hide at the back. I ask about her dating life. “Oh, you’ll never guess,” she says. She recently went on a date with a man who had a tiny head. She can’t believe Match.Com matched her with someone who looks like a squirrel. “Do I look like a squirrel?” she asks. And I think…
I walk to the counter and say, “coffee in a mug and one of the kitchen sink cookie.” The woman behind the counter frowns at me. “You’re having the 800 calorie cookie?” she asks.
I nod. She turns to her co-worker and points at me, “She’s having the 800 calorie cookie.”
Her co-worker shouts to two people in the kitchen, “She’s having the 800 calorie cookie.” One of them comes out and asks, “You’re having the 800 calorie cookie?”
And I think, this is turning into something from a Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm episode. After weeks of looking at the cookie, craving it, talking about it to everyone who works in the coffee shop, I’m finally going to have it. I explain to them that I didn’t eat breakfast and now it’s lunch. Therefore I can eat the cookie and call it two meals.
“Get her the 800 calorie cookie,” the manager says. They present it to me on a plate with a napkin. I fill my mug with coffee and head to my favourite seat at the back of the room. Today, it’s packed. Two girls are drinking coffee and chatting. One says: and I like went…and he like went…and I like went. It continues right through their conversation. A boy tries the door at the back. It’s locked. I ignore him. The girls ignore him. Everyone ignores him. It’s a security thing. He walks away, and a few minutes later another boy tries the locked door. One of the girls gets up and opens the door. Whoosh…icy air floods the room. He thanks her and walks to the front to order or maybe he’s doing a walk through. And I think, hmmm….The woman across the room smiles at me then stares at the ceiling as if she has forgotten something. Something important. Something she’s supposed to remember. I open my book, sip my coffee and take a bite of the 800 calorie cookie. I am disappointed.
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