Yesterday, I was at The Coffee Place, or the coffee place, depending on my mood. I laid my burdens on the big black, enameled table and ordered a cafe’ au lait, with my usual swagger. The coffee came, I took my seat, and unpacked my little mobile office. I ride a gas powered scooter (Chinese made 150cc gy-7 with 16″ rims), so I’ve learned to travel with a courier’s bag and a computer case smaller than most purses. But, out of these, I can soon fill a large desk with pages of manuscript and electronics.
Sadly, I had covered the large table and, realizing I was being bad neighborly, I asked the woman at the next table if I might have the empty chair next to her, to pile on some of my stuff and clear room for others to share. She had her purse perched in the chair, in just the same way, but, after an awkward negotiation where I declined the chair and she pushed, I finally stacked my courier bag and helmet in the chair, and cleared the table, except for my netbook and my computer case (the little one).
Thus situated, I decided to check my Skype, before getting down to work. A friend had shared this story, about a four-year-old, Mini, and her precocious imagination, and the embarrassment it caused her mother. The story was funny, and touching, and a quirky commentary on the paranoid, judgmental culture, that is America today (or when Mini was four). When we got to the part where Mini was explaining proper water-ride etiquette to her exhausted mother, I burst out in laughter.
It was spontaneous, but the septuagenarian at the table next to me jumped nearly out of her seat. Apparently, she’d been watching me and paying an inordinate amount of attention to what I was doing. Rather a funny coincidence, given the story I was reading.
Since I’d disturbed her, asking for the chair and again with my laugh, I decided to give a short, very short, explanation of the conversation tween Mini and her mom. I was quite terse, but hit the high points regarding infectious water and water ride etiquette, (you really should read it). That done, I said, “Well, I best get back to my writing.”
Okay, technically, I was reading. But I was nearly finished with the entry, and about to move on to writing. I had a short story to finish–about a mysterious traveler forced by local bandits and an ignorant police inspector to investigate a murder he is illegally charged with. With the aid of an array of anachronistic inventions–you get the picture. But now I was stuck in one of those conversations.
Ah, yes. Those conversations. They are a pitfall of the coffee house. The large number of aging boomers and homeless who congregate as the coffee house have a tendency toward garrulousness that approaches the level of social disorder. They are a real impediment at times. It’s very hard to write bout faeries and steam powered interstellar craft, when the guy next to you won’t stop regaling you with the details of his motion for conservatorship over his father, or her forbidden love with a Mexican celebrity who she must watch from afar using Google Satellite images of his villa in Yucatan.
In this case, it was the movie she’d seen with her son. How disgusting! It was one of those juvenile romps where an adult who should know better, goes out and acts like a teen-ager on break in Cancun in the eighties. Of course there was the obligatory, unwanted insinuation we should go see a movie together. I listened politely, making concerned noises and even sharing a quick anecdote from my own life, to show my basal concern for her as a person, before excusing myself and getting back to writing. Remember that? It’s the reason I’m even at The Coffee Place.
That’s when things took a decidedly distasteful turn. In the course of the movie discussions, Siskel and Ebert came up. Of course, she felt the need to stress the tragedy of Roger Ebert’s disfiguring cancer. I pointed out that Gene Siskel had been a bit of a healthnick, and still died far earlier than Ebert. Rather than allowing me to return to my computer, she continued talking as if I had simply made a bad joke. Now, she began to try and get personal information about me. I tried to be polite, but I did, again, remind her I was there to work. She quizzed me about my computer, tried to drag me into a critique of the ethics of dumping beta tech on an unsuspecting buyer at Fry’s, and used colonoscopy recommendations as a means to try and get me to tell her my age.
Mind you, it never occurred to her to simply ask for the information she wanted, or to have an frank conversation. She was too busy playing at pushing to get anywhere with me, and her lack of subtlety only made it worse. Bearing in mind I’m a heterosexual, I’ve been hit on by both men and women. Not that I’m a George Clooney or Brad Pitt, but it happens. This is the first time, however, I’ve ever encountered:”Have you had a colonoscopy yet, they say every man should have one at fifty,” as a pick-up line. My advice don’t use it.