Almost Christmas at the coffee shop

Middle-aged men, two to four in the group, one talking loudly at a time:

“You need to read more books!”

“How are we going to solve the health care problem if . . .”

“What gets me is these Republicans who say—”

“This isn’t partisan—the Democrats . . . Obama . . . ”

“We go to Wal-Mart and we buy this crap, and we don’t care where the shit comes from, as long as it’s cheap.”

“No, I’m for a stronger military because I want to protect me.”

“You know your problem?”

“I’m reading Thomas Friedman—do you know who he is?”

“We’re destroyed the middle class in this country.”

“This country is becoming . . .”

“I’m just saying that . . .”

“For once, I’d like to see—”

“If you could admit . . .”

“No!”

“I gotta go.”

“Next time I see you, I hope you’ve read something intelligent.”

About ten o’clock the men leave, leaning forward into the December gloom, gripping their refillable coffee mugs like clubs, taking with them their staccato bursts. The shop’s human sound burbles and murmurs. The corner table is taken by women, five or six of them. Sometimes they talk together and sometimes they split into sidebars, two with two or three:

“I think that was the start of my insomnia . . . My husband, I could set him on fire and he wouldn’t wake up. But the dogs, I thought . . .”

“But I said, ‘We don’t even know where we’re going.’ He wanted to use MapQuest. ‘Don’t we have to know who we’re going to visit first?’ ”

“They have a heavier down—they’re made for travel.”

“They were taxing on unrealized gains. When they sell it you pay, but . . .”

“And my maternal grandmother . . .”

“If I’d known that I would have—”

“Embellished?”

Laughter.

“She has such a Lab personality.”

“Oh, she is part Lab?”

“So she opens the door and pulls him in! I’d only been dating about a month. I went inside and they were all sitting at the table.”

“She’s so controlling. I’ve told her, ‘Either it changes or I’m done.’ I was telling someone my mother in law stories . . . She’s emasculated him horribly . . . And until that point, I always felt sorry for her . . . He drove for eight hours, and I said, ‘That’s it.’ The whole trip I drove for two and a half hours. She had the GPS in back, and it kept saying ‘You have arrived.’ She said . . . I just gave her a dirty look.”

“Last year he wouldn’t come because I wouldn’t let him bring the dog.”

“What kind of dog is it?”

“Last year the dog peed on our floor because it was so excited. I took the dog for a half-mile walk because the thing was crazy.”

“What kind of dog is it?”

“Spaniels? I don’t know any spaniels that . . .”

“There’s a nice side to her, I like her but . . .”

“The half brothers were raised by a different mother, and they’re normal.”

“He’s going to be a real man of God one day, but he’s only nineteen.”

Worker interrupting: “Ladies, you are having too much fun!”

Laughter.

“They’ll be working twice as hard for the same money.”

“This is depressing.”

“This is reality.”

“I’m leaving!”

“Have a nice trip!”

“I’ll probably talk to you later today.”

“I’m going to come back in a really nice mood, not mad at anyone.”

“Merry Christmas!”

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6 Comments

Filed under creative nonfiction, dialogue, essay-narrative, evolutionary psychology, MY LIFE, politics, scene

6 responses to “Almost Christmas at the coffee shop

  1. Well written–I can clearly envision that scene.

  2. John

    Viva la difference!

  3. I love this post! I’m a regular listener at an Austin cafe…a quiet person can hear the most amazing things. Reading your interceptionswas fun.

  4. Ever since cell phones have become ubiquitous, I have been thinking more and more about eavesdropping. We need a new word for personal info that comes into our space in public places due to the breakdown of boundaries between private and public. It is not eavesdropping. It is more like eavespooping. I may writing about this in my own blog, but I was prompted to think of it again by your lovely cafe collage. You can learn a lot about a culture by listening in to the fragments of conversation that drift in and out of cafes. They are both universal conversations and highly colored by region and class. Great topic for a short essay. Or even a longer work/film. A variation of My Dinner with Andre?? http://www.nytimes.com/1999/05/16/movies/my-lunch-with-andre-and-wally.html?pagewanted=1

    • Thanks, Shirley, and for the link. Cell phones have indeed turned all of us into eavespoopers! And at the coffee shop, the guys are noisy enough that it’s hard to block them out even if you try.