Tuesday, August 26, 2003
Fragments From Last Week


Today was my dad's second surgery of the summer. The first was on his neck, this one was to remove a troublesomely cancerous little gland. I got a call from my mom at around noon, she told me that the surgery had gone perfectly and he was in recovery. Between talking to her yesterday and talking to her today it had slipped my mind that it was even happening. I can be quite forgetful like that.

My sister, on the other hand, was panicked. She worries a lot. I don't worry much at all. It wasn't terribly major surgery, nothing like the tinkering around with the spinal column that he underwent earlier. But all the same... how could I be so cold as to completely forget it was happening?


As of last Monday I have a Manager's license. The only thing that this really officially changes is in giving the cafe manager more scheduling freedom-- I no longer have to work with somebody else who has the license. Practically, it means that I can close with the new hire. Since I've been working there longer, this meant finally learning to close out the register and clean and stock behind the counter. It's a nice change, as stocking and cleaning the front had become a bit monotonous. But now when I close with people who have worked there longer they want me doing behind the counter so they can enjoy the change of pace. It works for both of us, but for how much longer?

Temporary Imbecility

There's this one very pretty girl who comes into the cafe regularly. She is, in my opinion, one of the two or three most attractive women I've seen there. Sometimes she's there with a bald guy I suspect might be her boyfriend. But she's obviously noticed me noticing her, and lately when she comes in there is significant eye contact.

Eye contact is about as far as it goes, however, as my brain seems to shut down in her presence. I get befuddled and can barely ring up her order, barely make her drink without forgetting what it was I was in the middle of doing. She walks in and with each step she makes toward the counter I can feel my IQ dropping by five points.

My coworkers, ever helpful souls that they are, have noticed this and have taken to giving me a hard time for not making conversation. A some-months-absent regular was curious last weekend to know what the new ribbing was about, so I explained the situation. When she didn't know which customer I meant, I attempted to give her a physical description. Five minutes later the very customer I had just been describing, who I thought had taken her drink and gone elsewhere, but who had apparently been sitting at a table by the front window not visible from the counter, got up to leave.

So now I'm wondering if she heard the whole conversation... and whether that would be a good thing or not.

Free Plan

I was indie as all shit on Sunday. I brought a Sleater-Kinney album to play during my shift and wore my "The Dismemberment Plan Loves Me More" T-shirt. A few of the regulars noticed it, and asked me if I was a fan. Turns out they work at the 930 Club, where the Plan themselves will be playing their final show on Labor Day. They asked if I wanted on the guest list. Being indie as shit pays off!

Free Time and Free Coffee

Today I had a day off from work after closing five nights in a row. Tomorrow morning I have to go to a class for my new license, then work that afternoon through closing. I don't get another day off until Friday, at which point I should go visit my dad if he's back home from the hospital (and then maybe sneak off to a pirate movie in the evening).

But today was my day off. And I spent it getting dragged to the cafe by my friends. At least I got my coffee for free. And I also got to gloat preemptively when M. insisted that Salma Hayek got her big break starring in "Selena," despite my continued assertion that it was in fact Jennifer Lopez. "I'll check on it when I get to work." Then they went off and I headed off to Adams-Morgan to return a tape and buy some CDs.

On my way back home from this the sky began out of nowhere to darken. Then rain began spitting down. Then came steadily. I ducked into the nearest doorway just before it became a torrential thunderstorm that flooded the gutters and washed over the sidewalk. The nearest door? A new cafe that had just opened the day before. So I sat down and paid for an espresso for the first time in months. A woman at the next table commented on the weather and I explained this irony to her, only to learn that she was a manager there. Excited to meet a fellow coffee professional, she introduced me to another manager, who in his turn offered me a free cup of their drip coffee to see what I thought: "We're still trying to get the grind right-- this morning the decaf was just way too strong."
Saturday, August 16, 2003
My Morning

There are two park benches facing each other. A gentleman walks past, carrying a large trunk that looks as if designed to carry around large electronic equipment and sits down on the bench to the left. As his face comes into frame it becomes clear that this man is James Earl Jones. He opens the trunk and pulls out a component that looks like a radar terminal, reaches in and pulls out two pizzas, one stacked on top of the other. He puts the radar console back into the trunk and closes it up nimbly with one hand, balancing the pizzas on the other. He takes the pizza on top and hands it to the person (whose face I never see, but who gives off a dad/boss/mentor vibe) sitting on the other bench.

"You two will share this one," he says in a West African accent (the role he is playing is apparently some spy or diplomat or functionary). I am sitting on the bench next to the unseen person.

Suddenly everything shifts to my point of view. I look down at the pizza to see what kind it is. It looks like cheese, but there are bits mixed in with the sauce, peeking out, that look a bit like ground beef. I always hate refusing offers of food because they're not vegetarian, but somehow I know I've been in this situation before...

"Cheese?" I ask James Earl Jones, pointing at the pizza.

"Bean," he answers, matter-of-factly in his generic accent.

Intrigued, I pick up a slice. Despite having been in a strange trunk for who knows how long it is still very hot. I fold it over and prepare to take a careful bite...

I roll over and look at my alarm clock. It's ten minutes before ten! My God I'm going to be late!

I literally jump out of bed, throw on some clothes, go to the bathroom, put on my shoes, go out the door and downstairs, and walk briskly down the street, realizing that I'll be late no matter how fast I walk. I hope I don't get into too much trouble for this!

What was I thinking last night not setting an alarm? I wonder to myself. I'm three blocks down, with something like ten more to go. I go over the events of the previous night... Friday night. Friday? Then this is Saturday, not Sunday. I start at ten on SUNDAY! I turn around and walk home.

"Whatever you do, don't tell your psychiatrist that James Earl Jones tried to feed you bean pizza." --Dianne
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
Connection Blues

This weekend I went up to Pittsburgh for the wedding of two of my favorite people, Snarkout and Redfox. I just wish to re-emphasize (pre-emphasize?) the wonderfulness of the ceremony, in which I got to read a passage from Italo Calvino's "If on a winter's night a traveler," and of the weekend in general, in which I got to see some great friends from college I hadn't seen in far too long and in which we all got to go dancing to really bad club music. That out of the way, the following is copied (with minor revisions) from my notebook:

8/10 10 PM

The wedding was lovely.

And yet here I sit, a man utterly defeated, too discouraged even to muster the energy necessary to walk all of a dozen yards to ask the cheapest hotel in the area of the Newark airport. For that is where I am, stymied by a nearly 3-hour delay at the Pittsburgh airport. I missed my connection (by how many hours I do not know) and the earliest flight to DC is 7:30 AM tomorrow morning.

The airport seems to be shutting down. I fear if I attempt to sleep here (the immortal cliche of airport travel, though usually combined with holiday blizzards) I will be roused and possibly arrested for vagrancy. Possibly some coffee and staying awake all night would work, though such would be possibly ill-advised and, if in fact the airport will shut down, ultimately futile.

Oh look! Just running past, likely on her way home, was the nice woman who so sweetly told me I had missed my flight and advised I proceed to customer service. Customer service, in its turn, was swamped by half my flight, its depleted late-night Sunday contingent of two representatives tragically inadequate.

My reading materials were similarly overwhelmed by the unexpected circumstances. Vonnegut's "Mother Night" [which explains so much of the tone seen here] gets added to the pile marked "read," along with Allen's "Without Feathers."

Three fellows apparently from Terminal A have wandered over to flirt with the ladies of the Ground Transportation Information desk. I grow hungry and begin spinning fantasies of all-night diners with free refills and colorful patrons.

It is now 10:15. 6 hours and 45 minutes stand between me and check-in. I should admit defeat and add another night's hotel stay to the weekend's already hefty tally.

In any case, my despair has somewhat lifted. It seems that any problem that can be set down in writing cannot possibly be so insurmountable as it first seemed, able to be captured handily in something so flimsy as language.

Are all of these people in the seats around me similarly stranded, or are they awaiting their rides? Friends or family to come by and rescue them?

And here I have my answer. The woman at the desk calls out two numbers and two of my fellow sitters jump up. A man arrives all of forty seconds later and begins calling out names, at which more folks arise and gather their things to go. I am alone in my predicament and must take control of my own fate.

11 PM

Any ridiculous situation is made more ridiculous by a liberal addition of the German language. I am currently in the P4 area of the Newark Liberty Airport, where the hotel shuttles pick up poor stranded souls. I just got to watch a dozen German tourists try to pack themselves into a smallish Ramada van. A man was shouting to a woman, presumably his wife, presumably that she needed to get in the (already packed to its proverbial gills) van, while she gestured at her suitcase -- cold and alone on the wet street behind the packed van, the luggage child loser of a luggage game of musical chairs -- and answered back, "Mein zutkase! Mein bak!" until finally the the driver came back and picked it up and told her she could carry it on her lap (if, indeed, there was any room for her).

Then I noticed a companion from my flight, who also had happened to have been directly in front of me in the endless customer service line. She had missed her connection to Manchester, England, she explained, for the second time that week. She had gotten a voucher to stay at the Holiday Inn. I was headed for the Econo Lodge, I responded, and she said that I had just missed the shuttle.

Then some other people mentioned that they were waiting for the Howard Johnson shuttle. Howard Johnson has the cheapest rates of all the Newark Airport area hotels, I now know, but when I had called them they told me they were full for the night.

So I asked the people if they had reservations.

"No, we have these vouchers from the airline."

"They're putting everyone up but me!" I exclaimed in mock exasperation.

"We missed our connection."

"Oh, I did too."

"Well then they have to put you up! They have to! Go back and tell them to give you a voucher!"

But I realized that it was too late-- the area where the customer service desk was had already closed for the night.

While I was feeling like an idiot for not demanding my rights, their shuttle arrived. They had already left before I remembered the original reason for my question. I have to wonder if they arrived at the HoJo to find no room at the inn, their vouchers useless. I feel bad for wishing this, though it affords a small amount of shadenfreud and makes me feel slightly less the ijjit.

And here's my van.
Thursday, August 07, 2003
Night of the Living Pricks

Last Sunday was a delightful time.

It was pretty OK, actually, until we closed the cafe and these three people just stayed at the tables we have out front. One of them asked to use the bathroom just as we were closing, so I let her (after which my manager told me, "Don't let anyone else in.") After a little while of cleaning the place, we just turned off the outside lights.

About 15 minutes after we closed, another one of them started knocking on the door. I left the chain on, but opened it to see what he wanted. He was asking if he could use our bathroom. I explained we'd been closed for 15 minutes, I'd just CLEANED the bathroom, and no he really couldn't. "It's all soggy anyway."

"Really, I don't mind," he said, playing up his "really gotta go" shtick. I apologized, closed the door, and went back to mopping.

15 minutes later, everything inside was clean and I needed to get the tables inside so we could go home. But they were inexplicably still there. I went out and told them that they'd have to get going, as we'd been closed for a half hour.

Bathroom boy: "My understanding was that it was customary for restaurants to stay open until everybody's finished. We're still eating." (If there is such a general policy, which my manager later denied, it certainly is not followed where I work)

I surveyed their cardboard cups, purchased at least forty-five minutes previously and if not finished, then certainly stone cold. One of them (there were two guys and one girl, this was the girl) had a mug, so I asked her if she was done, suggesting that I could get her a to-go cup if she wasn't.

"Are you going to physically remove us?" asked bathroom boy as I stacked the other chairs. I reached to pick up a chair at the table next to them, realized that it had a bag sitting on it, and picked it up to get it out of the way.

"HEY! You don't TOUCH his STUFF!" said the same guy, who then stood up and started walking toward me. "Are you going to physically remove us!?" So I took the stack of chairs I already had and carried it inside without another word.

Now here's the part that kills me.

As I was retreating back inside in the face of what was essentially an implied threat on my person by some asshole with a chip on his shoulder, the guy whose bag I'd moved started saying, "You know next time instead of being all hostile you could try asking nicely..."

These were the people who knew we had been closed for a half hour, who were quite plainly finished and just standing between me and my skewed Monday/Tuesday weekend for the pure hell of it, who supposedly should have left fifteen minutes previously to avoid kidney damage, who refused to leave when I asked and then started waving their dicks around, essentially trying to pick a fight, telling me that I need to be nicer?

How about I find out where they work and come over some Friday afternoon when all they want to do is get home and start their weekend and make their lives more difficult just because I can and I happen to feel like it? I wonder how nice they'd be?

But no, I apparently wounded their precious and overblown senses of entitlement by turning the light out on them instead of going out on bended knee, clasping their hands in mine, and explaining with a tear misting in my eye that, despite how much we enjoyed their patronage and loved them as human beings, it was our greatest regret that we had to close and could no longer serve as the location for their all-night-long gabfest. Please accept our profoundest apologies for such an inconvenience as having to throw out their empty cups and walk somewhere else.

I shoulda called the cops, let them explain to the nice officer their odd theory about their god-given right to sit there indefinitely, even after they'd been asked to leave. It would have been so fun to see their narcissism shatter on the rocks of reality. But instead I got my manager and he nice-talked them away... which means those self righteous prick-twigs might be back later.

Shoulda called the cops.

The punchline? My manager served these folks, and he specifically remembers that they didn't even leave a tip. Always the ones that don't tip...

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