A RUNNING COMMENTARY
Good morning, my name is Dean, what can I get you? A sixteen-ounce cup of cinnamon spice/apple nut coffee is our special today, $4.75. For a quarter more you can get a twenty-ounce cup and a free doughnut hole. Whoopdy-doo.
Thus the spiel bombarding every customer who wanders unsuspectingly into The Place, a small café in an alley between Gap and Christmas Tree Hill in an outlet mall in the middle of nowhere. The pay is bad and the coffee is worse. I should know – I am the café’s sole employee.
Buy five twenty-ounce cups of The Place’s daily special over a period of two weeks and win a free ice cream.
Yes, The Place also serves ice cream. It is almost as bad as the coffee. And because variety is the spice of life, we have two different flavors to choose from – Butterfingers Crunch and Pistachio Cheesecake Swirl. What the management lacked in originality when naming the establishment they made up in unique ice cream flavors. Needless to say, I do not sell many cones.
One family comes in every Sunday morning in their church clothes to buy cones for the kids (six of them), but I have long ago decided that they engage in this dutiful ritual mainly because they feel sorry for me. I imagine I look very pitiful standing hollow-eyed at the tiny glass-topped freezer, the dripping scooper dangling from my hand.
We offer Wi-Fi capability. Sit at our café tables – one of the three – and settle down for an internet browsing session with your twenty-ounce cup of The Place’s daily special.
Wi-Fi is the one perk to this job. I have a computer behind the counter and can use it whenever I want, provided the café is empty. Which means I am on virtually all day. But emailing college friends and discovering that they are in California or Vegas for the summer while I chuck sweaty coffee grounds can get old pretty fast. So I lie and say I’m at a beach party with a blond, and then play Mahjong Titans; I’ve got a seventy-seven percent win average with over five hundred games played. Nothing to sneeze at.
Please do not sit at that table. It is reserved by special request.
Special request, and a fifty dollar check a week. An aspiring author has claimed that particular table to herself; she is nearly eighty and seems too old to be an “aspiring” anything, but this does not stop her from lugging a flowered, quilt-pattern duffle bag into the café every evening and resurrecting an ancient typewriter with her deft, arthritic fingers. For some reason she has resisted the very idea of procuring a laptop, and looks scandalized every time I mention the merits of modern technology.
For exactly one hour she pounds away at the keyboard, the erratic clicking drowning out the soft music I keep playing and reminding me of a giant cicada. Then she packs up and leaves, hobbling out into the night right before closing time, lopsided from the weight of her once again disassembled typewriter. Sometimes I cannot help but wonder what she writes about.
If you find yourself at the end of a long line of customers – and this is a pretty big “if” – we have a bookshelf and magazine wrack in the far corner. Feel free to help yourself. Please use the hand sanitizer.
This is where Ari Shards spends his time. Ari is a strange kid, a few years younger than me, a senior in high school. His is an irrepressible bookworm to the point of mania. He comes to The Place every day at four o’clock, a book under his arm, and orders the twenty-ounce special. This unprecedented display of loyalty is unheard of, and can only be explained away by the fact that he gets so absorbed into his books that his brain forgets to register the taste of what he is drinking. He has been the proud winner of The Place’s free ice cream cone nine times running. He obediently eats his prize, paying only enough attention to the dessert to make sure it doesn’t drip on the pages of his book.
When he first started frequenting The Place, Ari didn’t talk much, folding his long-limbed self into a corner by the bookshelf, motionless except for the flicking of his fingers through the pages and the almost frantic darting of his eyes across the words. I have seen him go through three novels in one sitting like this.
After a while, he began talking with me. He’s a pretty decent conversationalist, once he gets someone who listens to him. And what do I have better to do, except get that seventy-seven percent up to a seventy-eight? We talk about books – a tedious topic for a non-reader like myself – or about girls, and life in the boondocks. Dreams, goals, and ambitions, and how we both plan on being far away from here next year.
Have a good day! Please come back. Please? Tell your friends about The Place. How it’s always here. Waiting for you. For anybody. And remember, five twenty-ounce specials in two weeks earns you a free ice cream cone!
I believe I am repeating myself. This socially-challenging position has reduced me to a running advertisement. I will be speaking of free doughnut holes and cinnamon spice/apple nut coffee on my deathbed. Just one of the many scars the wrong summer job can leave upon an innocent victim.
At any rate, as I was saying to Ari the other day, I do not plan on staying here forever. In fact, if I had the opportunity to get away tomorrow, I would. I would ditch the café, would walk out, leaving the coffee brewing and the freezer off. But only after editing The Place’s special (written in pink marker on the whiteboard) to read something a little less polite and a little more relevant.
[marq=left]"Sometimes strength is being the last one left standing. And sometimes it's being the first to fall . . ." - Vuny[/marq]