ek_johnston: (writing)
[personal profile] ek_johnston
A Coffee Runs Through It

A lot of the time, I don’t leave because I’m finished. I leave because I have to pee.

I find it inexpressibly frustrating. Here I sit, working hard and doing my best to stretch a four dollar coffee as far as it will go. In my heart, I know that as soon as my cup is empty I will feel morally compelled to vacate the premises. I sip slowly, rewarding myself by the word, and while away the hours plotting only to be betrayed in the end by my own bladder. So I gulp down the end of my drink, enough that I know I could have made it last through at least another hour of industry, and flee entirely rather than face the walk to the public washroom again.

Yes, again. God knows, if I left the café every time I needed to use the toilet, I’d never be there more than two hours, and I’d never get anything done. But after two long walks to the back, under the eyes of the patient, put-upon baristas who think “Jeez, are you still here?” and “Couldn’t you at least buy a cookie?”, I always crack. In the early days, I’d hoped to develop some sort of camaraderie with them, so that when I’m famous they’ll tell people “Yes, she sat right there and based a character on me!”, but that hasn’t happened. Most of them can’t even remember the drink I order, even though I’ve ordered it without variation since the Pumpkin Spice Latte went out of season.

It’s probably the headphones. My mother hates headphones because they cut us off from her. On car trips, she’d have to throw things at us to get our attention but she put up with it because it was better than the alternative. (The alternative was having four children in the back of the van sniping at one another all the way to Florida.) In the house, they were forbidden outright, because it was bad enough that my room was in the basement and she already had to yell for my attention. Perhaps if I didn’t wear my headphones at the coffee shop, I’d be more approachable. But I can’t take them off. They serve a very important purpose.

Actually, they serve two very important purposes. First, they make it possible for me to eavesdrop on the customers around me. People see me and think “Look at her, with her headphones. Let’s discuss interesting topics at normal volume!” and I simply turn the music off and listen to them instead. I hear the most fascinating and, in the case of teenagers, horrifying things. In related news, you would not believe how terrible some people are at crosswords. This is something I like to do especially on short commuter flights. I pretend I’m a corporate spy and listen to business talk. It’s cheaper than paying for the in-flight entertainment.

The second purpose of my headphones is of course the opposite of eavesdropping. Ambient noise, and there’s a lot of that in a coffee shop, is not my friend when I’m neck deep in a chase sequence or up to my ears in vital character development. So I use my headphones to block it out; to cover it up with my own, somewhat more appropriate music. Mostly, I wear my headphones to block out Barry.

Barry is a writer, if one uses the term loosely. He has a shiny netbook and a self-published novel. And that’s not his real name, of course. I’d hate for you to find his book on purpose. He drinks two dollar coffees and complains that his book doesn’t make him any money. I do not suggest that this is because the summary he wrote for his self made website contains the letter “a” as a substitute for all the apostrophes, making his main character, whose name is Jack, look like something of a, well, jackass in the possessive.

Generally speaking, I don’t make suggestions to Barry at all. Neither my refusal to talk to him nor my headphones prevent him from talking to me, but when he gets pushy I crank up the volume and move my head back and forth as if I’m grooving to classical piano like they just didn’t do in the 1780s. Some days, I don’t leave because I have to go to the bathroom. Some days I leave because if I have to explain that a CAT scan doesn’t involve any sort of feline at all, and therefore requires an all CAPS spelling one more time

I don’t write very well at home, even though I no longer live with my mother and am thus welcome to wear my headphones whenever I darn well please. Maybe if I lived by myself and had an office for writing, it would be different, but I don’t. There are other people at home. And televisions. And apartments above me where they like to play hockey inside. And the Wii. And the occasional attention breaking fire drill. And so much potential for napping. Also, I’d have to make my own coffee, and that takes out a lot of the mystique.

I dream about my writing room sometimes. It’s in the attic of my fictional house, and it’s full of books. There’s a desk and a computer and an ergonomic chair, but there’s also an overstuffed recliner and windows that go from the uneven wooden floor to the sloped ceiling for when I need a distraction. There’s a large cat that I am magically not allergic to which never needs to go to the bathroom, and there’s probably a fridge for snacks and ginger ale, but it’s hidden somewhere so as not to mar the Victorian décor. I have no idea what I do for coffee in this scenario, but it probably involves an elaborate system of pulleys. Or fairies. Or a Replicator.

I suppose if I ever do get my own apartment, it will be laid out strangely. I’ll sleep on a day bed in the tiny living room (which is also the kitchen and the place I park my bicycle), so that the room that would have been my bed room can be my office. People will say “Where do you sleep?” and I’ll say “Right where you’re sitting?” and they’ll look at me like I’m insane. I get a lot of that anyway. I am pretty sure the people I work with ask me what I’m thinking whenever I look vague because the answer is always both totally honest and something like “How to set up an anonymous Swiss Bank Account.” which gives them the perfect opening to talk about how strange I am. There will have to be a coffee shop close to this apartment, naturally. Close enough that I can buy a cup in January and get it home before the coffee gets cold. It’s not a bad dream.

For now, though, it’s overpriced coffees in paper cups because the china’s never clean, and tables that are too small for me to have my notebook and my laptop open at the same time. It’s headphones to keep me focused and secreted boxes of crackers to help me avoid the siren song of the baked goods display case. It’s feeling the ebb and flow of humanity through the door, past the counter, and back out again with steaming cups. It’s everyday people and everyday things, and the stories they tell each other while their drinks cool, forgotten, on the table between them.

I don’t know if I’m quite done with coffee shops yet. But right now I have to go.

(I will totally fix that in edits.)


To Laura, who loves coffee more than I do;
And to Steph, who almost doesn’t work in a coffee shop anymore.

Date: 2010-04-14 03:19 am (UTC)
colej55: (Default)
From: [personal profile] colej55
I like this - a lot. It reminds me both of sitting on the leather couch in Panera Bread by the fireplace in winter, laptop on my lap and coffee on the coffee table (where it belongs). It also reminds me of a cabin that I hope to one day retire to in Minnesota. The perfect place to write my autobiographic novel just before I kick the bucket. I can totally relate to making a cup of coffee last as long as possible and your use of headphones. :-)

Date: 2010-04-16 05:33 am (UTC)
mylittleredgirl: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mylittleredgirl
Oh, love. :) This is wonderful. It makes me think of my dad, who considers the coffee shop his office. But people always remember how long a pull he likes on his espresso.


ek_johnston: (Default)

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