Coffeeshop Story

“In the morning it was morning and I was still alive. Maybe I’ll write a novel, I thought. And then I did.”

 –  Post Office, Charles Bukowski


This is a story where coffee costs a dollar and doesn’t taste like shit. This is a story where plums and pineapples grow overnight in community gardens and the elderly ladies of the neighborhood rise with the sun to water everything. This is a story where, for once, you’re not in love with anyone, and finally you can concentrate on publishing your life’s memoir.

This coffeeshop smells like old books. The barista has a lazy eye and perfect tulip latte-art technique. You sit in a red velvet armchair with your drink, its steam rising in dizzy hazes, pirouetting to the wooden rafters above. Sitting next to the window, blowing softly before you sip, you find nothing more charming than the scene playing outside: the people rushing to work, dollar coffee in hand, the schoolkids with their too-full backpacks and wake-up faces, the darling couples holding hands and walking their puppies. The daily sparkle of a city churning with life, with schedules busy or careless, is nothing short of enchanting.

There’s a man wearing headphones passing by. He’s strolling down the avenue, but there’s nothing cavalier about his gait: he’s practically stomping to the beat of some antiestablishment anthem or another. He has a tattoo on his left calf—it looks like a Celtic knot. He used to be your music teacher in high school. Back then you’d been quite attracted to him, but legality kept you apart. Now that you’re of a suitable age, of course, you spin and rush to head outside and follow him.

You stay half a block behind him and across the street, which seems to be the rule for tailing somebody. Six years later, it’s unlikely he would recognize you—but it can’t hurt to take precaution. All the way down the street, you watch that tattoo bobbing. You recall the heat of his hand on yours, bending your fingers into a G-chord shape. He pauses before a dog leashed to a lamppost, nodding once, looking into its big dumb eyes for an extension of his step before falling back into cadence. You add this to the traits you know of his: he is the type of person who stops to nod at dogs. Perhaps it’s the cheap caffeine in your bloodstream, but this trait makes you love him, just a bit.

He turns the corner, but when you follow his path just half a minute behind, he’s no longer there. An apparition. Faded into the cruelty of this city’s loveless concrete. Sprouted wings, hop-skip-jumped to a forest somewhere, left behind a candy trail but got lost forever anyway. Sometimes that’s just how it goes.

Thunder resounds from thirty blocks south, insistent and emotional. In the time it takes to pull an espresso shot, the sidewalk is freckled with droplets, deigning to become a dangerous drizzle. Umbrellas pop up like wildflowers, and in the city parks, actual flowers pop up too, their eager little faces tilted toward the sky, praying for torrent. The rain comes on quickly, washing away layers of epidermal grime, and maybe layers of sin as well. Sparkly barrettes and oozy condoms in the gutters. The songs of the city echo in the pitter-patter rhythm of raindrops on dirty bodega awnings.

There’s two young girls in rubber boots. Their weather apps predicted this downpour. They are chipper, chattering and chortling with the storm a backbeat to their merriment. They know each other from five consecutive years of theater camp, or from third-period AP Global History. Either way, their friendship rings true in the harmonic synchrony of their giggles, in their squeaky soles trouncing through parallel puddles, in the identical purple-and-white woven bracelets tied ‘round twin wrists, frail and beautiful as their youth. Princess braids and inside jokes. The rain ceases, and this too is cause for celebration: interlocked pinkies.

It’s a weekday, not that the names of the days matter much. You dunk a cinnamon donut into your vanilla coffee and take a decadent bite, flavor swirling on your tender tongue. You’re swimming serenely in sensory bliss—until you realize half the donut is teeming with turquoise mold. Disgusted, disappointed, you rise to bring the penicillin pastry to the coffeeshop barista’s attention, then sink back into your seat. With a forgiving chuckle you realize that really, it’s nobody’s business but your own.

The coffeeshop is bustling. The coffeeshop smells like dark beans and floral teas and something sweet and doughy. The coffeeshop is playing smooth jazz, sexy saxophone crooning over the angry drone of the espresso machine. The coffeeshop is a hot hub for first dates, shy people opening up about themselves with the aid of caffeine, couples falling in love over black plastic tabletops, repeatedly lifting hot ceramic to lips, a dance, wishing the whole time that it was a kiss. The coffeeshop employs only the city’s snarkiest citizens, college students with sarcasm streaks, musicians forced to play unpaid gigs in grungy dive bars with beer-stained stages, single moms scrounging their tips to pay for day care. The coffeeshop is a prime workspace, where patrons tote laptops to complete Excel spreadsheets or commissioned screenplays or psychological theses, or doodles in sketchpads that fall from the margins onto heavily-inked thighs. The coffeeshop is never entirely empty: there’s the six AM crowd, the casual lunchtime crowd, the drained post-work crowd, and then the crazy closing-call caffeine-boost crowd. The coffeeshop comes complete with regulars, a committed cast of consumers whose days revolve around the time they spend there, whether it’s five minutes or two hours. The coffeeshop sees all sorts of coffee-drinking characters: city natives, out-of-town travelers, neighborhood residents, business district workers, exhausted grad students, middle schoolers discovering lattes, elderly couples leading each other across the floor with linked elbows.

A monster! With eighteen daunting wide eyeballs, bleeding from the mouth, floss wrapped ‘round fangs with a voracious appetite for the Unknown, for golden grease hash-brown diner special #9. A monster gliding down the street on a baby blue Razor scooter. Teal hair flying, rainbow veins pulsating beneath translucent ankles. A monster you think you recognize but can’t quite place. You scour your high school yearbook for a familiar face but remember all your inexcused absences. You scour the city for a friendly face but remember you can’t see anything without your glasses, not even a smile. A cat runs from one stoop to the next; cats cannot see monsters. You feel an ironic, gnawing compulsion to get a customer service job, to serve tea or flowers to deserving patrons. There seems such a wonder to simple exchanges: little numbers transferring electronically between bank accounts, a dopamine burst, hi-how-are-you-today-what-can-I-get-for-you? Not the kind of job where you have to wear a uniform or hide your facial piercings though. Dollars will never make you that desperate.

Shock the body electric. The temperature rises: August is harsh with muddy sandals and frizzy hair, your A/C unit the only friend who drops by your pad anymore. Two hundred dollars slip away for the power bill, but honestly, you don’t care so long as your neck is bereft of its sweaty coat. Maybe it’s time you hop a train, travel transnationally, escape to a world where concrete doesn’t trap heat and forest creatures play cards with you on tree stumps. Maybe it’s time you fall in love. Caffeine courses its way through your beauteous bloodstream and you take a selfie to commemorate the chemical event. When it develops, you don’t recognize yourself. You go home and smash all your mirrors, read a Bukowski novel, try to pretend you’re sated by a sautéed poem and two glasses of gin.

Three sweethearts on a cute lil coffee date. They all hold hands, a perfect romantic triangle. Spectators don’t understand their love, but they don’t care—it just works. They all have the names of gems and wear patterned shirts. The magic of a three-way kiss is something much of the world will never know, and they wouldn’t trade that experience for anything: not Diamond, not Amber, not Ruby. One rubs another’s knee beneath the circular table; one brushes another’s cheek with their gentle thumb. The conversation turns from cats to space colonization to the renovations on the loft the three of them share. A perfect romantic triangle.

Play The Piano Like a Percussion Instrument Until The Fingers Begin To Bleed a Bit. Trysts of the city circumnavigate gigs of the heart, Broadway dates, jazz clubs and nine-dollar cocktails and wishing you were one of those birds that can’t fly. A man saunters into a four-star coffeeshop wearing a shirt printed with the face of Che Guevara. Nobody bats an eye. After all, caffeine and politics are America’s top addictions of choice. Political prowess is a rare phenomenon to come by: too many falsehoods attended to on the six o’clock news, too many two-faced podium patrons, not enough queer musicians in the Grand Ol’ White House. Question marks look better in reverse font, exclamation points shine best beneath corrosive fluorescent light. All that is glistening gold lies dormant within geodes and glowworm nests.

Speaking of glitter: this girl’s eyes gleam like the constellation Cygnus and you are smitten with her swan song, can’t help but be drawn to her siren thighs, her graceful nape (goodness, what a seductive word), her delectable ilium. Her clavicle is bare and could be yours! Don’t complain when her confetti kisses leave your skin sparkling for days: you signed up for this fate. Maybe, just maybe, love is a kindergarten collage.

Maybe love is a wish upon a shooting star. Maybe love is spilt pink pen ink. Maybe love is chasing tornadoes across notoriously flat American states. Maybe love is a breeze in the middle of a hurricane. Maybe love is eight silver rings on the fingers, thumbs not included, of a secluded saint. Maybe love is the rotation of hues in the sun cycle, from peach and buttermilk to mountaintop blue to insane orange to half-mast midnight purple. Maybe love is a melody of jazz chords on a spontaneous Sunday. Maybe love is the fine woven fabrics of immoral women, courageous concubines filing their nails with fiery flintstone—they’ve never cared what the street-sitters think. Maybe love is an oxford comma. Maybe love is you looking up at the coffeeshop door everytime you hear it squeak, hoping it’s your love strolling through, crestfallen everytime it’s not until Oh Gosh There They Are and you scramble to jump into their parachute arms and you share coffeebreath kisses and other patrons squeal and sigh “I wish that were me” but you don’t hear them because your love’s “hello” is music to your lovesick ears. Maybe that’s love. That’s the one.

And so the story goes on and on. It trails off into the hazy horizon, far past the canopy forest, beyond cloud shadows on mountains. It unravels into threadbare quilts that barely cover your feet when you sleep. It fades into fragrant smoke, and the aroma flirts with the breeze, finds itself making love to weathervanes and windchimes. The story charms the hearts of men. Inside seedy dive bars, drunken poets weep, remember lost spats with their brothers and don’t know why. Sensitive artists nibble pen caps in content contemplation, waiting patiently for roses to bloom from the palms of their hands, for their toenails to turn magenta and fall right off. Lovers tumult, stumble in their ecstatic inebriation, hibernate in their iridescent chrysalises, emerge in Springtime gardens with tourmaline rings and necklaces of hickeys. Even royals bow down to cadence and plot structure that resound through their hilly empires.

The story goes on and on. And all of us readers, we read. We read, and see where the story wants to take us.