Hanging loose in Starbucks

I’d just bought a copy of the New York Review of Books and The Literary Review of Canada, plus a copy of the Journey Prize anthology.  They felt pleasingly solid and filled with good things to read and inspire me as they rustled in my “bring your own bag”. I carry one always now, being too cheap to pay 5 cents for a plastic bag (but not too cheap to buy NYRB or LRC!)

Starbucks was packed, with students worrying their laptops at a long table with uncomfortable chairs; seniors curled up whispering to each other in the few really comfy chairs; on-line dates meeting up at the tables for two, conversing awkwardly. I’d just had a four-cup espresso at home as my cure (medically ordered) for my MS fatigue, something that dogs me always and blurs my vision, so I asked for a decaf from the tiny rounded Asian gal at the counter.

“Well,” she said, screwing her pink lips up into a rosebud and then wincing, “the thing is, we don’t, like, brew decaf in the afternoons anymore.  Like, all the people who want it seem to come in in the mornings.” She brightened. “But we can make you a café Americano if you like for the same cost.” Every phrase she said ended on an upswing, the curling up of girly girls everywhere. She reminded me of “Hello Kitty”. Perky, a bit vacant, smiley without any real reason to be, inoffensively pink in nature.

I went for the caffeinated version and a banana and chocolate bread, low fat, but I suspect high calorie. I thought maybe the bread would help soak up the caffeine.

Looking about for a seat, I saw a spot at the earnest student table but discarded that.  I hate being beside people who are working.  Seems too much like real work.  I would have felt observed.  Fortunately, one table for two opened up in the middle of everything and, discarding my slight guilt at hogging two chairs, I grabbed it an opened the NYRB. I was wallowing in the excellently written review of Franzen’s “Freedom”, the coffee, and my yummy banana bread, pausing every few minutes to lick the chocolate off my fingers, when I tuned into the conversation on my left.

They were two precious young women.  One had on white sandals made with exquisite soft leather that curled expensively around her well-turned ankle. Her eyebrows were perfectly arched, her smile orthodontically magnificent. She spoke in likes and diphthongs, explained that she got her sister to wear her shoes for a week to make them more comfortable because of her sister’s, like, “freakishly large feet”.  She and her friend chatted about friends, classes, profs.

I turned to the Personals in the NYRB.  Some of the best creative writing in the world is there.

Then the women started talking about a murder.  One of their friends had just been let out on $500 bail after a bar fight/riot where another young man was killed. They spoke about it in the same tones as they spoke about the shoes. The fight was over the shocking fact that the man who was murdered was wearing a hoodie without a t-shirt underneath. Teasing started.  Everyone was drunk. Their friend had an alibi because he was involved in another part of the bar, fighting someone else, though he started the original teasing.

The teased boy left the bar, and the general riot spilled into the street. The boy bicycled by and the gang pushed him over, forcing him to be hit by a car and killed.

The girls agreed it was horrible, especially horrible that their friend had to be put in jail overnight. Then they started talking about classes again, barely pausing for breath.

I turned to my right. A youngish man sat down, opening his Ipad. I asked him about it, and he, like a proud parent, showed me its tricks. Carefully. He mentioned about reading books on it and tilted the display away from me while he searched for an appropriate example, one where the pictures could be spun and enlarged and toyed with. I wondered what he was hiding. Porn? Romance novels? Religious tracts? What is still worth hiding, when murder is openly discussed in Starbucks?