Coffee Shop Chronicles: Don’t stare

Smartworld Coffee

Denville NJ’

August 2017

I dash in, just missing the rain, and see there’s a problem with my regular table.

A woman with a toddler is there.  Her stroller takes up the entire comfy chair area and space next to my usual table.  Drat.  I really need that wall outlet today.  I walk over.

This mom appears to be unpacking toys and baubles for the weekend, much like how I spread out my scrapbook supplies for a one-day crop.  There’s no scrap book store near me, and I suddenly miss Michigan and my friends even more.  Now I want that table even more, just for principle.  If I’d been five minutes earlier, I would be in my space, but I wasn’t.  I glance at her—no, I’m pretty sure this is a glare—and look at her baby bottles, toys, food bags and blankets scattered on the table.  I drop my dry umbrella on the table next to her, the table that’s too far from the outlet.  I hope the sound is loud enough to annoy her and show my distaste.

“Oh, I’m just leaving,” the mom says with a smile.  All this mess is her organizing to pack up?  I understand.  I stare into her eyes and melt into guilt.  The rain, traffic and my phone’s low coughing battery has made me cranky.  It’s a good thing she will never know I was silently taking that out on her.

She packs up quicker than I expect, and I set my umbrella and work bag on my table and walk to the counter.  What looks good?  It all does.  What am I in the mood for?  I stare at the 12 pastries like it’s an endless list.  I notice the barista staring at me.  There’s no one else in the store.

“What do you recommend?” I ask.

“The lemon croissant,” she says after a moment of thought.

Always order something and always go with the barista’s recommendation.  I get the dark house coffee to pair with the pastry and hand her my money.  She takes it, gives me change and doesn’t make eye contact again.

A woman came in while I waited and set up shop on the table in front of me.  Literally.  The small circular table is filled edge to edge with trays of beauty products or creams or probiotic somethings.  There are two pre-filled boxes open and a variety of bottles and tubes lined up in a neat array.  I’ve seen meetings like this in coffee shops—the recent one of a wedding photographer comes to mind—but what kind of permission do you need from the store owner to have this display?  I’m curious what she’s hawking, but I get an Avon vibe from her.  I don’t stare at the products because I’m not in the mood for a sales pitch.  A blonde woman walks in and greets the saleswoman with a handshake.  Good.  I can get back to my writing and lemon croissant.

After maybe 15 minutes, a couple comes in and sits at the comfy chairs next to me.  I hear smooch smacks.  Are they kissing?  They must be doing some tongue thing because it is one loud wet sound.  I want to look and stare my appall, but is that just as rude as this makeout session?  The sounds stop.  She leans back in her chair and finger-brushes her hair onto my table very close to my food.  I stare at that, at her, but she doesn’t see me because she’s staring at her kissy-face man.


A wet draft smacks me.  The rain started, hard, and a woman pushed open the side door.  I look up and squint.  She scowls at me.  I have my reading glasses on and can’t focus that far away.  I was just looking up to see the commotion.  I better use those glasses and just stare at my papers.

The saleswoman has left and a family comes in.  Some older woman takes a young girl to the bathroom while everyone else pushes two circular tables together.  The girl, who must be someone’s daughter, fidgets and jerks her way back to the tables.  Don’t stare at people who are different, my folks always said to me growing up.  It’s not polite.  I wonder if she’s going to bump or fall onto my table.  Does her family have her under control?  I feel weird trying to think of a PC word to describe her—disabled? Physically challenged?—so I look up.  I can’t help staring, whether safety or curiosity.  One male adult at the table, maybe her father, is signing at her, or at least gesturing with his hands.  Everyone else sits down with coffee or whatever, and I can’t get a sense of family dynamics.  Just as well.  I stare down at my papers and get back to work.

I finish the page and see a shadow over me.  It’s not on top of me but in my peripheral vision.  The shadow doesn’t move.  Is it staring at me?  I look up and see a cluster of people.  Three people hold cardboard cup carriers.  Sloshy drinks.  Heavy rain.  Closed door.  This is a recipe for disaster.  I stare and instead have horrible, messy images.  For a heartbeat, I think of being one of those people who stare at disasters then turn their head as if what they saw was invisible.  I know how I’d feel if my to-go drink was dropped and spilled everywhere.  How disappointed after all that to-go effort with no way to go back for another drink.  I can’t let that happen and make someone else’s day cranky.  I could hold the door even if the man with them doesn’t.

“Can I help?” I ask, loud enough so they can hear me over the music.

“No, we’re fine.  Thanks,” one woman says, and it’s not in that polite I-don’t-want-to-bother-you way.  This is confidence, like they’ve done this a thousand times before.  They must have because the woman balances the tray on her thigh, pushes the door and glides out into the rain.  The man holds the door with his foot while the other woman walks through, then he lumbers behind.

I lose sight of them in the rain, between a car and telephone pole.  I’m hit with their wet draft, but this time I don’t mind that I stared.  I hope they make it.

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