Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Coffee Mates


The rain lightly fell against the plate glass windows that were on my left. Settled comfortably into a wing-back chair I was finishing "Captain Alatriste" by Arturo PĂ©rez-Reverte while sitting in Starbucks last Friday afternoon. I was waiting for Jenna to arrive at South Station. I chose to use the time to my advantage - with my nose buried in a good book.
When I had first arrived the only available seat that was not a hardback chair at a table was this chair with a low coffee table in front of it. A half empty mug of coffee lay dormant right in the middle of the table. Opposite the empty chair was its twin. This chair was occupied with an attractive woman and her laptop. I glanced around. I didn't see anyone else that the coffee cup could belong to. I could sit in an uncomfortable wooden chair or I could possibly intrude on this woman's space.
"Excuse me," I began quietly. She looked up at me. "If no one is sitting here do you mind if I...?"
She smiled. "No, not at all. Please do."
"Thank you very much," I replied as I sat down and placed my grande red eye on the table. That done, I retrieved my book and my glasses from my courier bag. I settled back into the chair - the nice, comfy wing back chair, and located my bookmark. Page located, I sipped from my coffee, crossed my left leg over my right and re-entered the world of Madrid in 1623.
At the table across the aisle a salesman from out of town has made himself comfortable. In his mid-fifties, he still annoyingly uses the word "Dude" to punctuate his remarks that are made (too) loudly into his constantly-in-use cellphone. Soon he is joined by two other businessmen and they begin to discuss locations around the city and their upcoming weekend flight itineraries. While the loud conversation is a bit distracting I reconcile myself to the fact that A) I am in a public space and B) that I am impatient by nature.
I rejoin the story, reading about the venomous poetry of Francisco de Quevedo, a famous, talented and ironic poet of the period, and friend of Captain Alatriste. Francisco offers to fight at the captain's side, if needed. Even venomous, ironic poets have honor...
Occasionally I could hear my table partner typing. From her lightly issued sighs I believed that she was frustrated with her work. No matter. I was stalking the back alleyways with the captain.
Awhile later she was packing up and making ready to go. I glanced up at the minor disruption.
"Have a great night," she said as she left.
"You, too - thanks."
Back to Madrid.
Not long afterwards someone new claimed the empty wing back. A disheveled man in his mid-fifties sat down. We exchanged pleasantries. He grabbed an abandoned Herald while I rejoined the captain. We both sat, sipping coffees and enjoying our chosen printed word.
Time passes.
Now, Alatriste was about to be ambushed by an Italian mercenary and two other sell-swords outside of the church where he was being questioned by members of the Inquisition. Suddenly, a voice rings out:
"Aw, man, there's no way the Celtics are going to win tonight's game."
I glanced up from my book and look over my reading glasses at my new coffee mate.
Is he talking to me?
Jenna and Katie hate this look. Not this man.
He can't be talking to me. My nose is so far into this book its coming out through the binding.
Now that eye contact was made, I realized that he looked familiar but I can't place where I know him from. He started talking about the Celtics.
Really? I'm reading here. It's my "alone" time.
In one minute I learned that he was fifty-six years old, that he is a huge basketball fan and that he certainly knows his history of the game. At one point I stated, "I really have never been a huge basketball fan..." but to no avail. My eyes glazed over a bit as he continued on about Larry Bird and the early eighties under Red Auerbach. I remember those times. It was the only time I ever really followed the Celtics.
Still looking over my reading glasses I was ready to ask him to let me get back to my book. Suddenly I realized where I knew him from. He was the homeless man I saw standing in front of Wendy's as I walked over here from Back Bay.
I looked him over more carefully. Everything he's wearing is "worn". His clothes were layered and not Spring appropriate. His umbrella looks like mine; on the smallish side. Yet, his hair is soaking wet. He is unshaven but not unkempt. He is clearly enjoying the taste of his coffee, the warmth of the store, and his choice of topic. His conversation is very animated.
Even though he lost me somewhere around Wilt Chamberlain I heard myself say, "If the Celtics win tonight it will be an upset simply because no one expects them to do it tonight."
"Amen, brother," he replies.
I close my book as we continue this conversation. From my right and across the narrow aisle cellphone businessman joins the fray. "Don't count Danny Ainge out just yet, my friends."
I laugh. "I won't count him out as long as he's suited up and on the floor. Other than that, their record on the road sucks right now."
Homeless laughs. "If Ainge was going to do anything about this series then tonight's the night."
Businessman replies, "That is so true. You boys have a good team up here, though. Really good."
"Yeah, we do. And its about time, too," Homeless said. "But don't you think that Pierce has to..."
I didn't hear the rest of his sentence because my alarm had gone off. I needed to get to South Station to meet the train. As I pack up my book and clear my table I watch these two men - these basketball fans - continue their conversation.
"I'm sorry; I have to go. I have to meet my daughter at South Station."
"Lucky guy," my table partner replies."Nice to talk with you."
"Yeah, you too." I threw my bag over my shoulder and nodded to both. "Have a good night."
"Goodnight!" - from the businessman.
"Goodnight, sir," from the panhandler, who then turned back to the conversation with businessman.
As I stepped out into the rain I realized that it was a good night. It could have been a selfish "me" night at Starbucks, but it wasn't.
Because, sometimes, its not always about me.

4 Comments:

Blogger Bridget said...

What a sweet realization to have on such a night.

I wonder what the backstory is on Homeless. Have you ever thought of writing someone's biography?

8:17 AM, May 20, 2008  
Blogger FoxInDetox said...

Dude! You are so totally enlightened! Of course everything isn't always about you...how could it be when it's always about me?


(Haaa, I kill me.)

8:57 AM, May 20, 2008  
Blogger Murph said...

Not all about you? My, you have grown, not only as a writer but as a person.

Of course, you've known that it's not all about you for about 16 years now but now you're letting other people know you know. Interesting.

And how does this affect me? :-P

12:49 PM, May 20, 2008  
Blogger Letera said...

How kool of a evening. You got to have conversations also w/ people you would have never known before.

8:58 PM, May 20, 2008  

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