I’m just going to say it flat out: I hate coffee. No amount of sugar or milk remedies a liquid that looks like motor oil and tastes like bitter, boiled roots. Not to mention that it wreaks havoc on your Crest Whitening Strips results. But I will say this for a beverage that has successfully formed a cult following in the millions across several continents: the smell is intoxicating. I love nothing better than the aroma of a fresh cup of java, and if Yankee Candle would create an espresso candle, my classroom would smell like Starbucks more often than not. But alas, no such Cup of Joe fragrance exists; and with such a glaring oversight contributed to the makers of luminary décor, I have no alternative but to frequent coffeehouses occasionally to get an olfactory fix. One day in December found me in just such an establishment.
I was dug in. I had arrived with my collapsible crate filled with semester exams, a calculator, a stapler, an assortment of Pentel pens, and a grading scale that would meet the needs of all my students. I ordered my green tea Frappuccino and then burrowed into a cushy chair nestled demurely in a corner. Sure, there was another chair beside it, suggesting a tete-a-tete was meant to be shared over a steaming mug, but I had successfully strewn enough papers and office supplies on my half of the nook to let an interloper know that I was not open to chitchat. With these signals as evident as any electric fence, I curled my feet under me and began grading short answers in a festive green to compliment the holiday. Merry Christmas to you, minus four. Moments later, my solitude was shattered.
“How’re you doing?” He plopped a large body that screamed “I’m in special forces!” beside me and set a Vente ice water on the table. A Vente cup of water? Who knew you could do that?
“I’m fine, thanks.” I hoped my lack of inquisitiveness on his state of existence would reinforce the stacks of papers and pens in front of me, but some people are just bad at picking up on signals.
“You like this place?”
I took an extra moment to make a notation before looking up. “I normally come here when I have a ton of work to get done and I don’t feel like doing it at home.” Let’s see if that one helped the cause.
“Yeah,” he said, crossing a combat boot over his olive green canvas pants, “I like to come here sometimes, too.”
I nodded without looking up and hoped I wouldn’t have to toss his economically sound beverage on him to convey the message of solitude I was trying to impart. He began drumming his fingers on the arm of the chair in cadence. Then he began throwing out eclectic statements that were odd enough to make me wonder if perhaps he’d come in to get a glass of water to wash down his meds. After a couple of random contributions about advertising, Maytag repair and bug sprays, he finally landed an icebreaker that caused my pen to stutter across its words and my heart to tuck and roll behind my lungs.
“I’m a big fan of bombs.”
I didn’t look at him right away. Instead, I gazed around the room and took a head count of the potential number of witnesses the police could interview beside my chalk outline. If any of us survived, that is.
“I have a friend who works in the Pentagon, and she tells me all about how to make the tricky ones.”
Excellent. I’m so glad we have people with discretion working on National Security. He pulled his wallet from a pocket located mid-thigh, and I heard a sickening rip as the Velcro revealed the contents of his life. He took out stacks of little cards and began arranging them on the table as a person playing solitaire would. While I didn’t know the rules for this particular version, apparently you could move a Visa on top of a driver’s license, and when a voter registration card turned up, you could offset it with a State Farm. Speaking of states, at that moment I wished I could close my eyes and beam myself about four states to the west. Someplace in a wheat field would have been great. Instead, I was trapped in a corner with Navy Psycho Seal prattling on about wiring techniques while he relocated little rows of identification around the coffee table. I looked at the hanging circular Starbucks logo over his shoulder and prayed there was a hidden camera in the eyes of the wavy-haired chick wearing the crown.
“The blast radius is really the most important thing you want to consider.” Winn Dixie card to trump photo of female human holding an ugly dog. “If there’s going to be shrapnel involved, you should think about the damage area and those who might be in it.”
Speaking of damage areas, I dipped my head half an inch for a peek at the underside of the coffee table. I didn’t see any devices with red blinking lights, but maybe this was a fallacy inflicted by Hollywood. My only real authority on how to deal with lunatics espousing charming bomb rhetoric was Burn Notice, so I tried to envision what Michael Weston would do in my situation. I was already generating a running interior monologue with my audience, so I checked that little box on my list. Michael super spy was also great at accents, but I am completely deficient in auditory subterfuge. Even if I wasn’t, I couldn’t quite formulate a plan which involved me suddenly exposing myself as renegade member of the KGB or a Jamaican in need of a bodyguard detail. No, Michael Weston is a wildcard, and the sole reason I tune in is to see him pull some hair-brained scheme out of his back pocket that involved wire cutters, dental floss, and some somersault maneuver that challenges the most hearty of vertebrates.
Now on the other hand, I knew exactly what Fiona would do in this situation, but I thought that tossing a clump of C4 at this guy and then ducking behind my armchair might come across as a proposal given his predilections for things that go boom. Besides, while I might have dental floss in the emergency pocket of my purse, I was fresh out of militant contraband. I could pelt him with a bottle of Systane eye drops, but I was dealing with a man who walked into Starbucks and ordered tap water. Who knew what he was capable of?
I tilted my head down and wondered if a last will and testament scrawled on the back of a literature exam would survive the blast. Probably not. I guess my brother and sister would simply have to duke it out over the custody of my two peace lilies. I continued the charade of grading while watching his solitaire game progress. His frequent sighs and exclamations said the cards weren’t working in his favor, and I truly didn’t want him upset. I think any patron who would have overheard his discourse with all the interesting jargon would have agreed.
“This is just great!” He swept the cards into one large pile and began to refill his wallet. Thinking he might have more time to devote to me, I contemplated raking all my exams into the crate and darting for the door, but what if G.I. Cup of Joe followed me? The last thing I wanted was the Man of my Nightmares to connect me to a license plate. He probably had another friend working at the Department of Motor Vehicles. I bit my lip and waited another five minutes.
Thankfully, he gave up. He shoved his fashionable Velcro wallet back into his britches, snatched his oversized H2O off the table, and threw a “Well, bye!” over his shoulder as he stalked out the side door, shoulders back.
I waited until his truck peeled out of the parking lot before gathering my paraphernalia and exiting. Funny how I had come to Starbucks, refused to imbibe coffee, and yet still left a jittery mess. Go figure.
© 2013 – Traci Carver