The manager looked at me with a blank look. “What was your order?”
“Eight everything, eight plain, and fourteen sesame.”
Her blank expression turned into the crazed worker whose associates screwed up and she was getting blamed for it. Her head slightly tilting to the left as her lips curled into a demented smile. She had a rough morning. The take out line was around the corner. She was understaffed and there were lots of screaming babies. “I’m sorry, there is a fresh batch coming out soon, can you wait twenty minutes?”
That really wasn’t a question. If I wanted my damn bagels, I would have to wait for them.
“Can I get you a coffee while you are waiting?” She nodded to the cashier who took over while she ran to put out more metaphorical fires in the back.
The cashier smiled at me. “What would you like?”
“I’d best have decaf. I’m going to have to call the wife and explain why breakfast will be late.”
That was a lie. I have no wife. No kids, who will greet me like a conquering hero when I return with a freshly baked bagel breakfast. I have nothing to rush home to. I buy two dozen bagels so I don’t have to come down here for another month.
So why do I feel the need to tell this person whom I never met and probably will never meet again, that I had some semblance of a normal life? She didn’t care. I am just another customer, one of hundreds she will see today. As long as I am not a prick and make her life a living hell for a minute or two, she will forget about me as soon as I exit the store.
Why should I care what people think of me? Probably some basic human need to be accepted, to be loved. Why look for acceptance in the eyes of a cashier? Why look for love in the eyes of a stranger?
I took my decaf making no attempt to complete the charade by placing a fake phone call to my fake wife. I headed to the milk bar. Poured 2% into my coffee but only a few drops came out.
I looked at my almost black coffee debating whether it was worth going back to the cashier to ask for more. There was a teenage girl standing impatiently behind me waiting for a straw. She probably had some important business on her cell phone to attend to and my getting some milk for my coffee was standing in the way of world peace! I took a sip. Damn, it was too dark to drink!
I headed back to the cashier. There was a customer who thought he was very funny. He wasn’t. The cashier smiled at his joke but he wasn’t done and kept going for another thirty seconds. Tick, tick, tick. She smiled, he droned on, and I waited with the empty 2% thermos in my hand. Tick, tick, tick. Finally he got his change and left.
“This is empty.” I handed her the container.
She took it, turned to the small refrigerator behind her and filled it up. I accepted it back without a word. I filled my coffee cup to the brim but did not put the lid on correctly. When I turned to go, it spilled on the floor.
A older woman at the table closest to the bar looked at me as if to say, “Well, you gonna clean that up?”
If I didn’t catch her eyes, I could have just left. If I didn’t have lingering mother issues, I would have left. But I did, and I do, so now I was obligated to clean it up or else every customer in the place would think ill of me. Here we go again! What the hell do I care what these people think of me? If I wasn’t stuck here in this coffee shop purgatory waiting for my bagels, I would be gone and life would be perfect. If someone slipped on my light decaf coffee, it would be their problem.
I smiled weakly and tossed several napkins on the floor and swished them around with my foot. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Now I was going to have to pick up dirty floor napkins that I touched with my foot. My life was spinning out of control!
I picked up the ball of dirty towels and tossed them in the trash container and then I turned to my coffee cup. Crap, I didn’t put the lid on properly because I was so concerned about the stares of those stupid table people! Now I had dirty napkins hands! AND I had to wash them!
I took the cup with my left hand trying to balance the loose lid on the top while not spilling anymore of it. I headed into the bathroom to wash my hands. But the lid was sliding off and I became overly concerned that whatever was flying around in the air of the men’s room would end up in my coffee.
Oh hell, it stunk to high heaven! Why do people do their number two business in public restrooms? Even though, I didn’t have to use it, I gingerly peered into the bowl. It was worse than I imagined! What sort of beast could produce something so large? Now I would not be able to get that image out of my mind for at least the next three hours.
I washed my hands quickly and fixed the lid on my coffee cup wondering how much of that thing in the toilet ended up in my coffee. That was not the biggest of my concerns. I turned to the door. There were people beyond. If I opened the door and the smell wafted out into the dining room, everyone within smelling distance would think I was responsible. But what was my choice? Should I stay in the restroom and pass out from the fumes? What would the headlines in the papers read, “Man drinking coffee in the bathroom dies from the stench of his own stool!” A picture of me lying on the floor would go viral.
I decided to leave the bathroom. I always wonder about people leaving public restrooms with drinks. Were they drinking while doing their business? This was all too much. I opened the door quickly and got out into the dining area without being noticed.
I sat down at a two top table and buried my thoughts into my coffee. I’m doing ok. I’m doing ok. All will turn out well if I could just hold on for another minute or two.
“Here you go sir, sorry for the wait.” The manager said bringing the bagels over to my table.
I jumped slightly, startled at the proximity of my bagel bags. I thought I covered it up well although the manager did have a smile on her face that was larger than the regular customer service smile. I got up quickly and paid for my order.
Stepping outside to freedom I exhaled deeply. I was free, but to do what? Go home and put the bagels in freezer bags, wondering how much I would be able to fit in each bag? Could I fit eight in a bag? And what happens if there is an extra one? Do I mix everything with the sesame or even worse, the plain? Will the plain retain its plainness in a bag with other types of bagels? Sounds like a political conversation.
As important as that all seems, I longed for the excitement of the bagel joint; where orders are not filled in a timely fashion and loosely placed coffee lids create danger at every turn. I turned to enter again but realized I couldn’t go back in again. Not now. Ah well, there is always the next time. There is always the next time.