Best of the Boards
Photo Credit: Jeff Chin
It’s Sunday, which means it’s time for me to write another story, in my quest to fulfill my New Year’s resolution, such as it was. “Tell more stories” seemed like such a reasonable thing to promise myself at the beginning of the new year. It’s not even the end of January, and I’m having a hard time coming up with a story I both want to and can tell. There are plenty of stories I want to tell, and some of them I probably will at some point, but right now, they’re in quarantine.
It’s not been the easiest week for me. It began with a funeral, and ended with some potentially devastating news about a family member. In the middle, there was work, and solving problems, and laughter, and bad weather, and no bicycling, and writing emails, and hoping, and walking too far in kick-ass new boots. There are stories in the last week, but they’re either in quarantine or they just bum me out too much to write them. I am not in the mood for a maudlin or sentimental story today. Instead, I’ll tell you about my Sunday morning.
Every Sunday morning, I wake up at six a.m. and I groan. I wait until I hear the coffee grinder whir, and then I get out of bed, find my ratty blue bathrobe, and wander downstairs to start the day. Ana and I go to the 9:00 mass at our church on Sunday mornings, and Ana has to be there at eight to warm up for the choir. I spend the time between eight and nine sitting in the Starbucks on the corner of Charles and Beacon streets in Boston, across the street from the Boston Common, right in the midst of Beacon Hill. For that almost-an-hour, I read, or I listen to an audiobook and play Tetris on my phone, or I listen to music and stare into space. Occasionally, someone I know comes in and shares a table with me and we make small talk until it’s time to head the few blocks down the street to the church.
As a coffeeshop, its identity is somewhat schizophrenic. Are all Starbucks like this? This one is the only one I really know, since I gravitate toward independent coffeeshops with clienteles that look something like me, or versions of people who I think I’d probably like. People I wouldn’t mind sharing a table with. Like the Diesel Cafe in Davis Square, or Darwin’s on Mt. Auburn Street in Cambridge. I feel at home in those places. They play music I like. Their service staff are young and cute and tattooed. And they don’t call themselves ‘baristas,’ I don’t think.
Starbucks isn’t a home, not this one at least. It’s just a place where I can get an overly-sweet soy chai beverage and kill some time trying to wake up before I go to the church where I can pretend not to doze in the pew. In part, this may very well be due to location. Beacon Hill, for those not familiar with the peculiarities of Boston neighborhoods, has no public school because no one who lives on Beacon Hill would stoop so low as to send their precious trust fund baby to a school with people making less than 1 beeelion dollars in bonuses. Okay, so that probably isn’t fair. I don’t much care, the point stands. Beacon Hill is rich and white. It also borders the Boston Common, of course, and it’s a tourist destination, and it’s the center of state government, and it’s where god-knows-how-many charity walks/runs/rides/fairs/etc. begin and end. The Starbucks there on the corner brings in a hodgepodge of these people, including the regular homeless people—a blonde woman who wears a puffy coat through the summer and pulls apparently everything she owns in a remarkably sturdy piece of wheeled luggage, and a small bearded black man who has a friendly word to say to everyone, even when he isn’t panhandling. I’ve given him my share of cups of coffee and sandwiches and change. I like chatting with him.
Then there are the women who come in with purses casually slung onto the table, purses I’m sure cost as much as my bike, and their full-length fur coats, and their air-kisses with one another. They don’t see anyone below their social station, though I’m sure they do charity work and buy organic vegetables and bleach-free tampons. I always want to accidentally spill something on them, just so perhaps a small amount of emotion might creep through their tight, controlled faces. And there are the runners/walkers/bikers/fair-goers who pop in, not every really stopping, to grab a skim no-foam latte.
And then there’s The Regular. I don’t know his name. I first noticed him a couple of years ago, when my friend A’s twins were infants and he commented on them. He wears black plastic-rimmed square glasses, and looks, at first glance, like an aging homosexual from another era. He’s in his late 60s, probably, and he has thick gray hair, swept back from his face, and he purses his lips when he smiles.
He makes me crazy. I want to punch him every time I see him.
He wears this combination of clothes that are halfway between rich preppy and old golfer. His perfectly-pleated cranberry-colored slacks are belted under his ribcage. He has tassels on his leather moccasins and he wears no socks. His bare white ankles are speckled with dark, coarse hairs. Today, he was wearing a multicolored striped shirt with the collar flipped up in back.
The first time I met The Regular, I thought he was probably an okay guy. He cooed over the babies for a moment and then moved on. Since then, though, he has been in the Starbucks every single time I go in there, and first, he’s loud. And he never stops talking—to the other customers, to the baristas, to himself. He laughs loudly at his little jokes. He invades the personal space of every female who comes near him. It is clear from his body language that he finds himself utterly and completely charming. Everyone else should know this about him, too, right? And so he chortles at his own jokes and flamboyantly dances through the coffeeshop in search of the restroom key, pausing to say hello to anyone who catches his eye.
Once, I was in the Starbucks on a Sunday afternoon, while Ana warmed up for some choir something-or-other, and I caught the eye of a young Indian man, clearly a graduate or professional student based on the bags under his bloodshot eyes as he looked up from his MacBook.
“What is this?” he asked me, gesturing at The Regular. “So fucking loud!”
“Yeah,” I said. “He drives me fucking nuts, and he’s always, always in here.”
“Why don’t they do something about him?” he moaned, rubbing his forehead.
“I don’t know,” I said, with no small degree of despair. “They probably just can’t get rid of him. I just always make sure I have my iPod when I’m in here.”
My new friend went back to his MacBook, rubbing his temples. When The Regular exploded into laughter after a particularly screechy observation, he looked back to me. “Can you watch my stuff a minute?”
He got up and went to the register. I couldn’t hear what was said (I, of course, had plugged my earbuds back on as far as I could), but I could tell exactly what happened.
Graduate Student: Can you tell that guy over there to shut the fuck up so I can get a little work done on my thesis, away from my infant daughter and my wife who thinks all I do is go class three hours a week, so why can’t I change a diaper occasionally?
Barista, shrugging and smiling apologetically: Sorry, dude. We’ve tried everything we can. We’re pretty sure he has a nest in the walls, because even the exterminators couldn’t get rid of him for long. He just keeps coming back.
Today, The Regular was smirking as I walked in. I’m afraid he’s beginning to, after two years, recognize me. I sat at my table and pulled out my writing notebook and set my iPod on “loudly shuffle almost everything.” Tori Amos, played at top volume, would drown out a tornado, and it almost drowns out The Regular. Until he comes near my table, holding a $20 bill in his left hand. A barista is coming toward him, holding a broom on a mission from some chore or another. He grabs her wrist, and I see the muscles in her arm bulge as she tries to pull away. She’s young, in her early 20s, probably, but she has that server smile that says, “I’m doing this for the money, but don’t push your luck.” I mastered that smile once upon a time. He didn’t let go. She took the twenty, said something, and tugged at her arm again. I removed one earbud. I did not want to get involved with this asshole, because I’d never be able to return to this Starbucks for my weekly sugar bomb, but I couldn’t not step in. At that moment, he let go of her wrists and flounced around to the restroom area.
She fled back behind the counter before I could say anything to her.
Like I said, every time I see him, I just want to punch him in the face. The smug, entitled son of a bitch.
Maybe I need to find a new place anyway.
Amy Gantt writes fiction in the grantwriting genre for a university in Boston, Massachusetts. In her spare time, she writes nonfictional stories about her life, walks her whiny dogs, feeds her always-starving cats, and cooks complicated meals for herself and her partner. Stories have always been the way Amy finds meaning in the world: if it can’t be story-shaped, it likely can’t be—or shouldn’t be—understood.