“…thanks for dropping in…” It was the punch line to a joke I once heard. I don’t remember the rest, but I swear it had something to do with monkeys…
I find myself in Anytown, USA, in the kind of Pleasant Sort of Place one finds when one stops looking for Pleasant Sorts of Places. It’s a coffee shop, a cafe and a book store all wrapped into one. Mostly though, it gives off the overly polished charm of almost everything constructed after the turn of the last century, as if it was built as much as a playhouse as a place of commerce — where people with too much money and too much time could pretend to be busy in public — complete with a faux wine bar and a bored looking fire extinguisher, keeping it’s lonely vigil in the corner.
I’m seated at a table with a couple of chairs, a book, a large chocolate chip cookie and four too many ounces of medium quality green tea to keep me company, and all I can think about is, “Who designed this place?”
It’s as if some architecture student had gotten funding to construct a performance art piece devoted to the aspiring yuppie, and failed only in not including a sign showing the exact path the coffee beans took to make it to his cup.
Oh well, you go where work takes you and today it takes me here. So I wait. Wait for the moment when it will be time to leave this place to history and shuffle on to my next job. To fill the seconds I page through a nondescript piece of romantic fiction I don’t care much for and idly hope that this little rest stop remains as unobjectionably milquetoast as I imagine it has been since it opened its doors.
Sources say, unlikely.
A couple of middle aged men take a seat to my right, which is funny when one considers that of all the dozens of well appointed, garishly over-designed seats in this little slice of heaven they decided to pick the slightly too tall, slightly under-cushioned numbers next to the unfriendly looking guy reading the bawdy novel. Funnier still because by the look they give me, it’s almost as if they think they’ve done me a great favor. I guess they figured I hadn’t gotten my daily dose of dumpy, male human for the afternoon.
Ugh. Travel always makes me cranky.
The two gentlemen quickly become four, and their whispers a low but resonate roar as they fly into a conversation about the relative merit of whatever geo-political figurehead they happen to be siding with this cycle. Two of them agree that the one guy was clearly right about the thing, the other two think he’s a twat. All I can think about is how much nicer it was before Cable television made everyone a pundit. Book closed, headphones in. Something classical and LOUD…
“Excuse me sir, are you using these?”
I snap back to full consciousness. A man with an accent I can’t quite place stares down at me expectantly. He’s wearing the uniform of the office drone, muted shirt, muted pants and a tie just wacky enough to prove that he is a “go getter!” I raise a dark brow.
“Me? I was actually waiting on a couple of people…” I lie, he looks crestfallen, “… but I don’t think they’re going to make it in time.” I beam, he beams back, reaching for the chairs almost before I have time to finish. He grabs two, dragging them to the table on the other side of me. Moments later, my relatively quiet corner is filled with sound as no less than six of his significantly more dour, similarly garbed friends take up residence in my orbit, chattering in a language I wish I knew just so I could explain to them the finer points of coffee house etiquette.
But I guess this isn’t really a coffee house, is it? What is the appropriate etiquette for a yuppie shrine? I’m sure Amazon has a book for that.
As I finish my cookie, I begin typing away on a tablet I didn’t realize I had, grumbling something about peace and quiet. I’m interrupted by the sickening realization that the Internet is failing to Internet. This is a problem because, as I’m sure you know, cute pictures of kittens can’t just look at themselves. My mind spins and twirls over thoughts of reset routers and bad connections, as my eyes dance across my receipt. Then I see it, just below my bill ($6.47) and above the network password (excelsior), the tightly-spaced line that spells my doom, “Service: 30 minutes.”
I look at my watch and hiss. 30 minutes! Apparently, management had decided that 30 minutes was just enough time to finish a $12 Cafe Latte without burdening customers with frills like excess joy. Hhmp. I didn’t need the Internet anyway, it was just about time to leave and the kittens could wait for the next job. I rarely take joy in what I do, but today…
Both groups of people begin laughing in synchrony.
The last swallow of tea is as mediocre as the first. Finished, I neatly stack my meager belongings and give my watch one last check. The worst part about my job is the schedule, by the time I sit down, it’s time to pack up and leave again. The best part is that no one ever remembers I was there, so I don’t need to bother cleaning up after myself. As I begin towards the door, my eyes drift over the two groups still chattering away near my old seat.
For a moment, I consider asking one of them what they thought of me, “dropping in,” I decide against it, figuring the monkeys wouldn’t get it anyway. The fire extinguisher does though, and as I wink towards it, it decides to shuffle off for the afternoon to enjoy the little jab at the human’s expense, phasing out of existence so completely that weeks from now, when they’re cleaning up the charred husk of this place, investigators will still be wondering why a building of this size didn’t have one.
“That’s right … ‘monkeys’!” the rest of the joke comes back to me as I give the door a shove and step out into the warm, afternoon air. Honestly though, it’s a lot less funny than I remembered.