jeff is the reason i don’t talk to people at coffee shops anymore

I go to Pasion del Cielo pretty much every morning, sometimes I’m there into the afternoon, and with every visit I find myself crossing paths, and occasionally making eye contact, with other regulars who work at the same rate as I do and who seem, like me, to order the same thing each day. There’s even one guy, a good deal snazzier than me, who shows up each day in skyblue slacks and a salmon-colored dress shirt—a dependable foil to my torn jeans and flannel.

            But we never speak.

            Which is good.

            When I lived in Pinecrest I’d go every morning to a local Starbucks where there was a different cast of regulars who, having at some point all said hello to one another, eventually started sitting together. They’d have their laptops and notebooks and folders with them, they’d clearly all come here to get some work done, but they’d just get swept up in conversation.

            I didn’t want that to happen to me so, despite their efforts at eye contact, I kept my head down and worked.

            Then one day I really had to pee but the men’s room was occupied. Desperate,  made eye contact with one of the regulars.

We’ll call him Jeff.

Wojciech Weiss, The Demon (in the Cafe)

            Jeff gestured at the women’s restroom and said, “They’re identical, it’s just a toilet and a sink, you won’t be walking in on anyone.”

            I chuckled, thankful to’ve been given a green light, and then I went into the women’s restroom, lifted the seat, peed for what felt like several days, then flushed and lowered the seat and washed up and walked out—directly into the hateful glare of a very old woman. Almost a snarl. Arms folded. I don’t think she was tapping her foot but she mighta been.

            The old lady walks around me, into the can, and, in my shame and relief at having finally gotten to pee, I just stand there for a minute, loose and approachable, and Jeff takes this opportunity to ask what I’m always writing.

            We talk for like ten minutes.

            Few days later I’m sitting at the communal table when Jeff comes in and sits across from me. Starts talking. Sets up al his stuff to do work but does none of it. Just talks to me. At me. Until eventually I say something about a doctor’s appointment (“broke my colon in a fight”) and leave.

            A few days after that, Jeff comes in and sits across from me at the communal table and asks me how I’m gonna go about getting my book published (I was editing a novel at the time) and after I said some stuff about what the process was like, the bad luck I’d had with it in the past, Jeff decided to pursue a line of inquiry that a couple of other people have taken with me (I don’t understand where it comes from) where he starts grilling me about how it can’t possibly be so difficult to get published. Keeps posing questions. He response to each of my answers with an incredulous sorta, “Well why don’t you just…?” and then he’d pitch an idea that was ridiculous.

            Digression: I guess, now that I’m thinking about it, that everybody who’s jumped up my ass with these incredulous questions has been somebody who held their intelligence in high esteem. This is a crude generalization I’m about to make but I think that all of these people probably believe, whether they’ve said it to themselves or not, that they could write a book if they only took the time. That, in fact, it’d  be easy, since they’ve had such an interesting life and they have so much to say about that life. So many insights. But, at the same time, they don’t respect books. Whenever they actually read one they make a big deal of it on social media. And the one book they read in a given year usually has the word “unleash” in the subtitle. They see readers as tepid uninteresting sheep. I think they’ve got the idea of their great book floating around in the back of their mind and they refuse to confront the idea that it really takes all that much time. That it’s an actual craft and not just a buncha dudes opining.

            Ahdunno.

            Whatever.

            Fuck those guys (it’s always guys).

            Anyway. Jeff pisses me off with this line of inquiry—but then somehow, in a freak moment of self-awareness, Jeff seems to realize he’s being a twat because the next time he sees me he apologizes for having gotten kind of aggressive with his questioning. But then (this fucking guy) he basically subverts his apology by ennobling that twattery. Says something about, “Oh, sorry I was so aggressive, I just hate to see people not living up to their potential”—some bullshit, I don’t even know.

            Fuck Jeff.

            I stopped going to that Starbucks for like a year.

            But then I started seeing Jeff at other cafes in South Miami. The Starbucks across from University of Miami, Dr. Smood in South Miami, Tea & Poets at Sunset Place. Apparently Jeff’d just hop from one café to the next all day.

            Anyway. Jeff is part of the reason that, while I was once just wary of getting friendly with other coffee shop regulars, I’m now resolutely opposed to it.

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