I woke up this morning without noticing the change. I knew it happened, but it didn’t click.
I arrived in my confident lateness. I went about my routine as if nothing had happened. A cup of coffee, a bit of straightening up. Barely noticing empty spaces on shelves, or the absence of the small red box where her possessions were kept.
When I opened the journal where, as formality dictates, we forecast our days.
There, in the margin, neatly written was a final message to me.
The weight settled as I read it.
“Good luck, I am happy for you.”
It’s the middle of February, as I make my way home through the choking haze of garbage smoke from half a dozen backyard fires. The weather is warm for this time of year but, everyone on on the block is having a party, so they all had to find some crap to burn. I’m pretty sure that’s a utility pole old Sweet T. has cut up and stuffed in his barrel. The creosote fumes rise up, adding to the aroma of the neighborhood, as it gets consumed by bright green flames from the bottom of the rusted steel drum.
Then she comes running out of the house. A half-drunk woman in her early twenties. Chasing after her two-timing want-to-be hood, of a boyfriend. I guess she looked at his text messages, again. She’s cursing his name while declaring how much she loves him, pleading for him to come back and throwing her shoes at him when he doesn’t. He’ll be back later tonight when no one else wants him. She’s the one with the job, and the car’s in her name. Still hasn’t figured out to just dump the bum and give the rest of the world a little extra piece and quiet on the weekends.
Walking on down near to the lime green house where Big Tattoo and his boys are dateless again on a Friday night. Can’t imagine why. What with there wife beater chic, and low-rent drug dealer mannerism. It wasn’t all that long ago when idle thuggery was a powerful aphrodisiac. I guess you got to change with the times. The only one I’ve ever seen with a woman won’t go near the place. Maybe the old lady that let them set up shop on her porch don’t allow female guests, not that aren’t relations anyway.
I see that the old grey house further on down, where the lawnmower guy used to live with his old lady and a one too many kids judging from the size of the place, is finally up for rent. The place has been empty since she suddenly put a steak knife through his stomach one night while he slept in his easy chair. I never heard much about them after that. Pretty sure they have separate residences now. Probably talking about getting back together again, you know, for the kids.
Still, I guess that counts as love around here, on the avenue.
Some things are different on the avenue.
Big Tattoo got out a changed man. Eyes sunken and hollow, he’s thinner now too. His skin yellowed from jaundice, just hanging in bags from his frame. I don’t know what happened in there, but he hasn’t fared much better on the streets. The old, white house they operated from got sold. New owners evicted the old man and painted the damned thing sea-foam green. No one’s seen hide nor hair of Mr. Squeaky-voice since. Sounds like he ran off with the product. Someone new set up shop in a house across the street. And everyone’s mad at Big Tattoo, he was supposed to keep them all in line. You can see it in his walk. The exhaustion of an old man still playing a kid’s game, just cause they never thought to get good at anything else. It almost hurts to watch it happen.
And the new kids are learning the ropes. They’ll skip school to stand in shifts out front of that old abandoned house the corner. The one with the plates missing from it’s jalousies, wild grape vines overrunning the yard and pulling at the fence, peeling red trim around the windows. There’s one boy there now I’ve been watching grow up for the better part of a decade. You can tell he’s there on business cause he’s sporting two phones. The business line’s a flip phone burner. I guess the other line, a low rent smart phone, is for snapchat, and for telling lies to his mother. He’s on lookout, checking for the cops.
It’s not like they don’t know why he’s out there, or who he’s working for. They look him up and down as they cruise on by with slow intimidation. They’re too busy to roust him, he ain’t bleeding in the street. Not yet at any rate. They’re all still busy looking for who that shot the baby girl four months back. She lived, but they were aiming for her dad. He wasn’t so lucky though. Inquiries are ongoing.
Down the block the neighbor’s little girl is learning to ride her bike, while her brother hands out dead leaves to passersby from the bouquet of them he’s collected from the parking lot of the funeral home.
The autumn air is growing cold and crisp, and I’ve taken to just sleeping in most days.
For three days now, he awoke to find an empty coffee pot.
For three days he had been forced to brew a fresh pot before being able to sit on the steps, gather his thoughts and become human again, in the perfect warmth of the morning sun.
This particular morning he watched her pour it.
Not quite all of it. A small sip remained at the bottom, just enough to tease his craving.
He was sure that in some places this was grounds for divorce.
Not here though. Here he was left with only two choices.
Love or a bludgeon.
I posted that thought as it occurred to me, whilst standing in line at local cafe. I was feeling put out because I was stuck behind a slew of meticulously dressed down tattooed scenesters. I was feeling my beard get longer as they cheerfully order their chai lattes, soy milk mochachinnos, and navigating the sandwich menu trying to remove all the joy from the items that weren’t already vegan. The slacker on duty took each order individually and then listlessly went about the motions of making each drink. All the time I stood impatiently annoyed at the needless complexity involved; angrily certain that the whole process could be sped up if the barista would just put some effort into it.
Finally the herd thinned and I was able to approach their comrade behind the counter and order my simple cup of simple, hot, black coffee. It literally took less than a minute for the counter person to dispense it from the air pot and serve it up with a smirk of boredom, and ring me up with a snotty look. I dropped my change in her tip jar and began to walk away.
That’s when it struck me.
It might be me that’s got it all wrong.
This poor beleaguered barista had been selected from all the other job candidates She has spent months if not years practicing making coffee drinks1. Had to be trained to properly tamp down the espresso. It had to take hours to learn to pour just the right amount of foam on a cappuccino. Constantly wrestling with that damned finicky machine to get just the right concentration of water that makes a ristretto well, a ristretto, not just simply an espresso shot. They ceaselessly have to argue with nitpicky hipsters over the difference between a lungo and an americano. I mean, I sure as hell don’t know the difference between a mocha and a mocha breve2. Do you? Not to mention the all the other day-to-day horseshit involved with customer service jobs. I mean this person has dedicated a considerable amount of their time, energy and brainpower to become competent at their job. And here I come, this unenlightened jerk. this smug dipshit who has the temerity to be so basic as to order a fucking cup of house blend, without so much as adding a god damned shot of espresso to make it a red-eye. I’m essentially wasting her fucking time over here.
Feeling like a bit of an ass for being so impatient, I turned back to the counter to throw a little extra in the tip jar by way of silent apology.
And that damned half-wit was too busy staring gaped mouthed at a ceiling fan, fidgeting with her nose ring to notice.
- To be clear once you add anything to it you’re having a coffee drink and not coffee, and that’s fine but let’s just fess up to that and move on. ↩
- Actually I do but, for the purposes of this rant, let’s just pretend. ↩