A seemingly innocuous morning morphed into an eyeball-widening series of events. I was working on photos from a recent superheroine adventure when I felt the impulse to go outdoors and enjoy the sunshine. Subway offers free coffee with purchase of breakfast sandwich before 11am (nationwide promotion, I believe.) Today my local Subway had no creamer other than the sickeningly sweet, flavored variety but that was no big deal. I was sitting at a table near the window when a fight broke out across the street. This seemed entertaining (in a guilt-inducing sort of way) until I realized that one of the participants was pregnant, very heavily pregnant. Somebody got between the two women and I averted my attention. Another woman with a baby stroller was struggling to open the door and enter Subway. I half rose from my seat to help her when I realized that a male companion was standing right behind her. Of course he would assist her, right? No, he was intent upon scrawling graffiti onto the exterior wall of the establishment. I chose not to insert myself into their equation because it would not have benefited anybody. You would have to have been there to understand what I mean.
By now the ambiance and lack of appropriate coffee condiments had started to bug me. I left and went to a nearby donut shop. This place bears the same name as one of the landmark restaurants in Los Angeles. It’s not “Musso and Frank’s Donuts” but it’s close. I ordered a coffee and sat in one of the yellow-benched booths. Currently I am preparing another Secrets of Isis episode for release so I pulled out a notepad and began writing the promotional text for the video. One other customer was reading a newspaper at a table in front of me. Silence reigned. He read. I wrote. Periodically a bell would ring when someone else popped in, obtained a donut or whatever, and then left. The doorway darkened. A young guy, probably in his late teens or early twenties, strode past the counter and into the dining area without ordering anything. He sat across the aisle from me and began muttering nearly unintelligible words. It became obvious that he was speaking to me. “I’m sorry.. ” I said, trying to understand what he wanted. Turned out he was what I term an “aggressive panhandler” – he was not so much asking for help as he was trying to intimidate me into giving him money. I declined. He turned his attention to the newspaper reader in front of me. “White man, white man, white man..” he kept saying. His intended target did not turn around, lift his head, or even change his posture. I suspect that I will smile upon the memory of that moment for a long time.
Suddenly one of the donut shop cooks – I think he may be the owner – stepped through a door in the bulletproof glass which encloses the kitchen. He asked me how I was doing. “Fine, thanks. How are you?” I responded, dismayed at how chirpy my tone sounded. He smiled, wiped a countertop, and pretended to check the supply of plastic coffee stirrers. The panhandler sat silently until the cook vanished. I focused on my pad of paper, aware that the panhandler was closing the distance between us. He now stood next to me with his back against a wall and his right hand fiddling in his pocket. Invisible sweat broke out on the palms of my hands and my upper body but I kept my focus trained downward. This idiot had the full attention of everyone on the premises but we were all pretending to ignore him, just waiting to see what he would do. Rather than abandoning us for more gratifying targets he seemed agitated that we were not acknowledging him. Finally he just left. Everyone who lives in a big city encounters guys like him, but the episodes rarely last longer than 30 seconds.
I finished my coffee and closed my notebook on Isis. Instead of going home I headed to one of the few bars in my area which seems pretty mellow. When I ordered Stoli on the rocks the bartender squatted down in front of rows of bottles and called out: “We have blueberry, we have vanilla..” I stood on the foot railing of my bar stool to peer over his head. “Is that a bottle of Smirnoff?” I said, pointing at a red-capped jug which was smiling at me in the distance. He glanced at the label, paused, and then looked back at me. “I remember you.” he said finally. After pouring me a healthy shot he left to attend to the only other two customers in the joint.
Not sure why I am writing all this but I find myself wondering if (and why) I am the only person in North America who doesn’t like sugary flavoring in her vodka or coffee. Sometimes I feel like such an anachronism. Oh, Mighty Isis..
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