A heartfelt plea for quiet in the coffee shop
by Paige Parker
This piece is set in a coffee shop. My apologies. You hate coffee shop scenes, don’t you? I hate them, myself. But here we are, together, on the precipice of a coffee shop scene. And now you have to decide: Do I flee in horror and disgust from this, the most trite and hackneyed of all personal essay openers? Or do I sit back, and hope for something more, and indulge in Schadenfreude when it flops?
I am writing this from my favorite seat in the back corner of my favorite Eugene coffee shop. Actually, that is not true. I began to write this in the back corner, but I’ve since moved twice, to infinitely less-desirable spots, colder spots, more exposed spots.
I have moved because the people around me will not shut up.
They see coffee shops as public spheres, places to share ideas and feelings in earnest conversation. They traffic in a common misconception, built on the pre-Great Recession notion that coffee shops are social spaces, when, in fact, they are places where out-of-work or under-worked adults go to kill time or to try to get shit done once the walls of their own home have begun to clamp down on their brains and pressurize the contents until the positive, ebullient thoughts evaporate in a wisp of steam, and all that remains is a bubbling cauldron of self-loathing, anxious, depressive thoughts.
And once that happens, man, it is time to leave the house.
Back in times of yore, when one wanted the veneer of human companionship without the human interaction and certainly, absolutely, positively without the dynamic of human conversation, one would seek out the confines of the publick library. Why the “k” on “publick?” Because these were times of yore, dog. We change the spelling in times of yore.
This was during the “pre-caffeinated era,” also known as the “pre-Colombian era,” that period before coffee’s rise to power as the fuel of modern American thought and productivity. Libraries’ fall from favor closely tracks coffee’s ascendancy. If librarians would lighten the fuck up (and I say this as the daughter of one), and allow the consumption of hot, caffeinated beverages on the premises, they could pass a few bond measures and cloak themselves in the chunky, handknit sweater that is job security.
But they won’t. They just won’t. And this confluence of personal, political, social and economic forces has brought me today to a table next to two stay-at-home mothers who’ve procured babysitters for the afternoon so they can sit over coffee and chat about 1. Their spectacular children, and 2. How sick of them they are.
Look, ladies, I can relate. I can. After my own, ill-advised, 22-month foray into stay-at-home-motherhood, I get how damn glad you are to be out of the house right now, drinking a cup of coffee without a child launching himself into your lap and laying claim to your last bite, your last bloody bite, of toasted bagel; and I also understand why you’re talking too loudly and repeating everything twice and in a sing-song voice.
However. I must move, as I have only recently broken free of my own children for the afternoon, and I cannot bear to listen to you talk about yours.
Forgive me. I am a misogynist and a Godless jerk …
… who has chosen a new seat next to a table of Young Life Christians. Why, God? Why?
If I knew more (anything, really) about the Bible, I could sweetly approach their table, point to a passage that emphasizes the need for silent worship, and suggest they meditate on it for the next hour or so. Instead, all I can do is mutter my own prayer: Lord, make them stop talking about you. Let your love fill them, fill them full, too full for words. Lord, be with them now.
Fine. Lord, be with me now. Guide me to a silent part of this coffee shop.
Not next to the 20-year-old man with the werewolf beard and t-shirt with a question printed on it in French. Not next to the couple playing cards, the guy chastising his girlfriend for fucking up the shuffle. Not next to the scruffy, twinkly-eyed graduate student. (What is it? Philosophy? Literature? I’m getting a definite liberal arts vibe. I AM MARRIED. WALK ON, JEZEBEL.)
Wait! Lord, protect me from that which cometh my way, this young couple with the flushed cheeks, clearly too busy getting it on this morning to take showers. (Take it from a pro: Next time, do it in the shower! Kill two birds! God, you’re so young and stupid and beautiful.)
Do not let them sit at my table and stroke one another’s faces and ponder loudly how they will bear the long Christmas break. Move them along. Seat them by the Christians. It’ll give everyone something to think about.
Lord, guide me to the communal table where everyone is wearing earbuds and is looking intently at either an organic chemistry textbook or Faulkner novel or guide to the benefits of Vitamin D or the Oregon Employment Department homepage.
Yes. Here. Among my people.
This is it. My sweet spot. Out, among, but apart.