Dear Gentlest Penguin,
The coffee shop is immobile while I sit here wondering what to write. Two minty leather chairs, the plush and overstuffed red velvet chair and the multicolored couch seem to be having a serious if not silent conversation in front of me.
I wonder what they’re saying. Are they discussing the arts season? Or maybe the silver-tongued response of our recently elected mayor to the media’s focus on her wardrobe and hair? Or maybe the state of the coffee industry.
After a while, I feel awkward about intruding on their lack of conversation and shift my focus to the lights. Obviously, I’m looking for inspiration. Instead I try to come up with reasons why this relatively moderate-sized space would have so many different types of lights—canned lights, track lighting, theater-style spot lights, security lights, sconces behind curved painted glass covers, orange speckled glass pendants, naked lights, and a chandelier of gold-rimmed glass in wrought iron swirls. Perhaps it’s some design statement that I don’t understand. Perhaps it was cost savings inspired. But the fact that the theater spotlights are pinpointed at the couch and chairs conversation redirects me to that cushioned circle to which I’m still not privy.
It must be the winter dulldrums; I do indeed feel dull today as we wait for a much anticipated and advertised winter storm—this one consisting of freezing rain and sleet, maybe snow too.
The baristas are on their coffee break. I love the idea of a barista on a coffee break. The barista that always looks so suspicious is sipping water up a bright red straw from her clear plastic cup. She looks bored, but then if I were a barista on my coffee break, I wouldn’t be drinking water. The efficient gentleman is tentatively sipping at something dark and steaming out of a paper mug. I imagine it’s probably straight black and heavily caffeinated, probably a bit bitter and smoky in addition to being scalding.
Mostly, though, I watch the young girl. She seems absurdly hypnotized by her ceramic mug and their contents. While the others carry on a bit of banter, she stands completely quiet staring into her mug as she lifts it to her lips and back again. Without looking away, she reaches beside her on the counter and grabs a biscotti, which she dips in whatever she’s drinking. Then, she tips the last of the liquid into the back of her throat, wipes the inside of the mug with her finger and sighs as she licks them off.
I’m completely hypnotized by her enjoyment of and engagement with her drink, so much so I nearly laugh out loud when she licks her lips and wipes her mouth on her sleeve.
I suddenly wish I was a more decadent drinker. I want whatever she was having.
Instead, I sip my peppermint tea, grateful for the ironic cooling effect of this hot beverage.
You know what else is ironic? Here I am in a coffee shop thinking about turning on the computer app I’ve recently discovered that allows me to pipe in the noise of a coffee shop. It’s supposed to help you be productive by creating background noise. I don’t know if it makes me more productive, but I have noticed it makes me more relaxed as I work towards deadlines and project goals.
Yet, with another storm headed our way, the coffee shop I’m in is relatively quiet. If it wasn’t for the smell of the coffee roasting as a few patrons wander in and out, I wouldn’t be relaxed at all. Fortunately, the smell of the coffee has me bound me to my seat, nostrils flaring, eyelashes fluttering every few minutes as I inhale deeply.
I look up after one such inhale. “Coffee makes you smarter than you actually are,” reads the sign above the door. Gosh, I hope so! Because next time I come here, I’m going to join the cushioned conversation.