Coffee Shop Eavesdropping

November 7, 2012

Everyday I go to the same coffee shop to write. The baristas know me, which has accomplished my lifelong dream of ordering “the usual” at a place of business. I like creating moments where I feel like the main character in a cheeky movie I would watch. Ordering “the usual” does that for me. Now every time I watch a movie where someone orders “the usual,” it reminds me of myself. It makes me want to watch more movies, just to find more references to myself. Does this make me a narcissist?

My “usual” is extraordinarily boring: medium house coffee with a touch of half and half  and one packet of  Splenda.  I almost fell asleep before finishing that sentence… I’m not even interested in my own coffee. It’s that boring.

I have a favorite barista in this coffee shop. She is spunky and loud at 7am, which makes me think that she skims the top off of every coffee she serves. She has several interesting tattoos on both arms. By interesting, I mean unfinished. Not the “full sleeve in progress” type of unfinished, but the “I fell asleep before finishing this straightish line” unfinished. When I asked her about this, my barista friend said that she gave herself the tattoos. She is not a tattoo artist, but she giggled and playfully slapped my arm as she spoke, like everyone gives themselves tattoos as practical jokes on the weekends.

Maybe the unfinished-ness of those tattoos is part of the memory, like “Remember that time I gave myself a tattoo!? Oh look! Here it is! Isn’t it awful!?” [dissolve into laughter]

I love this girl because I don’t get her at all. Her story is so interesting to me and sometimes we talk about Jesus in a surprising and organic way, the only way you can in between coffee orders and caffeine discrepancies and barriers between almost strangers.

There is this other guy named Chad who sits across from me every day. He looks exactly like an Italian frat boy who grew up into a moderately successful real estate agent. I have never once talked to him and have yet to make eye contact, but he talks so loudly on his cell phone  that I know almost every detail of his life. I know that every morning he uses at least three times more hair gel than the average human being, that his slick black hair is bullet proof, and I imagine that it smells expensive. Also, everyday he wears a polo in varying shades, but he seems to really favor navy blue. It’s not as serious as black, but still professional, you know?

Chad came from LA, which he likes to tell people. I don’t understand this about Chad because most people in San Diego hate LA. It seems to me like a faulty token to offer friendly strangers, but I will offer this advice once we are officially introduced.

Chad’s best friend is named Scott. I understand that both of them have incredibly faulty cell phone reception because most conversations go like this:

“Hello? Scott?”
“Hey, it’s Chad.”

“You there?”

“Yo buddy.”

“Chad. Yeah, it’s Chad.”

“Can you hear me?”
“Yeah I can hear you. Can you hear me?”

“Dude. What’s going on?”

“Are you going tonight?”
“Yeah. GREAT seats. I can’t wait. You gonna bring that girl?”

Chad and Scott are always going interesting places, mostly orchestrated by a mystery secretary named Esther. They often discuss whether or not to bring a girl. I am desperate to know if Scott uses as much hair gel as Chad and if he, too, wears crew socks with his Converse sneakers. My secret dream is to run-in to Chad, Scott, and Esther at a dinner party and ask them detailed questions about their lives. They will think I am psychic. It will be awesome.

I sit here in this coffee shop with stories swirling all around me and foster pretend relationships with strangers who start feeling familiar. Part of me wonders if they observe my details as I observe their details. I imagine that they go home and tell their roommates “Yeah, there is this girl who sits in the corner with unwashed hair and types as she giggles quietly to herself.”

Yep. That’s me.

The point is that we go outside everyday and walk into a raging hurricane of stories, like little histories evolving in a storm. I didn’t start noticing these stories so acutely until this summer, when I started my writing year. Now everyone is so interesting to me.  They are containers of little secrets that tie strings of commonality between us. I’m really interested in strings and bungee cords and other things that tie us together through really simple acts of talking and listening. Connection feels so fundamental in this way.

So I eavesdrop a lot and try to weave stories out of one-sided conversations, which I think is really just an accurate definition of living.

I live for the evolution of unfinished stories, when one-sided conversations become two-sided and strangers become friends and a place like a coffee shop becomes more like an office with coworkers who you kind of know, but mostly live and work alongside.

I look for connective strings of relationships that at first feel jagged and unfinished but eventually become personal and permanent, like a tattoo I would wear on my arm.

That’s why I come to the coffee shop everyday.

I call it “the office” because it’s where stories are born.


  • you are incredible. i just spent a good hour reading through posts i missed and laughing outloud. you are incredibly witty. write me a book! write me a book like bossypants. you could absolutely do it.

    • Cassie! Thanks so much for reading. It’s funny that you should suggest writing a book. I am currently in the process of writing one now.

      I don’t pretend it will be anywhere close to Bossypants, but thanks so much for the encouragement!!

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