Instead of ordering my alternative-milk latte, and sitting crouched at a table, buried in my iphone, I stood at the coffee bar, facing into the shop.
At first I felt vulnerable, because eye-contact is not the social currency anymore. The social currency is virtual, inherently anti-social. Social grace is speaking well of something after it has already happened and been filtered to look faded, like it happened in the late 70s.
Social propriety is public isolation, so, silently bearing my face to a room full of strangers, I felt like an animal. One or two people glanced up from their phones or laptops, only for the instant it took to estimate my level of sociopathy.
I started to enjoy myself.
I started to notice things in the room.
There were 4 balloons separated into two corners, purple, with orange strings. There was frosty paint in the front window, with symbols suggesting pine trees, snow, and menorahs. My brain caught a current, and I experienced a profound, bird’s-eye zoom-out: somewhere, there are huge Coffee Bean warehouses. Stucco, ugly, rolling metal doors, loading docks with reflective tape on the bumpers, bored men minding the edifices from daft morning hours until fuck-off PM at night. Surrounded by corn fields, or urban sprawl near freeways, flat, gutter-bordered roofs, landed on by the occasional off-duty UFO. These bunkers are full of all the seasonal Coffee Bean paraphernalia, year round. Currently, they are all stocked with purple balloons, orange strings, and plastic “multi-faith frosty window” decals. All the Coffee Beans are in synch with these details, maybe they’re subtly altered locally or by district. I looked around at the permanent décor, the long-drop light fixtures are seasonally neutral, retro-60s meets polished, sea-crustacean flotsam, in a harmless, glowy tan.
I was glad to be having thoughts.
But I was still a little bit nervous. It is an affront, these days, to be without a ready shield of media. My phone was in my back-pack, zipped in. I decided to dig into my apprehension and figure out what it was. Didn’t take long.
I was frightened of who I thought all of these people were, because I didn’t know them. They were strangers, and therefor, may be dangerous. They may be politically at odds with me, which, these days, may mean they think a person like me shouldn’t be considered American, or even a person, at the far right. But these were assumptions and, powerful as they were, they were baseless.
I held my position, bodily, and tried something new, mentally. I looked at each patron in the room, one by one, and thought “I have a reason to love you.” There was a blonde in earbuds and a full yoga get-up, and I knew that there was some way, if I knew her, that I could have love for her. She might have ingrained societal privilege that I do not, she may have more money, may be skinnier, bigger boobs, but at her core there is somebody, continuously waking up, trying like hell to breach the light, like me, and I love her for it. There was a heavy-set man in a striped shirt, breathing over his laptop, gristly, ruddy, looked like a joke about your creepy uncle, looked like a hundred guys I’d seen with “Trump that Bitch” T-shirts, and I knew there was a way I could love him. Next to him, a black man, maybe in his 60s, similarly paunchy as his neighbor, looked tired, fixed on his laptop, reminded me of my dad a little, old sweater, Duke Ellington’s under-eye bags, I imagined his center like a filament bulb, and I could love him. Unkempt hip-bearded guy who checked me out as I walked in, I read him as angry when I entered, impatient, short fuse, I bet he would parse the fuck out of a dinner bill, but there is a way to love him. Black woman with purple glasses, 50s, serious, typing, has a whole set-up with phone next to computer, mess of wires spaghettying out of a back-pack, knit cap, I love her.
I sent this thought to everyone in the room. By the time I’d gotten through everyone (about a minute, short exercise), my fear was gone. I knew nothing more about anyone in the room, but I was primed to meet them the way I would want to be met. I had everybody’s back, whether or not they would have mine. Even better, for a moment I forgot about myself, and the gauntlet of self-evisceration.
So, I’m sitting outside now by the fire-pit, this Coffee Bean has a fire pit. There are Coffee Bean fire-pit construction bits in warehouses across America.
The fire is hot in patches, unpredictable and wild, like fire.
I have no internet right now, so I feel like I’m telling myself a secret. I’m about to tell you, but I’m not ready to go offline from the world yet.
I just connected again.