September 12th, 2007

The Dangers of Coffeehouses

So I am Officially Thinking about re-writing my MG fantasy novel (for the finalfinaltrulyfinal time. And I mean it).


And Official Thinking requires various accoutrements, such as:

  • Books to which I can refer that will (I am hopeful) spark fantabulous plotting ideas
  • A half-filled notebook crammed with pertinent loose sheafs of paper
  • Pens
  • Coffee

 And all that required a trip to my new office-away-from the office (not the beachy one, the other one)—a coffeehouse that has windows big enough, ventilation breezy enough, and espresso machines loud enough to make it a good work environment.


Problem: I made this trip on a Sunday morning.


I hadn’t given thought to who the other patrons might be on a Sunday morning. The other times I’ve gone to work here, there’s been a quirky combination of elderly people, 20-somethings with laptops, and semi-creepy guys who sit suspiciously close to the counter. Also lots of too-blonde women wearing workout clothes, but who do not appear to actually have done any exercise.


Sundays are different.


On the plus side, I was able to put my eavesdropping skills to work (okay, to be totally honest, I didn’t need any skills whatsoever—the conversations around me were not exactly whispered) and got some juicy quotes that I will probably count as one of my two required writing exercises for the week. (Example: “I don’t feel like getting wet—but she wants to go swimming.” Do you hear the snarkiness there? [I purposely and un-Hemingwayishly included the italics to help you along.] Do you imagine the speaker is complaining to a parent about her bossy older sister? Allow me to enlighten you: this was a stepmom talking to her husband about his kid. Who was sitting right there. Niiiiiiiiiiiice.)


Eventually a family who had a Perfectly Dreadful Argument at the adjacent table abandoned their space to a pal they’d bumped into. I was glad they’d gone so I could focus on my reading, instead of playing Marriage Counselor inside my head. (I think single people make the best marriage counselors, don’t you? We’re so objective about it all.)


And then, as from a great distance, I heard a voice say, “Writing a book?”


Because I actually was working at that point, I get the feeling that I glanced up 10, 15 minutes after the pal asked me that question. But he was still looking at me expectantly, so I smiled and nodded.


And that’s when he moved into a chair closer to me.


“I figured,” he said confidentially. “Because I used to date a girl who was in the USC Film School, and she read that same book.”


This started a surprisingly long soliloquy on the difficulties film students face in writing manuscripts. And led with surprising swiftness to the following statement that I probably should have been anticipating, and yet, because I am me and often very, very slow on the uptake, I was not anticipating one bit.


“I wrote a book,” he said. Smiling knowingly. “They say you have to write what you know.”


“And did you?” (Why is it, I’d like to know, that I am so good at being rude unintentionally, and yet in situations like this I can’t just smile vaguely and mumble, “Versteh’ kein Englisch,” or something, and reclaim my life?)


“I’ll tell you about that later.”




And he did. About 20 minutes later, after he’d addressed me on the following fun topics:

  • His divorce
  • His custody battle
  • His son
  • His ex-wife
  • How he deals with the ugly feelings that the preceding topics excite in him
  • His job
  • How he had to live out of his Porsche for a couple of weeks because of the way the divorce turned out (and yet—hmm—evidently selling the Porsche wasn’t really an option. Go figure)
  • And at last, the wonder of his book, which a friend of his stayed up till 2 in the morning to read, and then the friend called, and said, “This is the best, most exciting thing I’ve ever read! You have to finish it!”

 Yes, that’s right. He hadn’t so much written a book as he had written the start of a book. Or started to write a book. Either way, really.


And the subject of that book?


“It’s about a guy who sleeps with his boss’s boss’s wife,” he told me.


“And were you writing what you know?” (You see? Again, I could very likely have found a way to terminate the conversation instead of perpetuating it. But I like to know things.)


He ducked his head, smiled a mischievous smile, said, “Yeah,” and… giggled. Yes, that’s right. A high-pitched giggle.


With that, he evidently he felt that his work was done, because he slipped back into his original seat, set reading glasses astride his nose, and started reading the paper. And me? I hurriedly packed up and skedaddled. Lightning may not strike twice, but in my experience, annoying coffeehouse conversationalists often strike more than that.


Yesterday was another Official Thinking Day. There was a big window, and a breeze from a fan, and there was coffee, too. All in the comfort of my kitchen. It’s just safer there.  

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