I’m sitting here in Starbucks, supposedly working, but there are a bunch of people in here who are far more interesting than anything I could cough up onto the virtual piece of paper. Aside from the one wall where every single space is taken up by someone with an Macbook laptop—all those little glowing apples in a row—I have people on either side of me engaged in conversation that keeps pulling me away from what I’m working on.
I can’t hear Max’s voice over them; if I can’t hear him dictating to me, I can’t write. That’s all right, though, because listening to other people engaging each other, that’s just as important to a writer as the words that eventually become a written story.
There you go, something to make you feel a little bit self conscious about what you’re discussing with your friends over coffee. That person sitting nearby with a laptop, typing away furiously? They’re probably listening to you, not necessarily because they’re nosey, but because the ebb and flow of your conversation, the cadences in which you speak, the words you use either by choice or habit, those are tools. They’re inviting. They’re an audible picture that sticks in that writer’s head, something he or she can call up later, when there’s a need to hear how other people speak…because people don’t really speak the way your brain often tells you they do.
You know all those funny FMLs and DYAC images? Read them out loud. You can usually tell the real ones from the fake, because they just don’t sound right. And a whole bunch of them…sooo fake.
In any case, I’m being distracted by a couple people next to me who are wearing uniforms from the pizza place across the street. I like that place, though it has nothing to do with anything, really. I noticed them when I came in, probably because I like their pizza and kind of wish I hadn’t had lunch before I left the house, because that would be a good excuse to wander across the street for a personal sized pizza.
Apparently it’s a very popular buffet…with one customer. He’s there almost every day, from the time the buffet opens until just before the last pizza is gone. He’s there for nearly three hours, eating slice after slice, consuming roughly two large pizzas by himself.
He is, by description, quite a large fellow, though neither of them described him with dismissiveness. It was said quite matter-of-factly; the dude is massively obese.
This is where I expected the sad jokes. “Yo, man, it’s all you can eat. Stop. Go home. This is all you can eat.”
There are no mean or snide remarks coming from them. They’re worried about him. They can’t refuse him service, but they’d like to, because he’s a very nice guy and they’re afraid he’s going to just…die.
I have a little insight into how a regular customer dying impacts people, even if it doesn’t happen right there. I was a semi-regular at the Barnes & Noble café when we lived in Ohio, and was there when news filtered in that one of the regulars—a beautiful young man in a wheelchair—had been hit by a minivan. Some woman chose the moment he was crossing the street—he had the light—to answer her cell phone. She ran the red and plowed right into him.
Everyone was devastated, especially the employees.
So yeah, I imagine their concern for this guy and the huge amounts he’s consuming worry them. They’re not grossed out, they’re not making fun of his size; they’re scared for him.
One day he might not show up, and they won’t think much of it, because not even the most regular of regulars shows up every day. But then one day will slide into two, then three, and they’ll begin to wonder. And when one week slides into two, someone makes an effort to find out, and when it’s bad news, they’ll begin to grieve.
But they can’t really do anything to save this guy from himself. He’s an adult; he makes his own choices. He undoubtedly knows what he’s doing to himself. He knows how it looks; he knows how he looks.
But I bet he has no idea that the people who take his money, who greet him with a smile, who clean up the table after he leaves, genuinely care about what happens to him.
You learn more by listening to the people around you than just the way they speak, the way words turn and tumble from their lips. You learn that most people are basically good, and in spite of the awfulness that the news suggests, on the whole future generations are going to be all right.
Then again, there’s the kids at another table, wondering out loud how funny it would be to put dye in the soap dispensers in the restroom…