Coffee Shop

January 11, 2011
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Marcus walked into the coffee shop with a white collared shirt covering his thin, lanky frame and a gray tie that hung like a drape to his belt. He was younger than the assistants and food runners that formed the long line in front of the cashier, and was marked by a nick on his face fresh from this morning after a botched shaving job. The coffeehouse was just about filled at 10 AM, and it took Marcus a good 20 minutes before he pulled a shriveled paper out of his pocket and recited the dozen or so orders listed to a cashier. “I need these to go for the office,” the young clerk said. The coffee house was full, with the exception of a small one seat table near the station where the drinks were made and passed out. Marcus at first avoided sitting, as he felt his available option was too close to the four pinstriped businessmen huddled around the adjacent table. Marcus stood near the station, but after several bumps and “excuse me’s,” he reluctantly took the seat.

Marcus could hear the conversation from the table clearly, and could tell that the alpha dog of the adjacent four was the man directly in his path off vision, who donned an expensive suit and a strong aggressive build. The other three men were also wearing nice suits, with leather covered brief cases. Marcus had noticed a pair of Cadillac’s outside the store, and saw the matching set of keys dangling in one of their pockets. He began to speak now, mentioning how his secretary Phyllis had “more chins than a Chinese phone book.” The surrounding men began to laugh, much of it forced. The youngest man at the table in particular, who sported a slick back haircut and cell phone earpiece, laughed like a hyena. The other two men to the right and left were now chiming in with some racist and sexist jokes that could only be saved for outside the workplace. Just then the waitress walked by carrying the food the men had ordered. Marcus watched the waitress closely. He hadn’t had a date since prom and was excited at the sight of a girl his age. The alpha dog started to complain about the scrambled egg dish he had just received. His outbursts were seconded by his associates. After a barrage of insults, Marcus could see the face of the young waitress turn a deep shade of red and her eyes become smaller. She held back tears, but Marcus could tell she wasn’t that close to crying. He was an expert at the subject now with two small sisters with only a thin wall of separation. He was attuned to their distressed facial expressions and used to consoling them.
A few minutes later, Marcus saw the waitress carrying hot coffees for the four. From the moment she headed toward the table, he knew that there was a strong possibility that a little boy playing in the aisle would cause her to drop the drinks. To avoid the child, she quickly jump to the side, caught her foot in a chair and a sea of hot java dispersed all over the floor. Shrieks emanated from the crowds, which was followed by laughter, particularly from the table of four. The phony, sycophantic hyena laugh erupted from the younger partner. Marcus knew that the waitress would be the punch line of some joke at the water cooler later that day. Marcus felt a pit in his stomach coupled with a great deal of sorrow in his heart. The waitress began to become so embarrassed that her complexion turned to an even deeper red. She swallowed the lump in her throat as she squatted to the ground. She placed the few napkins she had over the mess and ran her sweaty palms through her hair while letting out an “ehrr.” Marcus knew that this time she would not be able to hold back the tears. His sorrow shifted to anger when the laughter had not subsided. Next the four men were screaming at the waitress, calling for the manager, and demanding refunds, no longer willing to wait. The profane names that they shouted at the downtrodden waitress shocked Marcus. Even more surprising to Marcus was the lack of response from anyone else at the coffeehouse. He stood up, and in a capricious wave of fervor stated loudly “What the hell’s wrong with you guys?” Marcus ended the sentence with a deep swallow. The threatening boss shot Marcus a cold, intense stare. Everyone in the coffee shop was now staring directly at Marcus and all four businessmen were uprooted from their seats. The men moved in closer to Marcus, who knew a barrage of insults were about to come. In Marcus eyes the men stepped in unison as a legion of highly skilled foot soldiers, with the muscular boss at their command. He was now backpedaling slowly with one arm placed stiffly behind his back like the Heisman trophy. In all honesty, the hand was just a feeler. He had just seen one of the most gruesome spills of his life and knew he needed some gage of the items behind him.
Later on Marcus would realize that the thirty seconds before the screaming would be the most frightening moments of his life. The alpha dog barked first with a “why you little, who are you to speak to me that way?” The youthful suck up had his turn to chime-in stating “Do you honestly think you can defend your little girlfriend that way and not pay for it?” Marcus could not think of any response but felt his best chance for a retort would be against the youthful employee. He really couldn’t think of anything, with the nerves and all. He shot back the only that came to his mind which was “why you little, who are you to speak to me like that” in the same tone as the boss. Now he had just compounded his insult with ridicule and mocking of the intimidating boss, a mistake he did not wish to make. At this point he could only hear four disparate shouts. He had no idea, nor would he have any recollection of anything that was screamed at him by the businessmen. After a few more seconds passed, Marcus decided to stand his ground. Part of the decision was courage, but another was that he felt he had been backpedaling for awhile and would soon reach the wall. He would never admit the ladder. He could now smell the acrid coffee breath of the businessmen and see the white knuckles of their clenched fists. He stood pat with his chest out. At that moment, he heard whistles and an opening door. When he looked around, ha noticed a policeman had entered and the four businessmen transformed into four schoolyard bullies who just realized a teacher was in their presence. They dispersed and looked around at the posters and coffee beans to avoid any suspicions from the officer. On the other hand, Marcus stood pat, his feet glued into the ground. The officer attempted to walk to the cashier, but Marcus stood in his way. “Excuse me son” the officer said. Marcus finally breathed and took a step to his right. “Thank you, officer” he said in the voice of a marathon runner who had just finished a 20K. The officer looked back confused. He looked over to the waitress, who was wiping her tears, but still managed to show him a brief smile.

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