Here I am, trying to write something at Starbucks. Part of my ten-step back-to-writing plan. I remember an episode of Sex and the City where Carrie moves in with Aidan, and discovers all the inconveniences that come with togetherness. A writer with a deadline, she has to relocate to a local Starbucks to write her column, since she can’t find peace in her own apartment. She used to think, she says, that those sojourners in coffee shops, mugs of coffee by their side, silver apples glowing on their laptops, were posers. But now, in her predicament, she realizes they are just people who recently moved in with someone. She meets their eyes, smiles, and empathizes.
And so it goes. I’m here for pleasure rather than necessity. Walking here is my daily cardio work-out. I walk fast, trying to drown out the noise of cars revved up, of rude honking, of the loneliness of walking in Albuquerque. Unless you are clad in some type of athletic wear, some Adidas or Nike or Pearl Izumi gear that justifies the activity, you feel you’re trespassing upon some unwritten code of conduct. Walking, for the sake of it; for zero emissions; for exercise; for slowing down and looking around; for a change. Locals don’t understand it. They slow down by my side, roll down their windows and offer me a ride, honestly wanting to help. I still can’t get over it. For thousands of years people have walked without asking why, and it’s only now, in the 21st century, that we’ve reduced this antediluvian praxis to an athletic niche. You have the bikers, the runners, the rock climbers and... the walkers (and the power-walkers, but they are just walkers with pent-up anger).
The pair that sat down on the sofa next to me talks as if they are either slow or positively crazy. They are mother and son, both seemingly addicted to meth or some such mind-numbing agent. For the past half an hour they have been laboring to look up “auto repairs” online. But they are stepping on each other’s toes like an old married couple who loathe each other with a passion.
“Mom, get me a chocolate scone!” he demands before even sitting down.
She starts to protest, but he raises his voice, sounding now like an overgrown, hormonal child.
“Mom, get me a chocolate scone,” he clamors a few more times as if he knows for a fact that Starbucks has bore and nurtured a chocolate scone destined precisely for his highness. He looks about seventeen, a tall and ponderous American boy raised on hamburgers and deep-fried delicacies. With an apathetic, unfocused gaze, as if his eyes are almost rolling in his head, he accosts me.
“Excuse may, what’s the Way-Fay called here? His teeth extend over his underlip rodentlike.
The mother is in her mid-fifties and flaxen-haired. Dark shades cover half of her face and she makes no sign to remove them despite the nearing evening.
“They don’t have a chocolate scone,” she says after having inspected the pastry window. “But they have a huge chocolate chip cookie.”
They proceed to negotiate, the son insisting on his predestined scone, the mother touting the oversized cookie, their voices overlapping, indistinct. I know every one in this coffee shop can hear them even though they’re pretending not to.
“Just sit down here,” he commands suddenly. His voice sounds like a digitized whine. He reminds me of Beavis and Butthead – even the shape of his head matches. And the mother, I’m almost sure I’ve seen her in Breaking Bad as the crack-whore who dwells at the Crossroads Motel downtown.
“No, I’m not getting you anything to drink, sorry,” she says stiffly.
He must have asked for a beverage while I spaced out. All right, now I’m curious. You come to Starbucks but you don’t get drinks. What could they have come for? The pastries? Hah. Is she trying to cut down on sugar? But then a cookie is out of the question. Does she not want to spend too much? I smile at my own naivety. For any sane American, eating expenses are not to be tallied, doubted or given any thought. So it can’t be that. By this time I’m absolutely riveted with curiosity: why the embargo on drinks?
Finally, they connect and are now typing away into a search engine. Meanwhile, the mother has brought over two large chocolate chip cookies, wrapped separately. Last time I was paying attention, they were talking about splitting one. Two large cookies, but no drinks. How enigmatic.
The mother has now turned to calling auto repair shops. A timing belt is the object of interest, and she wants to know what it will cost. Earlier today, Pep Boys tried to rob her blind for the item.
“How much did he say?” the son demands.
The mother looks at her idle phone as if expecting it to deliver the right answer in the form of a prophecy.
“No, he’s talkin’ about a water pump, too.”
This is her answer. The same inane conversation repeats itself identically.
“How much did he say mom?”
“He’s talkin’ about a water pump, too.”
Hardly a conversation, but rather two separate conversations played at the same time.
To my joy, they’ve now decided to move to another table nearby. I can still hear their exchanges. A cat could make more sense than these two. It seems they’re each talking to somebody else, someone in their head.
“If we was in California, I’d’ve gotten it cheaper,” she says with a loud snort.
“Mom, you’re sittin’ on the cayble.”
“What, baby? He was sweet-talkin’ me. He was talkin’ about a water pump, too.”