I think the day-to-day drain of Boheme may very possibly be causing the erosion of my entire personality. Like the tectonic plates of my character are shifting and crashing and forming a whole new continent of me. A very inhospitable one. Or a penal colony, like Australia.
Allow me to demonstrate.
Since we opened, the sidewalk seats and tables have been popular flop spots for various and sundry unsavories. There’s no railing out there to set the tables apart from the general flow of foot traffic. (Well, there was one, illegally, for about 2 weeks. Thank you, Baby Button Eyes. Another story.) This means that any Hobo Joe, exhausted from all his napping and drinking and hallucinating, has been able to squat his moldy bum on my chairs and plop his shopping bag of hand-me-downs on my tables.
In the beginning, I was a bit intimidated. I mean, they were large. They were insane and mumbly. They were catastrophically grubby. And they’d park there, in my chairs, buying nothing from me, of course, because they were already sipping loudly on their well-worn bottles of VitaminWater filled with suspicious amber liquid. If I let them, they’d lounge there all day. I soon discovered I was in danger of owning a hobo coffeehouse. A coffeehouse that screamed, “Tired of sleeping in Cardboard Canyon? Sleep here instead!”
I decided I didn’t want that.
So I began to clean house.
“Can I get you a coffee?” I’d say. Uhm, hint hint.
Sometimes they’d scrounge enough mud-caked coins from their pockets to buy a small coffee and go back to the business of sitting. But at least they’d paid for the squat.
Other times, they’d say, “Uhh, no.”
And I’d reply, “I’m sorry. These seats are for customers only” while staring steadily at them until they left.
As time went on, this became my routine. Subtly offer them coffee, apologize firmly about the seating, stare til they left. It worked okay.
Most of the time.
About a month ago, a man flopped himself down in one of the sidewalk chairs. He didn’t look blatantly homeless, but he wasn’t entirely clean either. He wore a dress shirt and khaki pants that looked like they’d been worn for a few days. Wrinkly. Damp. There was just an overall lack of freshness, I guess. A plastic grocery bag sat in his lap. A cell phone was stuck to his ear. One hand dug in the bag. The other held the phone. I wasn’t sure what was going on, really, I just knew he’d been sitting there for a while now.
So I approached and did my routine. The offer. The apology. The steady stare.
He just stared back at me. I stood my ground.
Finally, belligerently, “What? Do you think I’m homeless or something?”
I paused to think. Honestly, I still wasn’t sure.
“No,” I said, “I think you’re sitting in my chair and you need to buy something or go.”
He didn’t budge. A few more words into his cell phone.
I was done with him. “Hit the bricks, dude. NNNOW!”
His eyes rolled up and over to the side as he threw me a slanty dirty look. He got up, very slowly — for effect, I could tell — threw me another look, and shuffled off down the sidewalk.
At that moment, the plates shifted inside me. I felt it. It made me reckless.
A week after that, while on my cell phone with My Beloved, I started my routine with two mangy looking dudes in wifebeater t-shirts whose arms were blue-green from tattoos. They were exchanging money. What was going on? Was this a drug deal? Who cared, dammit! They weren’t buying any coffee! They weren’t gonna sit in my chairs!
After they refused the subtle offer, I announced loudly, “Well, then you need to leave.”
“We’re just hanging out,” one said.
“What’s going on?” MB said inside the cell phone.
“Not at my tables, you’re not. Hit the bricks.”
Hit the bricks was all the rage with me.
“Tray …. what the hell is going on?” MB’s voice rising. “Do I need to come over there?”
I didn’t answer him. The plates were crashing and I was proclaiming all over the place.
“I AM ON THE PHONE WITH THE COPS AND YOU NEED TO LEAVE NNNOWWWW!”
“F*cking A, lady.”
“Honey, honey … stop … what … I’m coming there right now!”
The dudes stood up. They were very tall and very tattoed and I was going to be killed.
“J*sus Chr*st!” They stared down at me. I stared at them and I know I looked insane. I don’t know how I know. Except that they walked away and I ran inside, shaking, MB yelling at me inside the cell phone.
And with each incident, somehow, the geography of who I was was changing, the crust was stretching. I felt strong. I felt insane. I kinda liked it.
The deadly lunchtime lull. A nicely dressed businessman pulled up a chair outside while I watched him from my perch inside, sized him up. Head tilted to the side. Cell phone smushed against his shoulder. Talking. Legal pad folder open on the table. I waited and timed him. Gave him 10 minutes or so.
Then I approached with the routine. I was so tired of doing this.
“Can I get you a coffee or something?” He was still on the phone.
And he didn’t acknowledge me. Didn’t even look at me. Raised his free hand, dangled the fingers, and shooed me away. Dismissed me entirely.
And in the two seconds that followed, I felt it again. This time, the continents collided, exploded. The massive continent of the one me against the massive continent of … my inner Shaniqua. I have no idea where she came from. I only know she suddenly stormed front and center and she was big and black and mouthy. In an instant, I was a giant, kick-ass black woman. Oh, no. He di’int just do dat.
“Then you need to GO.” He kept talking on his phone. Didn’t look at me. Shooed me away. AGAIN.
Shaniqua roared out of me. She grabbed his opened folder, closed it, and walked away with it, plopping it forcefully on an outside table at the deli next door. As she walked past him back into B*home, she yelled:
“YOU NEED TO GO. I AM DONE WITH YOU.”
Once inside, I started shaking. I saw him hang up his phone. Here he comes. He was raging at me.
“THAT WAS SO RUDE! I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU DID THAT! ESPECIALLY SINCE WE DID AN EDITORIAL ON THIS PLACE ABOUT TWO MONTHS AGO! I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU!”
I had no idea who “we” was. And I knew “this place” meant the wine lounge, not little B*heme. Shaniqua wasn’t done.
“SPEAKING OF RUDE, SIR. YOU DON’T GET TO COME HERE AND COP A SQUAT IN ONE OF MY CHAIRS, ORDER NOTHING, AND THEN DISMISS ME AS IF I’M LESS THAN HUMAN! I’M NOT TAKING THAT KIND OF CRAP FROM ANYONE! AND YOUR “EDITORIAL”? IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH ME. YOU NEED TO HIT THE ROAD NOW!”
My voice … where was it coming from? Shaniqua was loud, man. He stomped away, but I knew he couldn’t really do it. I knew he’d come right back. Here he comes again.
“YOU KNOW WHAT? I KNOW PEOPLE. YOU JUST PISSED OFF THE WRONG PERSON! IT’S NOT LIKE I’M HOMELESS OR SOMETHING –”
“IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU BEING HOMELESS. HOMELESS PEOPLE COME AND TRY TO SIT FOR FREE AND RIGHT NOW THE ONLY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOU AND THE HOMELESS PEOPLE IS THAT YOU’RE BETTER DRESSED. NO. THIS HAS TO DO WITH YOUR PRESUMPTION AND YOUR TOTAL COMPLETE RUDENESS AND YOU NEED TO GO!”
“WELL, YOU PISSED OFF THE WRONG PERSON! THE WRONG PERSON!”
Finally, he stomped off for good. I stood shaking for several minutes until Shaniqua subsided a bit. I grabbed my phone and called MB.
“Well … guess what I just did?” I said, quavery voiced.
And MB talked softly to me for a long time until the plates stopped rumbling and all was quiet inside.