Thursday, June 4, 2009


I used to own and operate a coffee house. I designed and built a long marble bar that sat twelve, where the barista, (sometimes me), could stand behind the gleaming espresso machine and rustle up cappuccinos and lattes while our clientele looked on. I met many people, and many characters standing behind that bar.

We opened at six-thirty sharp. It’s not advisable to open a coffee house late; the need for caffeine is great at six thirty in the morning. People rely on you. They need their fix and they need it bad.

I was usually the first one there. One morning I discovered a debonair European man wearing a nice suit already waiting by the door. Although I questioned the safety factor of letting him in and locking the door once again, (it was very cold outside), I invited him in anyway. He took a seat at the bar, and read the newspaper while I donned my apron. He urged me to finish with all I had to do to ready for opening, but informed me that when I was ready he wanted a double cappuccino, served in a glass cup. No paper for him. His accent sounded Italian.

He sipped his cappuccino. I put on the music and a few regulars showed up for their “usual”. When the European man finished he brought the cup to the counter where the cash register was, and he said, “I have been in America for three months, I have been to New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and L.A. But you are the first to serve me a decent cappuccino.” I thanked him and took the cup. We exchanged pleasantries, he stuck a bill in the tip jar and left.

My niece worked for me, I always gave her all my tips. She showed up a few minutes later. Upon inspecting the tip jar she pulled out a fifty-dollar bill. “Wow,” she said, waving the bill through the air. “What’s this?” I realized that the European man had tipped me fifty big ones!

One slow muggy summer afternoon, I happened to be alone scrubbing down the floor when a young man took a seat at the bar. I put the mop away and asked him what he wanted. His eyes searched my eyes for some kind of response to the many earrings, studs, tattoos, and various oddities that covered his bald skull. I did not flinch, (even at the sight of spikes and razor blades sticking out of his forehead.) He seemed amused at my lack of shock and distain, (I’d grown accustomed to freaky-looking types), and then he ordered a Chai tea. “Those spiky things,” I said, “How do you sleep?” He explained that they screwed on and off. “You had surgery, I presume?” I couldn’t help but inquire. “Yes,” he said. “I did.”

I served him his tea, and he asked me if I thought he was a freak. “I don’t get it,” I admitted. “I don’t understand why you feel the need to alter your appearance to such a degree. I have no way of knowing whether or not you’re a freak, or not. We have a customer that comes in several times a week at least, and she tells me that she sleeps in a coffin. I’ve gotten to know her, and I don’t think she’s a freak. She’s just into freaky things. I hope that she’ll outgrow her attraction to darkness.”

“Many cultures modify their bodies,” he said. “Everybody doesn’t have to look the same way.”

A small group of local teens dropped in for smoothies, and the sight of him sent them into a fit of nervous giggles and much snickering. They placed their order and then went over to the other side of the room, choosing to sit at the furthest table away from where the tattooed guy sat at the bar, while they all waited for me to concoct their smoothies. After they collected their drinks and left, he looked up from his book and said, “See what I mean? They thought I was a freak.”

“Well, what the hell do you expect?” I asked. “You asked for it. Didn’t you?”

“I’m just a person like anyone else,” he said dejectedly.

“Yes, I suppose you are, but you’ve got to admit, you send a message with all that you’ve done to yourself. A very clear message. Your strange appearance pushes people away. You scream—fear me. Surely you can see that?”

“I look the way I want to look,” he said. “It’s my body, after all.”

“Yes, it is your body. I’m curious, what do your parents think?” I couldn’t help asking, I had two pre-teens, two teenagers, and a twenty something of my own.

He sneered. “My parents? Never knew good old Dad, and Mom’s a whore.”

“For real?” I asked, as I busied myself filling the cream pitcher, wiping down the counters, and brewing coffee. “Your mother’s a prostitute?”

Slipping off the stool, he frowned and said, “I don’t talk about her. Look, you’re a good person. I got to go, I’ve have an appointment to make.”

I watched him clomp out, his chunky black boots with many buckles sounded very much like spurs as he made a hasty exit.

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.


lakeviewer said...

That's one way to meet characters.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

You bet it was a way to meet characters. I sold the coffee house (for health reasons) to a guy that ran it into the ground. Now it's a Starbuck's. They tore the bar out and made it look like all their other stores. So boring and ordinary!

Jack W. Regan said...

Great stories and nicely written, too! Enjoyed it much.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Wow! What a wide variety of experiences and professions you can claim!!!! With such a background, you are simply MEANT to write!!!! And you do it so fabulously well!!! Loved this!!! Terrific stories!!! ~Janine XO

Cloudia said...

Glad I dropped by for a coffee after the funeral today!

Reminds me of my Honolulu taxi driving days.....I HAD to write about it: my little novel "Aloha Where You Like Go?"

Here's a virtual $50 Barista; the best cuppa & chat I've had in a while! Thanks, Elizabeth, aloha

Lover of Life said...

I feel bad that he feels the need to stand out that way to be "himself", only to feel alienated. Great story, though!

jinksy said...

Your shop was obviously a good place to collect story fodder from all the world and his wife, I guess...I'd love to have sat in the corner and watched with you1

momcat said...

He didn't want to seem like a freak to others - he wanted recognition from others for being unique. But he also had a self-destructive streak in him which created that image which ultimately repelled others.

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Each of those guys could be a novel on their own. Nice story, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Not too much different than my early years except my early years were before all of the things were done that people do to themselves these days. It was hard to get a tattoo and I had to wait until I was in the Army to get that.

The story is, however, most interesting and depicts a side of life that a lot of people live who seem to have a need to shock people. I don't buy their objectives or motives, and wonder how they put bread on the table or are they on public assistance.

You might like to read the story about us almost moving to Alaska...

Homesteading in Alaska

K. said...

wow, fascinating character studies! I'd love to hear MORE!

Woman in a Window said...

Are you kidding? This is real? Real or not, oh, endless tales, so many people, so much to ask and so much more to try to understand. For some reason my spleen is screaming out at this. Maybe I just need a coffee.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

We have so much in common! It's amazing...I cared for my mom in my home as well...she lived with us 12 years prior to her diagnosis...and you are so right...cancer is a horrible disease...I've got photos of Mom all around the house in order to banish the images of the end...My heart is with you continue to grieve as's so nice to have a kindred spirit!!! Love and best wishes to you ~Janine XO

PopArtDiva said...

I love meeting people of all kinds - and I used to love to throw parties and invite them all at the same time. People told me they loved my parties and I think it was because they were so eclectic and had a good assortment of "oddballs".

Being a bit of an "oddball" myself I am more attuned to others who are "normal challenged" like me, lol.

Of course, my defiance of the norm is inside my head as opposed to being part of my "look". My "oddball" sneaks up on people, hehehe.

Good story that kind of makes me want to own a coffee house!

Debbie said...

You are such a good writer. This was fascinating.
How wonderful that your kindness to the first man was repaid so handsomely!

Kim said...

It comforts me to know that there are wonderful genuine people like you in the world. I love your storytelling but the more I read about your life, the more I understand why you are such an excellent writer.

San said...

Such an image of the spiky fellow. Like a porcupine, he's keeping people at a distance, although, oddly, he seems resentful of their reaction. Good for you for your determination in responding to him as an actual human being. You probably made his day!

Now about that customer who sleeps in the coffin...more please.