Thursday, October 22, 2009
Coffee House People
For those of you that don’t already know, (I’ve written a bit about it here), I used to own a coffee house in Southern California. I sold the business though, and the new proprietor ran it into the ground. Now, it’s a Starbucks.
Owning such an establishment suited me to a “T”. I loved everything about running and operating the place, especially the cast of characters that flocked to the long bar I had built. I hired my two nieces and other family members and friends. We literally had a full on European-style espresso bar where clientele could watch the barista at work.
Today I’ll tell you about a strange ranger named Paul; he used to come in at least three times a week for breakfast. I knew to make his hash browns extra-extra crispy. He drank our JOLT! Blend coffee straight up, cup after cup, with no sugar and no cream. As time went by Paul grew comfortable and became more outgoing. One day he surprised my niece when he dropped by in the afternoon and ordered a smoothie. More talkative than usual, he informed her that he had been in the CIA, but was now retired. His name wasn’t Paul at all. He had been sworn to secrecy by the powers that be, he must keep his true identity under wraps, and consequently hadn’t seen a single-family member in over thirty years. He had no friends. No people. It was a lonely life.
When my niece told me what he’d said, including the revelation that he’d been responsible for the deaths of many an evildoer out to do our country harm, I told her he was surely nothing but a crackpot. “He’s just an old guy trying to impress a pretty young girl,” I insisted. “I think old Paul’s read too many spy thrillers.”
“I don’t think so,” she said. “I think he’s telling the truth.”
Paul, I suspected, knew that I would have presented a more skeptical audience, because in the morning when I was within earshot he never talked about the CIA, or mercenaries, or Russian spies, or any sort of subterfuge. He saved his tales of intrigue and terror for the afternoons, after I had left to pick my kids up from school. My two nieces and their friends made for rapt and gullible listeners.
“Auntie,” my niece divulged, in the most concerned voice, “Paul has stomach cancer. It’s spreading too.”
“No way!” I blurted out. “He wouldn’t be able to drink all that coffee or eat those extra-extra crispy hash browns the way he does.”
“Why are you always putting him down? Why don’t you like him?” I’d hurt her feelings and I hadn’t meant to.
The next day I whipped up Paul’s breakfast, and after serving him I took a seat on the next stool over. He told me that he was preparing to travel to Mexico, to a spa where they cured seriously ill people with great success and regularity. For a man with stomach cancer he didn’t look all that sick. He was thin, but not gaunt. His coloring was fine. I felt certain he was full of baloney and making stuff up to gain sympathy and attention.
Meanwhile, the girls were growing closer and closer to their new friend. They went over to his little house for dinner, where he served them lobster lasagna and homemade garlic bread. At the end of the evening, as they were preparing to depart, he informed them that he was leaving for Mexico the next day, and…if he didn’t come back he had left a will with his lawyer stipulating that he was leaving the two of them everything he owned. Naturally, they broke out in tears and assured Paul that they just knew he would get better.
When my nieces told me about what he’d said, I kept my reservations about the credulity of his trip and the reasons for it. Positive he was merely going on a vacation and playing the sympathy card to the hilt.
Paul returned a month later. Pronounced he was cured and cancer free. He kept right on eating crispy hash browns and drinking black coffee and telling his tales. All these years later I hear he’s still alive and well.
All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.