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.


Dianne said...

I like Paul, or whatever his real name is. I used to travel a lot on business and since I was usually alone I would invent characters to be for the people I met on trains and planes and in coffee houses

Paul took that to a new extreme didn't he

thank you for your visit

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I'm in your camp, I think Paul is full of hogwash. I think it was nice, however, that an obviously very lonely man had someone to talk to; does it really matter whether it was true or not?


Maggie May said...

What a fascinating story!
Paul sounded a very complex sort of person. Maybe he was a little unbalanced!
Nuts in May

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

That's a great story! I want to meet this guy and hear some of his stories--whether they are real or not!

Jemi Fraser said...

Hmmm. I think I'd lean with you. Paul sounds like a fraud. A lonely, friendly, harmless one, but likely a fraud. It would be nice to think he wasn't though. :)

Joanne said...

Paul sounds like he'd make a great, quirky character in a novel. So would your coffee shop, as a matter of fact!

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Oh, my!!! What a yarn-spinner!!!! He certainly was a character!!!! You have such great stories!!! So much inspiration for your writing!!! I love it!!! Paul needs to make his way into your next book, I think. Thanks for stopping by, and for sharing my happiness today!!!! You are an absolutely fantastic friend! A real gem!!! I'm so thankful for you! Love to you~ Janine XO

my word verification? joysi...Yup, that's me today!!! Hugs, J.

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

We all have our stories whether real or make believe! It's fun to hear them and write them. Paul certainly was a creative guy. Wonder why he's not writing books?!

lakeviewer said...

Paul was lonely, and had developed a good pick up line or two.

Tabitha Bird said...

But Paul certainly knew how to drag the pretty ladies along for glorious ride:) Actually, I'd kinda like to meet Paul, cause, well... think of the fodder for stories!

♥ Boomer ♥ said...

INTERESTING!!! I just hate that he took advantage of the sweet, trusting friendship that your nieces so freely offered him. Life's crazy enough.

Cloudia said...

Ah reminds me of the little place we used to own....good fun...
Well told-

Aloha, Friend!

Comfort Spiral

staceyjwarner said...

I would love to own a coffee shop. I worked at B&O in Seattle, one of the first coffee houses and I love pulling coffee. We use to see how long our foam could hang laterally....LOL!

Love the characters...

much love

momcat said...

I suppose only time will tell if he did leave everything he owns to the two girls.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

It sounds like Paul needs to connect with a legal pad and start writing books! :) That's what WE all do as an outlet for our craziness. Very interesting story, Elizabeth

Mystery Writing is Murder

Lori said...

What a story! So much fun. Really captivating. Yes, he does need to get in a book.

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

When I first read this I thought you said 'hash brownies' and I wondered waht type of establishment you were running! Ha!

I knew a woman whose father was in the CIA, he didn't have to leave them. They, of course, didn't know his job. They knew he had an office somewhere in DC and worked for the government.

So- I think Paul is one of us- a liar, like all fiction writers.

K. said...


Oh, you are GOOD!

I bought the whole thing, hook, line and sinker and got chills right before the last paragraph!

Ha...I guess I'm the gullible sort.

You are a genius with the short story, Elizabeth...WHEN is your book coming out...can't wait...

Angie Ledbetter said...

Preying on the young girls! Glad savvy auntie was around to check things out. Great story.

Nancy said...

LOL!! I have to admit, I probably would have fallen for it. But then, I'm getting a bit more suspicious in my old age.

Great post.

Pop Art Diva said...

Well, even if he was spinning yarns he certainly provided some good moments of entertainment for you family.

I did fine art shows for years and you got quite a few characters walking into your booth at those too - at least I didn't provide them with a chair, lol.

Tom Bailey said...

Wow! That is a unique story. Cooking for 2 women and then giving them a will.

If I were you I am still even skeptical.

I would have been asking things like wow...! Who was your doctor? Where did you go in Mexico? When were you diagnosed again? What kind of cancer was it? What tests did the doctor here run?

After about 2 dozen of those types of questions you get better "clues" into the validity of the story.

Helen Ginger said...

I'm with you, he was creating a character for the girls. But he seems harmless, thank goodness. Perhaps he'll turn out to be a character in a book.

Straight From Hel

Melissa Barrett-Traister said...

Oh,I enjoyed reading this story.
I've worked in a few jobs that have provided space for interesting characters to invite themselves in.

To me,it doesn't matter if the stories are real or not.The stories make the story,if that makes sense.As a matter of fact,I want to know more...

Thanks for posting the piece.

Have a great weekend.

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Yeah, I think I'm in the skeptical camp. The good news is, no harm was done to anyone and no one was scammed. People can be odd, you just gotta have a heathly "keep your guard up approach" to some. I think this doesn't come naturally to the young.


Hilary said...

You were very kind not to call him on his tales directly but still give the required caution to the girls. He sounds like an interesting character and clearly benign though I'd have been uncomfy to know the girls were hanging out at his place. And all these years later, have their conclusions changed?

Jenn said...

Now there is a character for a book right there. What a fascinating guy "Paul" was huh? Wonder where he gets his hash browns now?

How come you sold the business? Can you point me to some of your posts about it, would love to read more!