CLEAR SKIES (Sip, Northampton)

It’s a blustery New England morning on Main Street. I inhale a chilly lungful of Monday, smug in the knowledge that, unlike west coast writers, I get to use words like “blustery.” I step into SIP for a coffee and a bagel. I’m not sure if all-capping SIP is required, but I do it because I dig their sign, which is all-caps, which is successful branding.

It’s an odd room, a unique aesthetic for this town. Am I in an Ikea catalog, or on a movie set for a scene involving a cafe that looks like an Ikea catalog? White walls of horizontal wood strips remind me of slat wall in a mall store. One wall is wallpapered in trees, another is chock-full of coffee-related kitchen gadgetry. The menu board has no prices on it, which is annoying. What am I, a Rockefeller? Give me facts and figures. SIP’s front door features a lovely metal sign by Sam Ostroff. He’s cornered the local market for handmade metal signs. They’re everywhere, and he’s damn good at it. On the other hand, he’s the same guy who made that metal mural on the other end of Main Street, which I think is a gigantic clip art turd.

The barista is a talker, and when I tell him my name for my order, he tells me he’s a Tom, too, and we have a bonding moment over that. I want to reference Vonnegut’s Slapstick, but I can’t assemble a concise description of the artificial family concept in my as-yet-uncoffee’d brain quickly enough, and the moment passes, so I don’t mention it. I’m of the opinion that small talk conversations are like space shuttle launches: there are narrow windows of clear skies, and if you don’t fire the boosters, you lose your chance, millions of dollars are wasted, and a bunch of astronauts get mad at you.

I sit with my small coffee. It’s French press, I think? I’m not a person who pays close attention to coffee stuff. I get French press confused with French Roast and French Vanilla. Anyway, it’s coffee and it tastes good, so that’s good. My bagel is also good, and unlike other establishments in town, it doesn’t come with a four pound slab of butter on the side. The stereo plays the theme song from Portlandia, which I find hilarious. Over by the trees, a man takes a photo of his latte. Is it on Twitter now, that moment in time, the brief existence of that pretty floating foam leaf? Did people favorite it and retweet it? That latte photo’s probably trending right now. Trending across the goddamned planet.

There’s a gray boomer slouched in the window seat watching a video on his smartphone with the volume turned way up. I’m impressed by his goatee and his earring and his cargo shorts and his Chili Challenge t-shirt. He’s doing an amazing job of almost convincing people he’s a laid back, totally hip non-old person. I pity him because he’s so old he can’t hear all the high frequencies from his phone that are stabbing my ears and causing dogs to howl a block away. I try to compliment the exquisite audio fidelity of his portable digital device by shouting across the room “THAT SOUNDS LIKE A GREAT FUN VIDEO DOES IT GO ANY LOUDER,” but he doesn’t even acknowledge me. Poor old dude. He can’t hear me because my voice is so high and wire-thin, a balloon with a slow leak, like Willie Whistle. Poor old dude.

Including myself, there are four other white men with beards and eyeglasses and laptops camped out here. We’re all writing clever things, amused by our own cleverness. When will people recognize our cleverness? Someday, we’ll all be famous writers, and we’ll be invited to big fancy dinner parties where we’ll electrify the room with our small talk, launching rockets of conversation, resting our wine glasses on the decorative fireplace mantle as we fondly recall this blustery, blustery New England morning.

* An excerpt from my book One More Cup Of Coffee
* Read more short fiction