Am I so self Absorbed that I have become idiosyncratic and obsessed with the habits of others and their infringement on what I perceive as my personal space which I now regard as sacred ground? ABSOLUTELY!!!
Is it Just Me
I’m a writer. That doesn’t matter so much, but it is pertinent to the inspiration for this story in that I have trained myself to notice things, to listen to people and sounds around me, to process the world’s comings and goings in a way that will help me write with relevance and believability. The only stumbling block is that I am often thrown off the writer's ship and into the mucky-way by what it is I am observing.
Nevertheless, as a function of my decision to force myself out of seclusion, I decided to make Panera Bread my morning breakfast, slash, writing place.
So then, why is it some behaviors exhibited in my fellow man irritate me? Am I so self-absorbed to think that all people, young or old, who have the odacity to frequent the same breakfast establishment as me, should have the same manners and good taste as me.
"On second thought, it isn’t the mission,” I say to myself. “After all, I’m a writer—I should be happily chronicling the myriad of fascinating behaviors I observe and logging them as future fodder for the blotter. Forget about yourself for once in your life and become the fly on the wall.”
Fly on the wall? . . . I hate flies.
I’d rather be something else on the wall. To think of being a fly makes me ill. There seems to be no reasonable reason for their existence. I can think of ecological functions performed by other insects, like bees, and butterflies, even mosquitos whose job it is to suck the blood out of unsuspecting mammals, large and small, and spread disease around at random. It is a job . . . of sorts. Yes, I know, it sounds morbid -- but after-all, not every package carried by Federal Express is in the best interest of the receiver. It's not the carrier’s job to discriminate.
They have only one redeeming quality I can think of. That is that they have a collective sensibility. When you swat a few of them and then scrape their squashed bodies off of the swatter and onto the ground, their comrades, flying over head, must see the slaughter and report it to Der Fuehrer who warns the swarm away. They stay close though, occasionally sending out a scout or two. I know they are regrouping, preparing another attack, but for a short time, I am fly free.
There are worse flies. The winter fly that lands on you like a booger. He flies around smashing his body repeatedly into the TV screen and other objects like windows and lampshades. He must be exterminated. So you get down on your knees, and then, just as the wanderer fly flies ovehead you clap the air at the buzzing insect but somehow he eludes the attack. Finally the exhausted devil lands on the TV screen. You’ve got him. You pick up a magazine and carefully fold it in two. You approach on your hands and knees while winding up your backswing and then you let it rip with enough velocity to injure a large dog. The magazine smacks the TV with a snap. You pull the weapon away and there is the enemy squashed all over your screen. Satisfied to near orgasmic proportions, you scrape at the fly-goo with the edges of the weapon but some of the slime remains along with a wiggling wing and some skinny black body parts. No matter . . . you’ll clean it off later. Meanwhile, you stand victorious, satisfied that you have defeated the enemy.
As I mentioned before, I like to go to Panera Bread every morning where I plan to write for three to four hours. I always order dark roasted coffee in a ceramic mug, a small orange juice, and one of Panera’s famous Cobblestone pastries—a delight suited for the Gods.
Unfortunately, I rarely last two hours. There is always someone analogous to an annoying fly, or swarm of flies, who will inevitably drive me out. This morning was no exception.
Low-and-behold, a younger man came in soon after I poured my coffee and settled into my special corner where I staked my claim and anticipated enveloping myself within my writing. The background noise of people ordering and employees chatting and the whirring of the smoothie machine, even the harsh sound of the bagel slicer all become my noises—each sound as familiar as the next and just as comforting. White noise is what it is called -- soothing, familiar, and predictable.
But then, you guessed it, the irritating intrusion enters my space -- a person whom I know will not blend well with my symphony of soothing sounds. The young man, wearing sandals and cargoes and sporting an ill-manicured Wolf Blitzer stubble, placed his order and received his plate of breakfast things. I should have known the smoothie machine was singing for him. Nevertheless, I looked around at the empty seating areas laid out in a wonderful array of nooks and crannies where a person can contemplate the day while sipping on hot coffee and enjoying their breakfast.
You guessed it, this guy was eying up my area. Mind you, I have scouted the restaurant and there are less than five tables taken – plenty of places far away from me. The field is wide open. I thought of Jerry Rice - - odd, I know, but nevertheless, he popped into my mind. Just in case you can’t remember that far back, Jerry was one of the greatest receivers the game of football has ever known. In my vision, Rice is standing alone on the one yard line and Joe Montana, that would be me, is signaling for him stay there, “I’ll throw you the ball if you'll stay way down field, unnoticed.” But instead, Jerry feels lonely all by himself on the one-yard line. He decides not to take advantage of the scoring opportunity and runs up the field so he can be closer to Joe. The same holds true with the approaching boy. He is not about to take advantage of the wide variety of private seating choices available to him – no, instead, he is heading straight for my staked and claimed grouping of tables. Soon he is seated just one table away from me, and to make matters worse, he is facing right toward me.
“Ahh,” I think, “I have my computer open. I will slump down so I can stay within my space unhindered by this intruder, this pesky fly like beast that has found me and singled me out for torment. But I will not move. After-all, this is my land. I refuse to relinquish it.
An optimistic thought enters my mind.
The young man will eat his meal and drink his smoothie, a meaningless rain cloud soon to blow over, a mere passerby, nothing more. So, I settle in, well concealed behind my Apple, and begin to prepare to write myself to greatness.
But, wouldn’t you know, when the cargo-panted-bohemian begins to eat his breakfast sandwich . . . now this is where I draw the line . . . in fact, at that moment I began to wonder if there isn’t a higher power, some fallen angel, allied with the Devil himself, charged with tormenting me into committing suicide because he was bent on taking up with my wife. Those nasty Angels of Enoch were prone to do just that.
This is the beginning of the end for me. Off the deep-end of obsession I fall. He is chewing with his mouth wide open. Only his teeth seem to come together to prepare the icky sustenance for descent. Every bite is a nauseating sound of smacking jowls to tongue, a saliva swishing fest of food turning around and around. To make matters worse, he seems to be in a wondrous state of euphoria, oblivious to anyone who, like myself, may be imagining a means of causing him to choke to death. To add insult to injury, the young man, while biting and chewing and occasionally swallowing is, for some odd reason, inspecting every inch of the ceiling . . . as if he has never before seen the wonder of a 2 x 2 gridded drop ceiling. “What the hell is so interesting about a drop ceiling that this guy must stick his open mouth, filled with food, into the air and pivot it back and forth as if he were the Keck Telescope on top of Mt. Kea?”
“Oh, thank God, the first bite is done."
But no sooner had he composted the muffin and egg sandwich into a less noisy blob, that, like the helpless hospital patient sucking moisture from the bottom of a cup of ice chips, the boy proceeds to take a long drag on his smoothie straw, but don’t you know, the contents of a smoothie are locked deep within its stratified layers and must be fracked in order for the rich contents to be released so they can be drawn to the surface for immediate consumption. Naturally the young man blows into the straw to release the wonder from its irons which causes a harsh gurgling sound. Finally he draws some of the stuff into his mouth in order to mix it with the last of the doe ball that is still rolling around over teeth and tongue.
Oh, how easily the two mix together as he opened his mouth to let me see and hear with every chew. And then, he skillfully smacked his lips together, the denouement to the entire culinary experience. The nausea was, by now, slowly driving its stake through my gut.
“How much of that sandwich is left,” I ask, peaking up over my computer screen. “Almost the whole damn thing.”
I felt as though I was running into the face of the enemy at the Battle of Antioch, or onto the alluvial plain awaiting Hannibal’s elephant onslaught, or wading the trenches at Alsace, stuck in a foot of freezing mud, miserable as I listened to another and then another bite and slurp and I wondered what in God’s name could be so interesting about that damn ceiling.
Enter the horny parrot.
To add to my misery, a woman came into the restaurant holding a baby in her arms. Now the baby was cute, as babies go, but I am really not fond of babies. They seem to be fine one minute and then they invariably erupt with a high-pitched piercing screech that can drive a barbed arrow through a man’s brain, no problem.
I watched her talking to her baby, asking it, in baby talk of course because people only talk to babies in baby language when babies can't talk . . . well anyway, she was consulting the baby on the matter of what she should put into her coffee, how much sugar, how much cream . . . oh, that much . . . no sweety, that’s too muchy. The ritualistic conversation goes on like an Episcopal Communion. More wafers Mam, how about another swig of the Body-and-Blood of Jesus . . . just for good measure?
She didn’t stop. She continued asking the baby more questions about napkins and other things available at the condom counter, damn, I meant condoment counter, as if the little monster would know. And, all the while, I was hoping she would station herself and her baby, and the two toddlers-in-tow, way back in the rear seating area where it says ‘crying baby location’. Well it doesn’t really say that, but I had, on two occasions, dropped the idea into the suggestion box. Not anonymously either. I make no secret about my obsessive need for the perfect mix of background noise and a one or two tabel demilitarized zone.
It wouldn’t have been so bad except the BMW mom was wearing a BMW baseball cap with that tail of hair stuffed through the rear hole above the adjusting strap making her look like a horny parrot with its rear in the air. I am sure she must think of it as a fashion statement . . . and I can only feel confident that she found the perfect high-end boutique where the designer-item is sold for those forty plus, child-toting moms, who want to be with child and also want to be sure all others are with their childs as well. And let's not forget that she is advertising for BMW, the overpriced, over-engineered, ultimate baby carriage.
Back to my mouth-wide-open-munching-man.
Soon after the lip smacker finished his sandwich, I sat back . . . and in solemn naiveté thought the nauseating sound of mouth-parts and soggy food was about to end. To my horror, I watched him slide a 5 inch diameter cookie out from under his napkin and begin to take bite after bite followed up by long drawn-out smoothie slurps.
I was counting every crunch, when I said to myself, “Put this out of your mind. You need to work. You’re an author. Forget about it."
I tried, I tried my best to write, but the subject of thousands of Biblical giants molded out of mythology, marching toward a rag-tag army of armless men, ready to clash in an epic battle to eject evil from the face of the earth did not mix well with the invasive cookie slurper.
Hurray! The cookie was gone and so was the smoothie. I thought. My unwanted guest, who had dropped in on my heavenly corner, would not settle for the word ‘gone’. After all, there were still droplets of smoothie mixed in with the ice chips . . . so he proceeded to reinvigorate his passion for fracking and began sucking every molecule of liquid off the bottom of the plastic cup.
Meanwhile, the child-woman had finished stuffing food into the mouths of her children . . . so the piece and quiet enjoyed by all while the mouths of babes were full, was gone -- goneaway -- and the children were now free to leave their seats unsupervised -- free, as it were, to explore the restaurant, while mother, in her BMW baseball cap, casually flipped through a magazine allowing her rug-rats to play hide-and-seek using every possible area of the restaurant as their play-place.
How the hell, I thought, did they break out of my designated area set aside for annoying children and oblivious parents.
I was determined not to be undone by those pesky flies because just as soon as the untamed humanoids approached my table, I gave no encouraging smile or a hint like, “oh, how cute you are.” Nothing like that would ever go through my mind or speak though my expression. No indeed. I had already set the land mines of a heavy brow and surly snarl—enough to scare off a wild boar attack. It worked well because the smallest one sensed the hostility that existed in my corner and was repelled successfully. The others, like that of the common sensibility of flies, followed suit.
Together with the young man, who was still chewing away, mouth wide open, and the wild untamed children running about, I decided to pack up my things and head for home.
Yes, I must retreat. The flies may have won the battle but they have not won the war. I live to write another day.
funny! wonderful metaphors-is that the right word? interesting how children will sense what others do not. i was hoping for a fly to drop in from a ceiling tile and buzz in just as your bohemian closed in on his last bite! so enjoyed!