Nashville, TN, a day in May, 2012 (A Hard Day’s Work)

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As I replaced the roll of paper towels next to the hand-washing sink behind the espresso machine, Jane, or was it Janice, walked passed me, brushing against my shoulder. Admittedly I was particularly out of sorts that day, the prior evening I’d been assailed by a fit of pointlessness and despondency, the details of which I will omit, no need to get into it. “You have a great body,” she said after she’d passed. I was flattered, and thanked her. I told myself that such a comment shouldn’t really matter, and that whatever was the source of my malaise, it certainly had nothing to do with with my appearance. But it did matter, there was a new pep in my step. Perhaps in this sense I wasn’t really all that out of sorts, because my vanity could still be indulged. It is when one’s vanity can no longer be reached that true despair begins.

I tried to be more observant while working. It seemed to me that very little was going on there, but I reasoned that that was only because I was too self-centered, oblivious to the happenings all around me. It’s all in the details, I told myself, and if I just pulled my head out of my ass and opened my eyes, a story would unfold. We are all in a sense a lot of narratives colliding with each other, intermingling, conjoining, separating, copulating perhaps, or just incurious towards each other. Rick and Jay were working the front counter, while I floated or “coffee backed,” so to speak. James the kitchen manager was in back, and later Kevin joined him. These two guys weren’t exactly enamored of me, they were hard to please and I only made it worse by taking my break at an inopportune moment. But Jay said, “No matter what you do you’re going to piss them off.” He guffawed, I guffawed. A pretty college girl came and introduced herself to Jay. “I’m Caroline, I see you here all the time,” she said. When she’d left with her coffee Jay turned to me and said, “These cute college girls, they just stay young while I keep getting older.” He guffawed, I guffawed.

Then my phone buzzed, I felt a little excitement, maybe it was a girl texting me back. That’s Dan all over. “Hey dude just letting you know they want to fire you, quit before they have the chance,” the message said. It was from Dave the dishwasher. I felt deflated suddenly, worse than before Jane or Janice’s comment. I rushed to the bathroom and evacuated my bowels. Anxiety produces unpredictable results. Assuming the message was true, what troubled me the most was the implication that I was disliked not just by James and Kevin, but a whole faction of people, that in fact I had no conception of what anyone thought. Instances where I’d been excessive, or where I’d not shown enough restraint, or had been immodest, flashed through my mind. Why do I persecute myself for moments when, in effect, I am most myself? That is a question worth looking into. It also could have related to me shirking on my duties, the thought crossed my mind, but I tend to take things personally, metaphysically even, I am a sensitive soul, deep down. “Screw those guys, whoever it is,” Jane or Janice said, when I showed her the message and speculated about what was happening. “Uptight assholes,” she added. I appreciated that. We had a version of a similar conversation from another day, and we concluded that, simply, one can’t help whether one is liked. And that was some consolation, but nonetheless I was ruffled.

A talk with my manager was in order, if I really wanted to get to the bottom of it, so I excused myself and went downstairs to his office. Thankfully, he immediately assured me that the rumor was groundless, simple gossip, nothing more. Then he asked me who had sent the message, and I reluctantly told him it was Dave the dishwasher, an effusive and kind soul, if there ever was one. He himself was later fired.

My nerves were shot by the end of the day. Even though the rumor was false, I still had to reconsider my standing at the coffee shop, which had become the hub of my social life. When I got home and saw Lewis at his desk hunched over a book, he asked how I was. “Let’s have a cigarette,” I said. “Sure thing,” he said, breaking his normal non-smoking policy. We went outside and lit up, listening to the sounds of the crickets on our picturesque block. A couple strolled passed, they were probably heading to Lover’s Circle. It was over 100 degrees outside, and the cockroaches were coming out of the woodwork. One landed on my shoulder and I promptly flicked it off. “What am I doing here?” I said.

Photo by Dave Herr