Realized the other day that I had not left my apartment (other than to take my dogs out to do their business) for 5 days. Appalling.
Not wanting to officially qualify for “recluse” status, I packed up my laptop and notebooks and went in search for someplace to work outside of my apartment. My search landed me in the most cliché of all cliché places frequented by writers — the coffee house.
Upon entering the coffee house, I had fears that the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and the sounds of whiney indie acoustic bands would drive away the muse. But these fears were quickly erased. Unlike the brightly-lit Starbucks down the street, with its eternally smiling automaton baristas and verging-on-Ikea contemporary design, this independent coffee house was…pleasantly bohemian! Mis-matching furniture, warm light from incandescent floor and table lamps, and bookshelves crammed with used books welcomed me in like an old friend. This wasn’t just any old coffee house. This was a writer’s heaven!
Excited to get to work, I chose the biggest, lumpiest sofa in the place and set my things down on the beat-up coffee table facing it. I whipped out my laptop and looked over the drinks menu as it powered up. Decided to officially declare the coffee house as the best place on the planet when I saw “Small, Medium, and Large” as the size descriptors. (Have long been convinced that whoever came up with the size descriptors at Starbucks must be a man, for only a man could think it rational to describe a small as “Tall” and a medium as “Grande.” Just sayin.)
I closed the menu and, as if right on cue, a male server walked over to take my drink order. “I’ll take a medium house blend with milk, please,” I said happily to him. As he scribbled my order down, I began typing on my laptop, looking forward to enjoying my reasonably-priced coffee beverage.
But then something strange happened. Instead of leaving to go put my order in, the server just stood there…and stood there…and stood there.
I looked up at the server and saw him grinning at me. After another beat or two of this inexplicable, silent grinning, I began to grow uncomfortable. Had I placed my order wrong or something? Maybe this was like that sandwich place downtown where the servers verbally abuse you if you don’t place your sandwich order using their quirky lingo? Except here, you get the silent treatment instead.
As I wracked my brain for other ways to phrase my coffee order (“cuppa joe with cow juice”? “milky muddy water”? “brew-dizzle of da hizouse”?), the server finally broke his silence: “Have I seen you here before? You look really familiar.”
Oh no. Please don’t let this be happening.
“Nope. First time,” I said tersely while trying to smile just enough to be polite but not enough to encourage him further. I turned my eyes back onto my laptop screen and started busily typing at a rate of nearly 300 words per minute in the hopes that Creepy Coffee House Guy would take a hint. No such luck.
Instead, he sat down next to me on the sofa. Nightmare.
While continuing to type at breakneck speed, I stole a quick glance at him, noticing all the warning signs that I should’ve picked up when he first walked over: The worn corduroy pants. The long hair tied back in a straggly pony-tail. The black-socks-and-Birkenstock combo footwear. The bracelet made of wooden beads on his wrist. The tattoo of Steven Seagal’s face on the side of his neck. This was no ordinary can’t-take-a-hint guy. He was something much worse — Asian-fetish guy.
Suddenly became very self-conscious of my Asian-ness and tried to think of ways to play it down. Needed to adopt any means possible to throw Creepy Coffee House Guy’s Asian-radar off and make him go away.
First, employed subterfuge to counter Asian stereotypes underlying his fetish. Asked him what the tip on a $2 cup of coffee is and added, “Geez, I’m so bad at math!” Effort was foiled when he said my coffee was on the house. Damnit.
Next, upped my Asian fetish counter-attack by taking it to a personal level. I pointed to his tattoo of Steven Seagal and scoffed, “Seagal is such a hack.” Braced myself for his “Seagal is the greatest martial-artist-slash-actor who ever lived” diatribe. But it never came.
Instead, I caught him grinning creepily at something on the coffee table. When I realized what it was, mentally cursed my sister for the cute Hello Kitty charm she gave me that was now sparkling way too conspicuously on my key chain, which I had placed on the coffee table.
Without thinking, I grabbed an empty mug left on the table by a previous customer and slammed it down onto the key chain, crushing the Hello Kitty charm to smithereens. There! If that doesn’t scare him away, I don’t know what will.
“Wow! I take it you’re into martial arts, then. I had a feeling…” Creepy Coffee House Guy said with a knowing wink. He sidled closer to me on the sofa. “So, what are you working on? Are you a student? What’s your nationality? I love kung fu movies, do you? What’s your favorite sushi place? I saw the best animé film the other night…”
Ran out of coffee house screaming. Vowed never to leave my apartment again.